Taste Wine Co is my baby.
It is my passion project. It is what I’ve been waiting for my entire life.
As a child, when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response was always “A Businessman”. The follow-up question was usually, “Yeah, what kind of business?” to which I would shrug & confess “I dunno”.
For about 15 years, I worked an assortment of different jobs (operations, trader, job super, manager) in different industries (Telecom, finance, construction, restaurant) until I finally got it.
Several factors fell into place, and the idea became obvious (sort of). I knew the road ahead was going to be a long and challenging one, but I found a product/industry I am passionate about, identified a problem within that industry and came up with a solution to the problem.
Implementing the solution & creating a business out of it, well… that is a story of persistence, perseverance and an insistence that it can, should & will get done.
“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” - Dale Carnegie
The year was 2003.
I had recently completed my MBA and was looking for a meaningful job. A childhood friend owned two restaurants, one that was failing & set to be closed down. I figured I could implement a few changes (including introducing beer & wine) and turn the failing place around.
HA! Boy, was I naive!
The experience was valuable though, as it is where I fell in love with wine and decided I wanted a future in the wine business. Possibly, the most significant aspect from that experience was how I built the wine list at this restaurant i.e. by tasting many wines with local wine distributors.
Fast forward about four years to Napa, California.
I had left NYC a year earlier to pursue this passion and was now getting set to return. I wanted to impress my old friends with my new area of expertise and asked a highly regarded winemaker for the secret to understanding wine. She smiled and said, “There are no secrets Gary, taste as much wine as possible, and eventually you will get it”.
Fast forward another three years and many, many wine tastings later.
I began working as a marketer for a wine importer, and my friends considered me their go-to wine expert.
But there was something bothering me. Sure I knew more about wine production than they did. And yeah, I could probably name more grape varietals than they could. But, what qualified me to tell them what wine they would like.
Was taste not subjective? Weren't they the only ones who would know if they would like a wine or not?
Identifying the Problem
Much like art, music and a host of other things we consume, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am no more qualified to tell someone what wine they should buy, than I am to tell them what music to listen to, what clothing to wear or what art they should buy.
And therein lies the issue - music can be sampled, clothing can be tried on and art can be viewed - all before any transaction takes place. But wine…well, when it comes to wine, the industry tells the consumer “trust us - we’re experts”, forcing the consumer to take a gamble every time they buy a bottle.
Oddly enough, all wineries have a tasting room, and they insist that every wine buyer at any wine bar, restaurant & wine shop should taste their wine before adding it to their list/store.
So, why then at the store front level or at a restaurant does a customer have to make a decision based solely on recommendation?
OK, if you’ve made it this far, you've figured out my idea was to open a wine store where the customer can “try” the wine before committing their hard-earned dollars.
It seemed easy enough to buy some wine dispensing machines that preserve wine and dispense samples, and install them in a store. Surely, consumers would rather buy a product (in this case, wine) that they could try/sample first, right?
But, what about all the wine samples I'd be giving out, how could I justify the cost? And what about the technology, the problem of underage drinking, location, cost to build the space out, etc.
Putting Passion to the Test
If owning your own business was easy, everyone would do it.
OK, the first challenge I decided to try to tackle was the fundraising part.
I figured it wouldn't be too tough, given that I had established some credibility, knew lots of people and had a pretty cool idea/ concept.
Well, I learned early on that being a nice, smart guy with a clever idea ain’t worth much. I went on meeting after meeting and the responses were basically the same; “Cool idea Gary, let me know when you are further along, and we’ll talk more”.
Huh?!? How was I supposed to get further along without any money? It reminded me of my time job-hunting after college, and how every potential employer wanted to hear about my experience first.
How was I supposed to get any experience if every employer wanted me to have experience before hiring me?
That was another important lesson.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” - Mark Twain
After many months of meetings and rejections, I decided to scrape together some money and find a team to help me develop my app (the technology that would enable people of the legal drinking age to access the wine dispensing machines and sample the wines).
I figured, having the app developed would give me something more to show these potential investors.
Sure enough, this didn’t go smoothly either.
I found a guy to develop the app, but later learned he wasn’t qualified to handle the project. I had to start over and find a new team.
Fortunately, the second team I hired (& took a big leap of faith with) turned out to be an amazing team.
Next up, I needed to find the wine dispensing machines we were going to use in the as-of-yet unknown space, whose rent would be paid by the as-of-yet unidentified investor.
I reached out to every single wine dispensing machine manufacturer, and there was something wrong with each one. All the machines were super expensive, which was going to present one problem, but beyond that, there were a host of other issues with each potential machine.
I was determined.
It wasn't perfect, but I identified a vendor whose machines I could make work.
Persistence Always Pays Off
With one problem solved, I identified yet another obstacle.
Would the legal authorities let me do this?
All my logic was telling me that there would be no way to make this work. But I had made it this far, and I knew this idea had huge potential. There had to be a way.
So, I spoke with countless lawyers who had the knowledge and expertise in liquor laws. And while no one was willing to tell me what I wanted to do was legal, we decided the next course of action was to petition the Liquor Authority to rule on the concept.
This too was an arduous and painstaking process, but after many months, my date to present to the Liquor Authority had arrived.
And yes! Permission was granted!
With every challenge I faced, I knew the list of hurdles could go on and on for miles.
How would I find a location in NYC I could afford? How would I find an architect who could help design a space that fit within my concept as well as budget? How could I identify a contractor who would make the space an appealing one for the consumer… and not take advantage of me?
Needless to say, I could go on for pages listing the various obstacles I faced & still continue to encounter. But my approach to each obstacle has been the same, and this is my advice to all budding entrepreneurs - believe in yourself, believe in your idea and keep pushing forward.
Never give up. If we want to accomplish great things in life, we must be passionate, persistent, stubborn and probably a bit stupid.
Today, I've successfully launched Taste Wine Co., and the reception so far has been pretty amazing.
The takeaways from my journey are pretty simple:
Identify a solution to a problem (or a way to make something better), hopefully you identify this issue because it is something you are passionate about, and then roll up your sleeves and be prepared for a 10 -round fight.
It won’t be easy, things may at times look bleak, but if you believe in yourself & your concept, you have the ability to do great things.
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