Full disclosure: I love wine. It’s a fascination and affection that goes beyond just consumption. So, one has to cut me a bit of slack in trying to connect entrepreneurship with a glass of wine. Truthfully, it’s an enticing framework to share some more serious observations and insights gained over the years. So, pop the cork, take a sip and here’s my list:
It’s not always about the numbers
The wine business underwent a huge movement years ago largely led by famous wine writer/reviewer Robert Parker, who developed a numerical grading system for wine. It’s been a blessing and a curse. Does it really help consumers make better choices – or is it now just a manipulative marketing tool that has spawned too many imitators/scorekeepers?
Enjoying a glass of wine, like enjoying food, is a matter of taste that transcends numbers and is more about simply enjoying what your natural instincts tell you to enjoy. So, forget the numbers – and often the advice of friends – and just enjoy a glass of something you like. Yes, it’s okay to enjoy Chardonnay, even the heavily oaked stuff, if that’s what makes you smile.
Entrepreneurs like and need numbers, but so often it’s instinct and looking beyond the numbers that makes the difference. The need to pivot, usually a make it or break moment, inevitably requires courage and conviction that go beyond the data available. By way of example, I think it is safe to say that is why we type on our smartphone via the screen and not a physical keyboard. Steve Jobs’ vision for that wasn’t about analytics.
So, check out the numbers, be it for your wine choices or business decisions, but don’t suppress the instincts that can be so valuable in the mix.
What’s the rush?
Wine is best sipped. Rushing your way through that glass of wine is a missed opportunity. It’s a Zen thing for true wine lovers because every bottle and every glass has its own moment and personality.
As fast as we all move in our hyper digital globally competitive world, it’s okay to slow down a bit to observe and contemplate where your business is at and where it should be going. Busy is not always productive, nor a great measure of leadership. Even in the chaos of a startup, the well-timed pause, especially when a critical decision is required, is a good thing. And if your organization isn’t setup to provide you the opportunity to take that time, then you definitely want to pause and take a fresh look at its structure.
Terroir makes all the difference
It is said that so much of what we taste in a glass of wine hearkens back to the origins of that wine in your glass. It’s that unique sense of place, all encompassed in the French term terroir. That is to say, despite all of the processes (often manipulation) that take place in growing and making wine, a lot of what is to be enjoyed in your glass of wine is defined by the soil and surroundings from where it came.
For entrepreneurs, I see company culture as somewhat analogous to terroir. For all of the inherent strengths of your product, processes, and strategy, your ability to execute successfully will increasingly depend on the culture that is created and nurtured. It’s the underpinning that surrounds an organization and its strategy, ethics and motivation – the soil from which things grow. Like terroir, it is the sense of place and purpose that ultimately defines an organization and, in the end, can’t be circumvented by process, technology, or other operational maneuvers in the journey success.
Price doesn’t always align with quality
No need to overstate this one. Wine prices have soared in recent years as California created a cult wine mystique and the famous chateaux of Bordeaux and Burgundy in France have seen demand exceed supply, especially with the growth of the Asian market. It has fueled a consumer psychology that price equates with quality. It manifests in psychological pressure one might feel at dinner with friends when ordering a bottle of wine off of a wine list. It’s that sense you can’t order a lower priced wine for the risk of embarrassment. In truth, some of the most interesting quality wines and values are hidden at the low end of that list.
What’s gotten lost in all of this, is that it’s okay to like what you like and price isn’t the best gauge. I know many accomplished sommeliers and they take pride in finding great wines at reasonable prices – and that’s often what they drink off duty at home.
There is more than one analogy for entrepreneurs in all this, but the main one that comes to mind is in making those difficult technology decisions for your enterprise. Whether it be for core infrastructure decisions or for smaller scale software operational decisions, price is a very deceptive measure, particularly when it leads to buying beyond requirements. Sometimes, as is true for wine, there is security that the most expensive is the best, and obviously that’s not the case.
The other lesson for entrepreneurs that comes to mind is when pricing your product or service and how your pricing strategy needs to align with quality and value. While it is true that a higher price can give some products an aura of quality or exclusivity (particularly for luxury products), it’s a slippery slope to price beyond the quality and related perceived value of your offering. Those two things have to be in balance. Under-pricing a truly quality differentiated product can be as damaging (in this case to your margins and profit potential) as over-pricing an inferior product (such that consumer acceptance and revenue will suffer). For wine and your business, don’t be fooled (or undone) by price.
