In another installment of our spotlight on kickass ladies doing really cool things, we bring you Michelle da Silva and Dana Masterpolo, the wonder women behind the newly launched, Cambridge-based Bantam Cider Company. The first ever hard cider to be reviewed by cult favorite Drink Craft Beer, Bantam's Wunderkind has been developed with local orchards here in Massachusetts and aims to change the way people experience hard cider. We are VERY excited to feature Bantam's cider on the bar at IGNITE the NITE 2013 and equally excited to share their musings on women, small business, the alcohol industry, and how to run with a kick ass idea.
Q: How did you come to decide to leave your job and take the risk of starting your own company?
Dana and I wanted to be involved in something dynamic and creative that would allow us to be more connected to the local community. There was a at least a year and a half of solid work that took place before we ultimately launched Bantam, and at that point we realized that if our company was going to succeed, we really needed to be all in. And while there’s something very scary about the uncertainly of starting a business, it’s equally liberating to know you are in control of your own destiny.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced when first getting off the ground?
Our biggest challenge was having limited experience in the alcohol industry. While I was knowledgeable about wine and the winemaking process, and we had experience as home-cider makers, we didn’t have commercial wine making or consumer goods experience. What we did have was a passion to create something special and a confidence in ourselves to be able to learn quickly. For the first year, we managed every single aspect of the business from product development and production to sales/marketing and distribution.
Q: Is yours a male-dominated industry/business?
Alcohol is certainly a male dominated industry, but we're finding that more and more women are becoming involved in owning or managing breweries, cideries and retail outlets.
Q: What obstacles have you encountered as a female business owner?
Luckily none that we’re aware of - I think being women has actually worked in our favor. The alcohol industry has traditionally marketed to men, but cider is unique in that our consumers are pretty much an even split – 50% male 50% female. From a marketing standpoint, I think it gives us a unique perspective and allows us to differentiate ourselves.
Q: When did you start and how much have you grown?
We launched a little over a year ago (January of 2012.) We grew from being an unknown brand to having our product sold in nearly 200 accounts across Massachusetts.
Q: At what point did you decide to hire staff and expand your physical
We haven’t hired any full-time staff as of yet, but we have certainly sought out plenty of help and guidance along the way. We’re currently looking for some space at the moment that would allow us to have a small batch production facility in the city. We’d love to have a tasting room and to offer tours. We’re also looking forward to adding some team members when the timing is right!space (if you have)?
Q: Are there any female role models or leaders in the industry that have inspired or mentored you as a young business owner?
The rock star duo, Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow, who own and operate The Craft Beer Cellar, are great (female) role models in the industry. They’re well known and well respected in the business and inspire us with their passion for what they do and their dedication to being the best at what they do. Their attention to detail, customer service and product knowledge is unparalleled and they’ve built an enormous following of loyal supporters because of this.
Q: Where would you like to see your business in 5 years?
In 5 years we would really like to have established ourselves as the premiere craft cider company in New England and to have our footprint expand to national distribution.
Q: What advice would you give to a woman of any age looking to run with a business idea?
Our advice: Stop researching and thinking - and to just start doing. We would tell her to get her product or service up and running to test the market response. This was the best advice we were given before we made the jump.
Q: Who are your female role models?
Dana and I have many strong and influential women that we look up to as role models. When we started Bantam, we felt like we were embarking on a real adventure and taking a leap into the unknown. Amelia Earhart, a woman we both greatly admire, inspired us by her passion, fearlessness and spirit of adventure. She was a pioneer in a male dominated industry and let nothing hold her back from achieving her dreams. We launched our flagship product Wunderkind in her honor.
Q: What would you like to see change for the role of women in our world? For the future?
The role of women in society is evolving each and every day. In the United States we see a greater number of women performing at the top of their fields be it politics, academics, business, and athletics than ever before. Women have for the first time in history been allowed into combat roles in the US military. And while we can celebrate many significant achievements domestically there are, unfortunately, still overwhelming challenges for women around the globe. Ultimately, the end goal we should strive for is a world in which women achieve complete equality and freedom of choice in all aspects of life.