Thanks For This: Tech Entrepreneur Finds Solutions For Wine and Gratitude
How hard could it be to say thank you?
Apparently for Danielle Gillespie’s teenage son– and millions like him– sending prompt thank you notes for his graduation gifts was hard. And for her twin daughters who were turning 16, it felt difficult to thank friends for their birthday gifts—in a timely fashion.
As an engineer and tech innovator, Gillespie is grateful this gave her an idea.
In June 2017, she launched the app, Thankr, as co-founder of the video platform for sending personalized, instant thank you’s. Of course she is grateful for the inspiration.
“I really believe in the power of gratitude. Just find something to feel thankful for. You’ll feel better,” says Gillespie, who is also the founder of CorkGuru, a digital marketing platform for the wine industry.
A graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts with a bachelors and later a masters in 1988, Gillespie initially went to work at a start-up that was later acquired by GE.
“They were funded and had 100 people working there and it was exciting because you could do everything. There was such a great feeling of energy in that company; I said I want to have one of those someday,” Gillespie says.
But the funding landscape is traditionally not so friendly to female founders and their startups.
According to Fortune, “All-women teams received just $1.9 billion of the $85 billion total invested by venture capitalists last year, according to data on the from M&A, private equity, and VC database PitchBook. That’s equal to about 2.2 percent of 2017’s total pot. Meanwhile, all-male teams received about $66.9 billion—roughly 79 percent.”
For the next 25 years, Gillespie worked as the architect of software developing products from inception to marketplace in manufacturing, automation and retail. But it was her interest in wine—personally- and her tech proficiency that led her to creating another startup, CorkGuru.
The product available at 100 restaurants is a loaded iPad offered at a restaurant given to a customer. It offers the restaurant’s full wine menu with visuals, descriptions and labels categorizing wine so even a novice will feel comfortable ordering wine at a restaurant. It shows food pairings and offers any customer an informed, concierge experience– a robo sommolier.
And it’s another field where Gillespie is a stand out. The wine industry has few women leaders.
“In our own industry, women make up 62 percent of undergraduates in the Viticulture & Enology program at University of California- Davis, yet women represent just 10 percent of all the winemakers in California. And only 4 percent of those women own their own wineries, while 48 percent of men own theirs,” writes Karen MacNeil in Winespeed.
According to Forbes, “In her 2010 book, Women in Wine: The Rise of Women in the Global Wine Industry, Ann B. Matasar notes that, ‘No business or industry reaches further back in history or is more global in scope than the wine industry. And no industry has so resolutely excluded women from positions of influence for so long,’” writes Susan H. Gordon.
Yet, this is the industry where Gillespie sees her opportunity for innovation. Still in the early stages of her digital platform for CorkGuru, the wine information effort, Gillespie says, “We’re ready to hit the gas.”
As a startup innovator, Gillespie has advice for anyone who wants to turn a side hustle, hobby or extra gig into a business. Whether you are in the business of wine, gratitude or anything else, her advice may resonate.
You don’t do it alone. “I wish I would have found a co-founder early on. You need to find other people who believe in what you do and have values aligned with outs and can complement your skills.”
Do research on your idea—thoroughly. “Talk to entrepreneurs who have done this and see what their experience is. This is about every day going to sleep and waking up with this in your head. It can be thrilling, but it can also be lonely and scary.”
Ask for help. “It doesn’t mean you’re not smart. Surround yourself with experts in areas where you are not expert.”
Passion is important. “You are going to have a lot of people telling you are crazy and your product will only be good if you do this.”
Leave yourself options. “Pick the choice you will like. Someone is going to say yes.”
And while Gillespie contends that tech startups and the wine industry are male-dominated, and that “women are underrepresented in leadership roles and investment dollars,” she adds, “I do not feel gender was a specific issue for me.”
As her children are now 19 and 17, Gillespie says she is extremely busy with both CorkGuru and Thankr, but is entertaining other ideas for launches. “One idea is related to the wine industry and another is related to Thankr.”
But she is not discouraged by any part of the process. She adds, ”I get to the no and move on. I don’t have to put up with jerks or take creepy people’s money.”
For that, of course, she is grateful.
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About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com