Nomadica's Kristin Olszewski on the feeling of throwing away $25,000 worth of stock because it’s BAD
Updated: Sep 27
On the show today we’re chatting with Kristin from Nomadica wine.
We’re discussing some of the tough stuff that happened early on in her journey including the moment they had to throw away $25,000 worth of wine because it wasn’t good enough and what she’d do differently if she started this biz tomorrow.
Kristin is a Sommelier by trade and the Founder + CEO of Nomadica wine, where she thoughtfully curates a selection of high quality canned wine. She’s passionate about working with high quality, small producers who focus on sustainable practices.
Learn from Entrepreneurs like Kristin in the Hype Club, a private network made for founders - who happen to be women - building the next wave of ecommerce and CPG brands.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Yes. So I am the CEO and founder of Nomadica Wine. Um, I'm also a sommelier. I've been a song for over a decade now worked at Michelin restaurants all over the country and I started nomadic a four years ago. We are the only premium wine in, can we source from small boutique wine makers. So just as I do as a wine director of somebody in a restaurant, I essentially did that tenfold with my cans, similiar curated can one with art to pair for the wine inside to act as the first facing note. I love it. I love it so much and everyone listening will know how excited I am to talk to you, given that I'm developing a non elk wine company in partnership with a master some and I'm just really excited to learn from you today and understand like what's working well what's not working well and you know, industry insights that you can share all my horror stories.
00:04:57 I'll lay them on the table for you. Please do. I think I read you started circa 2017. Can we go back to the time when you sort of had your lightbulb moment and decided that you were going to start this business. Yeah. So it's my co founders idea to start a can wine company. Um, in all transparency, you know, a mutual friend had set us up to me, I show up after service in my lady suit, you know, I was coming off the floor of Austrian boats a, which is a one Michelin star restaurant in Los Angeles with a 90 page all italian wine list. You know, I'd spent the last six hours selling Crew Barolo to like film executives and I sit down and Emma tells me she wants to start a canned wine company and this is way before can wine was even a thing. And my first reaction was, oh no, thank you. Um, I'm totally good on that. I have no desire to even be affiliated with a candle y and Emma is also Australian.
00:06:01 Um, very stubborn and didn't take no for an answer, which I love about her stock. My instagram found this wine makers, you know, I really loved josh Clapper who is producing phenomenal wines on the central coast of California can a small batch of his pinot noir brought it back to me to taste and you know, I definitely let it sit in my cabinet for a month or so until one night I didn't feel like opening up an entire bottle. I just went on a glass of wine and I was like, you know what, I'll try it, probably gonna hate it, I'll make myself a negroni after. And I find it in these moments where you really, because I used to be a person that really cared a lot about being right and when I poured the wine into the glass, I had to admit how wrong I was. I truly didn't believe until that moment that you could have premium wine in a can and I just realized that the level of wine that I like to drink, I couldn't find it again. So we decided to go for it and my undergraduate degree is in sustainable agriculture, I care so much about our carbon footprint and reducing that. And once I really started deep diving into the benefits of cans I was sold and then this is so interesting and I want to talk to a few different points.
00:07:11 But first of all my thought is Emma was really ahead of the times in 2017 because I feel like 2017, everyone would have had the same reaction as you as like, oh no, sir, like I'm not interested circa now this is like a thing and a trend for sure. So she was, she was onto it. That's cool. She's a visionary. She really is, she is just one of those people that you tell her no, and she's like, I'm going to do it, I'm going to get it done. And she actually had just moved to Los Angeles. She had done some time at Harvard business school in boston and before that she was in Sydney and she had a dinner date with a friend in L. A. And the traffic in L. A. Is so atrocious. Like people joke about it all the time but it's actually just horrible. And she called the Uber and was like whoa holy crap, it's an hour and a half Uber ride. So she poured some wine into a Pellegrino can for the ride and was like uh well this works exactly.
00:08:14 And she's like why doesn't this exist? So here we are. I got and here we are. The second thing I wanted to touch on there was the cairn verse bottle thing and what you learned when you were looking into that side of the sustainability piece of the puzzle and what you now know in hindsight. Yeah, I think you know the reason why I got into one in the first place is because great wine is made in the vineyard, it's not meeting the seller, it's all about farming and to be a good farmer in my humble opinion, you need to do the right thing, You need to take care of the earth, you need to like farm organically or by even better bio dynamically if you can afford to do so um not spray pesticides, no copper usage, don't use any chemicals in the cellar, et cetera. But then I never really took it further and really wondered about the carbon footprint of glass bottles. Uh never mind how bad colored glasses for the environment, how high energy it is to produce. You can't even recycle it when you're done with it. And glass is really heavy, Like really heavy.
