I’m not really one for events but this one felt different. Three half-hour talks brought together some interesting learnings and actionable insight. The talks covered a range of topics but it felt like there were three main themes:
Specialist investor Imbiba has a portfolio that certainly implies a level of “expert knowledge. Among these lie Vagabond Wines, who’s founder Stephen, described how life has changed since taking a cool 3.5m investment last August.
Stephen laid down their early history and the broken industry he saw — Wine connoisseurs being served by high-end bars and restaurants while Tesco and co. picked up the rest.
This left a vagabond sized hole in the market for people interested in wine but who weren’t all pretentious about it. They timed the market to perfection, riding the wave of experiential consumers but regardless, the concept is a stroke of genius. He is still surprised/concerned no one has tried to copy it (in the UK at least..).
He spoke about the struggles of constant raising. He would find a venue and then head out on the road to find the capital for it. Bearing in mind this is a man who automated a large percentage of his labour force, it comes as no surprise he was frustrated with the process. Their Imbiba cash provides a “war-chest” which allows them to snap up tasty venues as soon as they become available.
Imbida claims to strike a fine balance of giving entrepreneurs space for innovation while offering comprehensive support where needed. From finance through to staffing and marketing, they’ve done it before and know what works. Stephen was quick to back that up and the relationship is clearly working with 4 more sites due to open over the next year.
Stephen went on to talk about the classic founder struggle of wearing different hats. Being the CEO, CMO, CFO, COO and more is an impossible task. The advice was to focus on where you can have the most impact and double down on that.
David Carter (Smokestack/10 Heddon St) and Budgie Montoya (Sarap) emphasised the need to focus on the two most important Ps as a founder- Product and PR.
It simply has to be the focus.
“Reputation is everything”, said David. When starting out you can not afford to turn up at a stall and half-arse it. You have to look at it as a short term investment, put in an unsustainable level of commitment, deliver on your product, and gather PR momentum. This doesn’t change as you grow but you’ll find people to shoulder the load.
I was actually lucky enough to have dinner at 10 Heddon St for my birthday. The food was amazing and the service equal to it. I recognised David on stage from the floor that night (he’s a pretty big guy). Would I have had that same experience had he not been there? No idea, but this is a man who knows reputation is everything so he was there to guarantee it.
The only bad news is that if you've not yet tried their sweetcorn ravioli then you only have a few weeks to get over there.
Much was said about the current climate, with Camila of Distrikt describing the 10 Heddon St site as the epitome of landlord sentiment — a prime Mayfair location being put up for just a 6-month lease. It seems pretty crazy but current failure rates have left landlords very nervous.
She encouraged the room by describing the opportunities a downturn creates. How can you thrive when consumer spending is down? By simply being the very best at what you do. Exciting times lie ahead, with economic uncertainty famously inspiring a wave of creativity as people look to find their edge.
Darrel (Imbiba partner) revealed his insight into what he describes as a very polarised market. He talked about the “PR founder” essentially running e-commerce businesses built on a cloud of marketing fluff. He compared this to Vagabond’s stand out fundamentals in both product and positioning, which is exactly what he looks for in long term investments.
A similar message to Camila. The market is in for a rough old ride but what we will most likely see is just separation of the wheat from the chaff.