Women in Business: Q&A with Stephanie King-Myers & Nancy Bigley, Bottle & Bottega

Bottle & Bottega, founded in March 2009 combines various forms of hands-on art instruction with a glass of wine and has helped create lasting memories for Bottle & Bottega guests since 2009. Bottle & Bottega is the artistic stroke of genius of Stephanie King-Myers and Nancy Bigley, who left their successful careers in Corporate America to pursue their passions and devote their vision, talent and energy to a collaborative business of their own.

How have your life experiences made you the leader you are today?
Nancy: I grew up in a household that promoted learning, independence and an understanding that we could do anything we set our minds to accomplish. Thus, throughout my career, I asked a lot of questions, always took on additional responsibility and constantly looked for opportunities to make a difference in my surroundings. In my current leadership position with Bottle & Bottega, I strive to create opportunities for others that exhibit the same drive, determination and passion. I strive to be a strong, focused, calm and supportive leader. These are traits that I've always valued in my mentors.

Stephanie: My entrepreneurial parents who co-owned their own business strongly influenced me. At age 14, my family moved to Paris, France, providing me the opportunity to immerse myself in a new and unfamiliar environment. I finished high school in France, attended college in the UK and briefly studied in Russia. These experiences helped me develop as a leader. I've learned how to connect with people at a human level, quickly cultivating relationships and building a strong personal and professional network. I've also learned to be patient with myself--and others--understanding, and inquisitive, all traits that make up a great leader.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as founders of Bottle & Bottega?
Nancy: Having worked in franchising for more than two decades, I've worked my way from the ground up. I began my career answering phones and running company owned locations. I eventually progressed into an executive leadership position where I managed every facet of the organizational structure. As we began to build Bottle & Bottega I was very clear on what it was going to take to be successful and what critical partners we needed. I also learned the importance of franchise relationships and how to blend strong leadership with franchisee feedback to build a better brand.

Stephanie: I've worked as an artist, a delivery person, a journalist, a paralegal, an editor, a brand manager and most recently, a mother. Every role -- although some more than others -- contributed to my founding the business. My background in the arts undoubtedly had the greatest influence on the launch of Bottle & Bottega. Since my mother was a prolific, well-known artist, I was encouraged to express my creativity from an early age. Throughout each career endeavor, I've used art to help me relax, distress and escape from the rigors of everyday life. Amid the recession in 2009, my husband and I were laid off on the exact same day. A couple of weeks later, we were painting (he's also an amazing artist) when a friend stopped by and began lamenting her lack of talent. We convinced her she could paint with the right instruction -- and inspiration -- so we uncorked a bottle of wine and the concept was born! She loved her painting and I realized we were onto something.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Nancy: Well honestly, I'm not sure if there is such a thing as work/life balance in the early years of starting a business from the ground up. I am, however, committed to working out every day at 7:00 a.m. religiously no matter what. A regular workout routine not only keeps my body in shape, but my mind focused. Aside from that, my family and friends plan downtime around my schedule and just tell me when I need to show up. Ha! It works out pretty well.

Stephanie: No matter what you do for a living, keeping a healthy work/life balance is a challenge. When you have your own business, it may be even more difficult because you never really leave the office. Luckily for me, I have a beautiful and demanding 1-year-old (and another on the way!) and a wonderfully doting husband who make sure I shut the laptop regularly. That's why I love the flexibility of being my own boss. I have the luxury of deciding when I want to work. I just need reminders every once in a while that it's time to stop.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Bottle & Bottega?
Nancy: There are few things more rewarding than bringing a new franchisee into our family and witnessing their first guest registration process, celebrating in the launch of their first event and watching their studio come to life. We play an important role in helping our owners fulfill their dreams and there is nothing more important than that. The challenge is balancing the things you WANT to get done with those you HAVE to get done and keeping your team positive and focused in the process. Sometimes you just have to slow things down a bit in order to move faster.

Stephanie: For me, the biggest challenge is remaining cognizant of the impact the success of our organization has on other people -- it's a tremendous responsibility and one I didn't fully appreciate when first launching the business. Pushing the envelope and growing into new communities is helping us foster new opportunities and create jobs throughout the country. I am so proud of every member of our team and I look forward to watching us continue on our journey.

What advice can you offer individuals who are seeking to establish their own business?
Nancy: First, make sure the business you start is something you are absolutely passionate about. Second, do A LOT of research to ensure the business model can be successful and you can ultimately make money at it. Third, surround yourself with great people you can trust to help you. It takes a strong team to make a business successful.

Stephanie: I wholeheartedly agree with Nancy. I would add that it's important to stay laser-focused on the impact your decisions have on the long-term viability of your brand. It's easy to get distracted by the efforts of competitors, and while it's important to note what your competition is doing, your time should be spent understanding and building the right foundation, systems, and the core mission of your business.

