Shopify traveled to Tulsa to tell the stories of merchants who are reinventing Black Wall Street for the ecommerce age. Read the rest of the series here.
Three events happened in Felisha Renee’s life in 2021 that started the Air Force veteran and mother of five on a path to full-time entrepreneurship in Tulsa. First, in January 2021, when she was living in North Carolina and working in the health care data field, she was diagnosed with intracranial hypertension, a chronic illness characterized by debilitating headaches. She realized she’d need a career that could work outside of a 9-to-5 schedule.
“I chose to reinvent myself and rebuild my life,” she says. She thought about what brought her the most joy in life, and realized it was helping people have a good time—so she purchased Tipsy Valley, a wine accessories store, in February of 2021.
“I wanted to find something that was linked with joy and celebration. And for me, wine embodied all of that,” Felisha says. Just one month later, she was given a free house by a YouTuber. (Yes, you read that right.) In a video with more than 90 million views posted a year ago, the internet personality MrBeast gifted her a fully furnished single-family home in Raleigh as part of a viral series of philanthropic stunts.
“I was so stunned, I went home after and just sat in the dark holding the keys to this house because I couldn’t believe it was real,” she says. “Then around midnight I got up and ran back to the house and slept there.”
The money she made from the sale of the house gave her the freedom she needed to focus on Tipsy Valley, in combination with event number three:
In July 2021, she was accepted into the prestigious Tulsa Remote program, which grants professionals $10,000 in exchange for relocating to Tulsa. The recently launched program is highly competitive and sought after—only 3% of its 30,000 applicants were accepted last year.
Fast forward to today, and Felisha now lives in Tulsa with her partner, William, and her youngest daughter, 14-year-old Gabrielle.
Her days have been filled with prepping for the relaunch of Tipsy Valley that happened on Juneteenth of this year, a date she chose to represent a new era of financial freedom for her family. “So many things had to shift in my life for me to be here at this moment,” she says. “It still feels a bit surreal.”
Ahead, Felisha dives deeper into this moment of transition and discusses the importance of community when it comes to starting over.
ON WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A BLACK ENTREPRENEUR IN TULSA
"I tried to come here with no set expectations of what life would be like. I just had an open mind. But now I hope I stay here long enough to see these shifts within the Black economy happen. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done. Tulsa is on the cusp. They have the space, they have the land, they have the buildings, it’s all ripe for being an entrepreneurship hub. That scene is being cultivated in Tulsa, especially with the Tulsa Remote program, where they’re very intentional about building up that epicenter of community.
I feel connected to the legacy of Black Wall Street, and the weight is tremendous and very present to me. Everyone here who is African American and in business feels that weight. But the weight isn’t a burden, it’s very synergistic. It's great to be in a place where you have a group of people that are all working toward the same goal to rebuild something—and not just to make it the same as it was, but to make it even greater. It’s a community where you have all these people who are there to support you, and you can’t beat that. As an African American entrepreneur, there's no better place to build."
ON RELAUNCHING AND REBRANDING AN EXISTING SHOPIFY STORE
"I’ve learned to not always reinvent the wheel, so I decided to buy an existing store. My skills leaned more toward technical, so I wanted to benefit from someone else’s experience around selecting a good niche market that had already been tested. I was able to view the business financials and could already see that it was a great business opportunity. After several conversations with the owner discussing her past strategies, I could see what was missing and how my skills could rejuvenate and build upon the success. Having an already established business presence with vetted vendors and a trademark are priceless. I was able to bypass certain gates to selling because there was already a history.
My first goal was to redesign the whole Shopify store, because I bought Tipsy Valley from another owner who had it established in 2015. I wrote a whole new business plan and revamped a couple of product lines that I wanted to carry. I’m very technical, and I’ve built a Shopify store from the ground up in the past, but I needed some additional assistance, so it always takes longer. I’m also going through the branding process and working with different designers as I wanted to find a new logo.
Basically this stage is a lot of project management—just finding the right people to work with to get your vision across. There’s a lot of followup, a lot of just hitting walls and having to go a different way. You have to be flexible and adaptable and just be committed to the store launching."
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TAPPING INTO A SUPPORT NETWORK
"The one piece of advice I would give to young entrepreneurs: It is absolutely imperative that you have the right support around you. I would say that is the first step. A lot of people think the first step is the business plan, the website, or the product. But really, it’s the support, because being an entrepreneur is a very tough journey.
It’s invaluable, especially for women of color, given the things that they may face in their entrepreneurship journey that may be different from other women. They really do need that support. I would advise them to go after whatever it is they need to go after. But just do it with a healthy support system.
In addition to my mentors, I get support from my family. My daughter, Gabrielle, is my little cheerleader. My partner, William, helps me immensely, because he’s the opposite of me in so many ways. I’m more of a visionary, while he’s the practical one who helps me simplify my ideas and think through a workflow so I don’t do too much at once. You need people to bounce thoughts off of and get encouragement from because entrepreneurship can be filled with roadblocks."
ON THE BENEFITS OF BEING NOT ONLY A MENTOR BUT A MENTEE
"Throughout my career and even in my entrepreneurship dabbles over the years, mentorship was really important to me. I am very intentional about finding other women who look like me who are way ahead of the game—people who I can call on and ask for advice. So I have mentors and I am a mentor. I was talking to one of my mentors this morning, Zerela Henry, who used to be my supervisor in my technical career. That mentorship with her is now 18 years long.
And that focus on mentorship is not just within my business, but in my personal life too. As an entrepreneur, they’re almost impossible to separate. I’ve invested thousands of dollars in coaches to help secure my foundation. So when I coach other women, I can both relate to them and also pass along some things that really help them. I learn from them as they learn from me.
There’s so much information out there. For new entrepreneurs, they really just don’t know where to start. There’s always new best practices emerging for social media, email, new tools and new software. You experience this paralysis because you have too much information. You just don’t know where to go.
I like to help other entrepreneurs weed out what could possibly work for them and tailor it to their business and their schedule. To run a full-fledged marketing campaign, for example, you need a whole other person. A lot of small business owners don’t have the income to hire someone full-time to do marketing. They are wearing all of the hats themselves."
Wine-themed decor is one of the many accessories sold by Tipsy Valley
This interview has been condensed and edited.