In March 2021, one year into the coronavirus pandemic, LeAnn Darland and Tara Hankinson took a leap of faith and opened Talea Beer Co., the first woman owned and operated brewery and taproom in Brooklyn, NY. Now, 30+ employees and 9,000 square feet later, the pair continue their aims to diversify the craft beer industry.
The co-workers turned co-founders both left corporate careers to become business owners. Prior to entrepreneurship, Darland served for five years as a naval officer before working at Google and getting an MBA at UC Berkeley.
Similarly, Hankinson obtained her MBA from NYU. She was no stranger to the beverage industry before entrepreneurship, as her parents worked in the business. This familiarity drew Hankinson to do projects on the beverage and hospitality industry in business school, and even intern at Personal Wine Cellar during the summer.
The pair met while working at Hopsy, a beer e-commerce start-up, in April 2018, and decided to combine their knowledge to create Talea, a play on their first names. Trusting in the originality of their brand, Hankinson and Darland spent eight months developing a business plan and fundraising before going door to door delivering their craft beer to bars around the city.
Today, Talea Beer Co. has over 20 different draft beers, an online merch store, and almost 20,000 supporters across social media platforms. On May 10, the brewery expanded with a new pop-up location in midtown Manhattan, outside of Grand Central terminal.
CNBC Make It spoke with the co-founders to discuss their best career advice and the importance of cohesive leadership.
The biggest piece of career advice Hankinson resonates with is one many have heard before: "Don't let perfection be the enemy of progress."
"It was a hard lesson for us, because spending all this time and money and leaving our jobs to run the business early on, every decision felt so consequential," Hankinson says. "Weighing those decisions can really slow you down. But sometimes, getting something out the door is better than just holding on."
Hankinson says this mindset has been beneficial not only for her and Darland, but for their team — they all tend to "put pressure on themselves to move quickly" despite being a smaller team. Hankinson says she still considers Talea to be a start-up, and keeps that in mind when things don't always go as planned.
Darland shares that, for individuals interested in starting their own business, gaining experience can be equally, or possibly more important, as a formal education.
"At Hopsy, we were able to see the ins and outs of what a small company is, and all the things that you are required to do, like setting up general liability insurance and worker's comp and understanding payroll filings — the things they don't teach you in business school, but you're going to have to know day one, when you start your own company."
Darland shares that having real world experience also helps with credibility when trying to fundraise, and that sacrificing a career at a big name company in order to chase your dreams can be beneficial in the end.
"I'd highly recommend taking a big pay cut, if possible, and going to a start-up where it is really scrappy and a small team, so you get a little taste of it before making the leap on your own."
Many people are hesitant to start a business with friends or family members, as it could potentially jeopardize the relationship. However, the Talea founders have learned to leverage their "complimentary skills" to allow each person to exercise their strengths.
"We have our own areas of interest and expertise. For example, I love spreadsheets, but no way near as much as Leann loves financial modeling," Hankinson shares. "I think having mutual respect for each other's areas of expertise and trusting each other is the most important thing in making the business survive and grow."
Both women are 50/50 partners in all aspects of the business, from equity stake to getting paid the same, and value being equally invested in the business.
"We both quit our jobs and went unpaid at the same time. We were both doing deliveries in the van around New York City, which was the worst job ever, but we were both all in. And I think that has continued."