About this episode

Our guest this week is Catherine Stiles, founder of Barbecue Wife. Barbecue Wife is a cocktail mixer brand that began as a platform to tell the unique stories of some amazing women within the barbeque industry. Barbecue Wife has grown to be a well-recognized cocktail mixer within the state of Texas. After researching the barbecue industry and the beverage industry, I became incredibly intrigued by Catherine’s story and knew it would make for a great episode!

Catherine is an amazing storyteller and entrepreneur. In our time together it became apparent that all of her life’s experiences have never left her and have truly helped shape how she is building her company. In today’s episode, you will hear how important it is to understand that consumers today want the personal story of your brand and not just the imagery. And, you will learn how critical it is to accept help when needed in order to ensure your own personal survival in the early days of your startup.

In hearing Catherine’s startup story you will see this ever-present theme of confidence in the midst of uncertainty. It’s a theme that was instilled in her from a very young age by her mother…but I know you don’t want to hear Catherine’s story from me, so let’s hear it from her… This is Catherine Stiles startup story.

In this episode you’ll hear

  • Her childhood, being very creative and the daughter of a real-estate developer and how that prepared her for her entrepreneurial journey as an adult
  • How she went to college and graduated with a degree in Marketing, what she did after college, and how she got onto the path to becoming an entrepreneur
  • Her crash course in Business 101 and real-world learning how businesses worked
  • Barbecue: her husband’s barbecue restaurant, how she became involved in the industry, turning an idea (which came to her at 4am) into a true vision, and executing on it
  • How powerful collaborations with similar brands can be and how validating it is when the larger brands want to help your startup
  • How important it is to pay kindness forward
  • Practicing confidence in the face of uncertainty
  • Growing Barbecue Wife, the Barbecue Bloody Mary mixer and taking it to retail
  • Understanding consumers want the personal story of your brand and not just the imagery

“I think the largest hurdle for an entrepreneur is our fear of failure. That fear delays so many founders from getting started.”
—Catherine Stiles, Barbecue Wife

Resources from this episode

Connect with Catherine on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/catherine-stiles-97380815/
Barbecue Wife website: http://www.barbecuewife.com/

Share the podcast

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With your support, we hope to further our reach in encouraging and inspiring the founders of today and tomorrow. Thank you!

EPISODE CREDITS

If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer, Danny Ozment.

He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, HR professionals, recruiters, lawyers, realtors, bloggers, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and impact the world.

Contact him today at https://emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory

Special Guest: Catherine Stiles.

Sponsored By:

Episode transcript

The Startup Story - Catherine Stiles

Catherine Stiles: Hi. This is Catherine Stiles. I'm the founder of Barbecue Wife, and this is MY startup story.

James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.

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Support our sponsor MovoCash. Visit movo.cash or the startupstory.co/movocash.

[01:07]
James McKinney: Before we jump into our episode this week, I want to share a review that was posted on iTunes by JJ Stein, and given a five star rating. "I am the CEO and Co Founder of Seat Insiders, an event ticketing concierge agency serving individuals and companies. I love listening to The Startup Story and have been an avid listener since the early days. James has a passion for telling stories that matter and each story is inspiring and motivational. If you're an entrepreneur or want to become one, you need to listen to these stories." Well thank you, JJ Stein, for the great review and I hope those listening will checkout seatinsiders.com. Plugging your brand in our episode is just a small way for me to say thank you for taking the time to write a review.

So for all of you that are listening right now, if you have found any value in any of The Startup Story episodes, please leave a review on iTunes. I will continue to read one each week so if you plug your brand in the review like JJ Stein did, then you will get a free mini ad in a podcast episode as well. So because JJ Stein took a few moments to write a review, tens of thousands of people will hear about seatinsiders.com. It really is the least I can do for you helping us on iTunes. It's basically advertising that does not cost you anything.

Now, speaking of advertising, if you have a business that is of value to entrepreneurs of all stages, then please visit TheStartupStory.co/advertise to explore advertising your product or service to the growing Startup Story audience. Now let's jump into this week's episode.

Our guest today is Catherine Stiles, founder of Barbecue Wife. Barbecue Wife is a cocktail mixer brand that actually began as a platform to tell the unique stories of some amazing women within the barbecue industry. Catherine shared with me that within the barbecue industry, it is the pit masters that get all the fame and fortune, but that there are so many amazing wives of barbecue founders and pit masters, and she wanted to share those stories. Well, since then, the Barbecue Wife has now grown to be a well recognized cocktail mixer within the state of Texas. In fact, I became aware of Barbecue Wife because Catherine was recognized for an award that one of our past guests was also recognized for, that guest being Darbie Angell. After researching the barbecue industry and the beverage industry, I became incredibly intrigued by Catherine's story and knew it would make for a great episode.

In listening to Catherine's startup story, you will hear how important it is to understand that consumers today want the personal story of your brand and not just the imagery. You will learn how critical it is to accept help when needed in order to ensure your own personal survival in the early days of your startup. And you will hear how powerful collaborations with smaller brands can be, and how validating it is when the larger brands want to help your startup. Even more so, you'll hear how important it is to pay that kindness forward. Catherine Stiles is an amazing storyteller and entrepreneur. In our time together, it became apparent that all of her life's experiences have never left her and have truly helped shape how she is building Barbecue Wife. In hearing Catherine's startup story, you will see this ever present theme of confidence in the midst of uncertainty. It's a theme that was instilled in her from a very young age by her mother. But I know, you don't want to hear Catherine's startup story from me, so let's hear it from her.

[04:13]
Catherine Stiles: I'm a super creative person. I've always been that way since I was a little kid. If you know me now, I have a million ideas a minute. I get to do one of them every once in a while, but you can ask my husband. I'm always like, "What about this?" He's like, "Really? Do we need a new idea today, Catherine?" But I was like that as a kid. I was real curious. I'm always very independent. I'm the middle child of two other sisters. I have an older sister, a younger sister. We're all very different, and I think out of the three of us, I was probably the one that was always… I knew I was going to do something on my own. I definitely had to go through the path of structured careers before. I don't think I was ready to be an early entrepreneur out of the gate. I think I had to learn a lot about structure and organization, and how the world worked.

