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Female Founders: Sonya Auvray Vega of Doña Vega On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Be Bold- Have the confidence and drive to put something unique out there. To become a successful brand, you have to be a beacon within your product category. In order to create something of that caliber, it requires both you and your brand to have a sense of boldness that is apparent.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonya Auvray Vega.

Sonya Auvray Vega is a former PR executive who left her career behind to pursue her passion of creating the perfect mezcal. Vega’s love of mezcal was sparked by her Mexican friends and family that introduced her to the fascinating world of this stellar agave-based liquor, leading her on a quest throughout the Oaxaca region of Mexico to research and finesse her blend. Her passion project resulted in a full-time career as an Entrepreneur and Founder of Doña Vega mezcal.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Before founding Doña Vega, I was a PR executive and worked in the industry for 18 years. I was introduced to mezcal for the first time at a wedding and was immediately obsessed with the bold taste, smoky notes, and the completely unique flavor of this powerful spirit. I was infatuated and as I began researching and trying different mezcals, I found that many versions were too rugged, smoky, or intense. During my free time I was determined to create the perfect mezcal. I wanted to create a modern take on the spirit, with a flavor that is complex and playful, but not too smoky or strong, and still honors the authentic core and tradition. This desire to create a more approachable version became more than a passion project and eventually turned into my full-time career!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Launching my company during a global pandemic was certainly interesting. Figuring out ways to navigate sales and introduce a new brand to the market, especially in the hospitality industry, which was so largely impacted was a challenge of its own. It forced me and my team to think outside of the box — whether it was orchestrating virtual tastings, discovering ways to allow consumers to enjoy my product at home, or identifying ways to work with my accounts to support the restaurants and bars that saw employees out of work. It allowed me the extra time to focus on my brand deck, investment deck, and overall fine tuning to further develop my brand in ways that may have been put on the back burner. With this we had a true launch in January 2021.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Funny, and not funny…I thought I had covered all bases when building the brand in terms of packaging, and yet I spaced on one key element, the shipping boxes. We hustled to find a local producer in Mexico, which was not that easy, and then to top it all off, I sent the wrong dimensions. There was a black cloud over these boxes, and now looking back we laugh!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I look at my own success, I naturally look back on the success in my own family line. I’ve come to appreciate the small anecdotal stories of my family’s success in Mexico — my grandfather’s mother and aunt used to take full day trips through the countryside to collect and sell goods to make a profit and support the family. I’m grateful that I come from a strong background of Mexican females that were fearless in their entrepreneurial spirit and set out to find their own successes. Looking back at this time, this was far from common.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

When speaking to the spirits industry in particular, as it is still very male dominated, I think it’s a bit intimidating for females to enter the space and there are challenges that females will experience. For me, that challenge is distribution. I have hit a wall every time I have tried to get larger distribution because I am newer to the industry and a female in the space. When I first got Doña Vega up and running, I thought I was savvy, but distribution has set me back and challenged me in major ways. These types of hurdles discourage many, and in turn can create a lack of female role models for other women to follow in the footsteps of. I truly hope to inspire and encourage other women to join the industry because I believe there is so much females can accomplish in this space, in a unique way.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

In my opinion, it’s largely about giving the space and opportunity for females to also have a fair chance in business ventures. Whether it is investors being equally as willing to bet on a female founder as they would a male, or extending invitations and opening up a seat for females to have a “spot at the table,” it’s important to me that females are given the same opportunity across the board. Without the chance to succeed in the first place, it’s nearly impossible. Time and time again women have proved their ability to perform and be successful as founders and although we as a society are becoming more open-minded towards the progression, there is still work to be done.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

The female perspective is so singular. It’s important to have female representation in the business world, sharing our unique points of view. I feel strongly that the more female founders there are, the more they will pave the way for other women to feel confident in taking on founder positions.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

That it is easy! It’s certainly not easy and does not happen overnight. As a founder, you have to identify the sacrifices that are worth it and not be afraid to believe in yourself and your idea. Building a brand from the ground up takes time and energy — I think a lot of people see the glamorous “founder” story and think it all happens with luck but truthfully, the journey comes with a lot of failure, setbacks, and not to mention, lost sleep, ha!

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I think in order to be a successful founder, you have to be willing to live a life that many wouldn’t. It comes with a lot of sacrifices — from long hours and late nights, to maybe missing out on family activities that you want to do, but can’t because your brand becomes your life (in the best way possible). To be a successful founder you need to be aware of this going in, and be a self-starter and a problem solver, because you really have to rely on yourself.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be Bold- Have the confidence and drive to put something unique out there. To become a successful brand, you have to be a beacon within your product category. In order to create something of that caliber, it requires both you and your brand to have a sense of boldness that is apparent.

Many times during the pandemic, while digging deeper into the industry, I was second guessing if I should move forward, as the path seemed endless. In the end, the belief in my product and the uniqueness it would bring to the market is what pushed me forward.

Resilience- It is unfortunately inevitable that you will face added hurdles as a female founder, especially in the spirits business. Having the ability to persevere and not allow challenges to deter you from your vision and goals is essential to being successful as a woman founder.

Distribution is where time and time again, I had to keep telling myself I could and will get past this hurdle.

Female mentors- It’s so important to surround yourself with other strong like-minded women who will support you on your journey. Both within and beyond your internal network of support, having somebody you can turn to and that you admire to get their perspective is crucial.

I’m very grateful for the women leaders who have taken the time to meet with me, to review my process, and ideas.

Passion- The bottom line to being a successful founder is having a genuine passion for your product and company because it makes the long hours and sacrifices all worthwhile. Creating Doña Vega has truly been a passion project for me. After I tried mezcal for the first time I fell in love with the bold taste, the smoky notes, the complex unique flavor, and rich history. What began as a passion project turned into a quest that brought me throughout the Oaxaca region of Mexico to countless farms, agave fields, distilleries, and ultimately meeting the producers. My passion for the spirit and for Doña Vega has been the driving force behind creating and growing my company.

Vision- Having a firm sense of direction for your brand and for yourself is imperative as you begin to grow. You have to be constantly thinking ahead to what the next step is for your company and never be complacent. And always have a backup plan 😉

Trust- You must trust in yourself, the mission of your brand, the people you are working with, your vision, your product, and that what you are doing is worth it. Trust has to be at the core of everything you do in order to succeed.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’m not sure about mezcal making the world a better place; however, I am very proud to see our production partner grow within their community. We highlight these women in again, a male dominated space.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I don’t consider myself a person of great influence, but I do believe in small but mighty movements. It has been such an incredible experience working with a female distiller and her family, which has passed down the tradition for five generations. I love supporting women in the space and intend to continue to share my passion and drive with other female founders in some way that helps to inspire, connect, and support them.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

As I mentioned earlier, distribution has been my biggest challenge to date. I am so lucky and have had so many amazing people in the industry support me and Doña Vega along the way, but at this moment in my career, sitting down with a top executive from one of the larger distributors would be helpful, insightful, and could help take Doña Vega to the next level.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Female Founders: Sonya Auvray Vega of Doña Vega On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.