When we conceived the series celebrating successful female-led brands, NKD LDY immediately came to mind. The ladies at this Kentucky-based startup are not playing around: to create their distilled non-alc alternatives, they take real spirits and remove the unnecessary layer—the ethanol—thus showing us that the true point of drinking might very well be point zero. We had a chat with Becca Gardner, NKD LDY’s founder and CEO, about the importance of female mentorship and comradeship, the unspoken responsibility to the community that being a female founder entails, and how our own ‘why’ can be a beacon that illuminates the path we chose and makes the challenges and sacrifices we encounter fade away.
Has starting a wellness business changed the way you care for yourself, and what can we do to balance our work and personal life?
Admittedly, work-life balance has never come naturally to me, and running your own company means it’s up to you (which is both a blessing and a curse!). However, I have made knowing what I need to stay healthy and happy a priority, recognizing that it also might change. It’s different for everyone, and I think what’s most important is knowing what this means for you. Personally, I’m not as effective or much fun to be around if I’m not getting the sleep I need and moving at least some every day. I have to treat these things as priorities alongside the other aspects of my business or everything starts to deteriorate.
Society’s finally starting to recognize how inherently feminine skills&qualities such as resilience, empathy, ability to recalibrate goals, etc. help businesses drive success. Can you share an example of how your being a woman improved your brand and let it stand out?
In my relationships with business partners, my team and customers, I have always sought to connect with the individual, rather than just focus on what they can do for me and vice-versa. This is not to say men can’t have genuine relationships, but I have always received positive feedback on being real and authentic, and I think that part of that comes from being a woman. I’m not scared to be vulnerable or transparent about my needs, nor judge others for doing the same — it comes naturally. I think this lends to a safer, more transparent and ultimately productive culture inside and outside the business.
As a wellness brand in the beverage industry, who’s your current consumer, gender-wise, and what are some of the consumer segments you’d like to tap into more?
Our customer base is pretty evenly split between men and women. Despite the name (NKD LDY), we have tried to remain gender-agnostic in much of our branding and messaging, as we are first and foremost focused on inclusion (regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.). However, I would love to start focusing more on the younger generation of consumers. They are drinking less, and I feel there is so much we can learn from them, as they will soon be leading the charge.
What does wellness&mindfulness mean to you and how does that apply to your brand ethos?
Wellness and mindfulness is highly individualized. It’s neither a fad nor a one-size-fits-all type of thing, but rather a practice and mindset that is allowed to flourish by removing the obstacles that might stand in the way of making whatever is that empowered choice for you. I started NKD LDY because I wanted to make it easier to make the empowered choice, whether that means drinking less or not at all, occasionally or all the time. We aren’t here to tell people how to drink, but we do want to make sure that the choice is theirs, as opposed to it being driven by cultural expectations or norms and lack of options.
What are some of the roadblocks you observed as a female founder?
I will never know if some of the “no’s” I received from prospective investors had anything to do with my gender or if I have received more unsolicited advice because I am a woman. But what I do know is that building a company is challenging under the best circumstances, and the further I have progressed, the more important I have found female mentorship and comradeship. For example, I’m having my first child in May, and I realize this is something that could be seen as a challenge/roadblock, but the women in my network have helped me reframe this as an opportunity that I feel prepared for and supported in.
What’s at the top of your wish list for women founders and how can we be a support system to the female business owners in our lives?
I hope women founders know they aren’t alone. Sometimes it’s easy to feel this way, because amidst the demands of a business, it can be difficult to justify more casual conversations. But these connections are so important. It’s also a two-way street. I try to make it a practice to reach out to the women I know who are also building businesses to remind them the channel is open. It’s often hardest to ask for support when you need it the most, and on more than one occasion I was so grateful someone reached out during a time of need.
With the rise of female entrepreneurship, the girl boss notion recently backfired and turned into a slur. What does being a female founder mean to you and how do you achieve this balance of being empowered, yet not unethical?
Being a “female” founder means that I have an unspoken responsibility to support other women in the space. Initially, I didn’t want to accept it, but the reality is that there are many differences and unique obstacles women experience — professionally, socially, and even biologically. As I approach having my first kiddo, I have never been more grateful for the community of women, who have helped me imagine how I can “make this work.” Their empowered experiences have helped me find my footing amidst a lot of uncertainty, and I seek to do the same for others. We are better together.
What pushes you out of your comfort zone now?
Asking for support and delegation. I know I’m not unique in this being a struggle as a start-up founder — it’s something that we inevitably must all do as our businesses grow. Even had I not gotten pregnant, I was at a point where I needed to start delegating more, but my pregnancy and approaching maternity leave have required it. It’s a little scary to hand off activities I’ve done for so long, but I’m realizing that many of these delegations are not only sustaining the business, but making it better. It also provides an incredible opportunity for those around me to step up and take more ownership (and for me to get out of their way ;))
Are there any questions you’re tired of being asked as a female founder (we hope none of the above), and what should you be asked more instead? And what’s your answer to this question?
I actually get asked more about being a sober founder than a female founder, so this was fun and refreshing!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be like you?
I think you have to just take life one day at a time, while making it a practice to stay connected to your personal vision and purpose. Starting a business and/or family, moving across the country, or giving up a competitive salary are all things that can feel overwhelming if you think about them abstractly. However, the way these choices each impact the day-to-day is generally manageable, and most sacrifices seem less crazy / justified when you remember where you are ultimately trying to go. I make a practice of journaling which helps me appreciate the journey while helping me stay in touch with my own “why.”