[04:56]
James McKinney: Were your parents entrepreneurs?

[04:57]
Catherine Stiles: My parents were… so my mom was a stay at home mom. My mom was very big of the generation of you can do anything. She had three girls and raising them up probably early to mid eighties where it was kind of that time, where there was a lot of that in my household of encouragement. My dad was an entrepreneur himself.

[05:18]
James McKinney: What was your dad's business?

[05:20]
Catherine Stiles: He was a real estate developer here in Austin.

[05:23]
James McKinney: So being around entrepreneurs though, you saw a bit of the instability in entrepreneurship.

[05:27]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah, definitely.

[05:29]
James McKinney: So wasn't foreign to you.

[05:30]
Catherine Stiles: Definitely, yeah. There was a lot of that. Not super structured and you know every day's different, and you learn a lot about that. Even growing up as a kid and hearing conversations, and what's happening around you. But you know I think my mom played such a big role in always encouraging my creativity and always encouraging you can do anything. It's funny, when I was little I liked to dress up as a kid. I think I was a different character every day. There's pictures of me now, I'm going, "Mom, why didn't you put clothes on me?" One day I was a pirate, one day I was something else. Which I love that now. I think that's so cool, but yeah, I think I had such a supportive network of people around me from an early age, and had a really great childhood. I didn't have a bad childhood.

[06:13]
James McKinney: That's awesome.

[06:14]
Catherine Stiles: So I feel like my path of having that support early on gave me a lot of confidence in who I was.

[06:20]
James McKinney: Oh that's so great. So we're here in Austin. I assume Austin is no different than every other school district environment in the US, where the latter part of your high school years is when they start nudging you down the road of your ACTs, SATs, what do you want to do, you've got to go to college. What was your thinking? What was your leaning in a career as you were finishing up high school?

[06:41]
Catherine Stiles: Oh, I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school. I knew I was doing the traditional route of going to college. I went to Texas A&M University, which is interesting living in Austin being an Aggie sometimes. But yeah, had a great college experience. I always knew I wanted to do something that allowed me to use my creative juices and all of my ideas that pop into my head, so I did marketing route in college which still, I think college is a process which teaches you to start and finish something. That's really the main goal of that process unless you're going into more specialized field of becoming a doctor or engineer.

But marketing kind of was an open platform or what do you want to do now. We had a really good family friend of mine who was a broadcaster in radio in Houston, Texas. When I was graduating, your parents start asking everybody okay, who's hiring? Have a daughter coming out of college. Who's got something?

[07:35]
James McKinney: That or who's single.

[07:38]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah, all of that. So it just so happened that we had this family friend that was a great broadcaster in Houston. His name was Jim Corolla. He invited me to come up to the radio station and visit with him about radio and different opportunities there. He was like, "I think you'd have a really fun time. You learn so much about so many different industries and businesses that we deal with, and I think you just would be a great fit." So kind of fell in my lap. That's the career path that I started out right out of college.

[08:05]
James McKinney: What was that first step in broadcasting though? Even a radio station, there's a lot of different roles.

[08:09]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah. So I started in the marketing side, so I wasn't a broadcaster there. I started really in that marketing side. I got kind of a first world knowledge of the sales processes, the marketing that goes behind big scale events and putting those together, and dealing with so many different objectives with different businesses. It really just gives you a crash course into wow, I can look at everything and figure out what direction I want to go. But I loved it. I did that for 10 years. I'm a huge music fan so it was something that really fit with something I was interested in. Then I had this other business side that we dealt with, so it was really a very fulfilling time.

[08:50]
James McKinney: So being that you love music, because I'm thinking to myself now, I too love music but if I was in radio I'd want to be at the events, not behind at the office in some way. Were you able, in the marketing discipline, to be able to get out there and meet artists?

[09:05]
Catherine Stiles: Yes, oh yeah. At this point in my life, I'm 41 and I've probably been to every concert event in every which way. There's not a lot of them that I'm like, "Oh, I feel like I missed out." But yeah, I worked with Clear Channel which is now Live Nation. So we had a platform of eight different radio groups in different genres, so everything from country to rock. You could pretty much pick and choose what event you wanted to go through. Houston's such a huge media market too in the country. A lot of opportunity to get to work on some really big campaigns that come through there, big scale events. Really connect with some really interesting people.

[09:40]
James McKinney: What was your greatest learning during that season that has helped shaped a bit about how you approach future endeavors?

[09:47]
Catherine Stiles: You know, I think just the crash course in business 101. More like hands on, real world. Learning how businesses worked. You know, which was funny, I always go back to I remember my first day in my office in Houston, and my former boss who's a very dear friend of mine now. I had to be there at 8 a.m. Well, in college you might take an 8 a.m. course every once in a while. I bartended all through college, so I was more of a night owl than I was an early morning class person. But I remember showing up at 8 a.m., sitting in his office and he would be, "Are you awake? Are you awake right now?" it took me a while to get acclimated to that.

[10:21]
James McKinney: That's so funny.

[10:23]
Catherine Stiles: Just learning things like how to work a fax machine and things they don't teach you in college, and going oh, okay.

[10:30]
James McKinney: And I love that I have listeners right now that have no idea what a fax machine is.

[10:33]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah, and now I'm like that's… I'm dating myself.

[10:35]
James McKinney: I love it.

[10:36]
Catherine Stiles: I'm feeling old now. But yeah, just I think the crash course in just real world, applying yourself to actually the systems and things that an everyday business goes through.

[10:47]
James McKinney: You know, it's interesting. You just kind of snuck in there that you were bartending in college. You have a very personable, outgoing personality. I can see it fitting so well, which is why the office environment seems so weird to me that you would be in that world. You said you were there for 10 years?

