Jessica Wolf: Founder Vivonne NYC
Spotlight no. 4:
Jessica Wolf, Founder
Dartmouth College, BA
What's your story?
I graduated from Dartmouth College last June with a major in art history and creative writing. There, I also founded a food truck and served as formal chair in my sorority. Enlivened by my Dartmouth experiences and studies I looked to re-invigorate an age of ingenuity, a time in which people met for the purpose of cerebral advancement, culinary exploration, political discussion, and artistic analysis. During my research, I stumbled upon the story of Catherine De Vivonne, a society hostess in 17th century France. She revolutionized the simple act of gathering by transforming her personal home into a salon where she encouraged discussion of French literature and inquiry of fashion, debate and wit. More so, she trampled societal boundaries by allowing nobles and men of letters as well as participants from both sexes to mingle and to freely exchange ideas as equals for the first time. Those salons became responsible in the spreading of new ideas, and became a centre of intellectual as well as social exchange.
What is Vivonne?
Vivonne was founded in emulation of the 17th century salon, with the intention of re-inspiring a means of communication. My hope is to enliven that collision between culture, art, food, conversation, and personal advancement: to create the contemporary salon.
Vivonne is not inventing anything new, rather it is capitalizing on an age-old tradition: eating and conversing. In an era fraught with digitalization, Vivonne offers an intimate and private experience in which to put down your phone and taste, listen and observe for a few sensory-immersed hours. Dining within an exclusive residence, allows for a very comfortable atmosphere, encouraging people to move past the superficial into a more meaningful territory of conversation. More so, Vivonne is a platform for up and coming artists, chefs and brands to showcase their skills and work.
How did you go from inspiration to implementation?
I had been formulating this particular idea for over a year. New York City is engulfed in the supper club craze, I needed to stand out to be successful. I could not afford a warehouse like Dinner Lab, or secure museums and galleries like Escena Magica. Having worked in real estate previously, I figured it was best to start with a component I was familiar with. I wanted to take full advantage of a venue so underutilized: luxury apartments. I created a website, developed a pitch-deck, and began researching "multi-million NYC homes." I did reach out to the brokers listed for those apartments in the hopes that they would be interested in Vivonne; but I received a lot "nos." In fact, I called over 100 brokers. It wasn't until I reached Vickey Barron at Douglas Elliman that I received the yes I needed to transform Vivonne into a reality. I called her on a whim. After she listened to my pitch over the phone, she invited me in to meet with the developers of the Ralph Walker tower. I then met with Vickey, several developers, HWPR (Douglas Elliman's PR team), and after much back and forth they gave me access to an outrageous Ralph Walker apartment. I feel such immense gratitude to Vickey for believing in me when I truly had nothing but an idea. She has been insurmountable in my success. After my first successful event, many brokers came forward to offer apartments, so much so that HWPR, Tierney Model, now handles all requests.
What challenges did you face as you launched Vivonne?
Finding venues was the most difficult part, conquering that, allowed me to spend time brainstorming creative themes, networking with the right people, and working on marketing and PR. In terms of coming up with themes, its a lot of blind reaching out, asking people to sponsor, donate or get involved. While I still reach out to people all the time, often through Instagram, I now have brands and sponsors reaching out to me to be involved.
You graduated from Dartmouth only a year ago, and have already experienced so much success with Vivonne. What advice can you give to other young entrepreneurs in the early stages of building a company?
Starting Vivonne reminded me of pulling all-nighters at Baker Berry Library - for months and months. I think perseverance is key. Keep trying. My mom always reminds me, "you are only truly an entrepreneur if you can handle and overcome failure, setbacks and losses." It is easy to get discouraged, so I take her words heart. More so, envisioning my end goal has helped immensely. Often I get lost in the minute details and lose sight of the larger picture. To stay on course, I ask myself the Who, What, Where, When, Why. Who am I and what do I stand for, what is Vivonne, where will Vivonne expand to, when will I reach x goal, why is this important?...etc. My answers change often, but these simple questions have anchored me.
What is the most valuable insight or suggestion offered to you by a mentor?
Everyone has their own opinion or insight on what direction I should take, or what it is to be an entrepreneur. I think taking tidbits from everyone has been helpful. Of all people, however, I have been most inspired by my mother who she founded and sold her own company. I learned much from her, and have found confidence and inspiration in her success. Secondly, my brother has been so supportive he deserves mention. He has been onboard since day -1, building my financial models, helping me find chefs, as well as packing and loading the car for dinners. I could not do it without him.
In what ways did your Ivy League education and network empower you to launch your company?
Dartmouth was highly instrumental in the launch of Vivonne. I think the academic environment alone taught me the dedication and drive needed to accomplish the most arduous tasks. Pulling all-nighters in Baker with friends, has now translated to pulling all-nighters in my living room with my roomie who is also a Dartmouth alum. She works in banking and stays up until all hours. While it may sound miserable, we have come to enjoy all-nighters as it reminds us of college.
The friends and people I met at Dartmouth have been unbelievably supportive. Many close friends have aided in building my website, setting up for dinners, designing invitations, and curating interesting groups of people. For that, I am so very grateful. Even peripheral Dartmouth connections have reached out offering support and congratulations. It feels good to be part of such a strong community.
Are there any interviews from other publications about Vivonne that you would like us to link to in your Ivy Startup Mag interview profile?