Kat Mayhew and Guada Oliver are the co-founders of Candour, a canned wine business, which is in its early stages of production and development. Kat Mayhew is from the USA. Her background is in hospitality, within which she has worked as a sommelier. Guada Oliver is originally from Argentina, and her career to-date includes industrial engineering and marketing for wineries. As well as being the co-founders of Candour, both Kat and Guada continue to work as sommeliers. Kat and Guada met through the Saïd Business School’s MBA, which was the genesis platform for Candour.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
We met through the Saïd Business School’s MBA programme and were in the same group for the entrepreneurship module. We were the only two people with backgrounds in wine, so we had a connection based on that and we knew that we wanted our project to be wine-related. Over the summer we continued to work on the project as part of the MBA. At some point in this process, we decided that we wanted to continue down this avenue together as co-founders.
Neither one of us had plans to be entrepreneurs before this, but the MBA gave us the confidence to try it, as well as foundational business skills and access to relevant networks.
The decision to go into business together has involved a complimentary assortment of the right variables: right time; right place; right opportunity; and right partner. If one of those variables had not been in place it wouldn’t have come to fruition, and we certainly would not have done it if we didn’t have each other. We complement each other. It’s a hard job and sharing it is so much better and so much more fun.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
It is a difficult question to answer – but curiosity is a word that comes to mind. We would not be at this stage of the process if we weren’t curious. In entrepreneurship one has to be constantly curious, asking questions, talking to people and always ready to learn.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
While studying for the MBA we had the opportunity to test the project and to talk to people in the industry. Through this process we saw that there was genuine interest and that there was a real opportunity that we could carry forward. We had encouragement from potential investors, from the SBS MBA network, and from friends and family, all of which convinced us that our idea could become something. The support we have does not mean that founding Candour has not been scary or that we don’t struggle, but the encouragement has made us believe in our project and our product. The worst case would have been that it didn’t work out — but we thought that we should give it a chance.
As a product Candour addresses two very pertinent topics for the wine industry: the reduction of wine industry carbon emissions; and positive and convenient wine consumption habits. The glass bottle is very carbon intensive, and it is responsible for over half of wine’s overall carbon emissions, what with the combined production of the bottle and the transport of such a heavy vessel. Aluminium is far lighter, which reduces carbon emissions from shipping by seventy-five percent, and it is more likely to be recycled. Candour cans are 250ml which is the equivalent of two small glasses of wine or one nice single serving. If you live on your own or are on-the-go, it’s a more convenient and easier consumption option than a big glass bottle.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Proactiveness: you need to do things yourself because no one will do them for you. And you must be willing to do things that feel uncomfortable. Both of us feel comfortable in wine-related areas, but the project requires us to be involved in other areas, for example the legal and financial aspects of running a company. Those may not be areas that are as comfortable for us, but we still need to get proactively involved in them.
Having a thick skin: in entrepreneurship, you’re going to be turned down, doubted, and put in vulnerable situations. It is important to be able to stand by the integrity of your creation and to have the ability to brush off criticism or indifference
Being temperate: you need to be able to stay calm and to manage your emotions, because things can feel overwhelming, and you need to be able to control those feelings. This is where being in a partnership also helps.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Guada: The inspiring people are mainly our peers. Friends of ours, or friends-of-friends, who are entrepreneurs. I had not had much contact with entrepreneurship before the MBA and so seeing how people deal with this career pathway, both personally and professionally, has been inspiring. We’re very grateful to all the friends we have met through the MBA who have helped us in areas from photography, to branding, to finance – it’s very humbling.
Kat: my father is an entrepreneur and most of his career has been spent launching companies. Growing up, I always admired what he did but never identified with it. Now, as he nears retirement and I am launching our company, it has been beautiful and exciting to be able to share this with him. He has a wealth of experience and it’s been fun to talk to him about it. And he is very excited and proud of what we’re doing.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Recently we went to Barcelona, where the canning facility is, to see the canning of our first two wines. We were so excited to see the project come to life and to see the wine going into the cans. That moment was such a culmination of all our work. Seeing the cans labelled, holding the first cans, and cracking them open was a very proud moment.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
So far, there have been no major roadblocks. In part that is because we did our homework and did not cut corners. The main selling point of Candour is integrity, and we wanted that same integrity to flow throughout the entire supply chain. We have sought to align with suppliers who want to work with us to produce a quality product and who treat our relationship as a partnership rather than as a supplier-and-provider relationship. In that sense, things have been good – not easy, but good and simpler than they could have been.
There have been mistakes, but at the same time there haven’t, because mistakes can be lessons. We are still figuring out the rules of the game and there are things we will do differently with our next wines, but this doesn’t mean that these things have necessarily been mistakes.
Even when there have been setbacks, we don’t necessarily see them as negatives, but rather as part of the process. We had to change our original canning date for our first two wines because one of them had not finished fermenting. You could call that a setback, but we didn’t see it that way. It was unavoidable and so we pushed things back and worked around it. Things like that aren’t negatives, they’re just inevitabilities of the process and we adjust for them when necessary.
How have you funded your ideas?
We’re at a very early stage so we have not had an extensive or complex fundraising process. Our investment so far has been from angel investors; from people we know or people from our broader networks. We have had a ‘friends and family round’ to raise a small amount of money. We are getting ready for a bigger fundraising round early next year, but thus far our funding efforts have been focused on getting enough money to run a pilot.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
In general, look around and use all the resources you can from your networks available to you and never turn down a conversation.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
Not specifically. We’re at a very early stage but so far it hasn’t been an issue. Also, our gender is not an angle we bring forward because, for us, the most important thing is our product. However, the wine industry is very male dominated. If you look at our competitors, we are the only solely women-founded and run canned wine company. That’s neither a negative nor a positive, but it is a fact of the environment we’re working in.
Any last words of advice?
It’s easier said than done, but if you are interested in entrepreneurship, just try it. But to do so, you must learn to embrace the uncertainty. You either need to have a personality that is well suited to that uncertainty, or you need to teach yourself how to cope with it — which is totally possible to do. And be prepared for many highs and lows, both personally and professionally.
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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