Jill Osur of Teneral Cellars: “Women leaders tend to be more inclusive and community-driven”

Women leaders tend to be more inclusive and community-driven.The women founders I know all operate from a heart-centered place, meaning they want to be successful as much for their employees as they want to be for themselves, and they care about giving back. I started Teneral Cellars to not only to give back to charities […]

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Women leaders tend to be more inclusive and community-driven.The women founders I know all operate from a heart-centered place, meaning they want to be successful as much for their employees as they want to be for themselves, and they care about giving back. I started Teneral Cellars to not only to give back to charities that empower women but to also create opportunities for women in the wine industry and to provide jobs and careers to women of color who have been historically underrepresented in the wine industry. More women founders will mean more equity, more diversity and more inclusion in the workplace. It will also lead to more women in leadership positions. Women founders make the tough decisions as needed, but female leaders almost always think about how their decisions will impact others, from healthcare to childcare to putting food on the table. More women as founders will translate to happier employees and more opportunities, resulting in better, stronger and healthier communities. If those reasons aren’t enough, I read in a white paper called “Why Acting Like a Girl is Good For Business” by The Women’s Code where companies with women in leadership roles outperform all-male teams by up to 66%.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Osur.

Jill Osur is President and CEO of Teneral Cellars. As a disrupter, she launched the purpose-driven brand to elevate women in the wine industry, produce incredible wines from sustainably farmed vineyards, curate meaningful experiences and build a strong community through cause. Jill believes female business owners have to stand up, speak up and ShoulderUp to support other women and promote equity.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

As a competitive athlete in college, playing D1 Softball at the University of California, Berkeley, I loved competing as a team, winning and being the best that I could be. This desire to achieve further materialized while I was working with Special Olympics. I enjoyed working hard and making a difference in the world but was also frustrated. Always one to move the goal post on personal growth, I did some professional development work as well as DISC Assessment and realized that while I am driven by a need to make the world a better place, I am ultimately wired to be an entrepreneur. Being in an environment that was more fluid and where there wasn’t a set way to arrive at a result, would allow me to thrive.

I dabbled in several industries after that, but through it all, I loved wine, the idea of wine and most importantly, how when friends, family, or even strangers come together with a glass of wine, great conversations ensue, and connections were made. I connected with a colleague who was a CFO on loan for a tech startup that I was working at, who had taken one of the largest nut companies in the UK public and who had a great financial mind as well as had legal training. We started a consulting company after the 2008 tech crash where we helped founders launch companies that had at least a double bottom-line objective (doing well by doing good). We did that for a few years but realized we were more wired to be entrepreneurs than the founders we were supporting and that it was time to do something for ourselves. We started a wine consulting company that led to us acquiring a wine brand and getting into the production side in 2015. We then researched all of the wine regions in California to land on El Dorado County as there were no production restrictions, a low cost of land, amazing dirt for growing vineyards and no water issues. This company went on to be the fastest-growing winery group in El Dorado County, sustainably farming and producing award-winning wines under multiple labels including Mediterranean Vineyards and 1850 Wine Cellars to name a few.

Teneral Cellars was born amid the COVID-19 pandemic and as our country is struggling with so many challenging issues. The wine industry impacted those who were not already selling online and adjustments to e-Commerce strategies became a necessity. While business as usual was in our rear-view mirror almost immediately, the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter resurgence brought heightened awareness to the systemic racism that exists within our country. This begged the question, “What was I, as an industry leader, doing to be a part of the solution?” I started looking inward on how I could use my wine, passion and leadership experience to build a Digitally Native Vertical Brand that speaks to women by connecting them through wine and delivering measurable impact to causes and issues relevant to our time. I looked at the wine industry and realized how dramatically it lacked in diversity and female representation in leadership positions, the wine-making itself, sommeliers, management positions and owners.