00:09:17 Um cans are 400 times lighter than glass. The carbon footprint from just the shipping emissions on cans alone is 80% less. Never mind the fact that it's made of recycled materials and you can recycle it. So yeah, my mind was blown. Yeah, I mean all of that makes so much sense. I'm wondering what the reception is. Two wines in a can, like in trade in like a retail store or something like a restaurant, like when you came as a familiar and said, hey, this is what I'm doing and is it something that you do in restaurants or like that you have on the menu? So we really do well in chef driven, fast casual hotels, stadiums, event venues. Um I got it. I know where we work, you know, grab and go and I like to say fake dive bars, the type of place where it looks a little like dingy and vibe, but then you're also gonna get an $18 perfectly made negroni um hips exactly like places like that, you know, no one's really like has a lot of care for the wine program usually or they're just going through a lot of waste because they don't sell a lot of wine in places like that.
00:10:37 So here comes nomadic to, yeah, that's what I was thinking. Yeah, your bubbles are always fresh, your wine is always fresh. You don't need to throw anything out, You don't have any over pouring etcetera. But man, those first two years were really hard. Um, I think I went into it too with this arrogance of, oh, you know, I'm a Somalia. I worked so hard. I have such a great resume. I know how to talk about wine. I sell wine all night in a restaurant. This is going to come. So naturally to me, people are just gonna say yes, I'm gonna be making sales left and right and the amount of rejection was staggering. Like, I mean, you got to look back and laugh right? I mean it's so funny and so many people were like, this is a bad idea, you shouldn't do this, you shouldn't put your name on this christian. Um, many of my peers and people I've known for a long time, They were like, canned wine will never be a thing. Lucky you had a visionary.
00:11:39 You know, God doesn't one, I feel like I jumped ahead of myself a little bit here. So I want to go back to those early times to talk about like what you were doing in the lead up to launch and then launch and like how it went. So I, I love my mistakes that I've made. Um I have now at this point in my life, really learned to embrace the lessons that have come from them. Oh my God, please share. Please tell us what they were. I mean, God was so many, so many things like we didn't really research our name correctly and we wanted to be the nomad wine company at first and then we got a cease and desist and we were like literally had to go to print the next day. So we changed our name to nomadic cut and all night just what do we name the company? How do we we change this? Um when we first started, we're making very small batches of wine and I was doing like Shannon blanc from this vineyard made by this winemaker. But like how do you scale that? You know what I mean?
00:12:42 Now that we're in 17 states and Canada and with like a big e commerce business, you can't run a business like that with like registering things every 100 cases or so that's just going to be exhausting. And also something I learned is certain varietals work really well in the can and certain varietals do not. One of the first ones that we can was a Shannon blanc from clarksburg chenin blanc can be quite reductive and when you put a wine in a can, it increases the likelihood that the one will become even more reductive because you're putting it into a reductive environment and it was just bad. It was like it tasted so different out of the tank versus in the can and have you already gone through the process of like actually doing a batch and canning it and then realizing after the fact, wow, what's the kind of like financial loss on something like that? That was a big one that was like a 25 grand and we had risked raised a small friends and family at that point, you know like um and I both had other jobs, full time jobs, we were doing this on the side, she was working at Snapchat, I was sobbing every night in Austria mota, we hadn't raised a lot of money, we've raised like 100 and $50,000 from like some of her associated snapchats and people we knew um literally friends and family and so we had to make that money go far and really stretch it.
00:14:08 So what do you do in that moment when you realize it's bad? Like what's the actual conversation of like, so what do we do now with this stuff that we have? That was a hard one because it's, you know, there's definitely this moment of, we don't have any money, we're never going to get any money. You know, you, you feel this like sense of, I don't know what to do, we need to make this work. But then also you have to take a hard look at it and be like, okay, this was a mistake. This was an expensive mistake. But I don't want somebody's first interaction with my brand to be a bad one. Mm hmm And you only get one chance with people. So we decided to destroy the wine and just take the loss on it. Yeah, wow. But other than that, the other cans, you know, we did a really great job of having these really cool eye catching labels all by different artists and the other ones were awesome. And Yes, it was like 75% rejection. But then those 25%,ers, you know, like one of my really close friends, Ryan bailey who is associate the Nomad hotel in Los Angeles tasted the wines and he's like, these are great.
