Ok. I am now officially live. Yikes.
I'll start with a "We interrupt your scheduled programming" disclaimer.
As I have stated, the point of this blog is to share the experience of starting a new business. Yes, part of that is my story, my history, my passion. There will be a host of other experiences and variables along the way that I will want to share. None of which got me heading down the lavender and sunflower-lined path ending at importer. Again, I feel there could be some universality to all of this. Or, that could just be my narcissism! WE SHALL SEE.
Getting this blog live is one of the variables. During the two or so months I spent figuring out Squarespace (an awesome service) to get a skeleton site up, I wrote about 25 or so blog posts to get a backlog. Most are anecdotes of my past with the common thread of pink-filled bottles. The idea was to have something to post once a week to slowly let my story unfold. This would buy me four months to focus on the business mechanics while keeping the site active and consistent.
I didn't foresee that even creating the blog would produce time-consuming variables. For example, some of you have signed up to receive my blog, and I thank you! The problem is I haven't figured out yet quite how to make this happen. Um...."Mail Chimp"? WTF is that? Mail Chimp -- whatever that is -- was not part of my studies for the Intro to Sommelier exam with my friend Cal.
Well, 4 days after launching, I am writing a new blog post and forgoing what I had intended. So much for having this be on autopilot. And, it so begins: I am changing my own rules as I go along. Brave New World.
There was a race to the finish to have my site up by last Friday specifically, and that goal had been set for weeks. And, it had to do with the topping off of a skyscraper. Yup. Bear with me on this one.
Four years ago when we visited San Francisco for the first real time in 20 years, and instantly fell in love with it all, we had a massive "OH FUCK" moment by the Ferry Building. Suddenly my mid-life crisis was clear -- it wasn't a trip to Greece or the purchase of a motorcycle. Nope. We went big and decided to blow up the world as we knew and completely start over from scratch. Go-West-Not-So-Young-Men. And the fact that I spent my entire 30s rolling my eyes at older friends, viewing their mid-life "issues" as at least mild self-absorption, was not lost on me. Yeah...karma.
I turned to the gleaming cityscape of this new frontier with the eyes of a street photographer. That weekend I took hundreds of urban shots as I skulked around the future center of my universe. (To which now I call the "alternate" universe. Another future post).
One construction site fascinated me: the large pit of what was to become the future Salesforce Tower in SOMA. At 1070', the obelisk would be the largest building on the west coast (Sorry Los Angeles, an antennae is cheating, and you know it). I was mesmerized with the dizzying height and bold statement promised by this building.
In the four years since, I have photographed the site hundreds of times, from the two years of foundation work to its recent rise to the top. For me, the building was very symbolic on a host of levels. It represented not only the new San Francisco (for better or worse) to which we barreled into, but it also represented my starting over from scratch in a foreign land. The land founded by gold diggers, scoundrels and prostitutes in the mid 1800s, all in search of a new life. That same land was now opening its heart to this east-coast, 45 year-old man with a similar quest, 160 years later. And this building somehow represented it all to me.
I read in March that the last piece of steel would be erected April 6th. I knew I needed to go live with my vision on that day. And, with great satisfaction, I did.
Then I woke up April 7th.
First thought when I opened my eyes: Oh fuck.
And I know you all have been there. A night of rich and colorful dreams crashes as one eye opens to reality, hesitantly. Then memories of the night before slowly creep in as the parallel level of dread starts to rise. Ok, usually it has to do with way too many cocktails (or wine) the night before. As memories creep in, the next thought is: Fuck. What did I do? Yeah that was April 7th, sans cocktails or wine the night before.
Remember that 85% of my world is on the east coast, three hours later. Everyone was sleeping when I sent out the first facebook pronouncement the night of the 6th. And as we all check social media in the morning, when *I* awoke, my people would have seen it. Aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh........
Incredibly supportive comments, texts, phone calls and voicemails bombarded my day. But, I felt -- still do, to a certain degree -- raw, exposed, anxious. WHAT IF THIS COMPLETELY FAILS IN A YEAR? It will be completely public. Yet, strangely, I do feel somewhat proud; connected to the visionaries (not that I am a visionary) of the 1800s who came out here for the gold and silver rush. What did their east coast friends and family think? How did they feel when they landed and staked their claim? Did all of them succeed? What about the ones who failed?
I know -- I shouldn't shoot myself in the foot before starting...but come on. Don't we all have those inner, nagging doubts that can come creeping to the surface, tapping us on the shoulder? The ex-therapist in me tells me that we all need to expose fears to rid them. But why is it always so much easier to offer others advice rather than taking it yourself?
