Jan Pelka clearly knows a thing or two about identifying an audience, perseverance and striking while the iron is hot.
The founder of Une Femme Wines, who recently spoke during a panel discussion hosted by Women of the Vine & Spirits, owns a sparkling wine brand that collaborates solely with women winemakers and gives back exclusively to women-centered charities.
Pelka owned The Riddler, a champagne bar with locations in San Francisco and New York, before the COVID pandemic led her to shut down the bars. She pivoted, opening Une Femme, which has been a modern day success story.
Because she kept her foot on the gas pedal, built momentum and took advantage of opportunities that presented themselves, her wine brand has taken off, with Pelka securing two major national partnerships with Delta, where she developed a canned wine for the airline, and Marriott.
Determining her Audience
Pelka’s experience with the wine bar provided the base for Une Femme’s philosophy.
There were two major takeaways: All of the investors at both locations were women, and when she would put wines made by women on her menu, they would outsell every other brand.
She went on to collaborate with winemaker Samantha Sheehan of POE and Ultraviolet wines, who worked with her to make a limited run of a sparkling California Rose.
“I noticed that the wine that sold the best was always the lowest priced sparkling Rose offered by the glass,” Pelka said of her wine bar days.
Being Unafraid of the Big Ask
Pelka said it can be harder for women to secure big loans through the traditional banking or venture capital avenues, but that doesn’t mean your dreams need to die.
Being unafraid of what she called “the big ask” can help you land help from not only big investors, but a number of smaller investors as well, she said.
“I did a lot of fundraising in my day, finding a lot of individual investors in New York and San Francisco that I found through my personal networks,” she said. “I met with a women the other day who was fundraising for her first barm and I told her she needs to think of every single person in her phone when deciding where to start. I talked to anyone at the bars who I thought might have $5,000.
“It (doesn’t always) start with a big check amount.”
Choosing your investors wisely can also help your brand, she noted.
“I thought it was powerful to choose to get my investment only from women because they [were my audience and] all became a part of things,” Pelka said. “To start the company, and launch the wines, I had two individuals — both women — who contributed $600,000. Then, I set out to raise $1 million to grow. It took a year and a bunch of checks ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 to get there.”
She eventually secured her Series A funding after building momentum, hooking up with a venture capital firm that understood her mission and what her company was doing.
Pelka noted that you had to always be prepared to make a sale.
“One of the most important things you can do is put together a great fundraising deck that hits on your numbers and your plans,” she said. “You have to realize that you’re always selling.”
Seizing the Opportunity
Luck helps, but what you do with it ultimately matters.
Pelka’s husband owns Souvla, a chain of Greek restaurants in San Francisco. Pelka was helping him with public relations, when, during a meeting with Delta representatives discussing a business deal, she had an opportunity to showcase her Une Femme wines.
Proceeds from the wines happened to be supporting breast cancer research, and the combination of her mission, her 187 ml bottles and the fact it was Breast Cancer Awareness month led to a special product placement deal on the airlines for that month.
It didn’t end there for Une Femme and Delta, though. Une Femme is now the official canned sparkling wine offered on all Delta flights.
“We as a team hustled,” Pelka said. “We were constantly flying out to meet with Delta buyers, and developed a canned sparkling wine specific to their needs. It was putting the cart before the horse, and it was kind of risky, but when given a big opportunity, you have to go for it.”