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Today’s guest is an avid outdoorsman, entrepreneur and wine aficionado. His approach to business is very matter-of-fact, he doesn’t mince words when it comes to big pivots like rebranding and he’s quick to learn and adapt. He is Geoff McFarlane, Co-Founder and CEO of Winc.

Geoff’s story definitely suggests entrepreneurship was woven into his DNA, with both his dad and older brother starting successful ventures, Geoff starting a mobile DJ company in high school that he later sold for a profit and realizing very early on that he was ‘unhireable’ and more passionate about paving his own path.

He shares insights into some of other early ventures, including a real estate development company which he’d doubled-down on right before the economic crisis of 2008, forcing him to make some serious shifts in what came next.

While searching for a wine gift for his friends, Geoff saw an opportunity ripe for the picking, finding many other wine clubs and subscription models too restrictive or pricey – so he set out to create an ideal club that catered to everyone.

He shares his tactics for success, how he built and scaled a brand from the ground up and some suggestions on wine varietals you may enjoy.

Please welcome, Geoff McFarlane.

Daniel: I mean, there’s so many different things we can talk about. I know, we’ve kind of discussed a few things we’d like to go through. But one part, which there’s not really too much to kind of share about, which I’m curious more about is your upbringing and kind of where you grew up and what your childhood was like. Yeah.

Daniel: I mean, there’s so many different things we can talk about. I know, we’ve kind of discussed a few things we’d like to go through. But one part, which there’s not really too much to kind of share about, which I’m curious more about is your upbringing and kind of where you grew up and what your childhood was like. Yeah.

Geoff: Yeah, yeah. So I grew up in Denver in Colorado. And yeah, you know, my dad was an entrepreneur and my brother who’s about 23 years older than me, for my dad’s first marriage, has also kind of always been an entrepreneur. So there must be something in the genetic code that pushes us in this direction. But yeah, so you know, I grew up in Colorado, skiing a lot, spending a lot of time outdoors. And then, you know, my dad was in the hospitality industry. So I spent a lot of time in hotels and restaurants and around sort of providing services and experiences for others.

Daniel: And I mean, like, there’s so many different businesses that at least are, publicized that you’ve worked on, but I’m curious, you know, when you were growing up did you ever, you know, try to start like a lemonade stand or something like that as you’re growing up?

Geoff: Yeah, yeah. So when I was about 14, my parents told me I needed to get a job. And so I went and a number of my friends had applied at Abercrombie & Fitch in the mall. So I went and applied and got the job and I folded shirts and worked the cash register for about a week, might have even been shorter than that. And I was like, “This sucks.” And so that’s when I was like, you know, “I think I want to do my own thing.” And so I had another friend whose parents also told him to get a job. It was in the early days of digital music and downloading and being able to download music on your computer.

And, you know, we were of that age in high school where we were going to, you know, dances and graduation parties and bar mitzvahs. And so we started a mobile DJ company that was run from laptops instead of CDs. So, you know, it allowed us to instead of have to like search for songs and change discs, it allowed us to sort of just click on songs and playlists. And my buddy and I, you know, grew that over the three-and-a-half, four years, we were in high school and by senior year we were doing, you know, high school dances, weddings, bar mitzvahs. And we had a few of our friends working for us. So I started early and realized that I was either un-hirable or just didn’t like being told what to do.

Daniel: It’s two sides of the same coin, I guess.

Geoff: Yeah. Yeah. Probably.

Daniel: And then when you went to college, I mean, I understood that business continued, but you know, I guess what made you decide to still go to college versus, you know, there’s another version of the story where it’s like, “Hey, you know what, I just decided to keep on doing that and building stuff?” What led you to college after that?

Geoff: So the guy, Mark Lynn, who he and I started the business together did keep running it for a little bit. And then he smartly went off and traveled the world for a year while I went off to college because my mom was always in education. And, and, you know, it was just sort of the automatic path and sort of a logical thinker and it didn’t seem reasonable to go do anything else. So I went off to college, he traveled the world. And about a year into school, my dad had started to become pretty ill, maybe a year or two before I started school, but he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. And so I went off to school and about a year into school he was on the organ lung transplant list because never smoked in his life, just sort of bad luck that he got the disease.

And he was able to receive a one lung transplant but the lung had a pretty bad infection when he received it. And so he was in the ICU for two weeks during my finals. And, you know, he couldn’t talk. He was intubated, sort of in a drug-induced coma. And I was getting updates from my mom, like able talk into zero[SP]. I was off studying for finals and after I came home for finals I was like, “You know it doesn’t make sense for me to be out away at school.” And so I transferred back to Denver University and, you know, wanting to spend more time with my dad, help my mom take care of him while I went to school. And that’s when I actually reconnected with Mark Lynn and we got on trecking into sort of our next generation of companies beyond mobile DJ.

Daniel: Well, it sounds like the next thing you went into real estate, which is, you know, otherwise, you would assume is a very capital intensive thing to do out of college, but I suspect you two found a way to not let that be a barrier for you.

