Last December, my fellow FORBES contributor Robert Reiss, wrote a great piece entitled “The Incredible Story Of Starting The World’s Largest Wine Brand, Barefoot Wines.” The article was essentially a get-to-know two amazing people who launched what is now an iconic brand in a laundry room of a rented farmhouse in the Sonoma County hills.
I had the pleasure of meeting with and speaking with the two founders, Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, late last year at a C-Suite conference in Marina del Rey, California.
Just a few minutes into our conversation I could feel the passion they each have – in spades. Clearly their collective passion was the fuel that started with, as Reiss writes “virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and strategic alliances.”
Life being what it is, AKA time slips by very quickly, I finally got around to regrouping with Houlihan and Harvey, who co-authored the New York Times Bestselling Business Paperback, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand.
My intention was, not to retell their story, as Reiss does a great job at that, but rather pick their brain for some tips for budding entrepreneurs if for no other reason approximately 543,000 new businesses get started each month in the U.S. alone.
Here are their eight lessons for budding entrepreneurs:
1. Ask lots of questions. Don’t finish the design or packaging of your product until you talk to everyone who touches it at every level in the distribution channel.
2. Start small. Make your mistakes in a small market where you can quickly make corrections so you get your act together before you take your show on the road.
3. Be vigilant. Don’t expand into a new territory unless you have a representative in that territory to ensure marketing materials are being used properly, reorders are taking place to prevent out-of-stocks, and every “sale” is being made all the way through the distribution channel.
4. Be a “hot seller.” It’s better to develop the reputation of being a hot seller in a small market area than it is to be a mediocre seller in a wider region. Your reputation will proceed you and can help or hinder your efforts to expand.
5. Two divisions. Provide each new employee with two info-graphics: “The Money Map” which traces the consumer’s purchase through every level of exchange all the way back to their paycheck. “The Two Division Company” which organizes the company into two divisions based on the flow of customer feedback. One is sales and customer service, the other is “sales support” which includes every other job in the organization including marketing, production, administration, etc.
6. Pay for performance. Make some part of everyone’s compensation based on sales, growth, and profitability. If you are paying your people right, non-producers cannot afford to stay and producers can’t afford to leave.
7. Build relationships. Face time beats Facebook. High touch beats high tech. Establish, maintain and protect your relationships with your employees, vendors, and buyers to reduce your need for capital, build loyalty, and reduce your expenses.
8. The problem with disruption. When you disrupt the market you have to overcome considerable resistance from buyers and gate keepers who have never seen anything like it, don’t know where it fits, and have no history of sales.