Entrepreneur Life: Startup Lessons from RichWine’s Founders
RichWine’s founders share what they’ve learned about starting and running a business in challenging times
February 18, 2021
When it comes to entrepreneurship, Kristen Gardner Beal and Lance Lemon of RichWine are a perfect pairing. Since 2019, these wine aficionados have been on a journey, starting as consultants and ultimately opening RichWine–a wine delivery service in Richmond, Virginia, that provides delivery service all over Virginia and Washington, D.C..
The business took off when they started to work with restaurants on their wine programs, matching wines with specific dishes and consulting on all things wine-related. Then, they moved to a direct-to-consumer wine delivery model in September 2020: they’d receive orders during the day and deliver in the afternoons.
Nearly two years after their partnership began, the business owners share their hard-earned lessons on starting a business and where they hope to take their company in the future.
Lesson One: Build on What You Know
Gardner Beal and Lemon didn’t jump into this industry overnight. Before RichWine, Gardner Beal founded VinGo Tours, a wine tour company based in Virginia, and Lemon opened and managed two successful wine shops in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. They’re both passionate about selling natural, organic blends that use sustainable practices, like smart irrigation.
Initially, Gardner Beal and Lemon planned to open a retail shop, but when COVID-19 drastically changed the business landscape, they pivoted. And they found a new way to bring wine to the community: through a wine delivery service.
They found a space within a local warehouse and small business incubator, and opened for wine delivery and curbside pickup. They also expanded their business with weekly and monthly wine subscription boxes, personalized every time and perfect for staying socially distant.
Lesson Two: Have Confidence In Your Ideas
When thinking about starting a business, many people stick to just that—thinking. Having the confidence to actually get started can be the hardest part. When asked what advice she would give her younger self about entrepreneurship, Gardner Beal says, “I’d tell myself to do it sooner.”
Often, when making massive life decisions, we want to wait for the “perfect time”—after a raise, after a project, after a degree—but Gardner Beal says that there’s never a perfect time: You either want to do it, or you come up with an excuse. For aspiring entrepreneurs, Gardner Beal has one thing to remind them: No idea is crazy, and anything is possible. “People will tell you no, but someone will say yes eventually.”
Lesson Three: Be Prepared to Pivot
When COVID-19 brought about unexpected challenges, Gardner Beal and Lemon had to shift their business model quickly. And since they launched the company, they’ve continued to adapt it based on customer feedback and behavior.
“We talk about the customer experience every day,” says Gardner Beal. “Now that we have data about how people are engaging and what their behaviors are, we’re able to make smart changes.”
But it all ties back to the experience. She says they’re receptive to making changes as long as those changes are not too disruptive to the experience.
Specifically, RichWine has revamped its hours to be more efficient. Gardner Beal says they saw a significant bulk of their orders come in Tuesdays through Fridays, so they’ve been able to adapt their schedule to better manage deliveries.
Lesson Four: Be An Active Member In Your Community
According to Gardner Beal, building a community also helps build the business. Engaging the community and creating a network with other business leaders in the area has been part of their success. “We’ve gotten to know people and have had conversations with them, whether it’s sharing an article that they’ll appreciate or figuring out how we can grow a relationship and provide joint offerings.”
Not only have they reached out to chefs in the area to get together and do wine and dinner pairings, but they also worked with a local flower shop to do Valentine’s Day arrangements with their wine bottles.
In some cases, these partnerships can be very intentional, and in other cases, they can be more serendipitous, where the two businesses have simply “stumbled upon” a partnership opportunity.
Gardner Beal and Lemon have also been able to leverage support and resources through organizations like BLK RVA and programs like Capital One’s Supplier Diversity Mentorship Program. Through the program, Gardner Beal and Lemon are working with mentors to problem-solve and identify opportunities for the business moving forward.
Lesson Five: Enjoy the Journey
Launching the business was exciting, but Gardner Beal says that it’s been more rewarding to watch the business grow over time.
While they’re proud of what they’ve achieved so far, they also have big dreams for the future. They are looking to expand their offerings and go deeper in terms of supply for the future, as well as grow their ability to support live events. Ultimately, owning a storefront property is still one of their long-term goals.
Modeling the Entrepreneurial Spirit
When asked about Gardner Beal and Lemon’s entrepreneurial spirit, Matt King, a process management senior manager at Capital One and one of the team’s mentors, says. “We like to talk about the startup mentality and how to apply that to business problems. And every other week, we sit alongside Lance and Kristen as they're doing that live: This is not just a startup mentality. It's a startup. So, we're reminded of that fast and furious, kind of Wild West aspect that there are things you can strategize and plan for, and there are things that just pop up and have to be solved that day or that minute.”