[11:05]
Catherine Stiles: I worked in radio for 10 years. I started with CBS Radio and I got recruited over to Clear Channel in Houston, so yeah. I loved that career. It was a lot of fun.

[11:16]
James McKinney: Then why did you leave?

[11:17]
Catherine Stiles: So I left. My husband and I started dating long distance. So he was in Austin at the time. I was in Houston. We dated for two years before it was finally the talk point, where okay who's moving, what are we doing here? So Austin was a no brainer for me if you've experienced both worlds. I'm very much, Austin has such a great lifestyle here. So it was a no brainer for me to relocate. At that point, I was kind of at a crossroads as I've done radio for 10 years, what do I want to do next? I actually fell into another career path. A very good friend of mine that was my personal trainer in Houston started a healthy meal company. It was called My Fit Foods. So we invested in that company and actually brought it to Austin, so that was my second career was getting into the health food industry.

[12:05]
James McKinney: So let's talk about My Fit Foods. So you came to Austin without a job?

[12:09]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah, transitioned.

[12:11]
James McKinney: So My Fit Food was your first startup.

[12:12]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah. It was the first startup. I was part of that whole startup and that was a very fast paced, big learning curve in that world.

[12:22]
James McKinney: So let's break that down real quick. So how old were you at that time?

[12:23]
Catherine Stiles: Let's see. I was probably 31.

[12:29]
James McKinney: 31, not married yet.

[12:30]
Catherine Stiles: Not married yet. About to be married, yes.

[12:32]
James McKinney: Okay, about to be married, and your first startup coming out of a very structured, large organization. So let's breakdown, what was or is My Fit Foods?

[12:40]
Catherine Stiles: My Fit Foods, it started in Houston. So it was a healthy, packaged, pre portioned meal company. So the basis behind it was basically convenience. So what we did was package healthy meals to go. So people would come in. There are brick and mortar stores.

[12:57]
James McKinney: So single retail unit. Wasn't one of these distribute through grocery stores of Blue Apron style.

[13:01]
Catherine Stiles: No. we get to that point, where we actually had satellite kiosks in grocery and all over the country, so we grew that. Within seven years, we grew that company from a handful of stores to over 100 retail outlets in five different states, and we sold a private equity. So I've been through the whole startup to sell out.

[13:21]
James McKinney: So not many founders get to experience an exit, right, whether it be going public or whether it be being bought outright. This was your first startup, bringing it to Austin. Now, you weren't he founder of My Fit Foods.

[13:35]
Catherine Stiles: I was not the founder, no. I was not the founder. We invested in the company because we saw where it was going. We were in Houston and it was kind of the first pioneer of that space. Now there's a ton of these type of retail outlets. But we saw a really good opportunity, and said Austin would be a great place to do this, let's invest in the company. The guy that started the company was a very good friend of mine, and I said, "I want to be a part of this day to day. This is so fun, so interesting." So I handled PR and media for the company. That was my main role internally. So working between five states and three time zones, and 100 locations. I got a crash course in what it takes to keep all that running.

[14:17]
James McKinney: In that seven year span before it exited, what was going on in your life at the time? You moved to Austin, you're about to get married, so at this point you're married now. Any kids during the seven years?

[14:28]
Catherine Stiles: We did. We started our family. So we kind of overlapped. My husband started the barbecue restaurant. I was nine months pregnant with our first child. I was still doing PR for My Fit Foods, which was a really great setup because the way our company was kind of spread throughout the country and so fast growing, I was able to be home based in Austin, didn't have to be in an office at 8 a.m., kind of worked satellite. So that all worked within my lifestyle of growing a family too. When we got to the point where I was about to have my second child and we had just sold the private equity, and it started to get a little more corporate structure as the equity group was bringing in their people, and wanted everybody in seats at 8 a.m. it just kind of outgrew my work life balance. So that's when I exited out of the company and started working in our family barbecue business.

[15:15]
James McKinney: What was it like being a young married couple where both of you are working on your startup?

[15:21]
Catherine Stiles: Crazy. I think we always laugh, we're kind of like are we adrenaline junkies? Because we always have something major going on in our lives at all times. If we're ever sitting still for too long, we think something is wrong.

[15:33]
James McKinney: How as that from a support structure? Because one of the things that I find when I'm talking with founders, they go back to their spouse or partner as how pivotal they were to get them through some of the insane periods of a startup. But yet you both were going through insane periods of a startup, so what was that like from a support perspective, where your husband may have had his own issues while you had your own issues, and how was that journey together?

[15:58]
Catherine Stiles: You know, I think communication and knowing where to lead, where to support. It's very hard being in a house with two entrepreneurs, because I think my husband Shane and I were both very similar personality types. We're both pretty type A, both always right, and that's our biggest confrontation always is, "No, I'm right." You just have to understand where you need to support, where you need to lead. We have a lot of help. We've got a really great family structure here. I have a wonderful mother who helps us out a lot. We have a mother-in-law that helps us out a lot. I have an older sister here in town, so I think I learned pretty quickly you have to ask for help when you need help. That's just key.

[16:40]
James McKinney: Yes, and that is a key lesson for all listeners to know when… to not be afraid to ask for a help. I know a lot of people interpret asking for help as a point of weakness, and it's just not the case.

[16:48]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah, and that's typically not my personality type to ask for help. I'm kind of the mentality of no, I can do it, I can do it all. I think that comes with also being a mom, is you're always like, "I got this." If I take five minutes to explain it to you, I'm wasting time, so I'm just going to do it. But yeah, I've really gotten better in my path, in my journey in being in business to stop and go, "You need help. You can't do it all."

[17:11]
James McKinney: So obviously the food business is, well technically because the barbecue is in the food business, but the packaged food business is now what you're in. You sold it. You sold that. What was your next step outside of that?

