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Former Obama Staffer on Pursuing a New Career in a Man's World

Former Obama Staffer on Pursuing a New Career in a Man's World
Pia Carusone, co-founder of Republic Restorative / Credit: Image courtesy of Pia Carusone

Good-quality drinks do more than please our taste buds or spark a relaxing buzz after a long day. They have the power to start conversations, connect friends and help us celebrate victories.

Pia Carusone, co-founder of Republic Restoratives and former Obama administration staffer, knows this from experience. In fact, her business idea was once just a topic of discussion over whiskey with her longtime friend and now business partner, Rachel Gardner.

"We kept coming back to [the idea]," Carusone said. However, she served as chief of staff to Congresswoman Gabby Giffords at the time. While she felt her career in politics was temporary, she wasn't yet ready to take that leap into entrepreneurship.

But in 2011, life threw a curveball: Giffords was nearly assassinated in a grocery store parking lot, an occurrence that shook Carusone to the core.

"My life changed forever, and one of the lasting impacts was a lesson in how short life can be," she said. "A few years later, we launched Republic Restoratives."

Dreaming up an idea worth pursuing is not the difficult part of entrepreneurship. The seemingly impossible step is growing a thriving tree from a mere seed – especially if that seed is in an entirely different field, and one dominated by men on top of that.

"As first-time business owners and distillers, we've had our fair share of challenges," said Carusone. "One day we're dealing with an issue with our boiler, and the next it's regulatory issues in one of our markets. Every day is different, and you have to be comfortable being flexible; otherwise, you'll end up overly stressed."

Men initially overlooked Carusone and Gardner in search of "the man that must own the business." They assumed the female business partners didn't understand what was going on or how the construction process of their business worked. However, Carusone knew they weren't intentionally being rude and didn't take offense.

"Despite curious looks at the conferences and industry events, most folks are supportive and excited," she said.

Rather than allowing any of these trials to dissuade her from leaving her comfort zone in politics, Carusone persisted without giving the issues much thought. For her, it was about achieving a dream – not about her initial lack of experience or which gender dominates the industry.

"There are some incredible female distillers, blenders and bartenders out there," she said. "We try to look out for each other, obviously, and make sure that when we have the chance to do business with a woman, we do."

Carusone didn't want to commit to a career in politics, but leaving that field wasn't simple. She and Gardner spoke about their business concept for 10 years before acting on it. However, she knew that, to achieve job satisfaction and create her business, she had to put her doubts on the back burner.

If you want to pursue your dream but lack the courage or motivation to do so, you'll never achieve it. You're going to experience more uncertainty than stability, especially when changing industries, but that's all part of the process.

Carusone said to ask yourself one question: If you were going to take 10 first steps, what would they be? Take one at a time until you see that light in the distance. It might feel like a shot in the dark, but it's not one you'll regret the next morning.

It's also crucial to remember that, once your business is up and running, it won't be all cocktails and smiles. A business is like cooking, Carusone said: Each task, no matter how monotonous, is part of the end result, and "for every product, it's still rewarding." 

Especially if that meal comes with a whiskey sour.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Business News Daily and Business.com staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.