“It was frustrating to be told there wasn’t a market for my product, when I knew there was,” BCIT alum Olivia Lovenmark, CEO and Founder of Duchess Cocktails, describes the pushback she received from people in the industry when starting her premium bottled cocktail company in 2019.
Despite being continually told that the alcohol space was oversaturated, she disagreed. Olivia argued that if there were a product like hers already on the shelves, she would be buying it: “I saw a gap for a high-end bottled cocktail that could target a discerning customer like myself.”
Olivia adds that, when she worked as a marketer for tech start-ups several years prior to launching Duchess, she noticed certain women-focused segments were being ignored. She says this experience helped her identify new business opportunities.
The initial resistance she received was just one of many challenges along her entrepreneurial journey. But for Olivia, the struggles she faced only fuelled her desire to succeed.
Olivia Lovenmark grows one business while launching another
“I’m glad I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Olivia shares.
Between navigating distribution regulations for different regions and the rising costs of materials, she says it has been no easy feat growing Duchess Cocktails, which recently released in BC Liquor Stores.
In 2022, Olivia was able to leave her fulltime job to focus solely on her business and successfully open a local production facility that same year.
“There’s no playbook on how to start,” she shares adding that Duchess is self-funded as she bootstrapped much of the journey, and recently secured non-dilutive capital. “I just had to get started and ask questions along the way.”
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Asking questions is precisely what led her to identify another untapped opportunity in 2021.
“Social media is one of the best channels to reach your customer,” Olivia explains.
But as a small-business owner, she says she found herself frustrated with the platforms: “Social media’s changing algorithms, site crashes, pay-to-play requirements, shadow-banning, and ad saturation are making it more difficult for brands to connect with their audience.”
Olivia says she needed a space where she could connect to her core customer in a more targeted and controlled way.
After identifying the need, she co-founded Repose, a members-only digital club built using Web3 (a decentralized online ecosystem based on blockchain technology) for creators and brands to own their communities.
Describing Repose as aesthetic tech for fashion and beauty brands, Olivia says that tech platforms have been focused on a one-size-fits-all system for far too long. She aims to change this with Repose, which is built entirely by women for women and currently in beta.
Walk the walk: Advice for supporting women in business
Olivia opens up about some of the sexism she says she has faced running women-owned companies that cater to women.
“There were many, many times when comments were made to suggest our endeavours weren’t as serious or necessary,” she says. “There were also derogatory remarks around women’s preferences and that the Duchess cocktail was pink.”
She confesses that while it can be emotionally draining to deal with, it also motivates her to keep going and to encourage others to support women in business.
“There’s a lot of conversation around supporting women—at both a government and individual level,” she says. “But we need to get away from talking without action.”
What’s something individuals can do to support women in business? Her advice is to seek out diverse-led companies through social media and to start buying from them.
The BCIT advantage and a message for entrepreneurs
In 2011, Olivia graduated from the BCIT Marketing Management Diploma Program and says her experience was valuable for providing practical tools she could apply in the real world and still uses today as an alum.
“I was in fashion school for two years, but realized I wanted to pursue marketing,” she explains. “BCIT was the obvious choice for me as it held cachet in the business community.”
To BCIT grads looking to start their own company, Olivia offers straightforward advice: “First, understand your target market thoroughly and be able to substantiate the validity of your offering. Then, just go out and try it.”
Olivia will be expanding Duchess into the US and across Canada while adding new features to Repose. Growing her businesses is top priority: “My secret sauce to success is just putting one step in front of the other. For me, it just comes down to stubbornness and tenacity.”