[17:19]
Catherine Stiles: Totally different world right? Yeah. So I knew once I had my second daughter, my girls are 16 months apart. They're very close in age, and very busy. There's about two years of my life I do not remember. I just totally blacked out, which we're in a good place now. I have a six year old and a seven year old. They're doing great and life is somewhat normal. It's been an interesting journey trying to figure out how to juggle all of that and how to keep it all straight on a daily basis. It's kind of a high five here and there, and I need help, and yeah keep on keeping on.

[17:56]
James McKinney: So once you sold the packaged food business, did you take some time off to breathe?

[18:03]
Catherine Stiles: I did.

[18:04]
James McKinney: Did you take some time off to help the barbecue business? Or what was your immediate next step?

[18:07]
Catherine Stiles: So I always was helping with the barbecue business in terms of like marketing where my lane fell, where I knew I could be of help. So I always did that, and I just really quickly found how much I loved and I would always get sucked into being in the barbecue side of things of what we did as a business, because it's just so fun.

[18:29]
James McKinney: What's fun about it? For those listening, because other than how amazing it would be to have ribs all the time for a meal, aside from those who are not into barbecue business, what is so fun about it?

[18:39]
Catherine Stiles: It's the community of people. It's such a passionate audience that you're involved in. The best way to describe it is just like Texas football. It's a very passionate group of people that rally around this sport of barbecue. They all have their favorite teams or pit masters or restaurants that they root for. But I think at the end of the day, people just love to come together and celebrate this amazing cuisine. I've never seen anything like it.

If you follow, which we follow food in general because of the business we're in, barbecue's just always at the forefront of the conversation. I think there's so much mystery that goes into the type of cooking that we do. You walk back in the pit room and saw all the pits. It's 24 hours a day, six days a week, there's an actual person, a pit master, maintaining those pits, tending the fires, rotating the meat. There's no automation to it. There's so much intrigue from the community that really is involved in it, that it just makes it a lot of fun.

[19:36]
James McKinney: There really is an art to it.

[19:38]
Catherine Stiles: It is. It's a passed down type of learning and skill set.

[19:44]
James McKinney: That's awesome. So that definitely met a lot of creative needs that you have because that's your wiring.

[19:48]
Catherine Stiles: It did, yeah, it is.

[19:49]
James McKinney: So you're helping with marketing in the barbecue, so now what was going on?

[19:53]
Catherine Stiles: So I took a little bit of time just to kind of digest okay, I've had this crazy career in the health food world and now I'm switching gears, trying to see where I can bring value to my husband's business, and how I can really get involved. I just started contemplating like okay, can I handle the marketing side? What's it going to be like really working super, super close together? Is this going to be a good thing for our relationship? And it was. I think we defined our roles of my husband is the operator. He handles… he's a finance major. That's his, he's a great business man.

[20:26]
James McKinney: Finance major who wanted to start a barbecue business. Interesting.

[20:30]
Catherine Stiles: Yes. And he has a barbecue background. The town he grew up in which is right outside of Austin called Taylor, Texas and it's kind of a central Texas barbecue Mecca. The way he tells the story is, "We ate barbecue three times a week, Catherine. You might have eaten barbecue three times a year." So it's a way of life for him. It was always kind of engrained a very part of who he was. So when he was here in Austin, he saw kind of a voice in the marketplace for that particular type of barbecue and that style. That's what prompted him to do that.

[21:00]
James McKinney: So you're helping him. You saw where you could fit, where you could help and help him because he's a finance guy, so he's a numbers cruncher. You're the creative marketing brain.

[21:10]
Catherine Stiles: Yes.

[21:11]
James McKinney: So what was it like working together?

[21:13]
Catherine Stiles: It was a lot of fun. It's from the get go, I just kind of said, "I really want to help. I want to get involved. I want to see what I can add and bring to the table." So it was really kind of looking at the business and seeing how we were different, how we were unique, how we could tell our story in a compelling way that would make an audience attracted to what we do, because I knew the food was great but you've got to tell people about that. You've got to tell them your story. You've got to give them a reason for wanting to make the drive over.

Being a small business, especially in food, margins are low, especially when you're dealing in meat and beef product. It's a very expensive product that we work with, so we don't have big marketing budgets. We're not some big corporate company that has here's $50,000, go spend it however you like. It was really at a time we had to get creative on how can we make people excited to come and try our barbecue.

[22:08]
James McKinney: And this was just, so you're 41 now, 37 was the timeframe when the other business sold, so this website just like four years ago.

[22:16]
Catherine Stiles: Yes. So we opened Style Switch a little over seven years ago. So yeah, but I-

[22:19]
James McKinney: But you came on board for more help four years ago.

[22:22]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah, about four or five y ears ago is kind of where I came into play fulltime.

[22:27]
James McKinney: So when you come on and handle marketing, trying to get your messaging out with little to no budget, what were some of your tactics?

[22:35]
Catherine Stiles: Because of my PR background, I knew that I could move the needle in the relationships that I had already built in that space. Since I was generally working in the food space to begin with, I already had a lot of great media contacts and I knew I could move the needle by going, "Hey, come over and let's think of ways that we can marry these two things that we're doing together and have some fun with it." Social media was still very new at that time, too. We started our social media accounts eight years ago almost when we opened Style Switch, which was still very new to businesses using social media for promotion of restaurant and retail. We really relied on how can we use social media, how can we leverage collaborations with other likeminded businesses, doing events around that.

We live in Austin which has a great live music scene, pulling in musicians to come and play. We were one of the very few craft barbecue restaurants that actually have a brick and mortar. There was a lot of trailer operations. We have parking, which a lot of places in Austin don't have a lot of parking. So yeah, we just tried to look at what makes us different, what can we use, how can we further that and get the word out about us.

[23:49]
James McKinney: When you think of those last four years when you really started putting more time into it, what was one moment where you saw something shift significantly in what you were doing and being effective in bringing more awareness to the barbecue business?

