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Interview with Vinelust Founder Pallavi Patil

Photo Credit: Pallavi Patil

Introducing SAPNA’s Professional Hustler – Entrepreneur Series, a collection of stories from up and coming South Asian American women in business.

Pallavi Patil, the CEO & Founder of Vinelust noticed a need for a user-centered wine shopping experience, after struggling through her own frustrations as an amateur wine consumer. This frustration with the current system, fused with her passion for wine, led her to quit her successful job as an investment banker. Thus, beginning her journey into a world where she spends every waking moment following her dream. We sat down with Pallavi to hear her story.

“There aren’t many Indians in the wine industry and sometimes I am even asked if my religions allows me to drink! It hasn’t been drastic, but people always have preconceived notions that a wine expert is an old, stogy guy in a suit. Seeing a 20-something Indian women is always a surprise and I think getting over that initial hump is easy to do once I start talking about our service and my experience.” – Pallavi Patil

What was your inspiration for VineLust?
I came up with the concept to satisfy a problem I was facing. I was a huge foodie, but knew little about wine when I moved to California and was on a quest to learn more. I loved exploring small wineries that were hard to find because they produced amazing wines with love and dedication to their craft. The problem was that it took so much time and knowledge to figure out what wine I would like and which producers would make wine that fit my palate. Wine ratings didn’t really work for me and friends have different palates, so I wanted to create a personalized way for people to learn more about wine from these artisan producers and make sure people were drinking wine that fit their own individual tastes!

After working as an investment manager for five years, what made you decide to pursue VineLust?
I liked what I was doing in Finance, but I didn’t love it. It paid the bills, but I found myself getting more enamored with the world of restaurants, food and wine so I decided to take a risk, quite my job and start working for restaurants in Los Angeles for very little money. I was young, had no children and really felt that I would regret my choices if I didn’t take a risk and see what another industry and career could hold for my future.

You only live once and people often say that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. I’ve definitely found that to be true since I’ve started to pursue a career I am passionate about!

Do you currently pursue VineLust fulltime? And how did you raise the initial investment money to be able to pursue the business?
I was going to business school at UCLA Anderson when I started VineLust and having graduated I work on the business full-time. I was fortunate to have saved up some money during my career in finance so I’ve used my own capital to date.

How do you think VineLust will revolutionize the art of wine drinking?
The team at VineLust is comprised of people with quantitative backgrounds and wine experts who created this algorithm that really understands your individual wine palate. No one in the market place right now is sending you personalized wine, instead, most are sending out generic bottles via wine clubs. VineLust also allows you to give us feedback on what we are sending you. We input that into our matching system so we can provide even better wine for you going forward!

Learning about wine and drinking wine should be fun and exciting and people are often intimidated, our mission is to make sure we are connecting people to the right wine for them and not something a critic says is amazing! It’s all about personalization.

What advice would you give to someone who has an interesting idea that they are passionate about, but may not have the courage to pursue?
It’s always hard to take the first step, but make sure you are passionate about the new endeavor first. If you want to open up a bakery, for example, bake every day after work for a month. Do you still love it? If so, that’s a good start! If your idea has something to do with an industry or space you aren’t so familiar with, go to trade shows or take classes in your spare time so it doesn’t feel so daunting when you take the leap.

People always say that starting a company is very risky, and although that’s true – there is still a pragmatic way to go about it to ensure you are setting yourself up for success and still able to pay the bills! So many people I know either start their ventures on the side or keep their business as a side project and everyone has a different situation with work and finances. Regardless, this all takes courage and hardwork!

What sorts of physical or mental obstacles did you face in your journey to getting VineLust on it’s feet?
In terms of challenges, the wine industry has a plethora of regulations, especially when it comes to shipping wine –so I spent about 6 months having conversations with as many people as possible to figure out how online wine providers were setup and how we would pursue our operations.

Mentally, starting a company is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Like most South Asians, I concentrated on my education and profession for most of my life, taking a fairly guarded path to investment management. I made mistakes in the past, of course, but “failure” was fairly new to me. When you start your own business and create something that never existed before things rarely go smoothly. Y

You are creating your own path everyday, pushing ahead regardless of naysayers and tackling problems with the confidence that you will find a solution no matter what. Hearing “no” or “it can’t be done” isn’t an option in my mind. Everyday there is something to be excited about or that can get you down, I’ve learned so much about myself and gotten stronger along the way!

