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Nina Dobrev and Julianne Hough on Starting a Company, Building a Brand and Doing It All With Your Best Friend

The actor and the dancer talk about finding the business yin to your yang.

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With the whole new year ahead, one of your goals might be to finally start the dream company you've always wanted to create. And while ambitious entrepreneurs may want to start a business solo, there can be some unparalleled benefits to doing it with your friend. Look no further than actor Nina Dobrev and dancer Julianne Hough for proof.

Craig Barritt for Getty Images

The two started Fresh Vine Wine in 2019 over their desire to offer low-carb, low-calorie varietals in the wine space. Since then, the process of building the business hasn’t slowed down, with the most recent milestone being an IPO in mid-December. Of course, Dobrev and Hough's separate entertainment careers haven’t exactly slowed down either. Despite busy schedules that consist of filming, media appearances and the like, the two public personas have been able to balance it all by leaning on each other alongside the Fresh Vine Wine leadership team.

In an interview with Entrepreneur, the two discuss what it’s like running a celebrity wine brand, and more importantly – how to run a business with your best friend.  

What did you both see in each other as business partners?

Hough: At the end of the day, when you think about wine, it's all relational. It's creating memories, experiences. Nina and I have definitely done our market research when it comes to wine, just traveling around the world, having fun experiences. We saw an opportunity and we found that we have strengths that are different and unique from each other. But our values really aligned. So that felt like the perfect fit.

Dobrev: We have been like yin and yang from the very start — we’ve completed each other's sentences, always have the same things in mind, but at the same time, we have different strengths and weaknesses. We get to tackle everything in a pretty equal manner, which is really awesome, and you have that support system and know that you can check balances and gut check if something feels off. It’s great to have a partner that you can discuss those things with.

Image credit: NYSE

What work did you guys have to do behind the scenes to start Fresh Vine Wine?

Hough: [Nina and I] don't do anything that is not genuine and authentic to what we believe in. So if it feels like we're just slapping our face on it, there's absolutely no way either one of us would commit to that. We have people out there in Napa. We've gone up and been hands-on, picking the varietals and really understanding what our consumers are wanting. When it comes the specific wine-making and product development, branding and marketing, we really are hands-on because the most important thing is the consumer.

Dobrev: I feel like I've learned a lot. Maybe that was the more unexpected part, ‘cause I thought I knew so much — you go into everything feeling confident and then it's so interesting to learn about the process. It is so involved and we've been working very, very closely with [winemaker] Jamey Whetstone down in Napa. And he's been keeping us in the loop and educating us because we can't be there every single day. I've loved every second of the last few years of learning about this process.

Related: The Perfect Pairing With Fine Wine Is ... Crypto?

Did you have to lean on any previous entrepreneurial ventures to get the company off the ground?

Hough: I feel super fortunate. Being a co-owner of Fresh Vine Wine, I’m also founder and CEO of Kinrgy, I have my production company, doing all these other things.

I used to think and have a mindset that you have to have a degree in business school and do all these different things. But the greatest education that you can have is real-time — in the moment education and learning. There's been highs and lows and all the different ventures that I've gone through, but all of them have served a purpose for a greater understanding.

Dobrev: I haven't really had a lot of experience in entrepreneurship, but I’ve picked up a lot over the years. I've seen Julianne do what she does. We have such a strong team around us that I've leaned on for advice, but I'm also a very inquisitive person. I ask questions. This whole experience here has been my college degree for business school, and I'm sure I'll make mistakes along the way, but I'll learn from them and I'll grow from them. And they'll only help improve the growth for future things.

Related: How One Woman Is Winning the Canned Wine Market

Being super busy, how do still make time for each other as friends? I’m sure owning a business together has changed the friendship in some ways.

Hough: I think the key to life, in general, is balance. And at the same time, we are so passionate about what we do that it is so exciting to talk about what is going on with Fresh Vine. We can't help ourselves when we actually do just have friend hangs that we want to talk about it because it really is our passion. We have all these ideas and we can't help it when we are together and it just comes out.

Dobrev: We've spent years and years and years of doing market research before we started this company — we drank a lot of wine in our early twenties. So the lines have been blurred since then, literally. We hang out all the time anyway, and we did before and now we just get to do it more because we have this company together and we get to celebrate the successes of the company. It’s great because we get these built-in hangouts when we're working, but we also hang regardless. Any and every excuse to drink wine and hang out or talk about the business is welcome. And we do it far, far, far, too much.

Related: The Strong Case for Wine as an Alternative Investment