Santiago Navarro: "I have put all my money into my start-ups, but it makes a massive difference to have a loving mum who believes fully in me and my drive for success."
Interview with Santiago Navarro CEO and Co-Founder of Garçon Wines.
Santiago Navarro is a serial entrepreneur. His first start-up in 2011, Vinopic Wines, was an online retailer which was the first to use science to judge and score wines for their intrinsic quality.
Following this, he went on to co-found Nightly.travel, the world's only hotel booking site to split a traveller's stay across two hotels to enable them to save as much as 70%. Santiago's now focused on Garçon Wines, as CEO and co-founder, targeting the 35 billion bottles used annually in wine and aiming to make flat, innovative and sustainable bottles the dominant primary packaging.
My first venture, Vinopic Wines, was an online wine store and the first retailer in the world to use scientific analyses to judge and score wines for quality. It came about as a result of my passion for wine and interest in empowering consumers to make the best wine selection on every occasion. Unfortunately, this business was too hard to scale so I shut it down in 2014, absorbing the losses myself.
In 2015, I then went on to launch and build Nightly.travel, introducing ‘hotel switching’ to savvy consumers. This hotel booking website is the first in the world to offer two hotels for cheaper than one. This start-up is still in operation and growing under the stewardship of my co-founder David. You should check it out to get the best hotel deals around.
My love of wine took me back to the wine industry and I started building Garçon Wines, together with my co-founder Joe. We were looking to find the ideal way to deliver wine to millennials living in UK urban centres. Then, in an amazing eureka moment, I came up with the idea of flat, sustainable wine bottles. The response to our product has been remarkable and our innovative bottles are now getting the traction that looks like they have a good chance of replacing the status quo bottles.
2. What was it like in the first week or two of starting your own business?
If we take starting to be the point at which you have an idea and then start to execute to bring that idea into life as a business, then in those very early days, the first weeks, it’s highly confusing and disorganised. You have a blank canvas and you start working on building something from scratch. It feels like you’re not too sure which bits you should be working on or not, and which are likely to move you forward or not. There is lots of planning, but you also have to get started doing stuff, as you can be sure, in the early days, what you plan and how things turn out are likely to be very different.
I guess it’s important to do things, to do actual work rather than just strategize, in the early days. It may be registering some domains, setting up a basic website, getting a work email address organised. My view is that you need to decide what is the path of least resistance to getting a first sale or generating some revenue, and then you need to get started on that path, which usually takes creating some sort of a product, whether it’s a physical product or a service product. So, coming up with a plan to generate commercial traction is fundamental.
It’s also important to plan how you will build reputational traction. Moreover, if you’re innovating, as all my start-ups have done, then it’s important to start working from the early days on some things that will generate reputational traction. With Garçon Wines, I’ve learnt how important this is in creating the most solid and strongest foundations for the best chances of long-term success.
3. How did you fund your business in the early stages?
My company, Garçon Wines, has had funding in different formats. The very early funding came from the co-founders as gifts as this was before the company had been incorporated. After incorporation, the company won a TV show and was gifted more than £20k from e-commerce titan Alibaba. After this, the company raised some seed funding from a company mentor. Since then, the company has been funded through convertible debt and director’s loans provided by me. We are now at the stage where we will be raising another larger external investment round. It’s the right time to do this as the business is more developed and has commercial traction and also significant reputational traction. Therefore, the valuation will be fairer for the co-founders.
4. Friend or Family member that helped you the most?
Without a doubt, my mum. She’s the kindest, most caring and supportive mum possible. She’s the rock that has given me the stability and security on which to build the foundations for a high-risk career. Entrepreneurship is very tough and challenging. In my view, it’s arguably the most challenging professional path that one can take. Most importantly, my mum has provided me with the financial backing, when needed, to enable me to be able to focus on growing my business to a position where I could fund it externally and raise money at a fair valuation.
