Passion is contagious! Make sure you hire people who believe this concept. Not everyone does. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs have tons of passion that keep them going strong through some of the hardest moments but members of their team might not feel the same way. I cannot stress enough how important it is to really take the time to get to know someone before you hire them. Due diligence is necessary in getting to know the candidate before hiring them.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Marin an entrepreneur who started as a purveyor of sustainably-made, local honey in the Catskill region of New York. After discovering the small, rural town of Long Eddy in the Catskill Mountains, she found herself drawn to the bees and how they work in easy harmony with each other and their surroundings. Inspired by their example, she began building her own business, drawing upon the local natural resources of Upstate New York. Today, Marin tends to over 300 beehives in Delaware, Sullivan, and Madison Counties in New York State, in cooperation with other local beekeepers to create small batch, hand-packed honey harvested several times a year. In addition to its 100% raw wildflower honey products, the Catskill Provisions artisanal collection includes organic maple syrup, pancake mix, chocolate honey truffles, ketchup, apple cider vinegar and New York State Rye Whiskey with a dash of honey.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
During my years as a magazine executive, beekeeping became my hobby. It truly helped me through some tough moments by transporting me away from the stressful demands of the competitive world of publishing.
This went on until in 2010, when I had a big “Aha moment” and realized that I was super passionate about connecting chefs and consumers in the New York City area with locally-sourced, sustainably-produced ingredients found in the Sullivan Catskills, where I was spending my weekends.
At that time, there was little recognition of the wonderful resources we had in the Catskills and I saw a clear path to success for the area with examples such as Vermont and the Hudson Valley. I thought, “Why not the Catskills?”! So, I started branding the area in my own little way. Thus,Catskill Provisions came to be.
In particular, the whiskey was always at the center of my mind as I saw its tremendous potential to benefit local farmers and the surrounding community. Rye grows beautifully upstate and it is also a cover crop, meaning it is planted when nothing else is growing through the winter. It also helps protect the fields from erosion. So, it seemed to me like the perfect grain to start distilling. Oh, and it is spicy, aggressive and complex so a drop of honey is a perfect balance for it!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I received interest from Le Bon Marché in Paris for my products! I love that store and Paris is one of my favorite cities. I was super excited about this opportunity. They were doing a takeover of the whole store by all things Brooklyn. We are in the Catskills and they allowed us in anyway because they loved our products so much! I got to visit the store during October for my birthday; I have pics to prove it…it was awesome. (They sold out of our products the first week, by the way).
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 was called by a Goldman Sachs-led group called 10,000 Businesses for an interview to explore my taking part in an entrepreneurial-focused course. It had the promise of making me so good at running my business I couldn’t resist. I thought I’d be interviewed privately and I brought my team with me to show our stable business. When I arrived, I found single business owners all there in suits and they were on their own. I was a bit embarrassed because I should have known more about this! The lesson here for me is to always read the whole document — no scanning allowed.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have truly brought more attention to the good qualities of honey in balancing acidic or bitter flavors, like vinegar or dark chocolate, as well as the heat of whiskey. By using just the right amount of just the right varietal we have left many a chef, mixologist and consumer pleasantly surprised at how usable honey is. It is certainly not just a sweetener and much more of a flavor balancing agent.
I’d also like to think that in building one of only a handful of female-owned and operated distilleries in the United States, I’ve helped break through this barrier a bit more for women in the spirits industry.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have many exciting new projects in the works: in the coming weeks, we will be introducing New York Pollinator Vodka, distilled from non-GMO corn and our own wildflower honey and New York Pollinator Gin, infused with juniper berries and other aromatic, pollinator-friendly botanicals.
Overall, the business will continue to evolve and include the upstate community in a more direct way. We are building of our own Tasting Room in Callicoon, New York, which will open to the public in the fall of 2019 — I have been dreaming about this for years! It will be a welcoming, communal space that will exceed people’s expectations of the Catskills, support the local community and always give back to protect our pollinators.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
The craft distilling industry is very male-dominated with many new players, all trying to protect their stake. When I initially started distilling, I worked with other facilities until we were ready to build our own, but we always were a low priority. I lost a lot of time adapting my business to others’ parameters which held us back in ways.
As women, we tend to be pleasers and not make waves, so even though I was the client, I was so accommodating that I limited my own company’s growth. I would definitely be a bit tougher and less concerned about being liked if I’m ever being taken advantage of again.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
It all has to fit together seamlessly. It really begins with your clear vision and it continues with your team. It is important to stay positive and strong at the same time. You will notice a consistent energy and drive that you will want to spread amongst your team. By being expressive about your passion, helping each team member grow and rewarding them fairly, there will be very few moments of negative exchange. But you have to start with good people who are into what you are creating.
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?
I truly could not have done this without the constant support of my life partner, Cathy. I was very unhappy with where the publishing industry was heading and how that impacted my life. She agreed to my resigning from it and it was easier because of that support.
There were many tough, dark moments after that which she talked me through. Also, financially I needed her support as I wasn’t earning any revenue for the first three years! So I owe her a huge thank you and will always be grateful for how she has been there for me.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Pollinators like the honey bee keep our ecosystem buzzing. Central to our success is our model of giving back: a percentage of all company proceeds go to environmental causes, including Friends of the Earth (www.foe.org), to help these power pollinators.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Be nimble, patient and be open to learning from your mistakes because there will be a lot of them! As an entrepreneur, you are in a constant state of evolution of yourself and your vision, which suits me perfectly. I have never been one for comfort. I believe that growth comes from challenging yourself. Having my own business and keeping it growing and thriving allows me to constantly stretch my own boundaries.
2. If you want something done right, do it yourself. I would recommend always having as much control as possible over your products and company. Some of the darkest moments were caused by not trusting myself and giving up control.
3. It’s NEVER too late. Be brave enough to get out of a job that isn’t fulfilling, reinvent yourself and follow your dreams! I’m living proof of this.
4. Make sure you research your idea well. You want to make sure your dream is also a viable business idea. Join groups in that particular industry you are interested in. Be mindful before you quit your job or make any major financial investments. You want this to be a successful, positive experience. Life is not easy, so protect yourself to avoid more complications.
5. Passion is contagious! Make sure you hire people who believe this concept. Not everyone does. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs have tons of passion that keep them going strong through some of the hardest moments but members of their team might not feel the same way. I cannot stress enough how important it is to really take the time to get to know someone before you hire them. Due diligence is necessary in getting to know the candidate before hiring them.
You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂
I hope I’ve inspired others to take action to save bees and other pollinators by giving back to one’s local community and raising funds and awareness that are so critically needed for their survival.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be true to yourself and your vision.” This is especially relevant to me as I spent a lot of time in a career that became less and less fulfilling; now, living an authentic life and doing good in the world is critical to both my success and my happiness.
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 really admire Chelsea Handler; she’s an accomplished businessperson and very passionate supporter of causes she believes in. I admire her for her fearlessness and her compassion. But, instead of breakfast or lunch, let’s meet up for cocktails — she loves her vodka!