00:15:18 Like I'm so proud of you. Let's put them by the pool and in the mini bar and he is somebody I look up to so much. He's such an accomplished only. Such an accomplished wine director. And those like little nuggets of positivity and support really kept me going in those early years. Mm Like a great confidence boost to be like, yeah, I am on the right track. I just need to like persevere and like get through the hard times. Um, in those early, early times. What were you doing to spread the word marketing wise And was a big focus for you on like sampling and just you know gifting or like what was your like early approach, early approach was and this is something I wish we had started our e commerce business sooner. That's one of the biggest mistakes we made. I wish we had started that in conjunction with our wholesale business but we did a lot of sampling. We were at a lot of music festivals, parties if there was like a netflix launch, if there was something we were gonna be, there were going to make that happen.
00:16:29 And I of course like never shut up about my brand. Like anytime I ever met anyone, whether it was you know, I'm selling literally selling them wine on the floor of mota and like talking to them about italian varietals and I'm just like, oh yeah I like figure out a way to work it into conversation without being self promoting. You know what I mean? Just like Yeah, I heard about this one in a can grant. Apparently it's really great. Well it's funny because working in Los Angeles, people would always ask me if I was in the actress two and I'd be like, no why does my career, this is what I'm doing actually. Iona can wine company as well dot L. A. And it was just like a lot of Guerilla tactics mm And we definitely gifted a lot to influencers. We still do like how much per month. Honestly, probably in the first two years at least probably a quarter of the wine we made. We gifted away to either influencers or events. Yeah. It's interesting to know the split because that's quite a look right.
00:17:31 That's also a really big investment. But at the same time it makes a lot of sense because you need to get the product out there in the food and better space. People just need to try it. Right? I totally get that. Where do I want to go with this? What do I want to talk about now? Well maybe let's talk about the e commerce part of the business. When did you realize you needed to launch the aecom side? And what was that? Like it was hell on earth. So, um, we we decided to launch the e commerce part of the business The beginning of 2020. I wish we had done it because it takes about a year and get set up licensing wise. The compliance on alcohol and the U. S. Is exhaustive. And you know, we had to change our licensing and then we had to apply for individual state licenses which can take 6 to 9 months to a year. Never mind that. Covid really slowed it down. And so we had done some business like we could direct ship in California. We had about seven states that we're live all of last year.
00:18:36Edit But we really long story commerce in a big meaningful way nationally. uh january 2021 and if I could go back and do it over again, I would have invested in e commerce from day one and invested equally a man instead of just focusing on wholesale. And so when you launch then, does that mean you launched like without a customer database or you've already sort of been building a list in the back end. We launched without a customer database like we had nothing at all and and how's it going? It's going so well It is just then I cannot like it's become so quickly 40% of our business. Oh wow, it's just the uptake has been phenomenal. Um we have, You know, 30% of our customers are returning customers were growing month over month. We're going like 50% month over month every month this year and people love it like, it's.
00:19:41 I don't know and in the early days, you know, I was going on to our Shopify and like Googling every single customer and trying to figure out what they did for work and stalking their linkedin's and looking at their instagram and um in addition to of course, you know sending out surveys and just trying to get to know who are e commerce customers. But I just, I love it. It it gives me such a great opportunity to be in touch with our customers in a way that I don't get when somebody is, you know shopping at a retail store, I don't get to talk to them totally. Absolutely. Do you think because you launched the e commerce side of things in a big way this year? Do you feel like you came into your stride like this year or do you feel like you really hit a key momentum like turning point a few years ago and this was like another wave? Well, so we raised a series seed in 2019, closed it in the winter of 2019 and I quit my job, I went full time um in 2020, Emma left the company to go pursue some other things.
00:20:47 I stepped into the ceo role and started building a team around me and last year was really like a preparatory year, you know, I like to say last year was our real first year in business because we really got it together. Um we focused on having the commerce plan. I hired a very talented creative director who just launched the rebrand of cans that we've been working on forever. We got professionally commerce shippers, we learned how to tell our story in a meaningful way. I hired the most talented C. 00. Tara Hannaford if I felt like I was dating again, um I think I was trying to get her to join nomadic a for nine months until she finally said yes to me. Um but she was the vice president of sales at casa Amigo, she's had three exits and alcohol. She is just a killer. And I love the fact that I show up for work every day, somewhat intimidated by my C. 00. I think that's really a good place to be it. So I think this year was really a year that we knocked it out of the park and came into our own and started executing on all the things that I always wanted to do.