During the two years it took to actually line everything up to move to California, I felt like a trapeze artist. Seeing that other platform in the distance, holding tight to a thin piece of wood, and looking down below into the dark abyss. Then looking up at the support holding the wire (no way will that hold me!). And, before questioning self further, just jumping off with an instant OH SHIT! moment...just hoping to get to that other platform...then somehow, miraculously landing. This happened a few times to get here. I am here now; I thought it was done.
....Only to launch back off another platform last week. And launching myself publicly wasn't the end of my story, it was only the beginning. As I quickly realized as coffee fired up the synapses the morning of April 7th. Umm...
To hit that next platform means diving deep into the mechanics of not only importing but business in general. Remember, I am an English major. Studying John Updike didn't give me that skill set. Thankfully, I have a vast network of friends and contacts in the business world to which I will be leaning on for some advice. But mostly it will be just me: I'm just going to research and rely on my gut at times.
Part of the process that I need to wrap my head around is altering my self-identification. The most important phrase we all can utter starts with two word: "I AM...." Whatever comes next helps solidify our internal identity. Shifting what comes next can literally alter our core sense of self.
My shift needs to go from "I am a wine salesman" to "I am an entrepreneur." Yes I know how to present wines to varying customers. I know how to ask for the sale. I understand pricing, programming and inventory. I can hold my own with the wine-geeks. But now spreadsheets, permitting processes and logistics? What is an EIN? Purchase orders, label approvals, filling containers, customs regulations and a host of national and state licenses and permits? How can this be financially successful? And how do I use that damned Mail Chimp?
And, where is the discussions about flavor profiles and food pairings? Or wine dinner planning? When is the next trade show? My romps through Southern France don't seem to be giving me tools to set up the subscription service for my site. I thought selling wine was supposed to be fun? HA!
THEN THERE IS THAT. Reality: so little of the wine industry is actually about flavor profiles and food pairings. Ultimately it is about depletion reports, close-outs, sales quotas and OND (October/November/December, where most of the annual sales occur). We are to sell a product and make a profit. Trust me when I say I have questioned whether it made more sense to sell the glassware that holds the wine instead.
I do love how people who are not in this crazy industry view what we do. Ok, ultimately they aren't far off, but it's not that cut-and-dry....
Start with my BFF:
JK: What do you even do? Explain to me your day.
MD: Well, I have a set route of people I see, or I work with the sales reps and go to their key accounts.
JK: To drink wine,
MD: No, to sell wine.
JK: But you drink it, though, right?
MD: Um, i mean we taste it with the buyers. To see if they like it.
JK: So you drink wine!
MD: Dude, we don't drink wine. We maybe have a sip, but we spit. It's not drinking wine.
JK: But don't you sometimes have lunches and dinners with these buyers? And you drink wine there, right?
MD: Well, sure. But I mean we don't really "drink". Remember this is work. These are customers.
JK: What about those trade shows. Don't you drink at those? I mean people are drinking, aren't they? I thought you said they can be a drunkfest.
MD: Ok. Sure. But, not for us pouring. Yes, people go and get loaded. But they at least start out tasting. It's for work! They are trying to find buy things. They have to taste.
JK: Whatever dude. This doesn't sound like work. Drinking with customers all day, glasses and bottles clinking everywhere, lunches and dinners all week....
I want a bottle of very expensive rosé for every time THAT conversation comes up with someone. And I know every one of you in the wine industry can relate. No one talks about the last minute Friday afternoon orders stuck in traffic for a by-the-glass case. Or the tens and tens of in-store tastings trapped behind a small table, having random people tell you they know more about your wine than you do (trust: this will be a hilarious future blog post). Or the deals that fall apart on the second to the last day of the month, and suddenly you won't hit your goals.
But, ultimately it IS fun to sell wine. I am not selling glassware. I am selling an elixir, A nectar. Liquid platinum. And no question I love every time I introduce myself, and people's eyes light up. "I love wine!" they invariably say. "You must have the best job in the world! How can I get into that". And, I have an instant connection as they tell me what they do and do not like. And, I love to engage in that conversation. There is a certain glamour to selling wine. We are selling happiness, enjoyment, connectivity, laughter and love. It's not like I'm selling scissors.
And none of that will get me to that next trapeze platform.
Last Friday I launched off yet one more platform in my life, many business resources in one hand while the other clutched the trapeze. I am staring at the platform on the other side. And absolutely part of this process will be fun. But, something tells me it will be a host of other feelings and experiences en route before that next solid footing. Crash helmet on.
But ultimately, I am tapping into the entire spirit of my new home, from what brought those rascals searching for gold in the 1840s to what pushed the Salesforce Tower 1000' into the sky today, to get me to the other side. And, I will do this in the public eye. Buckle up everyone! I am taking you on this ride with me.
OH and also...please feel free to leave comments (and obviously we all know the social media drill on etiquette). I don't want this story to just be about me.
next week: Going to make it fun and talk about ROSÉ. Unless I change my mind again. Which is very possible.