It Girls | LEANN DARLAND + TARA HANKINSON
Meet LeAnn and Tara of Talea Beer Co.! I found this interview super interesting, as they are making waves in a male dominated industry. There is so much here to love! Start reading now:
Name: LeAnn Darland + Tara Hankinson
Ages: 32, 32
Job Titles/Company: co-founders
LeAnn: BS US Naval Academy, MS Finance John Hopkins, MBA UC Berkeley Haas
Tara: BSBA Bucknell University, MBA NYU Stern
1.Tell us a little about who you are.
LeAnn: I grew up in Ohio and was a total tomboy. I only wanted to wear my brothers’ clothes and would cry when my mom forced me into a dress. Fast-forwarding to my adult-life, it’s no surprise that I continued to find myself in male-dominated environments (military, tech, now beer).
Tara: I was raised in Pennsylvania, the oldest of three children. I loved working with my hands and precision (baking) and being the boss (horse-back riding and coxswain on the rowing team). My parents had worked in wine and my interest led me to pursuing food, beverage, and hospitality at every turn.
2. What sparked your interest in working in brewing beer and starting Talea?
LeAnn: My love for beer started when I was stationed in San Diego. I lived a few blocks from Coronado Brewing Company’s taproom and always thought it would be so great to have a space like that of my own. I started homebrewing and over about five years, made career moves into the beer industry. TALEA, specifically, didn’t come to life until I met Tara. She was really the impetus and motivation behind the creation of the company and I don’t believe I would have done it without her.
Tara: Post-MBA, I had a summer free before starting my job in management consulting at PWC. I pitched myself as a summer intern at Wolffer Estate Vineyard in the Hamptons. While there, I realized I wanted to create a Wolffer-like experience in NYC - and that no brewery had created anything close. I came back to NYC, started my professional path and homebrewing in tandem. When I was ready to get closer to beer, I left my job at The New York Times to join Hopsy, an e-commerce beer company, where I met LeAnn. We started brainstorming and realized we had a common vision: to start a brewery addressing this gap in the market. We had not only a complementary skill-set, but a great friendship and working relationship that enabled us to blossom and now, tackle any problem that comes our way. LeAnn had experienced the ups and downs of start-up life at Hopsy and that helped us fully prepare to launch TALEA.
3. Who are you most influenced by?
LeAnn: Other female entrepreneurs who have challenged and changed industries (Rent the Runway, Lola, Away, BeautyCounter), along with my mom, who has a heart of gold.
Tara: My father who constantly brings an entrepreneurial mindset to everything he does. My mother who is the most impressive manager I’ve known. My female mentors who are trailblazing whether bringing strategy and creativity to older companies or leading the charge at start-ups.
4. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
LeAnn: When I was 15 I worked the cash register at a bagel shop called “Skip’s Bagels and Deli”. I was paid $5.45 an hour and worked there for about 5 months.
Tara: Besides babysitting and college campus jobs, I worked as a sales associate at Victoria’s Secret for a summer during college. Engaging with consumers in such an intimate way was quite the learning experience.
5. Can you share one of your proudest achievements with us?
LeAnn: Graduating from the Naval Academy and serving in the Navy. I had no idea what I was getting into at the age of 17, but throughout 9 years in uniform I learned SO MUCH about work ethic and grit and leadership, and worked alongside some of the most impressive, selfless people I have ever met.
Tara: Leaving my first post-college job in philanthropy to go to business school. I took a big chance on pursuing higher education and pivoting my career. Ultimately, getting my MBA gave me an amazing skill-set to build TALEA down the line.
6. What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?
LeAnn: Initially, I wanted to create a business I could call my own and be my own boss. Since then, I’ve realized that we can do so much more with TALEA. There has been a stigma associated with women drinking beer for decades and we are just starting to see women and men drinking craft at 50/50 ratio. This is a male-dominated industry that we can expand and push into new territories with a female perspective.
Tara: From a tactical perspective, my initial goal was to bring a product to market and get feedback. Once we formed TALEA and started to research, speak with consumers, and engage with the community, we identified what we believe is a ripe opportunity to disrupt the market. I want to create a world class brand and experience through TALEA taprooms in NYC, the Hamptons, and, in the future, other geographies.
7. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned through your work?
LeAnn: To be authentic in everything you say and do. When I first joined the Navy, I tried to fit into a mold of what I thought a military leader should be, which was cold and insensitive. It took years to realize that people can see through that and it can be toxic for a culture.
Tara: Hard work and applying one’s self are the keys to success. Building the strategy and plan for TALEA was a small percentage of getting to this point - taxing research, hitting the pavement, and putting ourselves out there (sales and fundraising) has been 90% of the work.