What advice can you offer individuals who are setting up a business with a best friend?
Nancy: Partnerships are really tough so it's an area to be extremely cautious with especially with friends. First, have those really tough conversations about what if....from the start. Second, be 100% aligned from day one on the vision for the business and who will do what. Ultimately, there needs to be one strong leader that sets the tone for the business. Third, ensure you have a strong buy sell agreement to deal with roles, decision making and buy outs.

Stephanie: It goes without saying that mutual respect is crucial in any partnership. But before signing the paperwork, it's also important to identify clearly the strengths and weaknesses of each partner in order to define the role that each will play. In doing so, try to eliminate as much "gray area" as possible and account for those times when there will be divergences in opinion. In those cases, knowing that the ultimate decision will default to the partner under whose role it falls helps resolves potentially volatile situations.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Nancy: The constant struggle to balance a career with motherhood continues to be a big issue for women. I have friends with children, who have the talent and drive to run companies or start their own, but they don't feel they can juggle it all. Ultimately these women tend to feel unfulfilled in the workplace. It's a loss for so many companies because they have so much to give. Companies who can provide the flexibility to help women balance their personal and professional life truly have an edge on the competition.

Stephanie: The drive to do it all and do it well seems to be a constant game of tug-of-war for women. Balancing motherhood and work is definitely my biggest challenge. When tasked with juggling work and caring for my family, the balancing act can be exhausting. There just aren't enough hours in the day. Thankfully, I don't have the demands of a typical corporate career. My demanding boss is ME and I can reason with her. I've learned to delegate and, most importantly, to combat my Type A personality traits and allow myself a little more time for things to get done. My ambition to succeed hasn't waned, but my inclination to feel overwhelmed and guilty for not getting there ASAP has.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
Nancy: I'm a huge advocate of women helping women. I currently sit on the Women's Franchise Committee at the International Franchise Association and am speaking at our upcoming Leadership Conference in February. I believe in and feel I've actively "leaned in" for most of my career. My mother taught me I could do anything I set my mind to and to always focus on what I can do and not what I can't. In business, self-confidence is half the battle. I'm excited to have recently learned about Sheryl's book and am eager to learn more.

Stephanie: I'm incredibly encouraged by the popularity of Lean In. I love that Sandberg's stories of success have made other women see the potential in themselves. Having a corporate career is not the ambition of every woman, but for those who have the drive to negotiate the corporate ladder, Sheryl certainly offers valuable insight.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Nancy: I am both a mentor to others and have my own personal group of men and women from whom I seek mentorship. Having strong leaders you can look up to for guidance and learning is priceless. I'm always amazed at how willing people are to help me and it's been invaluable. Thus, I try to pay it forward with my own mentees. I know how valuable it is to talk with someone who has already walked in your shoes and made mistakes. Ironically, my partnership with Stephanie and ultimately the launch of Bottle & Bottega started with me mentoring her on her business. The rest is history so needless to say, mentorship holds a dear spot in my heart.

Stephanie: I can only echo Nancy's sentiments here. Our relationship began through mentorship. I sought her advice on how to franchise my business. That relationship blossomed into a strong partnership and solid friendship. The impact mentorship has had on my life and career has been immense.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Nancy: There are so many great women leaders out there that I admire. I'm currently enamored with Jessica Herron the CEO and founder of Stella & Dot. I love women who step outside of the traditional business model and take a risk to create a new niche or way of doing business. Jessica was also a bootstrap founder. She has an amazing vision and ability to make things happen to drive her company forward. Success stories like hers push me outside of my comfort zone to always try harder for our brand and our team.

Stephanie: I am surrounded by formidable, ambitious, successful women on a daily basis, not just in my own business but also in the numerous women's and "Mompreneur" groups to which I belong. I gain a tremendous amount of strength from these ladies and look to them to provide guidance and support, and sometimes just a sympathetic ear. I am empowered just being among them and take pride in the bonds we've established by sharing our successes and failures.

What are your hopes for the future of the Bottle & Bottega?
Nancy: I ultimately hope to see Bottle & Bottega as the dominant company in our category. We aim to bring our art and wine concept to every community across the country and ultimately grow internationally. More importantly, I want all of our franchisees to be highly profitable and continue to wake up every morning saying "this was the best thing I ever did." Last but not least, I want our dedicated corporate team to be leaders in the roles they are now just dreaming about and looking back saying "I helped build a phenomenal brand."

Stephanie: I would love to head up the international division of Bottle & Bottega. I look forward to the opportunity to introduce our concept and strong business model to the European market.