A continuation of my conversation with the founders of Barefoot Wines
In our previous post, I spoke with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, the founders of Barefoot Wines, on their advice for aspiring entrepreneurs like they once were, as they were about to release their New York Times bestseller, “The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand.” They had so much to share in our time together that I had to share a second helping of their advice in a second post.
DAN: I’ve attended events in which entrepreneurs are put into “Shark Tank”-like situations where they have to pitch a venture capitalist on their concept. And they may have only 5 minutes maximum to do that. If you were sitting on a panel listening to this style of pitch, what would you want to hear most from the entrepreneur presenting?
MICHAEL: I’d like to hear them say they have a buyer who is interested in their product. The words, “I have a purchase order” would get my attention. In the wake of our most Recession, so many investors don’t want to throw a lot of money at R&D anymore like they used to. They got burned by that and used up so much money on development that they had no money left for marketing. Today, they prefer to invest in expanding a business that already has some kind of traction in the marketplace.
DAN: We often talk about separation of work and play. But so many times your business is your life as it is your passion. How were the two of you able to separate your work and your life so that you didn’t completely lose yourself in Barefoot?
MICHAEL: Bonnie and I were blessed with two different skill sets with great respect for each other because of that, so we meshed and didn’t butt heads. She handled the back office, dealing with leases, compliance, contracts, applying for lines of credit and more. I couldn’t have handled that. I was the front man talking to distributorships, cold calling, negotiating deals and meeting with salespeople. So we both had exactly the same goals but came at it from different tracks.
BONNIE: As far as business, that worked out just fine. As far as our personal lives, we had a rule that there was no business talk at home. We’d commit to setting time aside for a vacation. To ensure we’d have the time to do the things we loved to do, I would even buy non-refundable plane tickets to Hawaii that forced us to go since we couldn’t get our money back! By having that kind of attitude, we’re able to balance both worlds.
DAN: In the settings you’ve been speaking at, you’re talking to entrepreneurs at the very beginning of their journey. But you’ve talked about the importance of thinking about the endgame too, which may feel light years away.
MICHAEL: On Day 1, start thinking about what your acquirer’s due diligence looks like. What does he want? He likely wants all your intellectual property, including getting a release from the designer who’s done your a logo now rather than 25 years from now when it’s worth over $100,000. The same is true in working with anyone who does a website for you or performs any writing or social media. You have to have contracts with releases built into them.
Similarly, you have to vehemently protect your trademark. Are most students thinking about that? No, because it seems so distant and removed from where they are now. But trust me, it can become a full-time job when you get popular – and if you get popular in a hurry and haven’t addressed that, it could take you by surprise.
Many of these issues impacting their business tomorrow are crucial to think about today, long before they occur.
DAN: Social media shares some similarities to your experience, in that brands are seeing a revolutionary way to tell their story outside of the boundaries of traditional media. What’s your view on the evolution of social media marketing over the last decade?
MICHAEL: Social media has to be used like any tool in the proper way to achieve the desired result. It’s not how many friends you have. It’s whether or not you have the 5 friends who are going to play an influence on who buys your product. Social media as a business tool is only as good as your ability to target. Hits and retweets don’t mean anything if you don’t sell any product. Social media is a great way of communicating with people, finding out what your clientele wants, doing comparison shopping, obtaining endorsements and more.
When it comes to starting relationships, we believe face time trumps Facebook. Ice breaking and rapport building requires face-to-face contact. But once you’ve done that, absolutely go ahead and engage with them on social media. Back when we were launching, our version of social media consisted of bonding with local non-profits who would influence the purchase of our product in the community.
BONNIE: Social media affords a company the opportunity to tell their story easier, that’s for sure. But what is that true brand story? Now more than ever, companies have to stand for more than the service or product that they’re offering. Barefoot is a wine product, but the essence of that product, the “Barefoot Spirit,” is about how to treat people, support your community the right way, how to work with others in your distribution network and so on. Having a great product is one thing. But living up to your brand promise – and keeping it – is another. Because in reality, your brand is owned by your constituents. Always.
The future of the country lies in the hands of entrepreneurs and I can’t think of two better people to share their wisdom with such an audience on a regular basis than Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey. If you’d like to get some insightful business advice from them weekly, catch up with them on one of the two weekly blogs they write: