In late 2011, my husband and I had just received an offer for seed funding to launch an online wine company in Australia. We were sitting in our kitchen and discussing how exciting and terrifying the path ahead looked. There were so many failed wine retailers with good intentions and we, like them, faced a behemoth in Woolworths and Coles who owned 77% of the retail market. We knew we needed to find an edge to even survive, let alone thrive.
We decided our edge would be passion.
In the race for market share, Woolworths and Coles embarked on a price war that initially drove down the price for wine and eventually limited the range for customers. The outcome was that wine had become a mere commodity. Those making it had somewhat lost their passion for creation or expression, focusing on formula and price, and those buying it were settling on a small range of options, ultimately choosing based on price.
We knew if we could get winemakers passionate about making wine again, and leave the challenge for us to take their passion to market in a way that was price competitive, then we could reignite a fire.
We launched Naked Wines, a crowdfunded model that funded winemakers to make the wine they wanted to make and rewarded the customers that helped them make it, with rewards and price benefits. With a unique business model, we had found a commercially viable path that let passion do its thing.
Within two years, Naked Wines was awarded the People’s Choice Award at the ORIA’s and boasted one of the most loyal customer relationships in the country. Accolades aside, some of the richest assets we acquired along the way were the lessons.
Fast-forward to 2018, we’ve retired from Naked Wines and left it in the hands of talented and passionate people who continue to help winemakers and customers do amazing things together. It felt like the right time to harness all the lessons I’d learnt at Naked Wines and take on the world again. I had spent the previous seven years seeing winemakers live their dream and it inspired me to return to an old dream of mine: to design my own handbags.
Wanting to replicate the same sort of success, I felt the best place to start was, once again, at the kitchen bench! I wrote down the things I’d learnt at Naked Wines that fuelled our passion and enabled us to build a successful startup.
Here’s what I came up with.
Passion is the beating heart that gives something purpose. In the race for efficiency or optimisation, passion is often compromised.
Who really wants to work for or buy from the most efficient passionless business?
At Naked, we released the passion of our winemakers by funding their dream to make the wine they wanted to make.
But it required a smart commercial model to do it. Passion on its own can be dangerous.
People with shared passions form connections and relationships. Interactions between people with shared passions become loyal relationships and loyalty is the most important component in your startup’s commercial viability.
The loyalty inspired in our winemakers and customers became our commercial superstrength.
In the end, the quality of your product is what will keep customers coming back. Passion won’t let you compromise on quality and that will be appreciated by your customers for the life of the product (and beyond).
Clarity around your passion will help you identify audiences on social media to reach out to and connect with.
Stay authentic and create goods that are relevant and personal. Consumers will pay a higher price for limited-edition products created specifically for them.
For this new journey, I know passion alone won’t cut it. In fact, on its own, it can cause you to make ill-informed decisions and mistakes. But employed properly, as part of a well-thought-out business plan, it can be the element that attracts the most important component of success: customers!