7 Questions: LeeAnn Maxwell, CEO, Vixen Vodka
LeeAnn Maxwell (left) and partner Carrie King (right) took an unforgettable girls trip to St. Simon’s Island and came home with the genesis of Vixen Vodka, a new vodka company targeted to women. Their research into vodka and distillers showed that vodka was ready for a female revolution. Their vodka is available in five states in the Southeast.
1. How did you decide to start a vodka business focused on selling to women?
It all started on a girls’ beach trip. We’ve all been there – lying around the pool, coming up with these great ideas. Then we get back to life, to work, to kids, to husbands, to school, and then next year’s beach trip comes around and we go, ‘remember that great idea we had last year?’ Well, we put actionable steps behind the crazy idea of starting a vodka by women for women (not a skinny, not a mix, not a flavor, just a pure 80 proof vodka that talked TO women, not down to them), and made our favorite quote come true: a dream without action is merely a fantasy. We made our dream a reality!
2. How has being an entrepreneur changed your life?
It’s the best job; it’s the worst job. You’re never ‘off’. You live – eat – breathe – sleep the brand. It’s the first thing you think about in the morning and it’s the last thing you think about at night. And I wouldn’t change a moment of it!
3. What has been the best moment since you started the business? What has been the worst?
The best moment (and it still is!) is seeing our dream a reality on the shelf. Every time I see that bottle on a liquor store shelf or on a back bar or in someone’s cart – I get a chill up and down my spine. I honestly can’t say there’s been a ‘worst’ moment, I’ve learned from every so-called mistake and obstacle. I believe that the fear of never trying is much much worse than the fear of failure.
4. How does having a partner help your business?
There are some entrepreneurs who live by the mantra: ‘small ships, tall ships, no partnerships’. I could not disagree more. I don’t know how I would do this without my partner in crime, Carrie King. We have a big age difference; I say she was born on the night of my high school prom. But we’re targeting women ages 28-54 and we are living our own demographic. We balance each other, we have similar work styles, similar work ethics. And if we don’t agree, we don’t do it. And it has served us very well.
5. What is the biggest surprise in starting your own business?
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is tough. But surprisingly, most people want to help you. They want to see you succeed. All I do is ask people to ‘hold my hand’ and I think when you do that, it gives them permission to help you without condescending to you or being resentful of you. Oh yeah, and having to do everything!!! I was just asked to coach at a business event. They asked do you specialize in marketing, business start up, branding, social media, financing, or sales? I said yes, all of the above. Because as an entrepreneur, you have to do all that and more!
6. What does success look like?
Success to me is not the sale of a bottle of vodka, although yes please everyone who is reading this go out and buy a bottle. But success to me is the stay at home mom who comes up to me and says that I empowered her to turn her passion into a project. Success is the wedding photographer who says after meeting us at an event she decided to start her own business of portrait couture, bringing out a woman’s best self. Success is the woman who introduced herself to me as a sculptor, not a kindergarten teacher, because I inspired her to describe herself as her purpose not her paycheck.
7. Have other women been supportive of your business?
Absolutely! Because it’s not about the vodka; (but again please go buy a bottle), it’s about the fact that Carrie and I took the leap. We went for ‘it’. Our ‘it’ happened to be starting a vodka company that is tailored to a female palate and does not look upon women as arm candy or sex objects. But your ‘it’ may be climbing a mountain, running a marathon, becoming a race car driver (ok, I admit that’s on my bucket list). We’re just using vodka. And I started this company the year I turned 50, the year my boys moved out and my ex-husband came out. (oh by the way, he’s now the creative director for Vixen Vodka – life’s too short to be madJ) If I can turn my life around from sitting at home watching “Dancing with the Stars”, anyone can!