Famous winemaker, Robert Mondavi has said “I’ve always wanted to improve on the idea of living well. In moderation, wine is good for you- mentally, physically and spiritually.” Do you agree? And how do you believe VineLust extends those three qualifications?

I definitely believe that wine can enhance your life! I’ve always loved hospitality, food and wine because it brings people together. Every milestone in my life and many others is marked by a special meal, bottle of wine and atmosphere that brings people together and I love that aspect of what I do.

When it comes to the three qualifications Mondavi spoke about, I do believe VineLust helps wine reach consumers and those criteria. We think our shipments every month are special packages that helps people learn more about wine (mentally), help with your heart (physically) and I’ve always believed that wine really does bring people together both in celebration or when you need a friend to lean on.

As a South Asian woman, do you believe you specifically faced any obstacles that others may not?
Absolutely. There aren’t many Indians in the wine industry and sometimes I am even asked if my religion allows me to drink! It hasn’t been drastic, but people always have their preconceived notions that a wine expert is an old, stoggy guy in a suit. Seeing a 20-something Indian women is always a surprise and I think getting over that initial hump is easy to do once I start talking about our service and my experience.

What is your definition of success, and do you think you have reached it?
Success to me is mutli-faceted, it involves financial stability or growth to a certain extent, but more importantly leaving a mark on the world that people take note of whether that is your friends and family or the Forbes 500 list.

We just started as a company, so I can’t quite say we are a success yet. As a professional, I am proud of what I have accomplished in my own career, but the real measure of success to me is leaving a mark on the world, changing the industry you worth within and touching peoples lives. In that regards, I still have a lot of work to do!

What is your ultimate vision for VineLust?
I want to create a product that helps connect more people the right wine. We are a membership service now and just shipping to California, but we hope to expand over the next couple months in other states.

After expanding, I would really like to work on a non-membership product that uses data to discern every wine available in the market place and match people to those they would enjoy. Because taste is so subjective, this would take a lot of time, lots of data on consumer preferences and a great deal of testing.

What is something you are passionate about other than your company?
I’m definitely passionate about my family, spending quality time with them is a priority for me. As I mentioned before, I am also a huge foodie and love experimenting with recipes! My husband and I just started making our own pasta, it takes a bit of time – but pays off in some delicious dinners!

Working out and staying fit is also important. It’s definitely a big stress reliever from busy days and of course lots of food and wine.

Culturally, South Asian women are often pressured to put family and child-rearing first. What is your take on this cultural norm, and how does it fit into your future and pursuit of your goals?
My family is the most important thing to me. I was fortunate to have a hard-working mother who is my role model professionally and personally. She was a doctor and managed to still raise three, successfulchildren with the help and support of my father. Thankfully, I grew up in a family where they taught me never to have limits and to pursue my dreams. I’m also married to an incredibly supportive man that is all about sharing responsibilities so that we both can pursue our professional goals.

At the end of the day, my children will always come first. I don’t think I would ever make a decision that wasn’t in their best interest. It may mean more sleepless night, but I did grow up in an environment where I saw that you can have both.

As for the cultural norm, I hope that this changes in our generation. I see more compromise amongst married couples and it’s more common for women to work. But it’s true that the women’s career tends to get sacrificed before the man’s when push comes to shove. Hopefully more women have conversations with their spouses about their career goals and prioritizing those as well throughout their lives.

Leave me with some words of advice about entrepreneurship, or a quote that has been your mantra through the process of creating VineLust.

This is a mantra for me as I face challenges in creating a business: “Between stimulus and response is a space. In that space lies the freedom and our power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.” – Viktor Frankl.

In other words, it’s not about the action that is happening in the world around you, but rather the power of your ability to choose your response. Learning the right responses to different situations really just makes you a stronger person both professionally and personally.

For more information visit Vinelust.

Stay tuned for more stories in the SAPNA  Professional Hustler – Entrepreneur Series.

— MONICA KHAN

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