Geoff: Yeah. We actually had ended up selling the mobile DJ company for a little bit of money. Not a whole lot but a little bit, and then, yeah, we were able to…there were some up and coming neighborhoods in Colorado, one being the Highlands and we were able to find a little home. And, you know, we’re both…Mark was working a little bit and we were able to get a loan on a little home. And we used that as our first sort of fix and flip of a small home and an up and coming neighborhood in Denver while we were both going to class. He was at UC Denver and I was at DU. And yeah, that was our first foray into real estate. And then, you know, over the following few years, we began to…you know, we got the first home fixed up and sold, made a little bit of profit and, you know, had the benefit of my parents paying for college. So I didn’t have to deal with those payments.

And that allowed us to sort of continue to sort of turn the profits into the next project. And so, yeah, we did that for a few years and we were able to combine that into a little bit bigger developments each time, sort of all urban into residential development for a few years, and then began to, you know, have enough experience to start talking some other people into giving us money for projects in commercial real estate and began to build a little real estate development company at just the wrong time. We would have done very, very well had we both been born in 1989 instead of ’83 and being able to start acquiring a lot of assets in late 2008 and 2009 for the last 10 years would have been a much better time you started than 2004 when we started a real estate company.

Daniel: Yeah, I guess not the best time to go at the top of the market.

Geoff: No, no. But when we were about five years into the company, we thought we were really smart and doing the right things and have built a pretty big portfolio of real estate for a couple of 26-year-old guys. And through that commercial real estate had gotten into some restaurants and a small hotel and a bar. You know, I think it all kind of came from a passion for creating experiences for people. And so, yeah, we built that up and had a pretty good business that we’re running and we thought we were pretty cool. And then 2008 and 2009 happened and we learned that we were not that cool and that we had made some pretty bad decisions. So it was a really good lesson.

Daniel: I mean, clearly, it didn’t cripple you based on, you know, you continued to build and do things. But you know, I’m sure it wasn’t just a particular day where you’re like, “Oh, my God, it’s all over.” But, you know, how did you get yourself…?

Geoff: It was pretty close.

Daniel: Yeah, but markets crush on a particular day, I guess.

Geoff: Yeah. When Bear Stearns went under and over the following few months, we were getting calls from most of our banks saying the banks were being taken over by the FDIC. So the banks were failing alongside us.

Daniel: Yeah. And so like when you see that happen and you start getting these phone calls like between you and your business partner, what did you guys…like what was the conversation like when you saw that news go across the ticker that Bear Stearns is over, basically?

Geoff: Yeah, I mean, you’re right. Certainly wasn’t a single day or night. I mean, it just began. You know, we were sort of right in the middle of continuing to be pretty aggressive and pushing expansion and growing. And, you know, when that happened, I think it was, you know, immediately pretty clear to us that we were going to have to, you know, not expand nearly as quickly, but I don’t think we saw sort of the systematic failure of, certainly, sort of small banking and lending that was going to disappear and really sort of rip liquidity out of the market in the way that it did.

And it just became a domino effect of smaller lines of credits and investors, you know, all pulling back all the way to the point that the larger banks were calling and saying, you know, that your loan is going to be taken over by the FDIC, and then, you know, at the end of it, all those loans, you know, ended up being sold off to sort of large private institutions for 10 cents on the dollar, but then they wanted 100 cents on the dollar back, which is sort of an interesting story. And then at the same time, my dad who had been helping mentor us for many of those years sort of came to the…had been battling with cancer and had about 27 surgeries over in 2004 and 2008.

Finally, his body just gave in and couldn’t take it anymore and passed away in 2008. So we do joke that, you know, he was born in 1933 and passed away in 2008, right between the two, sort of, biggest financial dropdowns in U.S. history. I guess pretty good timing and not having to live through either of them. But yeah, so we really just kind of dug our heels in and, you know, just got to sort of trying to solve problems and trying to work with the banks and then at the same time, sort of said, you know, like, “Look, with our current situation, we’re not gonna be able to do real estate again for a while. So we better start learning another business.”

Daniel: Well, it’s interesting real estate is where you started, and I’m not sure if you’re aware of all the different stories, but in L.A., in particular, both Arnold Schwarzenegger got his start before he ever became a millionaire in movies actually started in real estate, buying an apartment and then buying an apartment complex and then flipping that. And then also there’s a studio, the guy who runs Barry’s Boot Camp right now, he also did a lot of real estate deals and that’s how he bought into that franchise or that business when he took over a CEO before they were taken over by private equity. So it’s a common trend. I’ll just say real estate is not a bad place to start, despite the timing of it.

Geoff: No, no, I think, I mean, it’s like you learn so much about finance. And I mean, it really is it’s financing coordination, right? And sort of also being able to sort of visualize the number of years ahead. So I think it provides a lot of good lessons. But then, you know, you also have sort of very little management, you know, not a whole lot of employees, not really building a culture. So there’s definitely been a lot to learn and center of a start in real estate, for sure.

