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Lessons in bringing business ideas to life

After 20 years building eight businesses in the wine industry, there are a few critical lessons I’ve learned – and they’re relevant to you too.

business ideas

I began my career in architecture working on projects like Sydney’s King Street Wharf and the main stadium at Homebush. It turned out however that building businesses was my real passion, as I learned when I launched my first business, Wine Ark.

Wine Ark was a temperature-controlled storage solution for wine collectors enabling them to view and manage their collection online – the first of its kind to do so. What began as a two-days-a-week side hustle quickly morphed into my full-time job and the beginning of a full-bodied career and love affair with wine.

It was probably the architect in me, but I launched with a well-documented business plan that provided us with a roadmap for the first five years. It included two other related business concepts and potential exit strategies.

Leveraging technology and the momentum from Wine Ark, I launched Wine Exchange, an online trading platform; The Cellar Club, a premium wine club; and, an online marketplace that allowed wineries to sell direct-to-consumer. These businesses sat under the Online Liquor Group which, in late 2018, after eight years of blood sweat and tears, I decided to merge with The Wine Society. Now called The Wine Collective, it’s one of the largest independent retail groups in the country.

As part of that transaction I inherited a CEO, which gave me the unique opportunity to remove myself from day-to-day operations and concentrate on what I could see was a much bigger opportunity – disrupting the global wine supply chain. That’s what I’m hoping to achieve with my latest venture, WINEDEPOT, which launched in partnership with Australia Post to connect wine industry stakeholders.

Every business I’ve launched has had a strong technology focus and WINEDEPOT is no different. We’re using technology to build a smart logistics platform which will eventually use AI and machine learning to completely revolutionise the wine supply chain in Australia.

While technology has knocked down many of the barriers to entry for entrepreneurs looking to launch their ideas, it also brings increased competition. Copycat businesses are rampant, which is why building a strong brand and loyal following is essential. Nothing is an overnight success, so if you have an idea, you need to be committed to seeing it through and expect many bumps in the road. Remember, business isn’t an easy path to take. You’ll invest more time and money than you could ever imagine and have sleepless nights as you navigate what works and what doesn’t, learning from mistakes along the way.

Here are 6 of the biggest business lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Launch your passion, not just a business
    If you’re planning to launch a business, start with the idea you’re most passionate about; you’ll need that passion to fall back on when the going gets tough. That enthusiasm will also attract the right people to help bring it to life.
  2. Plan ahead
    Have a clear vision and plan for where the business is heading, along with an exit strategy. Project what the business will look like in one, two and five years. Your plan should include a realistic timeline and a breakdown of costs as well as a marketing plan and projections for growth. As the founder, your vision will dictate the direction you take and will help you to recruit staff who are aligned with your values and will help you achieve the goals you’ve laid out. Without a clear plan all you have is an idea – strategy and execution are key.
  3. Always prioritise your customers
    The Online Liquor Group and businesses taught me many things, but most importantly, to take care of customers. Once you lose a customer’s trust, they are gone. All businesses should be built around giving customers what they want – not just meeting but exceeding their expectations. That might mean free shipping, same-day delivery and positive interactions at every touchpoint they have with your business.
  4. Be tech-forward
    If you’re not a tech-enabled business you’re about to be disrupted by one. You need to be a tech-forward business to survive in today’s landscape.
  5. Create a great workplace culture
    A great workplace culture goes beyond perks and can help you attract great staff who will in turn attract great suppliers and great customers. Most importantly, it helps to ensure your people stay with you.
  6. Change = opportunity
    Going through structural changes often pushes you into new and greater opportunities. Always embrace change.

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