I am proud to be leading the Teneral Cellars team in rethinking what it means to be a wine business and building a different type of business that takes into consideration gender and racial justice, along with social change as we move into creating a business model that builds our social movements.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

For me, it was more of an awareness that led me to change my investment strategy. I am a member of Women Presidents’ Organization, a global organization for women business owners. As I was creating Teneral Cellars, I always had my WPO sisters in my front view, as I have had some of the most engaging conversations in my life with these women and a glass of wine in my hand. Knowing there would be no better people to have on this journey with me than other women business owners, I decided to create a Founding 50 Club to offer my WPO sisters an opportunity to come in as investors, knowing very well that they would also become built-in ambassadors for the brand. The big change though was offering the investment for only 10,000 dollars instead of the 100,000 dollars minimum I had in place. When I did this, it felt so aligned with my intention to have like-minded women as investors. So many of my investors, while accredited, had never invested before in a startup and they were grateful to have the opportunity, and I am certainly grateful to have them on this journey with me. Empowered women empowering women!

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

When we were creating the logo for Teneral Cellars and reviewing some options, I didn’t even realize that the dragonfly, or at least what I thought was a dragonfly, was a damselfly. They look very similar, but a dragonfly it wasn’t. Funny at the moment, but given our story is so connected to the dragonfly, I can’t even imagine if we went with the damselfly. Dragonflies have incredible power and grace when they fly, are considered a spirit creature for many, reminding us to be the light, and a symbol of transformation. The lesson was clearly to slow down and pay attention to detail, no matter how pressed for time you are. Detail is everything when you are starting up a business and you have to be sure to cross the t’s and dot the i’s… or recognize that a damselfly is not a dragonfly.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It takes a village and I’ve been so blessed to be surrounded by great women for a long time. I often ask other women who is in their personal cabinet. What I mean by that is who are surrounding yourself with that can support you, challenge you, call you out when necessary and also be your biggest fans. All of the women in my personal cabinet have played such an instrumental role in my success. I have an amazing Advisory Board for Teneral Cellars filled with diverse women who not only have successful businesses but are committed to giving back and creating an impact in the world. I have pulled so much from their experiences to help me operate in my greatness. Phyllis Newhouse, CEO of Xtreme Solutions and the first Black female to lead a SPAC (Athena Technology Acquisition Corp), walks the walk and talks the talk when it comes to that. We’ve had some serious discussions about what it takes to truly step into and operate in your greatness, and how that also means you may have to distance yourself from the people who aren’t serving you any longer. We had a conversation last year where she said there seems to be something weighing you down like an anchor, and that for me to be the best version of myself and to truly be the great leader I was meant to be, I needed to address what was weighing me down. It forced me to have serious conversations with two people (one professionally and one personally) to dramatically change the relationships so that I could be completely aligned with who I am and do the necessary work to build a great company and make the kind of impact in the world I know I can make. It wasn’t an easy conversation with Phyllis, nor were the two subsequent conversations with the people weighing me down, but she was right and once I was clear on what needed to happen and did the work, the anchor was gone, and I was able to work and live in an environment free of people and issues not serving me. I have since been able to wake up daily and operate in my greatness so I can be the best version of myself.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Access to capital is still a huge challenge for female founders. There have been many more funding groups launched to fund women-owned ventures, but they tend to be technology or science-focused and that leaves out a significant number of industries. Even getting a line of credit as a new business is extremely challenging given a traditional bank will want multiple years of tax returns. Working capital is critical to any startup, so I strongly believe if we work on how more women-owned ventures can get funded, you will see a dramatic uptick in the numbers. The irony in this is that there is data that companies with women in leadership roles outperform all-male teams and companies with more diversity and inclusion, which women founders tend to have, are more profitable.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