Daniel: And so, you know, after that, it seems like there’s a few different things that all start in around 2009 for you. So, you know, how do you get out from under this real estate portfolio of things into what seemed like, you know, there’s a technology company you had, I guess, bought into or acquired, and somewhere along the way, you built a software company too that you’d sold before the crash. You know, how did all those things fit together?

Geoff: I mean, I think, certainly something that we learned over time was to not do too many things at once. I think, you know, we were certainly doing too many things at once and so, you know, we had started…sort of during the real estate company, we had met another guy who was running in an adult sports league and, you know, it was developing a software to manage those sports leagues so you didn’t have to do telephone trees and, you know, it’s like a game was canceled or setting the schedule or, you know, updating people. And so we built a sports management software with him as an engineer, which was sort of a side project while we were working on real estate development.

But quickly, you know, as we had gotten into that and sort of learned that and we were watching real estate prices go up so quickly between 2004 and 2008, we ended up, you know, selling that business, just being like, you know, it makes so much more sense to focus on real estate, which is definitely the wrong thing to do. But we learned just enough to be dangerous. And so in when we did see things start to crash in 2008 and 2009, we had been running from hospitality businesses, but we had become friends with some guys that had started a credit card processing company, but had also sort of had taken on some higher risk clients that when 2008 and 2009 happened, a lot of the customers they had taken on they hadn’t underwritten properly.

And so we were able to go with one of our real estate investors and actually take over the company. And we started running that because, you know, we really didn’t have any new real estate projects we were doing at the time. And so we were really just in sort of, like, wait and see, wait for the FDIC, you know, respond to banks, but there wasn’t a whole lot of work to be done. So it allowed us to put our heads down and focus on a payment processing business. And so it had a really good group of employees, good infrastructure. And, you know, at the time, it was sort of like right win sort of gateway technology and online payment processing was beginning to take off. And so we ended up partnering up with another guy and grew that payments business for about three years. And, you know, we felt like, you know, it was a business that really needed to take a significant amount of capital and to grow and needed to, you know, really invest in it.

And I think, you know, Braintree and Stripe have proven that certainly was the right strategy that both, you know, build great companies in the space. But the investor that we were with, you know, was a real estate investor, and, you know, he felt like the business should grow cash flow positive, and really be sort of a profitable and then, you know, it was going to trade on a multiple of earnings. And certainly, at some point, it would have had to, but we felt like there was a lot of opportunity to really go out and get market share. But so we ended up, you know, selling our share of that business to him, which helps pay off some of our bad decisions in real estate.

But during all that time in the real estate and in the payments business, sort of learned a number of things about, you know, what we really liked and about sort of these very different industries. So the payments business, which, you know, operated much more like a traditional company where, you know, you show up at an office, you build a culture. You know it taught us about acquiring customers and lifetime value and, you know, it sort of just a true operational business whereas in real estate, we learned a lot about finance. And then in the hospitality businesses, the restaurants and hotels that we were running, we learned a lot about, you know, creating experiences for people and building brands and focusing on that.

And so I think, you know, when we had sold the payments company and, you know, had done sort of each of these three different things, I was trying to figure out what we were going to do next. You know, what I would sort of look back on now and I’m not sure it was perfectly clear to me then but, you know, I’m really passionate about creating experiences for people. And I think that, you know, doing that with brands is a really enjoyable experience when you create great brands and people can have those little moments in life where they get value out of products. And I think food and wine is really special industry to do that in. And I really loved that in the hotel industry but I also really liked sort of building a culture and building a company.

And so the idea came when we were sort of the next sort of wave of e-commerce was taking off in 2011 and ’12. And, you know, I’d gone online to try to buy a gift for friends who wanted to…I knew they’d love good wine. And I tried to find a wine club that had a cool experience to sort of introduce them to fine wines and then you could learn about wine and had a good sort of website. And I went online and there just wasn’t really anything available. And at the time,we just didn’t have very much going on. And so we came up with the idea that we’d sort of create a sort of wine club 2.0 that would provide a better user experience.

You know, hopefully, go out and find better wines and better value for people because really the only thing that that existed at the time was sort of like “The Wall Street Journal” wine club and William Sonoma and it was all one company that was basically private labeling a bunch of wines and shipping a case of wine a month and using remnant media to sort of like space in the William Sonoma catalog or space in “The Wall Street Journal,” “The New York Times.” So they’re using all this sort of media that wasn’t getting bought an extra space to advertise a wine club and then sharing some of the revenue with these media partners.

But it was really one company and there was sort of the websites who didn’t allow any customers to sort of pick out wines. It was like, red, white, or mixed case. And then the other option was pretty expensive wine clubs from Napa Valley in Sonoma, which are great if you can afford to travel to those places and go visit the tasting rooms and then pay $1,000 for a case of wine. But that was sort of like the two offerings online at the time. And we really felt like there was an opportunity to improve the wine buying experience by giving more information about the wine and personalizing the experience for each customer.

