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If you’re starting to get tired of serving up the the same old drinks for your guests, Jennie Ripps wants to help you mix things up a bit. Ripps is the CEO and co-founder of Owl’s Brew, a beverage startup that makes tea blends to mix with alcohol for unique cocktails.
The all-natural blends are brewed in Vermont and sold all over the country on the company’s website and through big-name retailers like Bed, Bath and Beyond, Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma. Customers have their pick of flavors including The Classic, which is made with English breakfast tea, lemon and lime and Wicked Green with green tea, lemon, lime and habanero pepper.
Since starting the company with a staff of two in Ripps’ living room in 2013, Owl’s Brew now has a team of 10. Last year, the company brought in $1 million in sales and is on track to more than double its revenue, with a projection of $2.3 million for 2016. In 2015, Owl’s Brew also published its first book of recipes called Wise Cocktails. Starting in September, the duo launched their line of tea-infused beers, called Radlers.
We caught up with Ripps for our 20 Questions series to find out what motivates her and makes her tick.
1. How do you start your day?
For me, work-life balance means being with my children in the mornings — no cell phones or computers and a family breakfast.
I also love genmaicha, a savory green tea made with popped corn and toasted rice. Green tea provides enough caffeine to wake me up and has of lot of health benefits. Coffee comes a little later, around 10 am.
2. How do you end your day?
Reading in bed. Right now I’m reading a book about the history of the Vanderbilt’s in New York. In particular, I like reading biographies of people or of families — for instance When the Astors Owned New York by Justin Kaplan or Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser. I love learning about history through a very micro-lens; it makes it so much more accessible for me.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
The Mind Past by Michael Gazzaninga. It shows how the mind deals with information and how the architecture of the mind influences the way we process information, sometimes incorrectly. Sometimes we see only what we are trained to see, or what we are capable of seeing. I read this book over 10 years ago for the first time and to this day it still influences me.
In work and in life, I try to understand the box I’ve put around myself when problem solving. Sometimes the issue is with how you are framing the problem. I question assumptions and try to reevaluate what is and isn’t possible. While this book is about the brain, not about business, there are lessons within it that I find very applicable to problem-solving in business.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. It’s a classic book. I find that there is no one that doesn’t enjoy it, because it is universally hilarious.
5. What’s a strategy you use to keep focused?
I try to compartmentalize my days. For instance, I’ll spend an hour before the workday sending out emails, and I won’t look at incoming emails until everything is completely outbound. I find that I focus more when I do only one thing and not a million things; it cuts down on the noise.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to make things and what that meant changed. I wanted to make bracelets and then I wanted to make lemonade. So I always wanted to be a maker but there was no profession that I was drawn towards. I was just more excited by the idea of trying to build and make things and that shifted with age.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
I learned how important it is to engage with my own team and also to ensure that there is buy in across the board at an individual level.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My father has influenced me the most. He would always ask questions. Even when he had expertise on a certain topic, he would ask questions of people who weren’t necessarily experts in the field. Through doing that he would question his own assumptions. I think asking questions, examining things from multiple levels and getting feedback from my business partner is something he taught me.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
After I graduated from college I moved to Prague for a year. What I learned there was that I really didn’t need anything except for myself to survive. This sounds weird because you already sort of know that, but to be in a new country for a year and recognize that I could do that alone was very meaningful to me.
10. What inspires you?
I am inspired by the fact that every day is a new day. I really think that there is an opportunity in every day, especially when you’re building a business. You never know what is going to come, and I get really excited when I wake up.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
My first real business idea was when I was 20 or 21. I had an idea for book flights. I was an English major, and I thought I could create book flights around a subject matter, like old New York or a flight about crime novels or science fiction.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
I interned for the Ian Schrager Company for the opening of the Hudson Hotel. I was responsible for turning over each room from the construction team to the design team which meant checking the grouting in the bathrooms, shaking the beds to make sure they didn’t squeak. I actually screwed in every lightbulb in the rooms and that taught me a lot about attention to detail.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Seek out mentors and advisors. I found in building a business that relationships are so important. By having mentors and advisors, you have the ability to ask questions of people who know more than you. By asking questions you can avoid time-consuming and expensive errors. And sometimes mentors and advisors surprise you by opening your mind up to things that are completely unexpected.
14. What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
I think that remains to be seen. I have been given advice that I don’t think is good, but we’re in this growth phase of the company now, so it’s TBD whether my assessment is correct.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
To be smart about productivity. By that I mean, if you find yourself getting backlogged, the answer isn’t to put more hours in; the answer is to take a step back and assess the situation. See if there is some kind of hack that can be applied, whether that’s using an app or hiring someone or just changing your processes. My productivity tip is if you feel you’re getting buried there is something wrong with the way you’re doing it.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
On my phone, it’s so simple, but I use the Notes app all the time. I treat it as a robust program; I sort of have hacked it in a way to work for me.
I’ll use Notes during meetings and for recaps. I also have various notes that have to do with things that are personal or strategic.
On the flip side I use a project management system called Wrike. We use Slack for our inter-team communication, and we use Nutshell for CRM. We’re pretty tech-oriented here, and we use these cloud-based systems all the “right ways.” That’s why I think my personal notes addiction is strange, because we tend to really use a lot of technology for the business so Notes is kind of an anomaly within that context.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
It means constantly prioritizing and making choices. Most of those choices should lead to me getting home on time to put my kids to bed. But it also means assessing where I need to be and knowing there are multiple things that I care about, including my family, my marriage and my work.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
I find there’s always so much to do and that excites me. In a way that helps me prevent burn out.
For instance if I’m working on some sales outreach, and I begin to get burned out, I’ll take a time out to think about something big picture that’s bothering me, or I’ll try to tackle something that’s very challenging.
If I feel frustrated or burned out, I’ll also look through my Wrike for some little thing. So, I tend to switch around what I’m thinking about and how I’m thinking about things to prevent burnout.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
If I am struggling with a concept or a creativity block, I will talk things over with my business partner Maria Littlefield. I find that she and I think differently, and I find the conversation gets me out of my own head.
20. What are you learning now?
I’m learning how to build a team. We’re going through a period of intense growth, and as we add people, my role and responsibilities change a bit.