In college, a psychology professor told Regan Kelaher that 90% of her class would end up in middle management. At the time, Kelaher knew she would be part of the 10% that found another path. However, after celebrating her 10-year anniversary as a project manager for Kaiser Permanente, Kelaher realized she had become the 90% that she never wanted to be.
"I've since emailed and thanked that professor," Kelaher tells MyDomaine. Around the time she had this epiphany, Kelaher discussed changing her career path with a close friend, Shannon Zappala, over wine (naturally). Zappala was a stay-at-home mom at the time, having left a career in the financial services industry when her daughter was born. Both itching for a change of pace, it wasn't long before the two began brainstorming business ideas and plotting to start their own company, Goverre.
In this installment of Second Life, a series in which we spotlight women who've made major career changes, we catch up with Kelaher and Zappala about their decision to leave their comfortable lives for the startup world, how they came up with their big idea for a modern to-go wineglass, and what they learned along the way.
Tell us about your first career path.
REGAN KELAHER: I worked as a project manager at Kaiser Permanente for 13 years. My plan was to get an MBA and then transition into administrative leadership.
SHANNON ZAPALA: My first career path was as a marketing manager for a large financial services firm, specializing in print/production marketing.
How did you make the transition from your previous backgrounds to starting a wine sippy cup?
RK: While working on my 2013 professional goals, I felt that I was at a fork in my career. I could keep working in my cubicle and start working on my MBA, or I could try something totally different. Over wine, I ran the idea by Shannon, and she too was ready for something different. We both decided to do something different… together. We didn't have an "aha" moment. We both decided we wanted to start our own business, but we didn't know what to do. From there, we started meeting weekly to brainstorm different business ideas.
SZ: I spent several years in the financial services industry before becoming a stay-at-home mom once my daughter was born. When she entered school full-time in kindergarten, and I had more free time on my hands, I began really wanting to get back to work but wasn't sure corporate America was where I wanted to be. Regan was in a similar boat as far as wanting to do something different than what she was doing. From there, we decided we wanted to go into business together. We didn't have the idea for Goverre right away. It came to us after several weeks of business brainstorming meetings.
Tell us about your current career path/business.
RK: Goverre is a modern to-go cup for wine. We wanted to pair our love for wine with our dislike for plastic to offer a chic, convenient alternative for taking your favorite wine on the go (for picnics, boat rides, festivals, the beach) while still preserving the taste.
SZ: We're so grateful that Goverre has been so successful thus far. Our days vary from day-to-day, but we've had some really exciting opportunities, like being on Shark Tank, that we wouldn't have experienced otherwise.
What have been the biggest challenges in your many careers, and why?
RK: I have only really had two careers. Toward the end of my healthcare career, the biggest challenge was staying motivated to continue challenging myself. It was easy to do things the way they have always been done. The biggest challenge with my new career is work/life balance. There are simply not enough hours in the day to get everything done, especially when you have a family. My house is definitely not as clean as it used to be, there are not as many home-cooked meals, and my dogs do not get walked nearly enough! On the upside, my kids have learned to be a little more independent and to do their homework on their own.
SZ: Having a full-time career and being a mom and wife, I've found the biggest challenge has been work/life balance. I have to miss a lot of field trips, class parties, and volunteering for my daughter now. My husband and I have to really focus on keeping a shared scheduled to get everything accomplished in a day.
What triggered your need to change this time around?
RK: There were several things that happened at once—I took it as a bit of a sign. My youngest child was starting kindergarten, which freed up a lot of time. I hit my 10-year anniversary at work, and quite honestly, I never thought I would work for one company for 10 years. I also had a very clear recollection from when I was at Clemson. A Psy 101 professor told us that 90% of us would end up in middle management. I remember thinking, Not me, but that's exactly what I was doing. I've since emailed and thanked that professor.
SZ: I have a lot of friends/family that have their own businesses and have met many entrepreneurs along the way. Once Regan and I decided we wanted to start our own business, I couldn't get the idea out of my head. I was laser-focused on making it happen, but it had to be the right idea.
Why is your current path suitable for your personality?
RK: Who wouldn't want to be a boss?
SZ: I have a very outgoing and fun personality! This career path allows me to get in front of a lot of people and talk to them about our idea, initially, and now our product. Our product is a fun, creative, and a new item that is so exciting to pitch.
What's the most important thing you have learned in making a big change in your career life?
RK: There's never a good time to make the leap. There is never a fail-proof idea. If you want to start your own business, start working on it today. Do one thing every day for your new company, no excuses. Even if you don't know what that business is, you have to start somewhere.
SZ: I don't think I've ever worked as hard in a career as I have now. However, I'm so passionate about it that most of the time it doesn't feel like work.
How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
RK: There was a little devil on my shoulder saying "What if… I can't, it fails, we run out of money, people hate it?" We made ourselves imagine a little something on the other shoulder saying "What if it doesn't fail and we make a lot of money? What if people love it?"
SZ: Lots of wine! Haha. But seriously, it was difficult in the beginning. There was a financial risk, a "what if everyone hates it?" risk. However, we considered all the negative what-if thoughts and changed them to positive what-if thoughts.
What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success?
RK: Where to start. We made/make constant mistakes. We joke that we do everything twice. Things I do different now. Back up my computer—today. Get everything in writing. Trust more, trust less. Biggest mistake is probably doubting myself and worrying too much.
SZ: Regan and I tease and say we always end up doing things twice. We make a mistake first and do it right the next time.
What do you love most about your current role and why?
RK: The upside is it's my company! I have no idea where this is going to go, and it's awesome to know that it's not a gray cube working on the same thing I did the day before.
SZ: It's so awesome being your own boss (or a co-boss, in our case). We always collaborate with one another, make joint decisions. Sometimes we agree, and sometimes we don't, but as long as we have open communication, it all works out really well.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
RK: No regrets. I loved my time at KP and learned so much. I wouldn't have been able to do what I do now without my learning and experience at KP. But I have zero regrets making the change to Goverre.
SZ: I don't have any regrets at all. I learned so many work, life, and management skills in my previous career, and it has been extremely helpful in my current career.
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For more inspiring stories from successful women who've made major career changes, tune into MyDomaine's Second Life podcast.