Jennifer Estevez of OMvino: “I wish someone had told me how building a business is like having a kid”

I wish someone had told me how building a business is like having a kid. If you are a business owner and founder, you have this whole entity that you are responsible for that takes on a life and personality of its own. It goes through awkward phases, it makes you proud, sometimes its growth […]

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I wish someone had told me how building a business is like having a kid. If you are a business owner and founder, you have this whole entity that you are responsible for that takes on a life and personality of its own. It goes through awkward phases, it makes you proud, sometimes its growth is as messy as it is beautiful.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Estevez, CEO and Founder of hospitality-driven marketing and communications firm OMvino.

Jennifer is an auto-didact who turned her love for wine into a career as a sommelier that enabled her to travel the world. After discovering a huge knowledge gap between those people who understand fine hospitality and the communications being done around it, Jennifer established her own company to nurture other driven, self-sufficient food and drinks professionals as they pivoted to living a digitally nomadic lifestyle. As Jennifer has always forged her own path, rather than working for others in established companies and being promoted up the career ladder, she has a unique take on shouldering responsibility without knowing what to expect.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I originally worked in the science sector when I was younger, in a lab alongside my parents. I ended up getting into wine because of a summer job at a Ritz Carlton Hotel in Arizona. I opened the property and fell in love with wine. I loved how it connected with the world and decided it was going to be my career. I picked up and moved to the Bay Area with 450 dollars and one suitcase, determined to pursue my dreams. I ended up working a mix of bartending and server jobs before I got the chance to become a sommelier and wine director. I worked with top restaurants such as RN74 and Michael Mina before I got into sales and consulting, which ultimately led me to marketing. As I was consulting on a beautiful restaurant project with a killer Burgundy list, I realized that so many of the PR and marketing firms we were talking to wanted to charge an arm and a leg, but had no idea how to talk about fine food and wine.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

For me, this occurred as two realizations. First, the moment when I tasted a glass of Pierre-Yves Colin Morey White Burgundy and fell instantly in love with wine. Second, when I was working as a restaurant consultant and interviewing marketing and PR firms to represent my clients, I wanted to find a way to offer restaurants better marketing while also not being tied down to just one restaurant myself.

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

I didn’t give up. There have been plenty of times when the business got close to the edge of disaster with different catastrophes happening. You have to figure it out. Find an idea that you are truly committed to and plan it out. Don’t become inflexible, let your ego lead you and be open to learning and pivoting. You will succeed even if it might not look exactly like what you thought originally.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

You don’t always need to turn your passion or hobby into something you do for a living. Think about whether you want to turn something you’re wild about into something you truly know everything about from a business perspective. Do your research, then make the choice.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

It’s all about mindset. If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. Sometimes we think we love or need things that we don’t really have deep attachments to: people, jobs, things, places… you name it. You should really weigh what this hobby means to you, what you want to get out of it. I keep myself engaged by feeling like I am constantly learning and growing. Wine and business are professions that are always evolving but have core set principals and lots of history. I don’t feel like I have ever learned everything and that keeps me feeling fresh.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

I love the freedom to work abroad and not have to ask anyone’s permission. Being a digital nomad, before the pandemic made it a regular thing, was always something that I aspired to. I would watch the ladies on Instagram with their travel blogs with envy. I wanted to do that and live that life, but also do something a little more intellectually challenging than taking a picture of myself in a swimsuit at a hotel. I got my first international consulting gig in Italy in 2017 and from there it all began to happen. I traveled the world, consulting and buying wine for a wine club app while I worked on marketing and PR clients back in the States. I really had to make the ask for the business I wanted and know that I could handle it. The only drawbacks were personal. I wasn’t totally available and present during that time, and missed out on connecting with a lot of people in my life on a deeper level. It can be a little ungrounding to be that busy and live that life. It’s good to find balance.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

People think that what I do is glamorous and easy. It is sometimes glamorous but not really ever easy. I have a little more flexibility now because I have been the boss for a long while, but I am always busy. I get commentary sometimes that people think I make it look easy, which always makes me laugh. It’s hard to find balance and peace sometimes and I am busy working at that like it’s my job, too.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?