[24:05]
Catherine Stiles: Content that we were putting out there. I saw a big shift in what we were doing, which was very unique in telling stories behind what we were doing, bringing faces of our business to the forefront. Instead of just saying, "Hey, this is the food, this is what we're cooking," I really tried to do a really great job of telling the story of each of our pit masters and our employees. Every little piece of this business and person involved in it plays a big role into making this thing hum every day. I always say we're a team. There's no one face of Style Switch; there's many faces of Style Switch. So I think we've done a really great job of telling that story and engaging people into wanting to have more.

[24:50]
James McKinney: That's a great lesson for all the listeners, because I've met with so many young entrepreneurs that are coming from corporate America so they have this professional persona they want to put on and they have to realize, you may have a great product or service, but they're going to buy you first.


James McKinney: Before we continue with Catherine's startup story, I want to take a quick moment to spotlight a new partnership with a former founder, Goli Kalkhoran with Lessons From a Quitter podcast. In fact, part of Catherine's story is her leaving the 9 to 5 of corporate America to start a new career path. That journey is part of what makes the Lessons From a Quitter podcast so compelling. So if you find yourself stuck in a career and think there's no way out of the path that you're on, then make sure to listen to Lessons From a Quitter podcast, found on Apple podcast, Google podcast, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. All right, enough of that. Now let's get back to Catherine's startup story.


[25:38]
James McKinney: I came across you because of Barbecue Wife. So where in this journey does Barbecue Wife begin to have life?

[25:47]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah. So probably about 4 a.m., I was up with one of my kids.

[25:52]
James McKinney: How many years ago?

[25:53]
Catherine Stiles: This was after I had my second daughter is really when I started thinking about Barbecue Wife. Before it was Barbecue Wife, I thought of it in terms of Style Switch, we have such a great brand, such a strong brand. I started looking at other revenue extensions of ways that we could sell product lines and things out of the restaurant. Barbecue sauce is always the first thing people think of when you're in a barbecue restaurant, like sell your barbecue sauce. Well, if you know the consumer package goods, CPG, and retail, trying to get on a shelf with a barbecue sauce, it's almost not worth the effort. It's a numbers game. You're talking about selling millions of units to make any kind of significant return. Is it worth all the headache in doing that?

So I started trying to go like what would be some other product lines that we could sell? Stepping back into my bartending days, I had a very awesome Bloody Mary mix that I made at home for friends and family, and I go, "Wow, that's really unique. What if we could take my Bloody Mary mix and marry it with some of the barbecue sauce that we use in the restaurant?" So in central Texas we use what's called a mop sauce. It's a very thin base, not sweet, almost like Blood Mary consistency type of sauce. So I had this moment where I was like wow, we could take some of that sauce, put it in my Blood Mary mix, and make something really unique. It's a barbecue Bloody Mary. It's on brand with what we're doing here but it's a whole different product line that nobody else in barbecue is really doing. Let's also call it something totally different, so it creates its own little outlet.

That's where I had already had the idea for trying to further the audience for women in barbecue, and since I'm a woman in barbecue I thought it would give me a platform to tell some stories and have some fun with it. So it really was kind of organically grown out of that idea, is I want to have fun, this is a fun project. I'm not going to make it too serious. It quickly started growing.

[27:49]
James McKinney: But you started Barbecue Wife with a bigger picture of telling more stories about wives of barbecue.

[27:56]
Catherine Stiles: Correct.

[27:57]
James McKinney: Why was that of interest or important to you?

[28:00]
Catherine Stiles: As I started down this road of barbecue, one of the first things that pops out, it's very male dominated, and it always has been. Usually, because of the history of the way that barbecue restaurants and small joints in towns across United States have started, it's usually family owned and operated. So the husband was usually the pit master. You find maybe the wife or significant other who's helping out with the cash register, doing the marketing, or doing the books, or making the sides. But the pit master is kind of the star of the show, so that's what gets most of the attention.

So I quickly noticed through doing other events that we were doing barbecue or going to other barbecue friends places that I would meet all these wonderful women, but you would never read articles about them. You would never see them on any of the media that was out there. So I just thought it was really interesting, and I was like, "Wow, we're in such a really neat time. Wouldn't it be cool to tell some of these stories because nobody else is doing it right now." Not that I am an aspiring journalist or an aspiring blogger, but what I hoped to do is just put some attention on it to where somebody might go, "Wow, that would make a really neat story on a big platform." So far, that's been happening.

[29:11]
James McKinney: But it's also been a great catalyst for your own beverage line.

[29:17]
Catherine Stiles: Yes.

[29:18]
James McKinney: So what has that journey been like for you? Once you came up with that barbecue Bloody Mary, were you just serving it in your restaurant, or was your thought how can we go retail with this?

[29:28]
Catherine Stiles: I wanted to go retail with it because we do in Style Switch just beer and wine, so what I started off doing, we'd do BYOV events, where I would set up a Bloody Mary bar, like a big garnish bar. Since we're just beer and wine, people were allowed to bring in vodka if we allow them. So I would do these Sundays where I would set up little garnish bar and kind of test it, and say, "Hey, you can bring your own vodka in if you buy a bottle of mix, and then you can mix your own drinks. I'll give you all the garnishes." And that was fun, and people loved it.

[29:58]
James McKinney: That's awesome.

[29:59]
Catherine Stiles: We'd do them on random Saturdays or Sundays, and people would come up and try it out. I always knew I wanted to kind of test it, so I thought very small terms when I first started. I was like, "You know what? I'm just going to focus on Austin." Texas is a huge state. You can look at it and go let's go to Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. I knew I was just going to focus on Austin, so that's all I did.

Austin is such a unique environment for entrepreneurs because I feel like it's still has a very small-town feel as far as I can pick up the phone and I'm three degrees of separation from just about anybody. So you can get on the phone and find somebody in Whole Foods or find somebody in the state government, or wherever you're trying to search for that contact. It's pretty easy to connect in this town. So I knew I had a great place as an incubator for the product to try to see if I could get some leverage. Then I also knew we already had a brand Style Switch in the barbecue space that I could piggy back on some of the events that we were doing. That's kind of where I started.

