A Woman of Wine and Business: An Interview with Bottle Rush Founder Tamara Lover

This week, I interviewed my dear friend Tamara Lover about her company Bottle Rush, which she founded when she was pregnant with her first child and launched while she was pregnant with her second.

The idea for Bottle Rush was born out of necessity.   When Tamara, the co-founder, graduated from wine school her friends discovered they had their own personal sommelier on speed dial.   As word spread, requests for the perfect wine pairing and gifts increased. A lot. Tamara quickly realized she needed to figure out a way to automate her services so that everyone could have their own wine expert at their disposal or quit her job and do this full time.  She decided to do both.   

Co-founder Renell, met up for drinks one night with Tamara who shared her idea of creating a “virtual sommelier” so everyone had access to their own wine expert.   Renell, who has a passion for technology and loves a great challenge, jumped right in.  

Together, they set out to build Bottle Rush to reflect their shared values and passions: a democratic wine experience, quick and easy access to high-quality, affordable wines and the frequent occasion to raise a glass.  

Not only is Tamara an outstanding entrepreneur and mother, she is also a generous philanthropist. This holiday season, she has created a woman in wine gift collection featuring wines made by women. For each gift collection sold, she will make a donation to CASA, an organization that advocates for the rights of children who are abused and neglected.

 (1) How did you come up with the concept for Bottle Rush?

When I graduated with my Diploma from wine school (WSET), many of my fellow students went off to become wine consultants, building multi-million dollar wine cellars for the very wealthy. At that same time my friends and family quickly realized they now had a personal sommelier on speed dial and would call me for wine suggestions. It occurred to me that there was a whole population out there who were interested in wine and needed help but couldn't afford (or saw the need) to have a private wine consultant.  So I figured out a way to create personalized wine recommendations, custom cellars and unique gift collections through an algorithm that selects wines that are affordable, represent the best in their class and/or offer something unique.   

(2) You created Bottle Rush while pregnant with your first child, and launched it while pregnant with your second. I think pretty much every woman out there wants to know how you did it?

Ha, when you put it that way it sounds way more impressive than it actually was. To be honest, I had help. My business partner was there to pick up all my slack and I have a nanny three days a week. Also my secret weapon was putting my daughter in a stroller and having conference calls while walking her around the block (repeatedly). I think you just have to find what works for you.  I'm not going to lie - I worked on very little sleep and I could have probably moved development along faster if I wasn't pregnant or the parent of a toddler but I wanted both (company and family) so I needed to make sacrifices on both ends. 

(3) You're not a lawyer by training, but the work you're doing requires you to navigate a fairly complex set of regulations. How do you prepare yourself to deal with the legal landscape?

The legal aspect of starting a company like Bottle Rush is by far one of the most complex. At one point we had 6 lawyers consulting on Bottle Rush to ensure we are abiding by the liquor laws in each state we operate in. But before we were in a position to hire a lawyer my partner and I did extensive research to understand how we can create a new business model in a system that has basically remained unchanged for over 50 years.   

(4) How is Bottle Rush different from its competitors? Tell us more about your Virtual Sommelier service?

First and foremost we start with you - the wine drinker. By understanding what wines you currently like, the occasions you drink wine as well as your favorite foods, we can use that data to create custom selections that perfectly fit your lifestyle. That is fundamentally how the algorithm that powers our virtual sommelier works. Also, every wine that is offered on the site is hand selected by me so I know that we are offering wines that I would be proud to serve to my friends and family. My litmus test usually is - would I buy this wine again? With so much out there, if it's interesting enough to make me want to pick up more bottles then it will likely make it on our site. Also, we are not connected to any wineries or trying to sell wine bought on liquidation - our revenue is a flat fee received from the retailers we partner with so our only goal is to make sure our customers find wines they love and want to keep coming back for more. 

(5) Tell us about the women winemaker package you are offering this holiday season?

As a company co-founded by two women in a male dominated field we are keenly aware of the challenges and are passionate about supporting the woman who are having such a big impact in the world of wine today. To celebrate and honor these women we have put together a holiday gift collection which features their delicious wines and plan to make a donation to CASA for each one sold. CASA is an amazing organization that advocates for the rights of children who are abused and neglected and ensures that they don't get lost in the social services system.   

[You can purchase the Woman in Wine Gift Collection here.]

(6) What are your plans for Bottle Rush moving forward?

Our plan is to continue to find new ways to ensure that wine drinkers will have easy and affordable access to wines they will love.  Not like, but, Love. We plan to expand to more states in 2016 and also roll out new technology that uses our proprietary algorithm.

(7) What is your advice for other women entrepreneurs? 

Don't be afraid to take risks and don't underestimate your capabilities. We are significantly underrepresented in c-level positions and it is not because of capability. That needs to change. We need to be a bit more fearless and the business community needs to do more to encourage this.   

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