Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Inbox Interview 4: For Love of Wine…Music…and Partnerships

Sommelier, musician, and serial entrepreneur: Kristen Williams is part owner of For Love of Wine (FLOW) and pianist for Basso Moderno Duo, a partnership promoting the works of contemporary composers.  

Kristen is a dynamic woman who let her passions guide her career; read her interview to see where her passions led her.

Enjoy ©

#ShesaBoss: Tell us about your love of music and wine; which first inspired?

Kristen Williams: Music definitely [inspired me] first. I am told that even when I was very young, I would push other people away from the piano so I could have the instrument to myself. I loved listening to my dad's classical records and watching concert pianists on PBS; I would bang on the piano pretending I was like those pianists on TV. One day I realized that what I was playing did not make sense, so I taught myself to read music. When this happened, my parents gave me piano lessons, opening up a wonderful world for me.

As for wine…

My family did not consume much when I was growing up, so I knew it was a special occasion when we had wine at the table; it meant that people were coming over and we were having a party. As an only child, I loved the times when the house was full of people and laughter. It made me so happy that I would bounce off the walls with energy trying to get attention from mom and dad's friends. Usually during the dinner, mom would let me sip some wine from her glass and of course, I would get sleepy and give the company some rest. I associated wine with happy times.

During university at Carnegie Mellon, I studied Engineering and Public Policy and Technical Writing. Immersed in academia and so focused on doing well, I moved away from music. After I graduated, I moved to Washington DC to work in IT designing software for the Department of Defense. Working this 9 to 5 job gave me a lot of free time to hang out with friends in my free time. With the free time, I started wondering, "is this it?" and began to ask myself, "what makes me happy?" The answer became clear to me — music and wine.

#ShesaBoss: Your partner is Allan Von Schenkel; what's the story behind deciding to partner with him…two times?

Kristen: Allan is a very creative person and we work well together.

I met Allan when I was focusing on my own solo piano repertoire. I had also just helped found a new music orchestra and was teaching 30 students per week in addition to singing as a soprano soloist at DC’s oldest Catholic church. For fun I was even playing keyboards in a punk rock band. Needless to say, I was busy. Allan was looking for a new pianist with whom to partner. I was hesitant at first to start another music venture, but when we rehearsed together, the playing was very easy even though the music and the personalities we worked with were difficult.

We later moved to Upstate, NY and six months after we decided we wanted to start another business. At its conception, we viewed For Love of Wine in two parts: the business side - licensing etc, and the academic side - wine knowledge. Both sides of the business were vast. Allan gravitated to the business side and I gravitated to the wine side, leading me to achieve my first and second sommelier certifications. The division happened easily.

#ShesaBoss: What's it like being the female half of a coed partnership?

Kristen: I don't usually think about being the "female half" of either of our partnerships. As long as I know the history and understand the characteristics of the wine, or as long as I can play the music, gender doesn't matter.

#ShesaBoss: How does being a solopreneur compare to a partnership?

Kristen: I have had solo businesses before in music performance, music education and in human resources.

I prefer to be in a musical partnership. Being on stage alone is kind of lonely. As a soloist, it is hundreds of hours of preparation alone - one estimate is 8 hours of preparation per each minute of your program. Ones program is usually 90 minutes long, which makes 720 hours of total practice time for one program. Then, you are alone on stage, delivering music to an audience who may or may not like your music. Some musicians love this type of pressure. I prefer to share it.

Likewise, For Love of Wine is a good partnership. As shop owners, we work very long hours helping customers taste and choose wines, clean, teach, pay bills and do paperwork…without being in a partnership, I would not have chosen to start this venture.

I still have my small HR outsourcing company, because I love having something that is solely mine. In this role, I help small IT firms find employees, health plans etc. I like this role because I meet and help many very talented people and I can stay current in the IT world. Currently I am working with a young and vibrant company that is pushing the boundaries of technology. I am thankful that this is something that comes naturally to me. 

#ShesaBoss: What advice would you give a friend with hopes of forming a business partnership?

Kristen: If you choose to be in a partnership, get to know your partner. Make sure that you work well together, that you respect each other and that expectations are clearly established. In addition, always make sure the communication lines remain open. I have seen too many businesses fail due to the breakdown in the relationship between partners.

FLOW is located on the upper level inside Crossgates Mall near the old Border’s location. Visit the Basso Moderno Duo website to learn more about their mission and to support contemporary music.

#ShesaBoss and #theGB

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