Because I think everyone sort of has a different relationship with wine and wanted to be able to really personalize it and make it easier to buy wine. And so that was the idea and we sort of took all the different experience that we had and failures that we had previous to that to sort of pour into the new business. And really, when we originally started, we thought it would be sort of a fun side project, that our friends would sign up, that we would get to meet some cool winemakers. But quickly realized that it had huge opportunity and it was going to require a lot more work than we initially anticipated.

Daniel: And how did you meet your…because it wasn’t Mark you had started this with, it was with someone else, Xander, who is your co-founder.

Geoff: Mark was one of the original founders as well actually. So it was Mark and Xander. And…

Daniel: And how did you meet Xander?

Geoff: We met Xander at the payments company. So we met him just through sort of mutual contacts in Denver. And then started working on…he developed the gateway and the technology for the payments company. So we’d work together for about a year on that. Mark and I had been working together for…if you go back to the DJ days, close to 10 years at that point. And the three of us set off, sort of initially formed the company in August 2011 but didn’t really start focusing on working on it until the beginning of 2012. And quickly realized that we had found something that customers loved but that we were losing money on every box that we were shipping so we better figure out how to start getting positive margins.

Daniel: I went through the same experience. We ran a beauty subscription box back around the same time you guys were starting Winc and in Canada shipping is pretty awful. And when we were running as a monthly model, we soon had the same learning as you and had to change up our model too. So anything subscription, shipping related you always have surprise charges that you don’t really think about.

Geoff: Yeah, for sure. When we set the pricing for the box originally, I think it was a lot more than that than any data that we have and we’re like, “Well, we think, you know, customers will pay around $13 a bottle,” we think like, you know, something…No, we don’t want to be…so we just ended up with like 39 seems like a good number. So let’s start there. And it’s hard to fully make it work at that price when you take everything in for sure.

Daniel: I can imagine. And then at what point do you guys go from Denver to L.A. where you’re based and everything is based now?

Geoff: Yeah, so I think by mid-2012, we realized that we had built something the customers were really enjoying. It was taking off quickly. People were signing up faster than we had really even anticipated. But we realized that like to get margins in the business and to really scale the business, then we were going to have to raise real money. And we kept on running into…and our network in Denver was really raising money in real estate and mainly real estate. And so when we were sort of sourcing our network in Denver, everyone was coming back and being like, “Well, when are you going to turn a profit? What does that look like?” And we just couldn’t find the right investors. So we started traveling quite a bit to New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. And I think a lot of factors came into making the decision in L.A. but we were able to find the right investors in L.A. I think we were most excited about moving to L.A. out of the two options.

And as we dug into more details when we thought about recruiting talent, we felt like in New York and San Francisco is going to be much harder to recruit talent. And then when we started looking into sort of the wine that would mostly be working with, Napa and Sonoma, as I mentioned earlier, is just really outside of the price range of…I think it’s what everyone thinks about when they’re like, “Oh, San Francisco and sort of proximity to wine country.” But the proximity to sort of wines that are affordable to 95% of the U.S. population, that’s really mainly produced out of the Central Coast, so just about two-and-a-half hours north of L.A. And really producing some great value wines for the pricing. So, yeah, we found some really good investors that have been incredibly supportive for us in L.A. in Crosscut Ventures and Amplify and they really helped us network into the sort of VC community that allowed us to recruit great talent. Taught us a lot about building companies and helped support us and mentor us through our growth.

Daniel: And I mean, it seems like you’ve lived through some crazy times before this, but as Winc begins to…or that time was Club W. As that begins to gain traction, you notice there’s something…there was ever a point along the way where, I guess, optimism was challenged where you felt like, “Hey, like, we moved to L.A. We’ve raised some money. But this is not working out as we had planned.” Was there what I refer to as like a favorite failure or an existential moment where you were like, “Oh, my God, this is gonna actually blow up. What are we going to do?” And then clearly, you’d survive whatever that was if that ever did happen.

Geoff: Yeah. No, I’d say that’s happened a number of times. You always feel like you need to keep sort of reinventing and changing for a business model that’s going to work. And certainly, when you’re starting these what your original picture of the business is and where we are today is…I wish you could say that it was sort of visionary and I had the exact concept of where we’d end up and how we’d create value for the customer and what we’d be doing. But I think when we first started out, for the business, I’m not sure we really had the right problem for the consumer in the mind.

I think we really thought that it was like our solution would be picking out wines for customers based on their pallet because, you know…and the problem was that when you go into a retail store, that it’s just stressful or challenging or there’s just there’s too much choice and you don’t really know where to pick. And so people are picking by label or whatever. And so we really built the business on like a true subscription box mentality where we’d go out and curate wines. And that’s still very much what we do today.

But I think the real benefit that we found over time is that we can really build brands through a digital connection to consumer so we can get a lot of data back from customers and see which products are working. And then we can put a lot of investment into those individual products in improving the product but also marketing the product so people understand what the story is, what the context behind the brand is, what it really means, where we’re sourcing it, and how we’re making it. And using a digital direct connection with the customer, we’re able to really tell the stories of wines and build brands.

