Tina Seelig, Stanford professor of Management and Engineering, and overall powerhouse on the topic of innovation and entrepreneurship says, "You don't just go out and find your passion. If you are engaged in the world around you, your passion finds you." As I have found in my research, the one thing shared by all those seeking to establish a truly human business or workplace is a belief that relationships matter. And so why wouldn't this be the case for entrepreneurs, too? While we all want to start running around coming up with the new "it" thing, Seelig's advice is to engage first, envision later. In other words, honor relationships; relate to people, the world, your experience, and to yourself. And see what you are inspired to make happen next.
From Engagement to Envisioning
Marian Leitner-Waldman and her husband Dave Waldman are people who are truly engaged in their lives. Her background is in literature; his is wine. They both love bringing people together to exchange ideas, have conversation and connect in face-to-face, real-time, old-school style. One of their favorite things to do as a couple is to host an "open dinner table" where anyone on a given night can stop by--the perfect combination of wine and storytelling.
And so it makes perfect sense that during a conversation about these dinner parties that the seed for Archer Roose, the up-and-coming boxed-wine disrupter, was planted. As Marian shared the story with me, "Dave was ribbing me about how much money I spent on wine that night. He reminded me that I was paying more for the shipping and packaging than the wine inside the bottle." This really struck her--as a consumer, of course, but also an an entrepreneur. There was a problem that needed solving.
As Marian continued to mull over (i.e. engage) this question, she looked around her very own proverbial table, and saw her friends wearing Warby Parker glasses, and Everlane clothes--two people-forward businesses--and she thought to herself, "We are living in this age of revolution in the world of consumer goods. Why couldn't we do it in wine?"
Marian and Dave were determined to find a way to do wine in such a way that the money was going into the bottle instead of all the ancillary work and packaging. But then they realized it needn't be a bottle the money was flowing into. The boxed wine playing field was wide open. And there was an empty spot in the shelf with their name on it.
And herein lay the light bulb moment: Boxed wine + their values = purpose-driven luxury wine in a box. But of course! As the fabulously smart Archer Roose website states: "A box o' grapes & good deeds. For us, it's not enough to simply make good wine. We want our wine to do good, too." Sound lofty for wine? For boxed wine, no less? Well, that's what you get when businesses that start with heart.
Grounding A Vision in Real Relationships
So to review: Listen to your wise spouse, look around your table, craft an appealing idea, take it to market, change the world. Sounds easy, right? And yet, as we all know--and this is especially true in the highly competitive world of startups--engagement and high-mindedness do not a business plan make (but check out the Boxed Water is Better campaign for another example of high-mindedness in action). While more and more, we are hearing about how sustainability (in every sense of the word) is good for the bottom line, we can't just make a wish list for what we hope to accomplish without some seriously solid footing. In the case of Archer Roose, Marian and Dave came up with three primary pegs to ground their wine in their aspirations for, "an afternoonified delight at an affordable price."
1.) PACKAGED IN ECO-FRIENDLY EXQUISITRY.
2.) OUR ANYTHING BUT STANDARD STANDARDS.
3.) GOING FORTH WHILE GIVING BACK.
In the name of 100% transparency, anyone can go on to the Archer Roose website and learn how the wine ends up in the glass. And this kind of forthrightness ensures that Marian and Dave continue to make the most responsible choices possible. They only partner with people of the highest standards. In their field this can be anything from paying close attention to the way they treat their workers, to how they treat the soil, to ensuring that they don't put additives in the wine when it's stocked. And they "do well by doing good" by donating a percentage of their projects to help rural entrepreneurs in the countries where they source through a partnership with Root Capital, an award-winning non-profit investment group.
In other words, Archer Roose honors relationships. Through and through.
Relationships are Good for Business
Business is no longer "as usual." The very concept of profitability is transforming. As Edward E. Lawler III, Distinguished Professor of Management at Marshall School of Business writes in Forbes Magazine, "This argument, that I like to call the quadruple bottom-line argument, means that organizations should look for ways to management that treat people right, treat the society right, treat the environment right and treat their financial well-being right. Only by doing this can organizations guarantee their long-term survival." In other words, "The old argument that corporations only need to focus on their profitability is outdated and short sighted."
My new argument is simple: Relationships are good for business.
And indeed, brands like Archer Roose are proving us both right. As Marian reports, "The brand is gaining great traction among consumers, and have offers to expand to five additional markets outside of New York and Washington, D.C. We have strong consumer loyalty among those who try us. With people traveling throughout the city to find our product, and repeat buyers. We are on track to surpass our first year revenue goal."
I'll drink to that.