[31:01]
James McKinney: It was just the Bloody Mary mix at that time?

[31:03]
Catherine Stiles: It was just the Bloody Mary mix. I knew I had ideas for other ones in the back of my head, but I was like let's just start here because Bloody Mary's and barbecue kind of go hand in hand as far as the occasions in which you're doing backyard barbecues. They're usually the cook time is very long, so you're usually having a couple cocktails over that if you're doing it in your backyard. I really tried to talk to that. It's a slow sipping drink. You're going to do it in a gathering of friends and family. My recipe is one that I've had that I've made for friends and family, so it all kind of made sense in the way that I was selling that particular product.

[31:39]
James McKinney: I find it funny that we're in Austin right now and you came up with a Bloody Mary as your first product. One of the founders that I'm trying to get on the story is also an Austin native and that's Bert Beveridge from Tito handcrafted vodka. I think it's funny that you have the mix. I'm trying to get a vodka maker on for a founder, that's just hilarious to me.

[32:03]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah, well you definitely should. They're great to me. They're actually a very big supporter of mine.

[32:08]
James McKinney: That's awesome.

[32:09]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah. That was another very amazing thing about being in Austin. I play in the… I'm nonalcoholic, but I also play in this alcohol space. I knew I could collaborate with so many different makers in Austin, like Tito, Deep Eddy Vodka being another vodka that's here locally. A lot of tequila brands, a lot of everybody, a lot of brewers. But yeah, Tito was one of the first ones that really supported me. They have brought me into some very large scale events. I do Austin food and wine feast which I do every year, which is done by Food and Wine Magazine. They do their different setups across the country. I do ACL festival, which Tito's is a huge sponsor of and they invite me to come out and do the lounge with them, which if I tried to do that sponsorship on my own would be a $30,000 investment that a little brand like me wouldn't have had the funds to do. Every time somebody extends that kindness to me, it furthers my brand and I am constantly trying to pay that forward to other makers in this community too because there's so many great ones.

[33:12]
James McKinney: And I love that you shared that story there about Tito, just because one of the things that I preach on the podcast all the time is entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs.

[33:21]
Catherine Stiles: Absolutely.

[33:22]
James McKinney: I think there are some out there that think that's just altruistic thinking, that this is not the case. If you've ever birthed something from nothing, you are drawn to want to help someone else succeed. This is a world of abundance. This is not a world of scarcity.

[33:38]
Catherine Stiles: There's enough to go around.

[33:39]
James McKinney: There's enough to go around for everybody, and entrepreneurs need to support entrepreneurs. So just so that the listeners, for those that don't really own that idea of supporting other entrepreneurs because they operate from a basis of fear or they think they have not enough hours in the day for their own startup, what did that support from the bigger beverage makers like Tito's handcrafted vodka, what did that support from them mean to you as a startup in the beverage space?

[34:08]
Catherine Stiles: It gives you some validity for your idea in general. Here's this big, billion dollar company now, started much in the same way. But them saying, "Yes." They're cheering you on, saying, "You're doing a good job. We want you to be part of what we're doing." I mean, it just makes you feel like I can do this. You can live another day, you can keep chugging along. I've had that kindness shown on me many times through Yeti, which is another huge Austin-

[34:35]
James McKinney: Great brand.

[34:36]
Catherine Stiles: … success story. They've been extremely kind to me, and bringing me along in a lot of their big events that they do. If you know anything about their brand marketing and their platform, it's just a fanatical group of people that pays attention to what they're doing. It's an immediate lift every time when I do something with them.

[34:54]
James McKinney: I love that.

[34:55]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah. I always say collaboration is kind of the new thing that I like to throw around. Enough with the competition. There's so much collaboration and there's so many wonderful things that you can do if you just have the ability to say, "Hey, I'm doing this. Would this fit with what you're doing?" Nine times out of 10, people are like, "Yes, let's do this. This is fun."

[35:17]
James McKinney: In growing Barbecue Wife, we've talked a lot about the successes you've had and the wins, like the support of the big brands that are out there, Yeti and Tito's. Is there ever a point where you still think, "Can I really pull this off?"

[35:31]
Catherine Stiles: Oh, every day. Every day. I'm in a really great place right now as far as growth in my business and what I'm doing, but with growth comes a lot of growing pains. I'm at a crossroads right now where we need to build our infrastructure out more. I need to hire. We won a really neat place in a contest last year that a really big retailer puts on called ATB, which is a very big grocery chain here in Texas. They have put me on a lot of their shelves in Texas and we've been selling really, really great.

All those things sound great and exciting, but with that comes, "Oh gosh, we need to raise more funds so we can keep up with these PO's that are coming in, so that we can buy more of our raw products. How can we get our packaging costs down? How can we scale?" All these things which are not my background. My background is not in CPG, it's not in distribution, it's not in negotiating contracts with retailers. So those are things that I'm at the point where I'm going I need to hire experts to come in and help me navigate this space that I'm now in that is new territory for me.

[36:38]
James McKinney: How big is Barbecue Wife? Not revenue, but people, headcount. How many people work on Barbecue Wife right now?

[36:42]
Catherine Stiles: We have about five women in my kitchen, so we go in and we basically do everything on demand. So we're not sitting on a lot of product all at the same time. So I would say total there's six of us that work on everything.

[36:56]
James McKinney: So as far as the back office, the finances, the logistics, you have a person dedicated for that?

[37:02]
Catherine Stiles: Yes, yes. So I've got people that do all my bookkeeping and help me with that, because that is again, not my background. I'm really good at spending money. My husband always laughs because of being on the marketing side of things, I'm like, "Hey, let's do this," and he's like, "Well how does that make you or us money?" I'm like, "I don't know, it's fun though, isn't it? Let's do that."

[37:22]
James McKinney: When you hired your first employee, what was that shift for you mentally? Because now it's no longer a side hustle. You have an employee. An employee almost absolutely moves it from the side hustle category. What was that shift for you mentally when you hired that first employee?