During the first few months of Covid I thought about that once a week. It was hard. We lost a bunch of clients because the food and beverage industry was impacted heavily. Our clients and our team were all impacted by the pandemic and I felt like I was the vent for their emotions and frustrations. I overcame it with a lot of meditation. I don’t think I have ever meditated that much in my life. I forced myself to clock out at 6 p.m. and take long hikes almost every day too. It was really important to remind myself that the temporary stress was not worth giving up what I had worked so hard for. I just had to ride that wave of discomfort for a bit and know that it would settle. Life in a cubical under someone else’s leadership would be uncomfortable for me in other ways.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I once made the mistake of working with a challenging boutique tie brand that will not be named. The tie was unique to say the least, it was a cross between a lingerie/boudoir item and professional tie. The client was equally as eccentric as his product. As I attended a work meeting with him to coordinate their launch event, I somehow ended up getting roped into modeling for a teaser video for the event. I had to ride up and down Lombard Street in San Francisco on the back of a Vespa in heels and a dress… about 10 times. The situation was just so weirdly misogynistic and hilarious, it kind of took me by surprise. Lesson learned: say no to creeps.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

I am constantly inspired by my team on a day to day basis. I am constantly impressed with their hard work and dedication to our business. It makes me want to work harder to be a better leader.

I am also inspired by AOC. That woman is a bombshell in every sense of the word. She is classy, self-made, speaks eloquently and does not tolerate intolerance or inappropriate behavior.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I speak up and use the amplification of my voice that success has given to me to talk about things that matter. I want to spread the message of kindness, compassion, equity, diversity and self-care. I am passionate about plant-based living, health, wellness, and the environment. I donate the knowledge gained through my success to charity. I want my success to be a testament to empower anyone who wants to start their own business. In my opinion, entrepreneurs are not just entrepreneurs, they are innovators and activists and shape the future.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

I wish someone had told me how building a business is like having a kid. If you are a business owner and founder, you have this whole entity that you are responsible for that takes on a life and personality of its own. It goes through awkward phases, it makes you proud, sometimes its growth is as messy as it is beautiful.

I wish I had known how much I would value solitude so I could have made a little more time for it. I joke (but not totally joking) that I can’t wait for the day that I can take a 10 day vipassana, or silent retreat. They take your phone, and you just don’t talk for 10 days. It sounds like heaven!

I wish I had known that being in charge is not the glamorous job that people think it is, and often you’re the one who cleans up all the mess. You have to learn to love that too. There is beauty in wrangling that chaos.

I wish I had known how to manage my time and energy better and make sure I put that in order first so everything else falls into place. Calendar management and personal time management go hand in hand. I still think I have room for improvement but I am constantly trying to learn how I can be better organized.

I wish I had been told just how much of a virtue patience really is and how much of it I would have to learn out of absolute necessity. Meditation truly has become something I go to for solace, not just force myself to do out of a sense of duty like I used to. Getting better at it really changed my life.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If everyone took one month for themselves for self work and introspection once in their life the world would be a different place. As humans we spend so much time externally, working, living and really just surviving sometimes that we don’t forget to go inward and be introspective. We forget to nurture ourselves sometimes and be kind to ourselves in the way we are to others. I learned a lot about that when I took a month and a half to go live in India and do my advanced yoga teacher training. My business partner had my back and I only worked the bare minimum that I needed to keep things moving. I just took time to think and breathe. I connected with my body and mind in a way that I never had before and it changed how I looked at the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“What you seek, is seeking you.” Whatever you need will come around to you if you are looking for it. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and need from yourself, from others or from the world. I would not be where I am in business or in life if I did not chase my dreams and aspirations. Some of them didn’t work out, but I took those as things that were not meant for me. It’s ok.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have lunch with Ben Horowitz. I read his book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” at the beginning of Covid when I was going through a super hard stretch of life. I was dealing with the pandemic, buying out my business partner and going through a tough breakup all at once, and that book was key in inspiring me to push through. I respect his business journey and how he prioritizes helping people on their entrepreneurial path. His other book “What You Do is Who You Are” was also helpful to me in shaping my company culture.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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