00:21:51 Oh my God, like what, tell me what? Oh my God, kidding on the fact that we were able to launch any commerce site. And so part of our model is that we have, what we started out with four course queues last year. Um we have two sparkling zweiten arose a still Roseanna red and this year we started doing quarterly limited edition drops like 100 cases of something dropping online. They sell out so fast. It is so cool. And the first Q one limited edition drop that we did was i organic and biodynamic chardonnay from the central coast. It sold out in like a week and people were obsessive about it. They're like, when's the chardonnay coming back when the chardonnay coming back. I got like a two like weird threatening messages from people that we don't like what it was like, this is the only one I like you need to bring it back. I just feel depressed like this year so hard, please bring back the one.
00:22:53 And so I was like, you know what, let's add 1/5 corp skew, let's add a still way of chardonnay to our lineup. So those are available every day of the year and all of our wholesale markets and online. I hope she's become your best customer. Okay, This woman buys so much wine funny because she like her and I have this very personal relationship now because I like have responded to her questions myself and you know, we're like homies from across, it's like really turned it around. Yeah, it sounds like that's like the ultimate customers experience where like someone's a bit Naki and then you actually managed to somehow turn it around and then become best buds. Oh that is my favorite thing to do in the entire world. But actually getting to do these limited editions. Like I did a peak yet This summer, we're doing a sparkling barbera for our Q3 limited edition release. Like this is when we started in America, I always wanted to do things like this because they're just fun. It's fun to showcase small producers to people.
00:23:59 100% absolutely. I love that about being the song, that's been my favorite part of my job. Always. It's like wine is so intimidating, wine can be so you know inaccessible, So many people are gatekeepers about it. But you know there are those people that I just want to show great wine at a great value and you know, you don't just have to drink the same thing, you always drink. So that's been really great. We did a limited edition for whole foods this year, which was really fun on the East coast. We did an albarino and a can for them. And I think some other like small goals. Well, I just as of today actually, this came out today, I got on one enthusiast 40 Under 40 which was like a personal goal that I've always congratulations. That's amazing. Congrats, thank you. And then in terms of, also, I had always said, you know, I want to be in a stadium, I want to be in a stadium. Were in the stadium were in Sofia Stadium where this huge football stadium that's newly built in Los Angeles and we're just doing it.
00:25:05 It's just great to like see it all come to fruition. 100%. That's amazing. I love the stadium, like events vibe. That's a really clever, clever approach. Yeah. Hey, it's doing here. I'm just popping in to bring you a quick message in every episode of the FSC show. You'll hear women who were just like you trying to figure it all out and hustled to grow their business and I would know a lot of you might be sitting there asking yourself, but how do I actually scale my revenue and get to that next level from where I am now. You also know that so many of the entrepreneurs I speak to have mentioned facebook and instagram ads as a crucial part of their marketing mix from today onwards. I'm really excited to be able to offer our fsc small business owners and entrepreneurs and no strings attached our long chat with leading performance marketing agency amplifier, Who you might also remember from our D.
00:26:13 I. Y. course, full disclosure amplifier is my husband's business. And what's really important to know is that I've been able to witness first hand the transformation of so many businesses going from as low as $10,000 a month. All the way to $300,000 a month and in some cases upwards to seven figures. So if you're listening in and you feel like you're ready to take your business to the next level, jump on a no strings attached call with amplifier where you can ask all the questions you have about performance marketing and whether it's the right time for you and your business to get started, Go to female startup club dot com forward slash ads. That's female startup club dot com forward slash A. D. S and booking a call today. Okay, where are you allocating budget now marketing wise and how, what do you think it is that's driving this incredible growth that you're having? We hired a digital marketing agency, which I was really scared to do because also I think coming from this scarcity mindset of you know, I raise this money, I don't want to spend it, which is really stupid and if I could go back in time, you have to spend the money, you have to spend it aggressively.
00:27:33 That's just you're not going to be successful if you don't. That's why you raise the money, don't hoard it. But really connecting with my digital marketing agency, taking the time to do individual tastings with them, Having them understand my story, our creative director story, Rco story, putting the time into training and then they have just gone out to crush it. And also, I think when we first started, I thought facebook and instagram Advertising that's going to be huge. That's going to be great. That's where it's all going to come from email marketing has been 30% of our business comes from email marketing. So yes, we have obscenely high, click through an open rates over twice the industry standard, which is exciting and just investing into things like that. And really just keeping an open mind and being like, okay, well what's working? How do I invest in that? I'm going home on Tiktok now. Don't even get me started on how excited I am about Tiktok and obviously podcast too.