[37:59]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah. It's a lot of responsibilities. Everybody that I hire right now are still contract, so they're not even full time. Yeah, so it's not fulltime salary that and that's phase two that we're about to enter, is where we're actually bringing in fulltime employees. Even that, just on the day to day contract basis of what you're hiring people to come in and do is a lot of responsibility. It is. You're hiring people to do a job. You want to make sure that they're doing that job well, but you're taking care of them because it's important to me and how do you translate that to them?

[38:10]
James McKinney: You said they were all women. Is that intentional under the Barbecue Wife brand?

[38:13]
Catherine Stiles: I love to hire women where I can, but no it actually wasn't. I think you'll find a lot of, in kitchens especially, doing what I do and CPG, it's a lot of women. A lot of women working in that field.

[38:25]
James McKinney: What is that next three years look like for Barbecue Wife?

[38:28]
Catherine Stiles: Next three years for Barbecue Wife, definitely finding people that can alleviate some of the pressure off of my day to day in this growth phase. We really want to try to expand outside of our retail model that we're in right now. I'm always looking at new ways of innovating what we do. At the core of what we do, we make junk free, craft cocktail mixers. So we take all the bad ingredients that you're used to reading on the back label of a cocktail mixer out. So it's not the cheapest way to do it. I buy really high end ingredients. I'm never going to be the cheapest one on the shelf, which there's a lot of education that goes into that.

Continuing the education as far as food, I have a real passion for that and what people are putting in their bodies. That probably comes from my health food background and what I know. But also paying it forward, that's a huge part. I'm doing more and more mentoring, and I try to get involved more in our communities and food and women in this space, and trying to help entrepreneurs out.

[39:28]
James McKinney: As a female founder and like you said right now, just your passion to help other women, how important is that for you to be part of this elevation of other female founders?

[39:43]
Catherine Stiles: Extremely important. I have two daughters, so I think a lot like my mother probably looked at me and did that whole, "You can do anything," attitude. I still try to pass that down and pass that to other entrepreneurs. There's so much self doubt when you come… I still get it at least once a week where I'm going, "What are you doing? You can't do this. You can't go take your product across the country. What are you thinking?" You just have to take things day by day and kind of break it down. But trying to just mentor women into knowing that they can do something outside of their comfort level is something that I have a real passion for.

[40:20]
James McKinney: What do you think the biggest challenge is for a female founder mentally? What do you think that biggest hurdle is for them to get over?

[40:29]
Catherine Stiles: I think it's that ability to go, just taking that first step of I can do it. I was just talking to another lady in this food space here in Austin a couple weeks ago who has had this idea for a really awesome product that she makes in her kitchen, and she's been talking about and talking about it. I'm like, "What are you doing? Just put yourself out there." So she did. She said, "I'm going to make this. I'm going to put it on my Facebook page and tell people if they want to order it, they can message me and then they can come pick it up from me." I said, "See? You just did it. That was the first step." I think it's just getting over yourself and your anxiety of failing. So I tell people all the time take it small. You don't have to look at something and go, "I'm going to conquer the world." Just get your feet wet.

[41:10]
James McKinney: Do you think social media has played a role in that fear of people putting themselves out there? Because I feel like social media has really kind of positioned perfectionism.

[41:20]
Catherine Stiles: It is. It's a big lie.

[41:21]
James McKinney: There's all this photo shopping and editing, it is a big lie. I mean that's part of why I tell The Startup Story is because you hear all this hustle mentality on social media, and it's like that's great, but there's also balance. There's entrepreneurs that have families, and for those that have a mortgage and a family and are working 9 to 5 with a book full of dreams, the level of fear, I can't do this because I can't go all in. There's just such a false narrative that is out there. How do you think that has hurt? And I want to stay on female founders. I think it has hurt entrepreneurs across the board, but how do you think that has hurt female founders? Like the woman you were just talking about, having this level of fear of putting her goods out there on Facebook.

[41:57]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah. Well you know I think this came about a few years ago when you saw the whole "lean in" movement, you can do it all, you can have it all, when you have a family… You can't. I read something that really resonated with me. It was actually Gabrielle Reece wrote a book, the professional volleyball player. When she started having her family, she stopped doing the circuit and competing at that level for a period of time because she goes, "You can only do one thing really great. You can do two things good. But you can only do one thing really great." What her really great thing at that time was she wanted to be a mom.

I still, I resonate around that because I do a similar setup with my business. I shut off at 5 o'clock. I'm not out doing events after 5 o'clock and I tell people, I tell it in my story and my marketing. 5 o'clock, I'm a mom. I'm not out there sipping cocktails and hamming it up for everybody. I wish I was, but I think you have to know your boundaries. I think there's a false storyline that does get circulated a lot about, "You can have it all and you can do it all." In reality, you can try but you're going to set yourself up to fail. I think you just have to realize where you are in your life, what's important, and define success, whatever that success is for you. Really try to surround yourself with people that can lift you up and can help you achieve your goal. But yeah, you've got to have all those things in place before you can just go jump in and think you're going to be the most successful entrepreneur out there.

[43:26]
James McKinney: There's a couple questions that I ask every founder. The first one I ask is about gratitude, because I truly believe that if we lose perspective of all the people that have poured into our lives to support us in our journey, we'll end up starting to think that we can do it ourselves, and that will isolate us eventually and ultimately lead to our failure. So when you think of your entire lifespan, your entire entrepreneurial journey, and your multiple ventures, who are the people that you'd point to with such immense gratitude for what they have done for you personally and professionally?

[43:56]
Catherine Stiles: I've got such an amazing, supportive family. Gratitude for my husband I think first of all, for listening to all my crazy ideas and going, "You can do it. Do it. Just go do it." He really has always been my biggest fan and supporter, and pushing me to do… the things that we're doing now as a couple and a team, I feel like we really are a great team together and have a lot of fun. So gratitude for my mother, my mother-in-law and my extended family around me that keeps our lives going. Without them, this wouldn't be happening. Having a family with two young kids, I can't tell you how many days I've had to pick up the phone almost in tears going, "This happened today. Can you help me?" and having to get over that. So much gratitude for being so blessed with a family, because not everybody has that. That's so amazing and such a big blessing in my life.

