OCT 3, 2023
When most people talk about wine regions, places like California, Italy, and France tend to come to mind first. But after growing up in Alberta and British Columbia, VJ Gandhi realized practically no one knew about Canadian wine outside of Canada. She decided to launch Kascadia Wine Merchants to import and market the best Western Canadian wines across the United States, bridging the gap between the neighboring countries. Today, she’s building her business alongside her family in California, but she’s leaving one thing behind: doubts.
When VJ was seven years old, she launched her first business—painting rocks with her sister’s (borrowed, not stolen!) CoverGirl eyeshadow and selling them for 25 cents apiece. It lasted about one recess, she admits with a laugh. But it was the start of a lifelong ambition to be her own boss, a dream finally realized with Kascadia, a wine import/export and marketing company she runs from the Central California coast.
Specifically working in wine is fun, but not the driving factor for VJ. (“I love wine, but I’m about a one glass girl,” she jokes.) But lots of people drink wine. Consumers seek out imported wine. California has some of the best palates in the country for wine. Why couldn’t anyone get Canadian wine? When she noticed the gaping hole in the industry and almost no one filling that need, “It was this click,” she says. “I thought, ‘Wait a second. Why are we not doing this?’”
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It was the opportunity to solve a problem that led her from a budding curiosity to building a company around it. But launching Kascadia also allowed VJ to tap into her Canadian roots, as well as a chance to rectify some of the stereotypes she felt stifled women coming from traditional Indian Hindu families like hers, where “safe” corporate careers are often emphasized over the risks of entrepreneurship.
“I think sometimes males are more supported in that role,” she says. “Everybody takes care of his laundry, and his dinners, and lunches, and makes sure he can get his business off the ground… As a woman, a lot more is expected of us. You’re still expected to be a wife. You're still expected to be a mother, and you're still expected to run your career—whether it's a business or a corporate career, it doesn't matter. There's a lot expected out of you.”
It’s something she thinks all women entrepreneurs have felt at some point or another, but VJ hopes her success will give other women the confidence to pursue their dreams, no matter where they are in life. “It's never too late to start. I'm turning 40 next year, and I feel like this really took off for me in my thirties.”
VJ is now five years into Kascadia, and despite some doubters, the company now ships wines made in Western Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest to 45 states, a milestone that’s allowed her to transition from purely building mode to a leadership-focused role. That evolution allows her to spend more time with her twins and husband—the flexibility promised from self-employment, but always hard-fought.
“Mompreneurs are the real superheroes of the world!” she says with a laugh. “You get sharper with the minutes you have.” Every day is a balanced team effort between her husband and her, and VJ says that although it might look effortless from the outside, behind every polished moment comes from discipline, teamwork, communication, and lots of work. None of it’s easy. But she says she had a fabulous role model from the start—her own mother.
VJ’s mother owned her own business before moving into education, eventually running an early childhood education program in order to spend time with VJ and her sisters. It’s never easy being full-time mom and having a full-time career, but witnessing her mother’s career flexibility and ability to set her own schedule inspired her from an early age.
Seeing a void and building a business to address it always comes with difficulties (sometimes even pandemic-sized ones). But VJ wouldn’t trade it for the world, and hopes other women will be able to tune out the pessimists and follow their own passions.
“If you think you have a bright idea and you're passionate about it, give it a year to go at it—sometimes even two years—but I think it's at that five year mark that you really know whether you want to pursue it or not. You're gonna have a lot of naysayers, and you're gonna have moments where people say something to bring you down a notch, or maybe to feel a little insecure about it. But as long as you know who you are deep inside your soul, you're gonna be fine.”