And certainly…I’ll sort of get back to your question here. But as we built the company, I think we had times where we were sort of right in the crosshairs of what VCs we’re looking for, subscription boxes were very exciting to VCs in 2013 and ’14. And we were able to leverage that and able to sort of get on board. But sort of in 2016 and ’17, subscription boxes weren’t that favorable to VCs and it was very hard to raise money and we were up against the wall. And like Facebook was getting harder to acquire customers. There was a great hedge in sort of ’13, ’14, and ’15 in sort of cheap advertising on Facebook and it was getting sort of more regular.

And so I think there’s one way or another through sort of fundraising and sort of where we were as a business model, there’s been probably three points of where we were sort of up against the wall, had a couple weeks of payroll and a lot of credit card debt. And I think I’ve always just believed in that this is a better way sort of to go back into the supply chain and produce brands for customers and really tell the story about the brand than the old, traditional way of making a product and owning shelf space and a customer just picking it up from the shelf but we can actually create consumer like brands and really tell the story about our products.

Daniel: And from a tactic’s perspective, I’m curious. It seems like you almost identified that even earlier than a lot of the folks I talked to in, I call it, the broad D2C world across all industries where, especially this year, even in January, I’m noticing more and more conversations around like, “I need to get off…” not get off of Facebook but, “I need to diversify away from it, it’s getting expensive.” People are testing offline channels, different things like that. Seems like you noticed that many years prior and were actively trying to compensate for that. But when you look at, let’s say, this year…yeah, go ahead.

Geoff: No, I’m sorry. Excuse me. I mean, I think I wouldn’t say we’ve been sort of way out ahead of anyone in sort of realizing that. I think everyone has watched sort of prices go up year over year, each year, and certainly with a lot of the data concerns and the changes that Facebook’s made to their system, you had to adapt and it got much harder in 2018 than in previous years and I don’t want to take away…I mean, look, it’s still a huge channel for us and it’s still a great platform to be advertising on. It’s just the thing you learn about marketing in today’s world is the only thing that’s going to stay the same is it’s going to change rapidly and you just have to iterate quickly. New channels are coming up all the time and you need to be able to adapt to where the consumer is and there was a lot more time being spent in Facebook by sort of by the demographic we’re going after in 2014 and ’15.

And you’re now having to transition to podcasts and over the top television, which is sort of the direct channels of streaming like Hulu and Direct TV now and ABC and NBC and Discovery and so there’s continual change every year. And podcasts, while we can really…with the success of like Joe Rogan’s and sort of huge podcasts out there, we were able to get on that train early and now there’s just such huge demand. And it’s such a great platform but still in its infancy as far as a platform and things aren’t based on impressions. And so everything is just changing quickly. And I think it’s a testament to our marketing team that they just continually sort of are innovative and view the world as it’s going to change and they continually find good places to sort of reach…go where the customer is.

Daniel: Maybe it’s one of the channels you already mentioned, is there a particular channel that kind of piqued your interest, that you feel like, you know, either you’ve seen some initial success in or you’re excited to explore and test in that, you know, that you haven’t really explored too much yet?

Geoff: I mean, we’re sort of always trying to explore. I don’t think I have any sort of great predictions of sort of what’s next. OTT has certainly been an area where we feel like there’s opportunity and haven’t fully realized yet, I think, over the top television. I think that’s certainly going to be where a lot of customers are for a long time.

Daniel: And, I mean, on the other side of the…which you kind of talk to about from the data you’re getting, it helps a lot on product development, and I’m sure you’ve, you know, been able to observe some very interesting trends and particularly with wine, what are some of the things maybe unexpected that you’ve learned from your data that you think others haven’t seen or weren’t unable to take action on that you guys were able to because of your direct connection to the consumer?

Geoff: Yeah. I mean, we certainly were able to really get on board with the rosé trend, I think, ahead of when everyone else was. I think we were a couple of years ahead of really jumping on that. There’s been a huge influx in behind us certainly over the last two years. But, you know, we’re able to just, you know…we launch and, sort of, work with different wine producers and our in-house wine team that produces products, you know, between our collaboration and in-house wine team, we launch about 160 products a year, and sort of within those products, we’re able to…you know, we’re doing new vintages of the products that have really worked for us, but then we’re trying to sort of look out into the world and see where we think there’s opportunity, and then we’ll launch those products and let customers tell us if they really like them or if they don’t.

And so I think, you know, our product, Summer Water rosé from the moment we turned that product on online, we realized that, you know, rosé was going to be big and that we had found a product that we had found the right branding for. What was interesting is that, you know, on the initial launch, we definitely didn’t have the right product in the bottle. We found that customers were super excited about the product when we launched it but we didn’t create the right juice in the product. It was a pinot noir actually from Napa Valley, produced in a very sort of California rosé style. And so we were able to glean onto, you know, this was going to be a big trend. And we found a really good brand for the product but we need to put a lot of effort into creating a great product in the bottle. And so we took our wine team, did a bunch of research on how the French are producing rosé in Provence and went out in the Central Coast and found some grenache and syrah.

