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Q+A: Jordan Kivelstadt, a Tufts grad reshaping the wine industry

Jordan Kivelstadt, CEO & Co-Founder of Free Flow Wines

Free Flow Wines has changed the way the wine industry deals with packaging wine. Shifting away from bottle to stainless steel kegs for on-premise consumption, the company, founded by Jordan Kivelstadt, is shifting the paradigm in an otherwise stagnant industry.

Jordan graduated from Tufts in 2004 with degrees in Engineering and Business; he was one of the first to go through the Entrepreneurship Leadership Studies Program when it only consisted of three classes. He spent two years in a pharma and biotech consulting firm before changing directions and jumping headfirst into the wine industry.

Jordan has spent the last 10 years reimagining the packaging of wine, be it on his own winery, for Free Flow Wines or Essentially Geared (his latest innovation – wine in aluminum cans). His mission is not only to inject innovation into a stagnant industry, but to go about it in a cool and sustainable manner.

The Entrepreneurship Leadership Studies Program recently spoke to Jordan about his career journey as an entrepreneur.

So, tell me about traction you’ve had since graduation?

I started in consulting… I learned about pricing, modeling, supply and demand, how to think about business. However, I can say about the entire experience is that after three years, if you’re in a job and you see people 10 years your senior and you don’t want to be doing what they are doing, switch careers, because that is where you are going so you have to decide: is that what I want to be…?

I made the decision about what was right for me. I left the consulting industry and returned to the SF Bay Area. I took a harvest job in the wine industry, because I always appreciated the food and wine industry. That set me on the path that I am on today. I’ve worked for a couple different wineries as well and made wine in California, Argentina, Chile, Australia – I became completely enamored with the industry.

All of this led to Kivelstadt Cellars because my family had been selling all the fruit and I thought I could do something with it.  Now that is a 5,000-case brand. However, I had a really bad bottling day which led to the creation of Free Flow Wines which employs the use of stainless steel. It has really been an amazing engine of learning for me…. We’ve taken 20 million bottles out of landfills because of our efforts so far.  We put the industry’s first closed loop water recycling system in and we have done a bunch of sustainability related things while changing the entire way the wine industry thinks on premise. Fast forward five or six years later, while kegs are great for on-premise consumption, they are not great for off premise consumption. I was looking for a sustainable package quality wise (higher than bag in the box) that could fill the void above bag in the box and that is where the idea for cans (Essentially Geared) originated.

What’s been your biggest challenge so far?

Somewhere between raising money and making a profit! Free Flow raised over 17 million so far in equity capital… it’s a necessary process to get where you need to go… but it’s hard to get people to shift.

What’s been your most insightful failure?

National account adoption was a challenge… I had a massive purchase order that was 1.5 years in the works and was on the desk of the president of that company during the week he was fired. For entrepreneurs, there are more bruises than smiles.

What do you consider your greatest success?

Doing something that is permanently changing in  stagnant industry and that 50 years from now will still be in the industry… we’ve stayed true to what we originally wanted to accomplish. We wanted better quality, not plastics.

What advice do you have for Tufts students?

Work inside the space you are interested in disrupting and observe as much as you can about the space before you try to disrupt it. The ELS board is currently working on improving networking between students and this win industry. Understand the time commitment with startups. It’s easier to be an entrepreneur in your 20s, the only downside is you don’t know anything. However, your risk is lower.