From an interview with Curious Wines’ head honcho and chief wine taster, Michael Kane – from Think Business.
BEFORE TAKING the entrepreneurial path at age 35, Mike Kane had a variety of roles with employers such as C&C, Texaco and GE Money. In 2008, Mike and his brother Matt, the ‘Not So Genius Evil Genius’ of the family, set up Curious Wines, an online wine retailer based in Bandon, Co. Cork.
In 2010 they opened a wine warehouse off the Kinsale Roundabout in Cork, followed in 2014 by a warehouse in Naas, Co. Kildare. Having been an early adopter of social media, Mike successfully leveraged the business’s online community of customers – in particular its 5,000+ Twitter followers – to set the business on the right growth path.
What’s your business’s elevator pitch?
We’re Ireland’s only multi-store wine warehouse retailer, importing good wine from all over the world and selling to the public by the bottle or in bulk. About 20% of our business is online through Curiouswines.ie.
What do you regard as your business’s greatest achievement?
Finding a cool niche and growing it from scratch in a recession, in a saturated market segment that’s dominated by narcissistic supermarkets and pricing foul play, and used by the government as a tax bike. Since we started in 2008, we’ve grown every year by between 25% and 40%, and we’ll do that again this year.
What was the lowest moment?
The first year was the toughest. We learned the whole thing from the ground up – from sourcing wines and importing them, to online retailing and marketing, and distributing nationally. My lowest point personally was when we got stung for €2,000 with a fraudulent credit card. It was very early in the business and we didn’t have our controls properly established.
How have you coped with setbacks?
Drinking my own product! Seriously though, you learn quickly that setbacks are part of running a business. I can honestly say that every setback we’ve experienced has made us stronger and better at what we do.
At our first ever wine tasting, someone came up to me at the end and told me that it was a stupid idea for a business and would fail within a year. Rather than let the comment get me down, I made a point of remembering him and said to myself, “I will make you so wrong.” We’re still here, and we make a lot of people very happy.
What’s your attitude to risk?
I’m a terrible entrepreneur, I’m totally risk-averse. My dad’s an accountant and I’ve a lot of him in me. My wife let me put our life savings into this in the beginning, and I know that if I blow it she’ll kill me, so everything I do to grow the business is with an eye on protecting what we have.
You hear self-professed gurus saying you’ve got to fail in business to succeed, but I think that’s rubbish. It’s what works for you. We’re a solid, well-run, tightly-controlled business, and because we can’t afford for it to fail, it won’t. That doesn’t stop us being ambitious and growing every year, it just means we won’t do anything stupid to over-stretch and do something reckless.
Who has inspired or motivated you and why?
My three kids. They’ve ceaseless energy, creativity and curiosity, and a lust for life that’s so easy to forget you once had yourself. They help me stay grounded. They change so quickly but it’s what it’s all about, growing and learning all the time, and being the best that you can be. I hope I inspire them some day.
What do you do, if anything, to switch off from the business?
Again, my kids. Having them grow up alongside the business meant I never worked silly hours or seven-day weeks. I didn’t want to miss a thing. I work hard but I don’t work weekends, and make sure I take my four weeks’ holiday a year, but I spend my spare time with them. There’s nothing more rewarding.
What would you do differently if you were starting your business today?
You can’t look back and say you would have done things differently because hindsight’s a great thing but only if you use it to look forward. I made heaps of mistakes in the first couple of years of the business, and continue to, but every mistake is another thing learned.
Every time they slap more tax on, though, I do wonder if I should have got into wine, but I’d never love another product as much.
What lessons have you learned in business that others could apply?
Hire a good book-keeper. Honestly, it’s the most important thing, and I didn’t get it right at the start, trying to do everything myself. Unless you actually want to be a book-keeper, get one right at the start who understands what you’re trying to achieve and can give you the controls, tools and information to go about achieving it.
Finally, if there was one piece of business advice you’d like to give to another business owner, what would that be?
Create down-time, whether it’s an hour a day or a day a month, to step back from the business and working practices to reflect and fix what’s not right.