And the following year produced a much better product and it really took off very quickly. And each year they’ve been able to, sort of, take customer data and say, you know, “We think we’re a little too acidic” or, “We think we’re…” sort of in the background, you know, we score, sort of, what are the different features of a rosé or any wine and we are able to, sort of, actually dig in and take it back into the vineyard to produce better wine for customers. And so I think, you know, it’s taken…we’re now about five years into our, sort of, own winemaking program and partnering and we’re able to take all the data that we’re getting and go back into the vineyard and go back into our collaborative partnerships with people and produce better and better wine every year.

And so I think, you know, rosé was one of them, I think we’re seeing that light…we’re starting to see that…like I think a lot of the industry has been focused on really heavy, juicy, sugary reds, sort of, like you know, like Prisoner or Meiomi pinot noir. And we’re starting to see the customers are going more towards, sort of, lighter, refreshing reds that can be drank chilled. And I think we’re starting to see a lot of trends with that in restaurants and, sort of, that goes along very nicely for the natural organic wine movement as well, which we’re launching a lot more organic and natural wines as well. So natural wines, what we define as natural is it should be low-sulfur wine.

Daniel: Yeah. That was the question I was gonna ask but you answered in terms of seems, like, they’re like moving food trends as well that whether it’s moving towards like a plant-based diet or, you know, simply non-GMO or…I mean, just came from Expo West, which is a big natural foods products conference and the themes that I at least saw, you know, it’s a national products conference, but a lot of movement on a non-GMO movement now in CBD have been incorporated into drinks in various areas. And so I’m curious to see what your anticipations are of how that’ll change your business of wine as these trends kind of evolve.

Geoff: Yeah. We’ve been really focused on sustainable farming for a long time. Certainly as a business that is reliant on a natural product from, you know, growing in vineyards, like we’re certainly concerned about being responsible with the planet. So, you know, we focus heavily on that, but I think not only is there trends in sort of natural health but, you know, I think that the American palate is also changing and I think you’re seeing it in a lot of products as well. It’s shifting from a much…like, away from sugar and towards more acidic products.

And I think you’re seeing that and like, you know, the shift from like Starbucks to Bluebottle certainly in your major cities where, you know, instead of it being sort of like high sugar content coffee, you’re seeing, like, much more pure, more acidic coffee. I think you’re seeing it and trends like Kombucha. And I think that, you know, we’re starting to see that in wine as well. And I think it’s happened with cocktails as well as the sort of the trend is the, sort of, like more bitterness and, you know, whiskey and Negronis. And so, I think that the palate is shifting from, sort of, like, really sugar bombs into, sort of, more acidic-structured products.

Daniel: One thing you touched on in talking about the rosé was an element of branding. And one story I’d love to understand a bit more was the rebranding you went through as a company around, I think, when you raised your last round in 2016. You changed from Club W to Winc. And I’m curious, you know, as you went through that transition, what was the discussion behind why you decided to do it? And is there anything you’d do differently looking back on how you did the transition that others who are listening to this could learn from?

Geoff: Yeah. Yeah. Rebranding sucks, rebranding sucks. So like there’s no other way to put it. Like if you can not do it, definitely don’t do it. It took us a long time to, sort of, dig back out of that hole. But I think, you know, when I look in terms of building this company, I want to build it for the long-term and for hopefully the next 20 years not just the next few years. And I think that when we looked at it, when we originally started the company and thought that, you know, we were just going to go out in the world, curate wines for people, work with other producers, and then just use our data to personalized wines for people, Club W was a great name for the company.

When we really shifted into creating our own products, building brands and beginning to work in an omnichannel fashion, selling our wines to, you know, independent restaurants and retailers across the country. It’s very hard to go out and sell, you know, Summer Water rosé to a restaurant with the sort of the name and the portfolio being Club W. And so as we started to pull our most successful products out into the physical world and selling those products to restaurants and retailers, we had to start doing it as something besides Club W, because they were just like, “Why are we going to buy a wine from a wine club? It doesn’t make any sense.” Originally, we were like, “All right, well, what should we do?” The company was called Club W, Incorporated or Club W, Inc. And we were like, “Let’s just drop the club for now. We’ll call it W-Inc. or Winc,” which is sort where the name came from.

And so we were going to run it as two separate brands, like the online service as Club W and the wholesale side is Winc, originally. And then we started realizing that we just had this huge branding problem in having multiple brands in different channels. And not only do we have multiple wine brands to manage, but we had sort of two different platform brands to manage. And we realized that that just wasn’t going to work long term. So we went about and we’re like, “Well, should we…” sort of, for a long time or for a few months we went through a whole branding process of trying to come up…we were like, “Well, Winc kind of came out of nowhere so we should probably see if there’s a better name.” And we went through a whole process and by the time we got to the end of it, you know, we just couldn’t really find any other sort of domains, social handles, and brand that really just fit what we wanted to create.

