Quick Question

Ghia Founder Mélanie Masarin Spends Most Of Her Days Saying “No”

The CEO of Instagram’s favorite alcohol-free drink shares how positivity has shaped her career.

Ghia founder Mélanie Masarin
Ben Biondo

In Bustle’s Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice. Here, Ghia CEO Mélanie Masarin explains her celebratory approach to shaking up the non-alcoholic beverage world.

When Mélanie Masarin was launching her alcohol-free aperitif brand Ghia in the summer of 2020, an investor offered some advice: “You’re not spending enough money.” Though the suggestion was complimentary — it meant the product was promising enough to scale — to Masarin, it didn’t feel right.

The 30-year-old entrepreneur, whose résumé had already included senior roles at Glossier and Dig (formerly Dig Inn), was less interested in a fast track to success, and more concerned about figuring out where Ghia was headed in the first place. “Being a founder, sometimes you feel like you're driving really fast, but there's no address in the GPS,” Masarin tells Bustle.

Ghia’s “North Star” ultimately came to Masarin via the scenic route. The non-alcoholic spirit, inspired by the aperitivo culture of Masarin’s native France, wasn’t made to imitate alcohol or offer an alternative buzz (see: CBD sodas, adaptogenic aperitifs, etc.), but rather to create “meaningful experiences.” Masarin says her team constantly reorients toward that goal, whether planning their next recipe or brainstorming a campaign. “We always ask ourselves, ‘What's the occasion? What are we celebrating?’”

For Masarin, celebration might look like sending handwritten thank-you cards to Ghia’s first 1,200 customers, or kicking off Ghia happy hours with a text line that sends customers playlists. And while you might expect an alcohol-free drinks brand to lean all the way into Dry January, Ghia emphasizes a chiller approach over cold turkey, enthusiastically dubbing the month “dry-ish January.” As a recent Instagram post elaborates: “No pressure to become a new person or create brand new habits out of thin air.”

Here, Masarin tells Bustle about how following her passions coincidentally built her career, finding her mentors in industry leaders, and the power of saying “no.”

How did you gain the confidence to go from working at established companies like Glossier to starting your own?

The first thing that I did when I had the idea [for Ghia] is go to trusted mentors and advisors — people who had [founded businesses] before — and ask them what they thought of the idea. When they offered to invest in my non-existent company, I realized that they really believed in me. Getting advice from people that you trust and letting them in on your doubts is so important. It's always intimidating to put a new idea that you really believe in out in the world, to share it with anyone that might give you unfiltered feedback. It was even intimidating to tell my parents about Ghia. But I have a lot of good people I can call when I hit a roadblock or when I'm uncertain. And that's so valuable.

How do you build a network of mentors who will encourage you like that?

The people that I have worked for are often the first people I call for advice, because I know how they work or lead, and I know their personality or approach to a problem. For instance, I know [Glossier CEO] Emily Weiss is really good with always putting the customer first. She’s my first call for something like that. Nicolas Jammet [co-founder of sweetgreen and Ghia advisor] has always been my moral compass on how to do things right and not cut any corners.

I also have developed a trusted circle of female founders in the consumer packaged goods world whom I can relate to on certain issues — like how to deal with vendors we have in common or fundraising as a woman. But it's a small circle. Trust gets built over time.

When transitioning to leadership, how did you learn when to be more hands-on and when to delegate responsibilities?

If it affects the customer experience, that’s when I want to be extremely involved in the execution. If the business will move faster or run better if I'm not involved, because I might be a bottleneck, that’s when I need to step away.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

The best piece of advice came from my friend Nicolas Jammet, again. I was offered a CEO job when I left Glossier in 2018, and I had never been offered a job of that caliber. I really liked the team, and I really believed in the product. But something inside me didn't feel right, and I couldn't explain why. I’m a very rational person, and everything told me that I had to take this opportunity. Nicolas said, “Just because you have an incredible opportunity doesn't mean that you have to take it.” Now, I spend most of my days saying “no” to protect the business. It's something that I remind myself of constantly.

How do you get into your ideal mindset for a big work event?

I like to be prepared the day before. Before I wrap up, I look at the following day and any materials that I might need to collect. I always say I take my worries and anxieties from my brain to my notebook so that I can sleep easy.

I also try to not have meetings in the first two hours of the day, which is hard because I'm on West Coast time. But I try to have time to think and work on anything that's not putting out a fire — which is usually what the rest of my day looks like.

After you’ve closed your notebook, how do you unwind at the end of a long day?

I'll usually have a Ghia, sometimes with the team. We might schedule a more creative meeting for a late Friday afternoon when the sun starts to go down and the light's really nice. I, or someone on the team, will make Ghia spritzes, and we'll sit on the floor and start brainstorming ideas so that it marks the end of the week.

Also, keeping up with wellness is really important to me. When things feel a little bit like a tornado, knowing that I'll make it to Pilates or surf a few times a week is really grounding.

Looking back on starting out as a professional, what advice would you give your younger self?

Stop worrying. Things really do always work out. Graduating college in 2011, I was so worried — about money, or not getting a visa and being able to stay [in the U.S.]. I was worried that if I didn't figure out what I really wanted to do a few years after college, I would never find out or would waste time.

Looking back, the best decisions that I made were God’s decisions. They were moments of fate like meeting the CEO of Dig for coffee, and then taking a job there. Or taking all the visual arts classes I could when I was at Brown, and then offering ideas at Glossier until I ended up doing store design.

I really believe that how you spend your days is how you spend your life. If you focus on doing the things you love, usually the trajectory of your career will be really positive. And I wish I had known that at the time.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.