Wine glass to wine company – Authentic Wine Explorer on turning a hobby to a business
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Drinking wine has potential benefits that go beyond the simple act of consuming alcohol. For some people, these benefits extend to developing a wine business. While this may seem like a far-fetched idea, there are many ways to turn a love of wine into a successful commercial venture.
In this blog post, we hear from William Chong, founder of Authentic Wine Explorers about the challenges of starting a wine business and tips for new business owners.
About William the founder of Authentic Wine Explorer
William may be a wine business owner today, but he didn’t really get himself involved with the alcohol business until the later stage of his life.
Even before graduating from computer engineering at National Technology University, Singapore (NTU), William already worked at a tech start-up that deals with clients like Microsoft, Hewlett Packard (HP), and Dell.
He worked at the tech start-up for 7 years before moving on to another start-up, dealing with online steel trading.
“It was a fast-paced environment. After a friend passed on suddenly at the age of 30 due to a blood clot in the small intestines, I decided I needed to hustle less and manage my personal and work-life balance better.”
Tired of the hustling life, he moved to a Multi-National Corporation – Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a real estate company where he worked for more than 15 years as Head of Business Technology.
Wine – the constant in his life
Despite the ups and downs in his life, William’s interest in wine began early and stayed throughout his career.
What began as a few sporadic wine tastings and readings soon developed into a lifelong passion. In order to quench his thirst for knowledge, William attained his Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Advanced Certification.
He then took his wine education one step further by spending a week at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo (Italy) where he immersed himself in the wines of Piemonte. He also headed to Ecole des Vins de Bourgogne where he learned burgundy wine tasting techniques.
He started to visit wineries more frequently, and his appreciation for the craft grew. At first, these visits were simply extensions of his business trips, but they eventually became more frequent and intense. William began to see the potential for turning his passion into a business.
Turning passion to profits
Winemakers love people who understand their craft and appreciate the fruits of their labour. It comes even more surprising for many European winemakers that an Asian could understand wine at their level.
Many winemakers are impressed with William’s passion for wine and his growing knowledge of wine endeared many winemakers he visited or met in Singapore.
Through word-of-mouth from one winemaker to another, William found more and more winemaker friends.
Encouraged by his newfound friends – wine suppliers, William decided to start a wine business on the side-line while still working at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL).
“It didn’t work out initially. My co-founder owned a wine bar that sold more spirits than wines as they were easier to stock and sells and returned more profit than wine. I decided to buy the remaining wine stock and sold them to my friends privately through word of mouth. The wines moved briskly and that’s when I knew I could make a viable business out of wine.”
He then went on to start Authentic Wine Explorer on his own. Through word of mouth, more wine collectors become his loyal customers.
During this period, William worked two full-time jobs – JLL and his wine business.
When the wine business opportunity grew bigger, he decided that it would be better to quit his real estate job to focus on his wine business.
Facing the challenges
The wines that William sources are mostly rare (as little as 300 bottles a year) and highly sought after by other competitors in the market.
Wineries decide who gets the rare wines. And if William wants to secure the wines, he must pay for them quickly.
“Wine suppliers tend to come from small family businesses, which means cash flow becomes important for these small businesses.
Business agreements also tend to base on trust and on a handshake, rather than a paper contract.
So, if you make an order and fail to pay promptly, the wines will be allocated to someone else instead. That would be a disaster as the wines are on a strict allocation basis. If you miss one and you may never get allocations again!”
Wine suppliers in Europe are typically paid via bank transfers.
William quickly realized that the process of sending cross-border payments was quite a pain. He would send cross-border payments via physical exchange at Raffles’ place, Singapore. This means he had to deal with paper, cheques, and queues, and it was difficult to schedule time while working at Jones Lang Laselle.
“I noticed that there were a lot of new fintech companies popping up, so I decided to check out what’s out there. I do that periodically especially since I used to work at the forefront of technology!”
After trying other payment solutions, he finally came across Instarem through blog comparison review pages.
“Since using Instarem, I have saved SGD100 every month.
What I love is that there is good customer rapport, and this personal touch is very important to me.
Transactions are also way faster than my experience with other payment solutions.
Previously, it took 1-2 days for payments to go through between Singapore and Europe, and now it only takes 5 minutes for the payment confirmation to go through with Instarem.”
Tips for budding entrepreneurs
“I believe no one outlives their corporate job. At some point, everyone leaves the corporate world.
When my corporate career ends, I want to do something that I love as a business! The decision to start a wine business was the easy part but the difficult part is when and how!”
And the hardest thing to conquer is inertia and looking back, I realise the best time is always now.
All you need is to learn the ropes early and think out of the box.
And once you’ve earned the trust of your suppliers and your customers, you can always build a viable and profitable business around it. Don’t wait, start early!”
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