And we really felt Winc didn’t have a whole lot of sort of preconceived notions about it and it would allow us to really build the brand in our own way. And so yeah, we settled on Winc. And then, you know, I think there’s certainly been a lot of business strategy books on, sort of, when building a really big project that it’s much more efficient to roll it out in sprints and in very quick iterations so that you don’t roll out one big project and have a ton of bugs and issues. And we broke all the rules, you know, for about six months, we rebuilt the one site while we’re iterating the other site launch link and broke our entire funnel.

So I would definitely take the advice and be sure to do it in iterative steps or, you know, we should have just re-faced the website. But instead, we rebuilt it. And so that was one of those moments where we were like, “Yeah, we’ve broken everything, and we’re running out of capital,” but we were able to, sort of, just stay with perseverance and just push through and…

Daniel: And figure it out.

Geoff: …beg, borrow, and find our way into a place where we can, you know, get back to focusing on the company.

Daniel: And a more recent transition that happened for you, I guess, personally/professionally that I’m curious, because I went through the same thing around the same time as you did, taking over as being the COO of the business then moving into the CEO role and, you know, I did something similar, pretty much around the same time as you did. So I’m curious, you know, looking back over the past year, year and a bit, you know, what have been some changes to your day-to-day, to your life that, you know, were unexpected in that transition as you kind of took over that new role?

Geoff: Yeah. I mean it’s been…you know, Xander did an incredible job in the role previous to me. But, you know, he is a technologist at heart, loves building software, and as the company transition more into a product company, you know, he wanted to go, sort of, focus heavily on technology and didn’t love the investor relations and the raising money part that we’ve been, sort of, in a perpetual cycle of for five years. And so, you know, that was the sort of iteration or the reason for the transition.

But yeah, I mean, over the last year, I’ve learned certainly a lot over the last 13 months as running, you know, a much larger company than I’d ever run in the past. But, you know, I think I sort of felt like when I came into the role that, you know, I feel like I needed to have all the answers and sort of make sure that I was in control of all the answers. I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is really that my job is much more listening than it is telling. And being able to listen to all the different stakeholders and then help build a strategy and help coordinate the team versus coming up with all the answers.

Daniel: No, that makes sense.

Geoff: When you transitioned, what was the big thing that you learned?

Daniel: Yeah, for me, I think it’s more…it’s just the mental understanding that even though you’re all partners in the business, there’s always moments where it’s like, “Well, okay, you know, CEO is always going to make the final decision.” And you look to that person to help, you know, break deadlocks or, you know, navigate between two equally great or awful decisions depending what you’re trying to decide to do. And now you have to do that thinking and it’s almost this extra rigor of like, you know, I trust you, so whatever you go with, like, I’m sure it’s the right way to go. And you know, whatever happens, happens. Now, it’s like, “Well, do I trust myself to make that same decision?” I don’t know.

Geoff: Yeah. I think that maybe I…going all the way back to the day where I was like, “I’m never going to be hirable.” I’ve never been good at, sort of, not doing that thinking. So I think the number one thing I’ve learned to do is making sure that I listen more.

Daniel: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, no, that makes sense. In terms of your switching a bit of a personal side, I’m curious outside of the world of wine and building companies and entrepreneurship, if you were to…it’s my favorite way to phrase the question, I’ve stolen this phrasing out from others, but if you were to give a talk on something unrelated to those things, is there something that you’d be most excited to share or teach people about?

Geoff: You know, growing up in Colorado and being in the outdoors, you know, I think that…and then now being in L.A. and, sort of, being in San Francisco, like I think that, for me, it’s like getting out into the outdoors and skiing and, you know, I grew up whitewater kayaking and mountain biking. And just the benefits of that to health and sort of mental health, I think it’s so important and I think that, you know, it helps you find space for yourself and people in your life. So I’d love to get more people out, you know, doing things that push their limits and testing them because I think it brings a lot into your sort of day-to-day life as well.

Daniel: And on that point, is there anything, you know, whether it’s physical or adventure-related, that’s on your bucket list that you’re hoping to check off one day soon?

Geoff: Yeah. I mean, you know, traveling around the world and chasing great places to ski is one of my favorites. But yeah, I’d love to go. I want to go heli-skiing down in Chile and the Andes.

Daniel: What’s been your favorite place you’ve skied so far?

Geoff: There’s a good friend of ours and one of our investors that puts together a trip heli-skiing in British Columbia, in the Canadian Rockies at a place called

[inaudible 00:51:36]

that’s just incredible. And it’s been…yeah, it’s probably one of the most amazing experiences in my life. I mean, you’re 100 miles from the nearest, sort of, person, basically. And, you know, they drop you on a mountain that you can basically not get to on two feet and then, you know, the helicopter flies away and you’re standing there with three of your buddies and a guide. And you’re out in the middle of night and it’s just utter silence. And then you get to ski down the face and, sort of, paint your own terms. It’s a pretty special experience.