I have put all my money into my start-ups, but it makes a massive difference to have a loving mum who believes fully in me and my drive for success. I guess, she knows me best and knows I will work tirelessly to succeed. There are many examples of successful entrepreneurs who have received this kind of family support. Most recently, we saw the coverage around Jeff Bezos and his parents who were one of his early backers. They’ve certainly come to be rewarded for their early investment and backing. I’m sure my mum will too.
5. How you got your first few clients? What would you suggest others starting out in the business world should do?
Our first client was Bloom & Wild. When we decided to pivot from a B2C wine club to a B2B wine wholesaler and drinks packaging company, we decided that the ideal company to launch with would be Bloom & Wild. As the pioneers of letterbox flowers and as one of the most successful and fastest growing start-ups in the UK, they made for the ideal company with whom to launch. So, we focused on engaging with them and trying to secure a collaboration with them. Fortunately, they liked what we were doing, and it fitted in well with what they were doing so we did end up collaborating.
Of course, it made sense that they were offering letterbox flowers and we could offer them letterbox wine. So, there was a good chance that we would be able to collaborate. My tip for attaining new business is to identify the lowest hanging fruits and to go after these first. It’s important to understand your product or offering and then identify the companies or consumers who have the largest problem that you can help solve or correct. Aim for the path of least resistance. You need to understand what you’re offering and then understand the market. Google searching to find problems that match your solution is a good option. Also, one can use Twitter where people and company executives (LinkedIn too) may be readily commenting or expressing themselves in a way not accessible through a Google search.
6. Any tips on how to make it past the 12 months mark?
If you’re building your business, then 12 months is likely to pass super quickly. The single most important thing that’s going to get you past this point, which is also the same thing that will easily wipe you out, are your finances and cash flow. Always make sure that you have access to cash and if it’s not in your company’s bank account, then make sure you know where to go to find it and find it quick if this is necessary. Too many great businesses failed due to financial constraints. Try your best to ensure you’re not one of these. Also, try and think in business milestones, not necessarily in calendar months.
7. How important is marketing to you?
Marketing is fundamental to business success. As a B2B business bringing about the most significant change to wine bottles in the last two centuries, for us at Garçon Wines, editorial press coverage and public speaking are the most important marketing activities for us. We’re also active on social media and have done some blogging. I would add website to the marketing mix as it’s vital in the 21st century that you have a world-class website from the get-go. There’s a large chance consumers or company executives will go to a website to check out a start-up and it’s in your hands whether you want to look professional or not. There’s a lot more that can be covered about marketing but it’s very company specific. Be smart in your marketing not just cash intensive or you may end up wasting a lot of money. The Bullseye Framework is an excellent methodology to follow.
8. Do you have a quote your live by, or are fond of?
“If you believe in something enough, never give up, regardless how challenging, difficult or remote it may feel.” As an entrepreneur, this is really important as it helps with persistence, resilience and patience which are fundamental to greater success.
9. Something you knew before when you started your business that you know now?
I guess you mean, something I didn’t know before I started my business that I now, with the benefit of hindsight, know. There’s much I didn’t know which I know now. But I’ll give two good examples which hopefully will help others starting off in business.
Firstly, if you’re creating a product which is unique and novel, then do your best to create a prototype which is as close to the real deal as possible. We had invented a flat wine bottle, which was hard for people to understand as most people assume that a wine bottle can only be one way – round. So, when trying to explain to people, most didn’t get it. Once we had prototypes, and we were able to use these to create still-life photography of what we were offering, then people got it much quicker and our business took off at much greater speed.
Secondly, use Google Alerts to create a daily digest which gives you complete and comprehensive intelligence on your area of business. Anything worth knowing about will get published or featured somewhere online and Google will index it. A well-designed Google Alerts strategy will ensure you’re always fully informed of what’s happening in your space, giving you the power of updated, current information.
To buy some Garçon Wines head over to their website to see a list of their stockists: www.garconwines.com
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