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Distill my heart: Kjersten Merila

A vacation to whiskey country and a desire to help women entrepreneurs inspired Her Spirit owner Kjersten Merila and her husband to create this benevolent boozy business. Her Spirit’s lineup of liquors will include vodka, gin, and whiskey, with vodka launching first in early 2017. The company plans to invest fifty-percent of its profits into women entrepreneurs. We’ll drink to that!

Any Special offer for SheBOOM readers?
YES! Let’s give away some T-shirts! Follow Her Spirit on Instagram (@her.spirit), comment with a tag to @sheboomers and I will pick two random winners to get a T-shirt. (Winners will have to DM me with their address and size.)

What led you to start your business?
My husband and I were touring distilleries on an anniversary trip to Kentucky and Tennessee. Throughout the trip we had discussed options for a new business venture, since he’s a creative entrepreneur and always thinking of new business ideas and I’m a career corporate employee looking for something new and exciting outside my grey cube and flickering florescent lights.

We were inspired by the large impressive distilleries of old and really thought it would be a fun industry to dive into. However, we also knew we wanted to create something bigger than ourselves and give back somehow. With that, Steve thought of the name Her Spirit and we decided we’d invest fifty percent of the profits into female entrepreneurs. We were going to give back and have a blast doing it!

Since Steve already runs a brewery full-time and I am really passionate about helping other female entrepreneurs, we decided this would be a company that I would own and operate. Steve provides me with endless creative ideas – Chief Idea Officer as I like to call him – and I get it all done. It works great!

When is it launching? What’s your plan?
We will launch Her Vodka first in spring 2017, in Minnesota to start. The plan is to take this brand nationwide and hopefully introduce Her Whiskey in 2019.

Why should women business owners buy Her Spirit?
The brand will not be gender-marketed, so I believe men and women will both drink it because it’s a premium kick-ass vodka. However, women will be highlighted through ads, podcasts, and social media to really bring the mission to life.

Women business owners in particular should support this brand as it will lift other women up. It will inspire, it will encourage, and most of all, it will change the landscape of the business scene if it has enough support behind it. There are barriers to be knocked down and glass ceilings to be broken regarding women in business. My plan is to change that, or at least play a part in it. For every drink – or bottle – they buy, their dollars are going to work for Her!

What is your biggest triumph to date?
The biggest triumph has been getting the okay to move forward with this brand. We decided to go to a large manufacturer who doesn’t take on just any brand. We had to prove to them we had something and they believed in us! That one small accomplishment made me realize this could be BIG.

Any low points? How did you deal with them?
Yes, but that’s okay. I have high expectations for myself so when I “fail” at something or disappoint those around me, I crash. I do, however, recover very quickly. I learn from my mistakes, I don’t play the blame game, and I move on.

How do you balance your day job (and please summarize what it is), your new business, and the rest of your life demands?
This can be tricky. I currently work full time for a large healthcare organization. My role requires me to be in the office five days a week, so the time I commit to Her Spirit is in the evenings before my husband gets home and on weekend mornings before the house comes alive. Since my husband and I don’t have children (although we do have a puppy who thinks he’s a child), it allows me enough time to get it all done. I generally take some time for myself immediately after I get home from work, then it’s all about Her for a couple of hours. My husband and I make a point to meet, with an agenda, once a week to make sure we’re hitting all the big points, but we constantly talk about Her. Constantly!

Any advice for other women entrepreneurs?
I’m going to reference a TED Talk by Simon Sinek so this isn’t necessarily advice that’s limited to women, but it’s powerful and has stuck with me. Simon Sinek believes you must have your “why” established before the “what.” Why would anyone buy your product or service over someone else’s? Especially a product they’ve purchased or used for years? Unless people understand why your product is better or more efficient or higher quality, they won’t make a change.

Why would someone buy Her Vodka over any other major vodka brand out there?

Because they can help others and feel good about it. People get warm and fuzzy knowing they did something good with little to no effort. Moral of the story, we made sure we had a strong “why” behind our “what.”

Who are your women entrepreneur role models?
I have a long list, but the top three are (in no particular order): Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling for her inspiring story of beating odds that seemed stacked against her; Mrs. Fields founder Debbi Fields for always striving to be better than “good enough”; and Spanx inventor Sarah Blakely for her perseverance and her foundation that supports females through entrepreneurship, education and the arts.

What do you see in your future?
I know it’s not going to happen overnight, but I see Her Spirit on shelves and in bars across the country. I want this to be a national brand that spreads its reaches to women across the country who dare to dream. Everyone who drinks vodka will know this brand.

Anything else?
Yes, thank you Nancy for being my angel and for all the guidance you have so graciously given in such a short amount of time. The world needs more people like you.

Are you a sheBOOMer? Do you know one? Tell us your story! Just contact nancy@sheboom.com.

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