Daniel: That’s amazing. Yeah. I’ve never…probably is the most exotic, which is not exotic for you because you’re from Colorado…My favorite trip has been doing a ski trip through all the on the mountains, kind of, in and around Vail. So you have to do heli-skiing, which I think would be…my next one is probably doing something in Japan. My friend is planning a trip to do skiing probably around this time next year there. So have you ever skied up…?

Geoff: I’d recommend if you are going to go to Japan, try to go earlier than now. They call it “Japow” for a reason. The January powder is when they get…like late January is when they get all their snow. So I think you miss out on a lot of the, like, really light…and I mean, it snows like feet after feet every day in late January and February. And the season almost ends and you start getting rain and a bunch of [inaudible 00:53:07] for snow, really, early March. So if you guys do go, go late Jan or Feb. I haven’t been but I’m also a tie on my list. I mean, I’ve heard just not only the skiing, but just the entire experience between the architecture and the food and, I mean, Japan is an amazing place and just the care that they take in everything that they do and how amazing…I’ve heard that the entire experience of skiing there is just really cool.

Daniel: Yeah, I think it’s…to your point on the rest of the country, I think I really want to go twice. I’d want to once to…and it’s a good point you bring up in terms of time…once in the winter to go skiing, but then once again in kind of the cherry blossom time, which would be probably like summer or spring. But when it’s kind of warm and you can go on hikes and be in the springs in daytime or, you know, warm times, I think that would be pretty amazing.

Geoff: Absolutely. It’d be incredible.

Daniel: I know we’re running up on time. So I really had one last question for you. And, you know, back in your area of expertise, and I assume this is very taste-dependent if I were to ask you to recommend what other people should drink. But I’m curious for you, you know, what’s the wine that you’re most enjoying right now that, you know, people should check out if they’re curious to drink. What do you enjoy?

Geoff: Yeah. I think I’m gonna name three. So on the white wine front, I think I’ve been drinking a lot of riesling and gewürztraminer, sort of aromatic white wines, but not the sweet versions of those. You can find sort of the much more acidic wines and that also makes them pretty age-worthy and you can get them for a really good value. So you can sort of drink 10 or 12 or 15-year-old wines from, sort of, great German riesling or Austrian producers and that is just really complex interesting flavors. And you can, sort of, instead of drinking burgundy for thousands of dollars a bottle, you can find like a 10 or 12-year-old reisling for $40, $50 a bottle. Or you can find great value gewürztraminers or reislings. They’re younger and sort of, you know, high teens, low $20s. so really good value wine.

And then on the red front, I’ve drinking a lot of, sort of, the lighter varietals that I was talking about. So I’ve been drinking quite a bit of gamay from France. So sort of the cru Beaujolais so not the Beaujolais Nouveau that everyone sort of has this perception of being not good wine, which Beaujolais is always not great wine but the cru burgundies, sort of, from the great producers and there’s some amazing natural wine coming out of there that’s really good.

And then Ttousseau from Jura would be a third one that’s really good natural wine. I’ve been drinking a lot of natural wines lately. Also for lower alcohol and you, sort of, chill the red, put in the refrigerator for half an hour or 45 minutes before you drink it and it’s sort of good with any food. I love drinking with spicy, like Thai food, and it kind of pairs with anything. It’s pretty good.

Daniel: Yeah. I was I was just in L.A. On my way back from the conference that I had went to, there is this restaurant called Zinque, kind of, in the Venice area. And that was the first time really having a chilled red, which I’m a huge red drinker, but I wanted something lighter. And it was like, you know, nice and warm outside relative to where I live. And it was quite nice. I didn’t really expect to enjoy. Otherwise, reds in my head are always never chilled. It’s like sacrilegious to do that.

Geoff: Yeah. No, I mean, people do think that you should drink reds at room temperature. You definitely want to put them in the refrigerator for like 15 minutes before you drink it. Get it down to like 60, 65 is the sort of the perfect temperature to drink reds at. But, yeah, chilled red, it’s somewhere in between, like, a rosé and a red. And it’s really refreshing. And it pairs with sort of any food. It’s a pretty enjoyable experience.

Daniel: That’s great. I’m looking up now. I think the one I had was a grenache from the

[inaudible 00:57:31]

in France, grenash Cotes du Rhone, 2015.

Geoff: Oh, yeah, so Southern Rhone. And then, you know, another favorite of mine these days is the cool climate syrah, so Northern Rhone. The [inaudible 00:57:45] and that region is producing really good, pretty good value wines as well.

Daniel: Very cool. I feel like we could nerd out on wine for a long time. But I know we’re finishing up here. So I appreciate taking the time to chat and I really enjoyed the conversation.

Geoff: Yeah, me too. Thanks so much for having me on. And, yeah, I really enjoy what you’ve been doing.

Daniel: Thank you so much. Well, I look forward to staying in touch and I’m sure I’ll see you around soon.

Geoff: Sounds good. Thanks.

Daniel: Bye.