00:28:34 I just feel like there's so many great ways to reach people and they don't all have to be paid marketing for sure. For sure. There's a few things I wanted to ask you about off the back of that. Um going back to emails, what do you think it is about your emails that make it so successful, Like your email marketing strategy. I think it's the fact that our customers are wine drinkers, they were converting them from the bottle to the can. They don't drink other can wines where the can wine, they drink. The quality of what's in the can is the strength of our brand and the fact that I am a similiar, the fact that I do have so much expertise and influence in my area, I know how to talk about wine in a way that people connect to. Um and I really thank God for my creative director and our copywriter because they really helped me translate that, my personal voice and how I talk about wine and our wine into email. Well, that's so interesting.
00:29:39 And something that I guess, like it makes sense. I I know this as well in the back of my mind, but when you talk about that it makes so much sense that it's yeah, it's you coming across with your thoughts on wine and how you're tasting it and what it is that makes it special. Coming to people who love wine, like, I mean, it's familiar in a pocket. I get familiar, delivered to their inbox. That's exactly exactly. And then I'm like, this is what you should eat with this, or here's this really cool pairing or lets you know, here's a recipe to pair with your Pink River Rose and really making it personal and fun. And I love again tying it back to the art. We do Spotify playlists for each can as well, tying it all in together like that. It's just synesthesia. I love that. So I have a few more questions. You know, I want to go back to Tiktok now, now that we've moved on from email, I want to go to tick tock. Talk to me about Tiktok. What's your approach? What's your excitement? What's, what's going on there? I actually, everyone on my team has been making fun of me for a year because I've been like tick tock, tick tock.
00:30:44 We gotta get on Tiktok. I love Tiktok and you know, I'm 33 our leadership team, we're all in our thirties is fine. We're all women in our thirties and everyone was kind of ribbing me and asking me if I was, you know, even old enough to drink if I was on Tiktok. But I held fast on it. I was like, we need to invest in it. We need to create some content. It's so easy to get views on Tiktok. Um, one of our investors is this brilliant woman named Tracy Lieberman and she's the head of digital marketing at Chipotle and she is really the reason why I'm obsessed with your talk. She was like, you need to be on tick tock. The amount of views likes on even a comment Is insane, we have never even seen anything like this on Facebook or Instagram, but we can get 100,000 likes on one comment in a day, just the exposure. So we started early on, we are investing in it. We're just starting to do paid advertising on Tiktok, but we've had, you know, organic, we send wine to influencers that are of age of course, and they make some really cool content and it's so different than what's on instagram as well.
00:31:57 So I really, I really like that because I do think instagram and facebook are ads. You know, we're a little more like she can grown up and it's geared towards an older tends to be female. We're talking like 28 - 40 range. But then on Tiktok I'm getting, you know, those 24 year old was 25 year olds, was 23 year olds who have money aren't super, are just starting to get into wine are super open minded about can wine because they don't have the preconceived notions that the rest of us do about it and it's just been really positive and wonderful. I've been really surprised at it. I love Tiktok. I just so great Tic tac and really like worn out with instagram. I feel like such weird feelings about it these days. So like over the polished, you know, and, and of course I'm guilty of it for sure. Yeah, I play into it, but I'm like, man, Tiktok is just so much fun and you get so much joy out of it versus instagram, you can bring so much negativity I think not so much on the brand side, but on personal instagrams and things like that?
00:33:09 No, totally. And I think that that's something that I love about it too. It's like your content doesn't have to be super polished, you don't have to have your hair and makeup done, you don't have to have the perfect background, you just have to be kind of interesting and real and people love it. Yeah, yeah, totally authentic I think is the word of the year always but authentic, 100%. I wanted to ask you if you were to start this business again tomorrow, what would you have done differently besides starting your ecommerce store earlier, I would have raised more money from the beginning. Um, I think we were being so precious about equity, which is such a mistake, especially as a first time founder don't be precious about your equity. What do you mean? Um, like specifically for you, how did that, what's the impact We should have raised $5 million dollars as are seriously appreciate, like that alcohol is expensive.
00:34:13 CPG is expensive, beverage is expensive, it is getting more and more expensive every single year. I think it's really easy to start a brand now and it's really hard and expensive to grow it and have it be successful, I would have spent more money earlier on, I would have hired more people and I would have hired a creative director. Day one, if I could do it again. I think it's really interesting bec