Danielle Axman, 29, is the creative — and business-minded — force behind the operations at SWISH Beverages, the wine brand which is home to White Girl Rosé and the popular BABE line of canned bubbly, both of which have been popping up on thousands of Instagram feeds for the past few years. In fact, she’s the company’s secret weapon. And she credits her drive to the women who’ve shaped her career.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin Madison, Axman landed a job with top talent agency Creative Artists Agency, where she “worked crazy hours” but took full advantage of every opportunity — and connection — that came her way: “It was such a great first job,” the business woman tells PEOPLE. “I loved it but I wasn’t dead-set on being an agent.”
Two years into her job at CAA, Axman was introduced to SoulCycle founders Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, who told her about the open Chief of Staff position within the fitness company. Axman was already an avid cyclist and says she instantly hit it off with Rice and Cutler, so the career move made sense.
At the time, the trio had already launched a cultural phenomenon — whose blunt name and simplistic branding took Instagram by storm — called White Girl Rosé. For their next project, Otrovsky and the Cohen’s wanted to fill a gap in the industry. They envisioned a canned wine for women to drink at concert venues, sporting events and festivals that offer mostly beer drinks marketed towards men.
“They pitched me this idea,” Axman tells PEOPLE. “It didn’t even have a face yet, but it was innovative, different, portable and convenient. I loved the branding behind it so I was like, ‘Alright! Here we go I guess.’ ”
Axman jumped on board as the first female employee of what would become California-based wine brand, SWISH Beverages. Today, she’s the Senior Director of Operations of the company, and has a hand in everything from branding to finances for popular products like BABE Rosé with Bubbles and the iconic White Girl Rosé.
By using social media to target Gen Z millennials — and recruiting Emily Ratajkowski for jaw-dropping ad campaigns — SWISH Beverages has emerged as a disrupter in the wine industry with Axman leading the way.
Throughout her career, one thing has remained constant: Axman’s commitment to empowering women. Below, the entrepreneur tells PEOPLE what she learned from female leaders in her own life, plus how she’s paying it forward (now that she’s the boss!).
What was working at SoulCycle like?
“It was really cool —and all over the place! A PR meeting one second, then a real estate meeting the next. I traveled with the founders anytime they were opening a new studio, speaking at an event or doing press. And the company is predominantly women, which was amazing. I wore spandex to work and did SoulCycle classes during my lunch break.”
Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler are OG girl bosses — tell us about a time you were inspired by them.
“My first day at SoulCycle, I went with Elizabeth to a meeting at Equinox in this huge conference room. Every single person in the room was a man except for her. I was just in awe of her presence, her mannerisms and just how well she handled herself in the meeting.”
How did your bosses at SoulCycle react when you left the company to join SWISH Beverages?
“I remember [current SoulCyle CEO] Melanie Whelan told me, ‘Danielle, it seems like this is a great opportunity. I know you’re a hustler. You need to go out and you need to try this thing and if it doesn’t work out, you know you’ll always have a place here.’ Having the support of this powerful, very successful person who I respected and looked up to felt really good. I think it helped me take that leap and I’m so thankful that I did.”
Leaving SoulCycle was a huge leap of faith — how did you find the courage to make that career move?
“My first boss gave me the best advice. She looked at me and said, ‘Danielle, no one knows what the f— they’re doing. And just trust me on this. Whatever you do, whatever you think, there’s no right way in doing anything.’ There’s no exact right way to do something, so just try it and trust your gut.
Unlike SoulCycle, the alcohol industry is dominated by men. How did you navigate that when you first started at SWISH Beverages?
“In the beginning, it was hard to gain trust and get recognition from distributors, retail owners and sales people. Luckily, the guys I worked with on BABE Rosé were fantastic about introducing me in every meeting. They would say, ‘Here’s our boss, Danielle,’ or, ‘She’s the boss, so ask her any questions you have. She’s the one you need to go to.’ ”
How did you transition from being part of a team at CAA and SoulCycle to being in charge of a team at SWISH Beverages?
“I had to alter my management style. I’m very direct and I like to be extremely transparent, but I learned that everybody is different — some people need coddling, some people need a little bit more explanations, some people need a little bit more patience and some people like that direct, straight-forward approach.”
What’s your biggest strength as a business woman?
“One of my best assets has been that I’m not afraid to ask questions. I think a lot of times people, when someone’s giving a presentation, they’re like, ‘Okay, does everybody understand?’ Everyone kind of nods their head and I’m not afraid to say, ‘I don’t really get it. Can you kind of go back and explain it to me?’ We came into a space where none of us had any experience in beverage or in alcohol, so we had to ask a million questions in order to figure out the most efficient way to do it.”
What would you tell your 10-year-old self?
“I’m a very Type A person so I’m always planning ahead. I never could have imagined that this would be my job and this would be where I’m at, but I’m happy and I think that’s the most important thing. So, I would tell my 10-year-old self, ‘Don’t worry, you will be happy and that’s really what’s important.’ “