There are many layers
One of the great things about a good glass of wine is the way layers of taste are revealed when tasting properly. I like to say a great glass of wine is the gift that keeps on giving, but one has to take the time to look beyond the surface.
Entrepreneurs, especially in the start-up and early phase of a business face a seemingly endless string of problems and challenges. While the ability to be decisive is critical, it can sometime lead to analyzing issues too superficially. Looking for the extra layers of the problem or potential solutions – often hidden in the wealth of data to which we now have access – can make all of the difference. Think Sherlock Holmes, who famously thrived on digging into the layers of a problem for a solution that always seems to transcend the obvious.
Don’t get comfortable with the status quo
I really like Pinot Noir. I would be comfortable being stuck on a deserted island with an ample supply. But I also realize that there is too much interesting wine out there to get comfortable with the status quo of one varietal. While it is easy to go back to your default, I never regret exploring something new from the almost endless possibilities the world of wine offers.
Status quo in business can be a dangerous thing as well. I’ve been fortunate to experience success in various businesses with which I’ve been engaged. However, I also learned to appreciate over the years that when things are going well, it’s usually the best time to question the status quo.
Periods of success, those times when revenue and profits are growing and you’ve left your competition behind are always fleeting moments. Those times can last weeks, months, or even years, but they are still fleeting. Whatever the timeframe, it’s a good time to start questioning and look beyond the horizon. If you don’t change, rest assured your competitors and the world around will. Stay calm and enjoy the moment, but take a pass on the Pinot and think about those other strategic options out there.
Collaboration is key
It is a given, especially with some wines – think Italian wines – that wine is best consumed with food. You might say that collaboration benefits both the glass of wine and the food.
Entrepreneurs are often a very individualistic lot, but the best of them know what they don’t know and learn to collaborate early on. Collaboration and leadership can not only live and prosper in the same space, but they are complementary qualities. So, when looking for new ways to overcome issues or innovate with fresh ideas, think collaboratively and find your most productive pairings.
We all see the world (and taste) differently
Have five people taste the same glass of wine and it would not be unusual to get five different descriptions and opinions – and maybe a mix of “likes” and “dislikes.” Some like big and bold, some like light and sweet, etc. It’s all wonderfully subjective. That’s the fun of it. It’s important that we own what we like, as opposed to feeling a need to conform. It’s equally important that we respect other people’s tastes. So, it’s okay for you to sip your high-end Bordeaux Cabernet while your friend rocks an inexpensive California Merlot.
I’ve often felt that this simple notion of subjectivity gets lost in business, where conformity can take on negative consequences. Granted, organizations with strong and well-communicated cultures thrive, and this requires a certain degree of (positive) conformity, especially relative to ethical business practices and constructive interactions among staff.
However, conformity can go too far and that’s where morale suffers and great ideas and constructively dissenting opinions get squelched. It’s a case of the enterprise dominated by “yes” men and women. That’s clearly not a good thing. So, when facing pivotal decisions in you business, be open to different voices and opinions, just as a trusted Sommelier can help you navigate that thick wine list.
Savor the moment
The great thing about wine is that it is a very organic thing. Wine is ever changing in the bottle from whence it came and continues to evolve as it sits in your glass. Sometimes, that organic process can lead to a bad result, noticeable from the first taste. But, then there’s the other result, that moment when the timing and circumstances and wine come together for a special moment. (For me, it’s that glass of Burgundy at a restaurant in Paris on my birthday years ago.) When that happens, it’s special and you have to savor that moment.
Businesses, at any stage, face challenges and, hopefully, achievements and success. The latter aren’t easy to achieve. They are moments derived undoubtedly from hard work, sound strategy, collaboration, and execution. It might be a new product launch, a record-breaking revenue month, or any number of positive events. Like that special glass of wine where the stars align, savor and celebrate that moment – with your team. Cheers!
Tom Wszalek is a senior executive, consultant and mentor based in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Photo by Madrolli.