“I remember that day… I called my teammates and said, 'we need to have a conference call. I have some news for you...We got in!’" reminisces Leah Caplanis, CEO, and Founder of SOCIAL Sparkling Wine.
At the moment that Caplanis describes, her start-up beverage business had finally secured a distributor. It was the moment that her dream to create a healthy alcohol option became a reality. This milestone came in late 2014, almost a year and a half after Leah had quit her full-time job and dove head first into her start-up. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing leading up to this.
Let’s take it back to the beginning.
In 2010, Leah had been diagnosed with cancer. In the face of the disease, she transformed her lifestyle to be completely raw vegan and she gave up alcohol.
However, after two years, she missed the way that having some drinks could connect and bring people together. She eventually found herself looking for an alcoholic beverage that would fit with her healthy lifestyle. With that, her business idea was born, an organic-guilt-free option for social drinking, Social Sparkling Wine.
But where would she go from there?
Caplanis had an idea that she was passionate about, but how would that transform into an actual business?
At the time, she was a student at the University of Chicago studying marketing and entrepreneurship. In Spring 2013, she gathered some friends from graduate school, and began developing the new business.
Meanwhile, Leah was also working full-time in food and beverage marketing. While Caplanis worked there, she eventually realized that the company wasn't right for her. “I didn’t believe in the brands that I was selling, and it was really wearing on me,” she said. “I worked from home for five years, and I needed to be around people.”
A few months later, when her business was barely off the ground, she decided to go all in and quit her full-time job. This was a huge leap seeing as her other business partners had not committed so much time and energy to the idea of SOCIAL.
Fortunately, however, Caplanis’ all-in commitment pushed her to be the engine of the company, and that’s exactly what she was for the next year and a half during the development stages. The first step that Caplanis and the team took was to participate in the University of Chicago’s New Venture Challenge. The Challenge is a start-up launch program that is still running today. After gaining confidence through their experience with the Challenge program, the SOCIAL team incorporated their business in March and got to work.
2013 was quite a year for the SOCIAL team.
“We went through all the things that start-ups go through,” she said. She has memories of team members who moved away, who were too busy, or who simply didn’t work out. Despite the changing circumstances of her teammates and the hectic start-up environment, she needed to keep herself on task and focused in order to keep the business alive.
“It’s really easy if you have a job to say that, 'oh, it’s just a side project,' but if you’re all in…” well, you’re all in.
For the next few years, Leah brought new people onto her team, and tried to create an environment that they could do their best work in. Through hard work, trips across the country, countless phone calls, meetings and tremendous passion, Caplanis and SOCIAL finally found success. A producer was secured, a flavor was found that they could stand by, and a distributor was locked down.
SOCIAL can now be found in 35 US states. It seemed that the dream of creating healthy, organic alcohol was finally becoming reality.
Today, you can find Leah Caplanis and her team in the SOCIAL headquarters on the north side of Chicago. The three full time employees at SOCIAL work with a large group of interns from Chicago universities throughout the year to create a healthy brand they can all stand by. Although SOCIAL is still a start-up, they are quickly gaining speed throughout the country. The ever-expanding SOCIAL team has big goals for the future, and a great passion to reach them.
What do you think of Leah's story?
Be sure to check out our other articles on balance in the New Year