Making Something From Nothing: Nevena Rousseva Of Ladies of Leisure On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

I wish someone told me that selling wine online has so many fragmented regulations. I quickly found out that each state has their own rules and regulations and we had to find a compliance company to help us manage them.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nevena Rousseva.

Nevena is the founder of Ladies of Leisure, a direct-to-consumer lifestyle brand transforming wine into a form of emotional expression while delivering great tasting, high-quality wine in fun, vibrant packaging. It’s wine that looks good and tastes good. Nevena’s career started at a fast-growing fashion start-up where she managed operations and learned the ins and outs of starting and running a cult fashion brand. She then moved to a corporate setting where she managed accounts for national retailers. After getting her master’s degree in Sustainability Management from Columbia University, she worked for a digital platform focused on sustainable fashion lifestyle where she focused on branding, marketing and translating complex sustainability issues into customer friendly marketing and educational assets.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I was born in Bulgaria and moved to the U.S. at the age of nine. Growing up my grandparents on both sides of my family had small vineyards in their backyards. Everyone back then made their own wine. Grape picking and wine-making was always a fun activity my parents, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents would do as a family. We, the kids, would pick grapes and run around playing. We got to stomp grapes and later hear the adults congratulate themselves on a good harvest. It was always fun. When we came to the U.S., we moved to the East End of Long Island, which is one of New York’s wine making regions. The vineyards there are densely packed and make for a charming drive through the region. I grew up across the street from a vineyard.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The only constant in life is change”. I try to always remember this and remind myself of it when a change that feels uncomfortable comes along. You either adapt or you waste time and energy trying to deny change, which never works and ends up holding you back. Things are always moving forward, even if it’s in ways you may not like. The key is learning to adapt and finding ways to thrive. In the end, that is a reflection of you. There was a big change that happened at my first job out of college that I was not prepared for. I thought things would never change and then they did. I wasn’t ready for it and struggled. It took some time but I adapted and from then on, when I feel a change coming, I go into adapt mode instead of deny mode.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I know this book can be somewhat controversial, but I loved and could not put down Atlas Shrugged. The breadth, depth and scope of the book took me by surprise as did the sexy and scandalous story between Dagny Taggard, Hank Rearden and John Galt. I loved the determination, the will and the focus the characters had. That book showed me that you can think really big. I also loved The Fountainhead, which I read after Atlas Shrugged. I loved Roark’s belief in his innovative architectural style and unwillingness to compromise and conform.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

I think the way you bring an idea to life is through research and persistence. You have to research your idea to see if it’s viable, if it exists and if there is a place for it. Then, you have to research the market, who is out there, who you need to reach and who you need to contact to get your idea off the ground. Persistence is key, because all this takes time and effort to do. Developing the idea, the prototypes, the graphics, the pitch decks, the sketches, then contacting the people you believe would be interested, support you, help you — it all comes down to how persistent you are in doing these things to bring your idea to life.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

It really depends on what the idea is, but the easiest way is by searching the internet and searching for different key terms and words that describe your idea. Search social media and search forums. If you have a revolutionary idea, you will want to search if it has been patented already. You can do that through the patent office’s website.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

Once you have the idea, you have to present it to people. You have to create a minimal viable product to show what it can look like. You will have to do a marketing plan and a financial plan to figure out your costs and how much money you will need to bring the idea to life. If you don’t have the money, you will need to find someone to fund you, whether that’s friends and family, a bank, or an investor. You need to create a pitch deck that outlines the idea, the market, the customer, competition, financial forecasts and how much money you need. Once you secure the money, you have to find someone to make it for you.

If you want to patent your idea, then that’s a longer and more involved process. You have to find a good patent lawyer who will first do indepth research on whether your idea has been previously patented. You have to decide if you want a design patent or a utility patent. A design patent is just a patent on the design. A utility patent is a patent on the use of the product. A utility patent is better to get, but it’s also more costly and a longer process. Once the patent process starts, it can take months to years. You have to decide if you want to file nationally or internationally. I think it’s best to start nationally. The patent lawyer will write out the patent with your input. You have to also create drawings for the idea to include in your patent application. You will need to hire someone to do them if you can’t do them yourself. Once the patent is filed, you wait to hear from the patent office. They may challenge parts of your patent and you will have to explain and defend them. This can be a long back and forth process. While you are in the process of obtaining the patent, you can start to manufacture and sell your product with the label, “patent pending”.

Finding a good manufacturer can be tricky and you need to spend time researching them, talking to them, seeing what they have done and who they have worked with. You should have them make samples for you to see what their quality is like. Finding a retailer can be a similar process. You need to spend time researching the retailers you want to carry your product to understand how they select new products to carry. There is no set way of getting into a retailer. You really have to take time and research them to understand what their process is and even then, there is no guarantee they will choose to carry your products. There is always, of course, Amazon, but that comes with a whole set of different rules.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?

  1. I wish someone told me that it takes longer than you might think. When I started Ladies of Leisure I thought I would secure the legal documents needed faster than I actually did.
  2. I wish someone told me that selling wine online has so many fragmented regulations. I quickly found out that each state has their own rules and regulations and we had to find a compliance company to help us manage them.
  3. I wish someone told me that building a brand is not easy and takes time. Even though I kind of knew that, I didn’t know it until I started doing it from scratch. It takes a lot of time to get your brand in front of people.
  4. I wish someone told me you have to work at your business everyday. It’s not easy coming home tired from your day job and having to work on your company, but it is necessary.
  5. I wish someone told me that digital marketing can be frustrating. We did a campaign that we thought would work, but it didn’t. It felt disheartening not seeing the results you thought you would or feeling like you “don’t get the customer”, but we used it as a learning lesson.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

The main one is research. Research if the product is already out there and if it’s not, research if there is a need for it and if it would be a viable business. Then, try to make a prototype or a minimum viable product.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I don’t think consultants are worth it. I think it’s better to do your own research. All the information is out there. I think it’s better to spend the money on creating a prototype.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I think bootstrapping is easier than finding a VC and depending on your idea, VCs may or may not be interested. Again, I think you need to research if there are VCs that invest in what you are trying to create. If there are, you need to pitch them and there are no guarantees. If you can bootstrap and create something that gains some traction, you then have a much better pitch for VCs or other sources of money.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

At Ladies of Leisure, we donate a portion of each purchase to nonprofits. We have pre-selected three organizations across women’s rights, the environment and education. We let the customers choose where to send a portion of their purchase.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Well, there are three. Equality for women, education for everyone and protecting our planet and the environment which we need for our survival. That’s why at Ladies of Leisure, we donate to nonprofits in these three areas.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest 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, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Sarah Blakely. I love how she took her idea for Spanks and built it into a billion dollar empire. It was an idea that people didn’t get at first.

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

Making Something From Nothing: Nevena Rousseva Of Ladies of Leisure On How To Go From Idea To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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