Mara Smith of Inspiro Tequila on breaking into the male-dominated spirits industry
Describe your business in a few words:
I am a former attorney, corporate strategist and stay-at-home mom, and the founder of Inspiro Tequila. I started drinking tequila when I was looking for a clean, gluten-free spirit that fit into my active lifestyle. I searched for a tequila brand that was additive-free with a look, taste and aroma that appealed to me. That perfect tequila did not exist, so I decided to create one. My goal was not just to create a one-of-a-kind tequila, it was also to bring another female voice to the spirits industry. Women are a part of every aspect of Inspiro Tequila’s process, from creating our taste profiles to getting bottles on the shelves. As a female founder, my mission is to inspire and support other women on their entrepreneurial journeys through financial support and mentoring.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I began my legal career at a large law firm in Chicago before joining the corporate strategy team at a Fortune 100 Company. After my twins were born prematurely, I decided to leave the corporate world to focus on my family.
I never stopped thinking about what was next. I was also someone who was always ideating different business concepts or coming up with ideas on how to improve on existing offerings. In 2020, I finally followed my dream of starting my own company by founding Inspiro Tequila. For years, tequila had been my spirit of choice and I noticed that more and more of my friends also were choosing tequila since it fit into their healthier lifestyles. There really were no brands offering an additive-free tequila with a look, taste and aroma focused on us as the consumer. I thought there was an opportunity to innovate and bring a female perspective to the traditionally male-dominated spirits industry.
During the pandemic I suddenly found myself with more time on my hands to really delve in and focus on getting my company off the ground, so Inspiro Tequila became a reality from my kitchen.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
When I was younger I was too busy and working at such a frenzied pace that I never had a minute to stop and think about other career options. I was ultra focused on working my way up the legal or corporate ladder so I never stopped to reflect on what I really wanted out of my career. I always had a desire to run my own company, but I needed to slow down for a minute to take the time to focus on turning this dream into a reality.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
Initially, our marketing strategy was focused on organic social media via Instagram to build brand awareness. I really don’t have much experience in social media, so it’s been quite a learning curve for me. It’s definitely harder than I anticipated to grow an engaged following. It’s so important to provide value added content. Since launching we have added an e-mail newsletter and blog to our marketing efforts and I really enjoy providing interesting information and connecting with our community through these platforms.
What is the biggest challenge you have encountered along the way and what did you learn from it?
The biggest challenge was when our first production run did not work out. The agave did not cool enough before milling (normally a minor detail) but the taste profile did not meet Ana Maria Romero’s, our master distiller, or my standards. It was suggested that maybe we combine two runs, but I did not want to use product that was subpar. I ended up getting rid of the entire run which delayed us many months. I learned that the most important thing is our quality and even if it might take longer, I want us to be meticulous about everything we do.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I am most proud of the fantastic reviews we have received. I get really excited when people taste the product and love it. We were just part of a blind taste test by tequila aficionados and fans and we beat out two really well known, big brands. This was a huge accomplishment for a new, small brand.
What’s a piece of advice you can share that you wish you’d known when you first started your Entreprenista journey?
Find a network of support. It’s a lonely journey as a solo entrepreneur and you truly cannot do everything yourself. It’s so important to find people to help guide you, to give you feedback and to offer support. Communities of female founders and leaders like the Entreprenista League have been instrumental in getting my company launched. I would advise everyone to find communities that are collaborative and supportive to get involved in.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We are currently only available online. We are excited to enter retailers in 2022 and over the next few years we want people to be able to purchase Inspiro Tequila all over the country and their local retailers.
What excites you about being an Entreprenista League member?
I really like to learn from other female founders and to share my learnings on my entrepreneurial journey. It’s a really collaborative community and it takes a community of support when you are launching a new venture.