Want to run your own business? Who doesn’t? Female entrepreneurs are not nearly as common as they should be and here, founding Austin-based RISE Women board member Dee Covey shares her insight on how CHAOS Cocktails™ start-up helmer Lesley Sarkesian is creating chaos in her own, inimitable way.
In 2011, Lesley Sarkesian decided to launch her own lifestyle brand, CHAOS Cocktails™. Fast forward to a few months ago when someone suggested, “Lesley, what you’ve done is astonishing. You should write a book about it. Do you have any tips for other entrepreneurial women?”
“Tips? You bet,” Lesley Sarkesian says with laugh. “First, Netflix ‘All About Eve’ and pay attention to Bette Davis’ Oscar-winning line: ‘Fasten your seatbelts. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.’”
According to hyper-competitive Sarkesian, becoming an entrepreneur is like having a first baby. It is both exhilarating and exhausting. It’s scary, amazing, intimidating and thrilling. It’s all work and all play. “Creating a business starts with intense labor, but then you fall head over heels in love with your creation and you’ll gladly do the tough stuff 24 hours a day. Others will help, but it is your baby. Period.”
She also says that entrepreneurs have to be crazy. “Who else would sign up for all risk, no vacation and less pay?” Apparently Sarkesian would, but that came as no surprise. She spent years as a married mom on the executive fast track and living in Westlake. Then, CHAOS Cocktails™ was hatched on a whim while sitting on the Spanish Steps in Rome, where she was recovering from the death of her mother. At the time, her romantic life was in shambles, her character on TV’s “Survivor” had been cut, her teens were going through their teen thing, and she wondered if she should change her globetrotting corporate career.
“In a nutshell, it felt like nothing was going my way.” Sitting in that glorious place she thought, come on, Lesley, something has to change. And boom, it did. Lesley Sarkesian realized the secret sauce to her happiness was sitting in her very own fridge, and she skedaddled back to Austin to serve it up to the rest of the world.
For years Sarksesian had whipped up a special kind of “adult Koolaid™” with all the fun and none of the guilt in her refreshing low carb, low sugar concoction. “Thank goodness for Bethany Frankel and her brilliant Skinny Girl® brand,” whom Sarkesian applauded for her tenacity to make a product for which women have been asking for years.
Today Lesley is so in love with CHAOS Cocktails™ that there there’s nothing she won’t do to make sure it is a brand sensation. The product of her imagination is gorgeous, special and incredibly entertaining. She adored her delicious “twist and serve”™ premixed cocktail, visualized it in every bar, everywhere in Texas every day, even when she have no idea how to pay for the next shipment of product. “That’s how being an entrepreneur works. You just never know what is around the corner, but you turn anyway.”
Sarkesian, like the rest of us, realizes that Austin is the epicenter of entrepreneurship in America, and she is here because creativity and chutzpah are celebrated, and the big wide door of opportunity flies open for those who want to step through it using Thomas Edison’s definition of genius: “1% Inspiration; 99% perspiration.”
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
Numero uno is: If you don’t love it, don’t do it. If you do love it, prepare to sacrifice any sense of security that you have, so you can have a chance to win it all: happiness, satisfaction, and prosperity. Accept that you will never be off the clock. The entrepreneurial life isn’t for everybody, but every little victory will feel like rocking your perfect baby.
When Sarkesian started, she knew zip about the complicated Texas liquor industry, and even less about bottling, distributing, or marketing an alcoholic beverage in a male-dominated business. Now, several thousands of hours later, CHAOS Cocktails™ is on its way. Twist and serve, baby.
What does it take for a woman to get the funding and succeed? It’s all about YOU. More YOU. And, then creating value.
Here are Sarkesian’s favorite mantras to live by:
MOXIE You won’t have a map on this journey, but if you don’t put your dream in drive you’ll be stuck in the driveway. Gather information, explore the options, then act. Get the word “comfortable” out of your vocabulary. Every entrepreneur makes rookie mistakes and you will, too. Learn from them and then, move on.
MENTORING Find people who are good at the things you aren’t, and ask for advice. They had to start somewhere, too. Two of Sarkesian’s biggest cheerleaders have been Tito Beveridge of Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Clayton Christopher of Sweet Leaf Tea. “Tito used to be an oil & gas guy, and Christopher made tea in pillowcases, so they had diverse backgrounds from a typical one in the spirits industry. I just picked up the phone and dialed.” In Texas, the business community is amazingly supportive and generous. Remember to help others when you get to the top. (Some people call this “karma” and others “networking.” Whatever. It works.)
MOOLA Unless you can fund the whole shebang by yourself, you’ll need a financial daddy for your baby brand to have the best chance of thriving. It is always good to go for “smart” money… people with experience in your industry. Investors expect you to have skin in the game, so be prepared to tap savings and ask friends and family for seed money. Put some effort into creating a dynamic 10-12 minute presentation, with snappy graphics and excellent industry and financial analyses (Sarkesian likes Prezi over PowerPoint). “Practice until you can do it in your sleep, then live the dream.”
CHAOS COCKTAILS™ TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- CREATE IT with your heart and soul
- LOVE IT unconditionally
- SELL IT by the numbers
- EARN IT with your best effort
- ENJOY IT for all it’s worth