Then my friends. I've got a really great tight knit group of friends that are always there on a dime. If I need them to come work an event, I'm like, "This is so fun. Don't you want to go and serve Bloody Mary's 300 miles from here at some weird event?" "Sure, Catherine, we'll do it." So yeah. I've just had such a wonderful network of people that I think I've surrounded myself with. I learned early in life, surround yourself with good people and good things happen. It's not always easy to get the toxic people out of your lives, because we all have them and we all get them. But I've I think finally at this point I've got just such a great network of people, and I'm so very grateful for.

Then the people that I've met along this journey that have just been so kind. We were talking about the Tito's group, the Yeti group, the people that are involved in those groups behind the scenes that have seen what I've been trying to accomplish and have reached out to me, yourself included. I'm very grateful for just sitting here today. This is such a treat for me.

[45:44]
James McKinney: I am grateful for you wanting to share your story. The last question that I ask is right now, we're sharing your story with tens of thousands of people, but I would like you to speak to just one entrepreneur right now. Whether that entrepreneur is someone who has already started their business and they're frustrated as all get out, and they're considering throwing in the towel because it's just not growing like they had wanted. Or maybe it's the entrepreneur that has, or an aspiring entrepreneur that's sitting at a 9 to 5 job with a mortgage, and kids, and a level of responsibility, and because of the narrative out there about entrepreneurship, they're afraid to leave their business and pursue their dreams. Or maybe it's the entrepreneur that has failed numerous times and is just about ready to just call it completely out.

[46:27]
Catherine Stiles: Yeah. I always say tomorrow's a new day. I mean I've had some of the worst of the worst days, where you feel… I'm a pretty upbeat person, but you can definitely get yourself in a rut where you feel alone, you feel lonely in this big journey that can just swallow you up. I always say go to bed, wake up the next day, phone a friend, laugh a little, and move on. There are just so many wonderful things that you can accomplish if you just have some perspective. Let's look at it in a different way. Look at a different path. Have you tried reaching out to this person? And just totally focus on one thing.

Because there's so many I think things that happen in one day as an entrepreneur, it can just swallow you up whole and overwhelm you, where sometimes you just need to go away from the noise. I have to tell my husband every once in a while, "Put your phone down." We were talking about social media, you can see what everybody else is doing all the time and it starts wearing on you and you're feeling inadequate. I think you just have to go focus on one particular thing that you're doing in that moment to really move ahead sometimes.

[47:32]
James McKinney: If you were driving while listening to this episode, I hope you'll give it another listen when you can sit with a pen and paper, because Catherine brought some incredible truth to us in this episode. One in particular that I want to unpack a bit is the power of collaboration. Catherine shared about how validating it was to have billion dollar brands like Yeti and Tito's handcrafted vodka desire a collaboration with her. How encouraging and helpful it was to have those brands bring the Barbecue Wife to events that were outside of her budget and price point for attendance, or even sponsorship. She then talked about how she tries to pay that kindness forward with entrepreneurs that are a bit earlier in their journey than she is. And that is the key.

Yes, all of us would love a billion dollar brand to collaborate with us, but what are we doing with what we are given today? I am 100% confident that if you have a product or service in market, then you have the ability to reach back and help another entrepreneur level up their efforts, even if it is just a small amount. The same value that you would receive from collaborating with a larger brand is the same value that a smaller brand would receive from collaborating with you, because to those smaller brands, you are their success story. Entrepreneurship is incredibly challenging and you got to where you are today because someone reached back to pull you up at least once. Now it's your turn to reach back and help another entrepreneur.

I hope you found real value in Catherine's journey and her willingness to share with us. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. I mean, that was a major part of Catherine's entrepreneurial journey. In fact, I always ask our guests how you, The Startup Story listeners, can support them in their journey. Here's a way we can support Catherine.

[49:14]
Catherine Stiles: So one of the things that we do at Barbecue Wife is we have a social giveback campaign. It's called Drink Good, Do Good. So with every purchase, we give 1% of our annual gross profits back to charitable causes that we believe in. So I'm a mom of two. I usually gravitate towards kids charities, so in Austin we support Safe Austin and it helps abused kids that are coming out of really bad situations. So I'd like to extend to the audience if you go on our website, barbecuewife.com, I'll give you a 20% discount code. Just enter "drink good do good" when you checkout and you'll get 20% off, and you'll be putting a little good back into the world.

[49:54]
James McKinney: So if you found any value from Catherine giving her time today, then please visit barbecuewife.com, and use the discount code "drink good do good" to get 20% off as well as donating to Safe Austin and helping abused kids get out of really bad situations. We'll add the link to the site and the discount code listed in our show notes, so make sure you check it out. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make sure to show up in a big way for Catherine and Barbecue Wife.

Now, for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible with sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We are a startup and the most powerful way you can support The Startup Story podcast is to leave a review on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory.co. Share The Startup Story on your social media, either with a link or a screenshot. Make sure you tag or mention us @TheStartupStory.co so we can see your help and say thank you for it.

Lastly, share the podcast on your LinkedIn profile. The Startup Story is for entrepreneurs, so please do not underestimate the power of sharing The Startup Story on your LinkedIn profile so other entrepreneurs can discover us. In fact, most people struggle to share good content on LinkedIn anyways, so if you want to support The Startup Story then search for The Startup Story company page, follow us, and share our posts to help encourage other founders and spread the word about the podcast. Every single founder has a story, and the startup stories we bring you every week can encourage and inspire another founder. It might just be what they needed to hear to keep moving forward on their dreams. I look forward to sharing these stories every Tuesday with hopes to inspire you to start YOUR story.

If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer, Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.

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June 25 2019
Catherine Stiles, founder of Barbecue Wife

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