VAYA is proud to partner together with Liliana Leon, CEO of Winefolded, an Orange County based lifestyle company. Winefolded curates wine and food events allowing their clients to experience and travel the world without ever leaving the office. The VAYA team recently had an opportunity to speak to Liliana and discover what truly makes her and her Winefolded team one of Orange County’s premier companies.
Lili, what inspired you to create Winefolded?
Winefolded was actually an accident. In 2015 I was attending business school at DePaul University in Chicago and had just been accepted to Future Founder’s Entrepreneur Fellowship where thousands of entrepreneurs in the nation apply, but only 12 are accepted.
During that time I was working on developing my own private wine label and as a final presentation I curated a private wine tasting experience for the board of Future Founders, my mentors, and some of my cohort friends.
At the end of the tasting, one of my mentors looked back at me and said, “You know Lili, I would actually pay for something like this — you should make this your second start-up.”
So I did.
How has Future Founders influenced you during the process?
Being accepted to Future Founders was huge to me. It signified not only the immeasurable amount of faith I had jumping into the entrepreneurial rollercoaster, but it also solidified my intent and decision to go after my dreams.
Being a part of that fellowship opened up doors to meet and learn from world-class entrepreneurs, it built and harnessed the confidence and pertinacity I have today, and it allowed me to build friendships with some of the most creative entrepreneurs in the Chicagoland area.
All of those skills and lessons eventually led me to create two awesome companies. It was a humbling and remarkable experience that still sparks my energy today.
Spearheading two companies must be fun but also challenging, what has kept you motivated throughout your journey?
Starting, maintaining, and growing Winefolded and Wine Street Journal has definitely been challenging, but what has kept me motivated throughout my journey has been my purpose.
My purpose in life is incredibly clear to me. I know the type of entrepreneur and leading female founder that I am preparing myself to be and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I want to be sitting at The United Nations addressing and solving global issues, I want to impact 1 million women and children around the world, I want to mentor hundreds of thousands of young entrepreneurs and help them protect and grow their dreams.
Knowing this, believing this to be the truth in the core of my heart and acting upon that belief everyday has not only kept me motivated but it has also allowed me to persevere in unimaginable ways.
We’ve heard you get to do some traveling for Winefolded, what is your favorite stop and favorite wine so far?
Wow… what a tough question!!! My favorite stop so far has been Montepulciano, it’s in the Italian province of Siena in Southern Tuscany. I was walking around in the small cobbled streets, surrounded with rolling hills of grape vines, and had the privilege to meet with some of the greatest winemakers of Montepulciano. That’s when I realized that traveling was going to be a part of my life forever, and that’s also when I realized that I had gained about 50 pounds from just eating pizza and gelato.
My Favorite wine is Amarone Della Valpolicella. Amarone is my favorite wine because it’s incredibly romantic, it has a very rich and silky profile, and its completely unapologetic for being so bold. It’s regal and I love it!
The last glass I had came from a 1997 bottle which was shared with me by a private wine collector in Italy, I’m pretty sure I asked him to marry me after the 1st glass.
Winefolded is about creating a delicious and exciting experience for your clients’ brands, can you please tell us more about how you cultivate such unique experiences?
Traveling definitely plays a significant role when I curate experiences for our clients. Approximately 57% of our corporate clients do not go on vacation as much as they’d like to (if at all) so Winefolded, in many ways, transports our clients to a place where they can experience wine, food, flavors, music, language, culture, and traditions, from foreign countries around the world through each experience.
Team building exercises through wine and food are the best because we get to see our clients build a deeper connection with their team. We’ve noticed that employees don’t want to keep doing the same bland activities over and over — they crave excitement, adventure, something completely outside of their corporate world that they can actually enjoy and hold on to.
Personally experiencing different countries with locals, has allowed me to be a playful pioneer in this industry. My team is excited, I’m excited, our clients are excited — it’s a magical thing we’ve built here.
You’ve got a lot of excitement coming this year with your Pour Tour. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yes! Pour Tour!! WOOHOOO!
This year we got invited to visit vineyards, restaurants, wine bars, and high-end hotels in Germany, South Africa, Cuba, and Spain. Our local neighbors in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York have also invited us over to partake in private wine events with leaders in the industry, so we’ll be spending a good portion of this year in those locales as well.
Last year we traveled to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Venice, Montepulciano, Montalcino, Florence, and Rome — and we met such an amazing collection of people that this year we wanted to do it again but this time we wanted to capture the entire process and make our fans a part of the experience, so we came up with Pour Tour.
During this time frame we will be releasing interviews, filming our journey, and posting articles exclusively on Wine Street Journal (www.winestreetjournalblog.com) our 2-month old blog that just recently got hit with over 500k views!
What does a regular day consist of? What’s the most rewarding part of running Winefolded?
Wow, I can probably write a whole book on what a regular day of running Winefolded alone consists of!
Because we are bi-coastal, most of my mornings begin as early as 4am for us to go over event details with some of our clients in New York, so working 19 hour days are very typical. Being bi-coastal also means that I have to plan accordingly to meet, train, and interact with my event team in the East Coast and West Coast when we have projects, events, or company initiatives that affect any area of the business.
In between it’s a lot of business development, community outreach, making sure we are going above and beyond for our clients, meeting with wine brands, touring event venues, and traveling — lots and lots of traveling.
The most rewarding part about running Winefolded is the impact that we’re making. Our team is literally redefining what it means to engage and connect busy CEOs and VPs with their entire team, partners, and vendors and the results have been amazing for all parties.
Can you tell us more about The Hungry Lab and why you decided to get involved?
The Hungry Lab is an incubator for problem solvers. They empower founders with the tools, guidance, coaching and community to start, grow and transform their businesses for greater impact.
The reason why I got involved was fairly simple. I knew the direction that I was headed and I also knew that I needed a specific type of guidance to achieve a certain level of outcome.
There are many entrepreneurs, but there are only a few leading entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur makes a path for him or herself — but a leading entrepreneur paves the path for communities, nations, and organizations across the world that are creating meaningful change.
I am a leading entrepreneur, so I needed to surround myself with like minded individuals that mimicked my direction in life.
We know you were recently featured in the Orange County Business Journal. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are just getting started?
Being featured in the Orange County Business Journal was a wonderful accomplishment and very humbling, but it was made possible by my support group and not just myself.
My advice to other entrepreneurs who are just getting started are two main things:
- Choose your group of influencers wisely. Surround yourself with quality individuals that reflect your aspirations.
- Stay humble and be grateful. Remember that you’re never too good to keep learning, growing or better your best. Be overly grateful for all the people that help you along the way.