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Building A Business – The Humanitas Model Part 1


In 1997 I had this wild idea that I wanted to create my own winery.  Well, it wasn’t that wild.  I’d been in the wine business all of my adult life and had been bitten by the wine bug at a very early age.  I had dreamed of owning my own winery for years.  In fact, I had been in the wine business for over 19 years at the time and had learned enough to know that the last thing this industry needed was yet another purpose-less wine label out there polluting an already flooded market…but I still wanted to follow my passion.

Fortunately, I put on my rational businessman’s hat and began writing a formal business plan.  I mapped out the core issues at hand & established my model.  I dedicated myself to establishing a sustainable business model operating profitably and driven by demand; that is a ‘pull’ equation not a  ‘push’ product.  At the heart of this model, and really the first step in any plan, was establishing my compelling point of differentiation…my reason for existence…or in the vernacular of the day…my unique selling proposition.

This was no easy chore.  Realistically, how could I create a wine that had a unique selling proposition and clear positioning that set itself apart from all the rest?  Was I going to base my company on making better wine than everyone else?  Well of course I was going to make better wine (!), but in reality, that is a subjective element that I could not quantify.  How could I prove that my wine was superior and therefore worthy of a competitive edge?

Was I going to make a unique varietal — something that no one else had and therefore a necessity in every wine lover’s cellar?  Doubtful.  How about technology?  Did I have something I could say that technologically was unique and ‘better’ than all the other wineries?  Clearly, no.

Meanwhile, in a parallel channel of my life, I was simply trying to ‘do good’ and trying to give something back to make the world a better place.  The challenge there was that I had little or no money to really impact charity, I had little or no time to volunteer to charity, and dare I say, I also learned that I simply didn’t have the constitution to help the truly needy.  It depressed me.  I really wanted to help — but at the grassroots level, for me, it is not that easy. 

The light bulb went off and I married the two paths of my life together, establishing Humanitas, a winery that is dedicated to two primary drivers — excellence in wine and making the world a better place by supporting local charity.  The model was Paul Newman’s Own, with a twist.  Rather than giving back to some national headquarters of a charity, I would track sales and give back to charities local to where the wine is sold.  This provided a ‘reason to believe’ for the consumer because they’d be enjoying fine wine AND helping their own community.  And it provided an incentive for the charities to support Humanitas and act as the virtual sales force

In August 2001, I finally made the leap and established Humanitas.  With a strong sense of purpose…with a reason for people to seek my wines and understand that this was something a bit unique from the rest of the wine world, I’d found my reason to build my business.  Without this clarity of vision, I would not have started Humanitas — it simply wouldn’t have had a compelling point of difference from the rest of the thousands of wine labels available in the market.

This post is the first of what I hope are several blogs chronicling the birth and almost 10 years of existence of Humanitas, the first winery to invite wine lovers to ‘drink charitably’.  In my mind, Humanitas is still in its nascent stages of life with much, much more to come.  The blog will serve to bounce ideas of the readers as well as impart my opinion and I welcome comments.  Heck — feel free to give me ideas!  I’d like to see it grow & grow and can use all the help available!

This first ‘Building a Winery’ entry focuses on the most critical message I can impart to anyone starting a business of any kind.  That is, know why you exist as a business and be able to communicate that message clearly & with purpose to your customer

Does your business/winery have this first critical step down?  If not, think about it, and establish it. It is Step 1.  Your positioning will drive every aspect of your business and pave a much clearer path for any and all of your business activities.

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  1. Great article and even better concept. I want my business to be able to support chidren’s garden programs, like the school garden network here in Sonoma County – yet haven’t figured how to bring my spin as taker of wine portraits, health educator, and kids’ well-being into a business model. You’ve given me some food (and wine) for thought.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Judd wrote:

    Thanks Sondra. I will be continuing this as a ‘series’ so to speak — really simply a chronicle of what I went through to set up a company such as Humanitas and plans for the future. I figure it will be of value to others as they can avoid the pitfalls I’ve made, while at the same time perhaps stimulate some ideas for me. Good luck & thanks for the nice comments.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

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