8. Where do you hope to be in five years?
LeAnn: Starting to build our third taproom in the NYC/Hamptons area. Maybe with a few kids in tow.
Tara: Running a company that makes an impact on our consumers, our communities, and our team members. We want to open the beer community to a broader market and engage our consumers and communities through events and inclusion. For our team members, we want to inspire performance through creating a company culture that celebrates professional development.
9. What is a typical day like for you?
LeAnn: Wake up around 6am, go for a run around Central Park. Head into our WeWork office to print invoices, follow up with potential investors. Meet up at our warehouse in Long Island City to load up the van with beer (we also have the obligatory protein bar, banana, and iced coffee). Drive around Brooklyn and Manhattan delivering kegs, while taking investor calls in the van (thanks to our head brewer, Johnny, for driving!). Return the van back around 4-5pm just in time to rush to a tasting at one of our accounts - we love interacting directly with customers! Then head home around 9pm.
Tara: On a sales day (vs. delivery day), I wake up around 7am, walk my dog, then shower, make coffee, and start following-up and answering investor emails. Around 10am, I create a route for sales that day. We sell our beer to bars, restaurants, and retailers - each one has a different buyer with a different schedule and some buyers are only present once a week during a 2 hour period. I map out my stops and estimated timeline, building in breaks for any investor or strategic phone calls and head out around 12:30pm after a high protein/high fat lunch (I always skip breakfast). After 4-5 hours, I’ll either head home to wrap up more emails, meet up with Johnny and LeAnn to visit an account, or go to one of our various beer networking and tasting events. There’s rarely a day when we’re in one place for more than 2-3 hours.
10: What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your goals?
LeAnn: Not having enough time to do it all! Launching new products, engaging through social media, hosting tastings at offices and accounts, delivering beer, and fundraising with just three people is A LOT. At the end of the day, we have to prioritize but it’s difficult to say no to anything so early on. Currently, we need to fundraise and as much as we would like to do tastings all day every day, we have to know when to say no.
Tara: Prioritization. As LeAnn said, we can’t do everything, and it’s been difficult to turn down opportunities based on our bandwidth or the cost.
11. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
LeAnn: I think the best piece of advice I have received is from Tara - “perfection is the enemy of progress”. This company is our baby and it’s hard to accept anything less than perfect, but we still just gotta get things done! That… and “don’t get high on your own supply”. Haha.
Tara: Be authentic. We aren’t trying to blend in or assimilate to the beer community - or anywhere else, and that has attracted people to our brand who appreciate our unique perspective. Also, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” We continuously put ourselves out there and have been pleasantly surprised at what happens when we take crazy risks or put ourselves in unexpected situations.
12. When do you get your best ideas?
LeAnn: Usually on my morning runs. Ariana Grande and I seem to figure a lot of stuff out in 30 minutes.
Tara: Walking to the subway without headphones. My mind wanders and I start connecting the dots.
13. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
LeAnn: It’s hard to look back and call any one thing a failure, because you just have to adapt and overcome. With every challenge we run into, there are quick lessons learned - attention to detail, trust but verify, underpromise and over deliver, etc. The overarching lesson I’ve learned is to take a deep breath and try to find the solution. I have a bad habit of dwelling on the issue and thinking “woulda, coulda, shoulda”, but Tara is amazing at looking forward and drags me along with her :). I’m so grateful for that.
Tara: I tried to start a few other entrepreneurial projects (a cookie company, a linen scarf company), and by start I mean I purchased the supplies, made an instagram, and started brainstorming product concepts but I was never able to execute, mostly out of fear. Meeting LeAnn gave me the confidence to pursue TALEA. She keeps me accountable and motivated to continuously push myself to do my best work. I wouldn’t have been able to get beyond concept without LeAnn as my partner.
14. How do you unwind?
LeAnn: Meeting up for a drink with my husband so we can really talk without a TV in front of us… then watching Seinfeld at home with a beer.
Tara: Talking through my day with my husband over a beer or a glass of wine.
15. What would you tell someone else who is interested in entering your field?
LeAnn: Call us! We have lots of lessons learned and love to talk about ways to grow the craft community!
Tara: There’s so much opportunity for new perspectives in food & beverage.
16. What do you hope people take away from your story?
LeAnn: Never settle. If you know there is something else you want to do in life, create a plan to make it happen, and if you’re lucky, find a great person to do it with you.
Tara: Keep pushing - resilience will win out. LeAnn and I have cried on the streets of NYC during sales and delivery days but we keep going and now those moments are ones we are incredibly proud of when we look back.
17. Anything we missed that you would like to share?
follow us on Instagram @taleabeer!