If the media and academia would showcase more female founders, then girls and women could see the possibilities. Schools need to showcase the different leadership styles and the data that shows the great performance numbers of women-led companies, and how companies with more diversity and inclusion tend to be more profitable. The more mainstream the conversation becomes, the more likely that funding and investment will open up. It would be wonderful for the banks and government to really commit to looking at how more women founders can get access to capital. Wealth management companies should do more to educate their female clients on investing in private companies or start-ups as. I have met many very successful women who have no experience in investing outside of having their wealth management team invest in public companies or manage their retirement funds. Private equity and venture capital funds also need to find a way to offer more opportunities to female investors as this access will create more wealth for women, who in turn may then create more funding opportunities for women-owned ventures.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women leaders tend to be more inclusive and community-driven.The women founders I know all operate from a heart-centered place, meaning they want to be successful as much for their employees as they want to be for themselves, and they care about giving back. I started Teneral Cellars to not only to give back to charities that empower women but to also create opportunities for women in the wine industry and to provide jobs and careers to women of color who have been historically underrepresented in the wine industry. More women founders will mean more equity, more diversity and more inclusion in the workplace. It will also lead to more women in leadership positions. Women founders make the tough decisions as needed, but female leaders almost always think about how their decisions will impact others, from healthcare to childcare to putting food on the table. More women as founders will translate to happier employees and more opportunities, resulting in better, stronger and healthier communities. If those reasons aren’t enough, I read in a white paper called “Why Acting Like a Girl is Good For Business” by The Women’s Code where companies with women in leadership roles outperform all-male teams by up to 66%.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?

I think a lot of people hear about successful founders, like Sara Blakely for example, who founded Spanx. They will say “I could have done that” or “wow, what a great idea and look how easy it was”, not having a clue what it took her to get where she is, including running out of funds at one point. Being a founder is an all-in mentality and you have to be willing to push through even when you run out of money and people around you may be telling you it’s time to throw in the towel.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

You have to be comfortable riding the roller coaster. You need to have enough faith in your abilities to weather the ups and downs of starting a business. Being a founder, especially a female founder, can be very lonely so you need to be really clear on your vision, passion and purpose to get through the challenging times. Being scrappy and persistent are necessities to be successful. When you hear “no” or “it can’t be done like that,” you just keep pushing forward knowing there’s a way to get it done. Founders hear “no” often, and you have to be comfortable knowing that if you are disrupting an industry or starting something new there will be many people who are uncomfortable with the unknown and won’t see what you see. Successful founders don’t let the word no deter them. If anything, it inspires them more to be successful. You also have to be willing to pivot. Most founders start a business with a clear model and strategy but often uncover other opportunities that could accelerate the process or improve the business. You have to have the faith to pivot if you know that it’s in the best interest of the company. Being an employee is safe and there is usually a consistency in that that is comforting to many. While many people are enamored with the idea of being a founder, they aren’t cut out for the time commitment, the stamina for what’s required, the unknown, and the ups and downs that come with the role. You need a great combination of grit and grace to be successful.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Do what you love, and the money will come. When you love what you do and do what you love, you can weather the toughest of days, including the days and months without a salary that many entrepreneurs have to endure in the early days. Doing what you love and loving what you do provides the fulfillment needed to get to that payday.
  2. Know your WHY — I think if I were to have focused on this question earlier on my journey, I may have been able to get here sooner. If you know your “why” it will guide you through your toughest days and also keep you on track and focused when you have exponential growth. I knew I loved wine and how wine connects people, but I didn’t really understand how much I needed to blend my passion and purpose of empowering women with my voice to speak up and speak out on issues that needed to be addressed in the wine industry and around the country. Knowing my why has allowed me to create a company that truly aligns these things so I can operate in my greatness and never feel tamed by the way things have always been done or the people who think it can’t be done. Just watch me!
  3. Surround yourself with great people — I’ve heard it said that you are only as great as the five closest people to you. I was running the day-to-day operations of a tech company when the economy crashed in 2008. Not a great day to be in tech as you can imagine, but what was worse than that was the two founders ran for the hills leaving me holding the bag to take care of our employees and the business. Holding the bag wasn’t the issue here as it was clear what the right thing to do was. Being abandoned when the going gets tough was the issue. This was a huge life lesson for me as I have learned through experience that you will have challenges like this in business, especially entrepreneurial start-ups. When things do get challenging, think about who will be by your side and in the trenches with you that have your back and weather the storm –whatever it might be — with you. I will think of this scenario when I’m hiring people and ask myself “Will this person have my back?” and “Do they have what’s necessary to get through this and come out on the other end even better and stronger?”
  4. Not all money is equal — Having been through several companies that have secured funding from investors, it’s so important to know who your investors are. I watched a friend of mine take a very large check from an investor, which was great because he had the necessary funds to operate his growing business, but the investor’s expectations were not aligned with his and over time — after many arguments — the two were at an impasse and the business struggled. Due to the contractual restrictions associated with the investor’s money, the owner couldn’t go out and raise additional funds without losing control of the business and he ultimately filed for bankruptcy. I lowered the minimum investment in my company so that I can get a diverse group of female investors (and some like-minded men as well). I do my own due diligence on prospective investors so that I know the people who come on board at Teneral Cellars care about making a difference in the world as much as they want to make a great return on their investment.
  5. Innovation is easy, disruption is hard — Charlene Li, author of five books including New York Times bestseller Open Leadership and coauthor of Groundswell writes in her new book The Disruption Mindset, that innovation is easy, and disruption is hard. She writes how many companies want innovation to be a carefully managed process with minimal disruption to the status quo. She goes on to describe disruptive transformation as tackling change head-on and bearing the stress and strain of the change to capture the opportunities created faster and sooner. Charlene is a friend, and she is also a fellow winery owner of La Mesa Vineyards in neighboring Amador County, CA. She helped me see that I didn’t need to create a new technology or have a patent to be disruptive, but I could use existing technology and apply it in a disruptive way. I set out to rethink what it means to be a wine business and how to create a company that reflects the industry’s largest consumer…women. Charlene taught me that I could create a strategy designed to meet the needs of future customers, be a leader that creates a movement to drive and sustain transformation, and that I could create a culture that thrives on disruptive change. I love the quote in her book from Wayne Gretzky that says, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” There are many wonderful wine companies I admire, but for me to truly change the status quo, tackle the inequities and lack of diversity for women in the wine industry, a disruptive mindset is a must.

