We had the good fortune of connecting with Lauren Butler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lauren, other than deciding to work for yourself, what else do you think played a pivotal role in your story?
When I look back on the many life decisions that lead me to who I have become today, I think the single most important one was choosing to audition for “A Midsummer Nights’ Dream” as an undergrad. I wasn’t a theatre major, in fact, I was well entrenched in the psychology department, running my own sleep study under a highly coveted faculty adviser with an impressive background in neuropsychology. I was merely looking to make some friends and have some fun (both of which I certainly did) but I had no idea I’d learn so many life skills that have helped me not only successfully create, grown, and run my own business, but have served me in navigating so many avenues of life. That one audition lead me to pursue a career in the performing arts that ultimately lead me to my Master’s degree, a 3-year international touring theatre position, and an ‘actors’ toolbox’ of skills I use every day as the founder of Yes Cocktail Company.
“How does theatre help cultivate successful people?” you may ask.
The most obvious is developing self confidence. The ability to communicate effectively with strangers and acquaintances alike. For an actor, this happens not only while on stage, but also in pursuit of the next gig. Actors are in the business of selling themselves for the next casting opportunity, so it’s an easy and logical transition to sell your product or service. Confidently representing my brand has opened so many doors and helped me to be an effective leader of our staff.
Although self confidence is a great asset for running a business, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The day to day grind of making the seemingly mundane tasks happen is when being a business owner can really burn you out. You need to learn how to delegate and surround yourself with the absolute best people you can find. Collaboration is the crux of good theatre, each member of the team is essential to the overall success. The actors in their roles, the designers (in lighting, set design, costumes, make up, props, sound, etc) in theirs, and of course the director, producer, and stage manager all working together to execute a grand vision. Without one member of the team, the entire production can crumble. I bring this collaborative spirit to my business each day. Every single one of our staff members is essential to the team and has their role to play. Each of the many businesses I collaborate with, vendors I purchase goods from, and retailers who support our brand are key elements in our production. And of course, live theatre can’t exist without the audience, our customers. Listening to our customers without compromising our vision of Yes Cocktail Co. has been essential in our brand development. Taking constructive criticism, working with it, and continuing to make our products better batch by batch. It’s just the same way you tweak a show once you’ve starting performing to an audience. The work is never really done.
And the work never really is done. That’s another key lesson I learned from theatre. There’s always room for improvement, room for growth. It’s that dogged determination to keep moving forward no matter how many times you hear “no” or how hard and long the days may be. An outsider may look at a play and see all the “fun”– just in the same way we look at an entrepreneur and see all the successes. And although there are countless moments of overwhelming joy, there are so many more instances of hard work that lead you seemingly nowhere. I learned that bootstrapping mentality from the countless hours I spent in rehearsal. And I used it again while Yes Cocktail Company grew from a completely unknown Farmer’s Market booth in Central California to a successful company distributed nationwide. Oftentimes we don’t even know where, if anywhere, all the hard work will bring us. It’s showing up and sticking to it that really counts.
That leads me to my last theatre lesson; truly believing in the impossible. I’m sure that sounds as corny as can be, but it has served me in every step of my journey as an entrepreneur. Perhaps it’s better to use an actual theatre phrase, “suspending your disbelief.” In the theatre, suspending your disbelief is willingly avoiding logic or critical thinking in order to fully invest in or believe in what you are seeing. It’s how the audience accepts the more surreal aspects of live theatre for the sake of enjoyment. This may sound like an incredibly foolish thing for a business owner to do; to purposefully avoid logic and critical thinking. I certainly don’t mean to throw logic out the window completely, but just enough so that you can attempt the impossible. It’s about buying into an idea and going along for the ride without overthinking it. If you can suspend your disbelief, you just might be able to create something totally new and reach a goal you could only dream of.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Yes Cocktail Company crafts small batch cocktail mixers, syrups, bitters and garnishes designed to elevate your happy hour. Each product is crafted using only real fruit, herbs, spices and botanicals.
Our mixology journey began while touring with an international theatre company (our free time was spent sampling local libations). The natural curiosity for mixology turned to experimentation when we returned home to discover commercially available bar products paled in comparison to what we had tasted during our travels. We began crafting our our syrups and infusions and selling them locally at the farmer’s market in Central California.
With very little knowledge of the small food industry, we had to learn quickly how to bottle, market, and distribute our ever expanding product line. Throughout the journey, I’ve learned that taking risks is essential to finding success and nothing is ever handed to you. When faced with a challenge or something I don’t know how to do, I never back down. I learn all I can about it through research, I ask everyone I know to share their knowledge, and when I have no other choice, I create the answer myself. Even if that means my initial “answer” is nowhere near the correct one. You simply must be willing to fail and then KEEP TRYING. The sweet spot of creating a successful business is right there in the unknown: an idea that SEEMS like it could work, but you have no idea how to execute it. If you keep at it and ask the right questions, you’ll get there.
You have to say Yes to every opportunity, especially when you’re just starting out. That’s where the name “Yes Cocktail Co.” comes from– saying YES. Saying “yes” is the first rule of improv (a style of acting you make up as you go along– unscripted). But it goes deeper than that, because the first rule of improv is “yes, and…” The AND part is essential. It’s not just agreeing (by saying yes) it’s ADDING something. It’s contributing to the scene. I use that philosophy in business all the time– I say yes, and then I add my AND. I contribute something. It’s the “and” that cultivates great relationships with other businesses and keeps customers coming back for more.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
We’re located in Paso Robles, California, which is a hotspot for wine here on the central coast! However, we’ve got so much more to offer!
Naturally, we’d tour our Distillery Trail (9 distilleries and growing) — our personal favorites are Krobar Craft Distillery and Bethel Road Distillery.
Of course, we’d have to eat at Fish Gaucho (we’ve got a signature cocktail on the menu) and grab a coffee at Spearhead Coffee daily. We’d grab a few beers from our favorite local brewer, Chuck Silva over at Silva Brewing to take with us to the beach (Avila Beach is my favorite).
We’d visit Tin City (for a plethora of wine, beer, and cider tastings) and for sunset we’d walk through Sensorio (a 15-acre art exhibit by Bruce Munro). A little local shopping in downtown paso at The General Store.
For a change of pace away from all the drinking, we’d take a short trip down the road to see Morro Rock (and do a bay cruise to see all the adorable otters in and around morro bay), tour Hearst Castle, visit the Elephant Seals in San Simeon.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Mark & Jane Duncan — my theatre professors and mentors