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

It’s taken me a long time to truly be aligned with my passion and purpose and to be able to build a company that gives back as part of its core mission. We donate 10% of all profits back to charities that empower women, including gender and racial justice, and Mother Earth, given everything starts with her. Teneral Cellars is also committed to diversity and inclusion in our company so that we have a diversity of thoughts and experiences that truly reflect our customers across the country. We support other women-owned businesses through our purchasing of products and services needed, so our downstream reflects our commitment of women supporting women. We have been included in two Wine Enthusiast articles since we launched in October 2020 as Millennials expect companies to take a stance on important social issues. We know we can build a successful company and also make the world a better place through our content, hiring practices, purchasing decisions and contributions to charities that empower women. I am so excited to grow Teneral Cellars so that this impact is significant, and we see more opportunities for all women.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We believe we are doing that at Teneral Cellars. As an entrepreneurial agent for social change, we produce exceptional sustainable wines and sell exclusively online to a community of like-minded individuals who support our mission to sip, create and act with purpose. We are using wine as a conduit for change. Every purchase is with purpose. The SWARM is a non-traditional wine club reinvented as a uniquely digital movement for those who love wine and are passionate about creating change. Members of The SWARM receive discounts on quarterly collections, access to limited release wines, and invites to exclusive online events and powerful panel discussions. With each SWARM Sip with Purpose release, 10% of the profits will be donated to a different organization focused on gender, race and diversity issues. Teneral Cellars is creating a social movement by encouraging conversations and women’s empowerment through exceptional wine and thought-provoking experiences.

We are very blessed that some very prominent 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’ve always wanted to have lunch with Oprah. Oprah had a vision and went after it and has found a way to work with purpose and on purpose. Regardless of the naysayers, she persevered and has created a life that aligns with who she truly is, and that magical formula is why she is one of the most successful business leaders of our time. Surrounding myself with other women who have aligned their lives around passion and purpose, so they can truly step into their greatness, is imperative for me to be the best I can be, and to continue to disrupt and think outside the traditional boxes that have been imposed in the wine industry and to women in general. The more successful I am at this, the more successful my business will be and the more impact we will make in the world. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa is so inspiring, and I would love to be in a position as I have more success to give back like this to empower girls. I would be grateful for the opportunity to learn from Oprah so I can accelerate my impact now and in the future. I’ll bring the wine!

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

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