Whether it’s a robust Malbec with a juicy steak or an aromatic Viognier with a fragrant Thai curry, most of us enjoy a good glass of wine. In the UK we are the sixth biggest wine drinkers in the world, however, as part of the growing millennial lust for unique products with impeccable quality, our tastes have become more refined. As ever, the UK’s wine market is fiercely competitive and price-focused, meaning it continues to be a tough arena for any budding entrepreneur.
One exception is Tai Alegbe. Along with four other talented entrepreneurs, Tai has achieved the impossible by seizing what he saw as an opportunity to start a new business. Wine delivery service Baacco enables its users to search, discover, and shop for premium yet affordable wines. Here, he shares his entrepreneurial story, insight on how he built Baacco into the successful business it is today, and some thoughtful advice for any of you thinking of starting your own business.
Getting down to business
Why and how did you start Baacco?
Baacco was born from a conversation with a former colleague who was planning a trip to France. He was trying to find a specific wine he and his wife had sampled earlier that year, at a London restaurant on their wedding anniversary. It occurred to me that I had faced a similar challenge when trying to find a particular wine before, and that, if it was listed on a London restaurant’s menu, surely the wine must have been stocked by at least one UK merchant. Despite his claims that it was impossible to find this wine in the UK, I set about searching for a UK distributor. I learned that it certainly was hard, but not impossible to find.
To ease this process for wine enthusiasts or those looking for a new favourite wine, I developed the idea and started the business with co-founders Cosmin Onea, Raj Wilkhu, and Federico Maffei.
How difficult is it to be unique in the wine space and what makes Baacco different?
Baacco is a search and discovery marketplace where consumers can search for wines available across a huge range of merchants, and transact in a matter of clicks.
We distinguish ourselves from the market by combining technology with wine expertise. We work with a number of award-winning sommeliers and wine experts who help us decide which merchants to work with. We’ve sought advice from sommeliers such as Mirko Benzo (Head Sommelier at The Connaught) and Clement Robert, former Moet Sommelier of the Year. We also host a large number of tastings, often partnering monthly with event company Tastour.
How did you gain coverage and effectively market Baacco?
We formed meaningful relationships with journalists who have a genuine interest in our business to gain coverage. It’s really just about finding the right person to pitch your business and ideas to. If the idea resonates, they will often do the rest, so my advice is to find an emerging journalist who has an interest in your space. To us, digital presence is invaluable. As we’re a web-only business, our blog and social media are important platforms where we can show our target market where we position ourselves. Presenting your brand correctly on these types of media is crucial.
How did you scale up your business?
We scaled up our business by understanding early which marketing channels had proven to be most successful. We then made sure the unit economics for that channel made sense for the business. Once we learnt that the numbers worked, we looked to accelerate that growth channel. Knowing what it costs your business to acquire a new customer, finding out their lifetime value to your business, and how this will affect margins is essential for successful expansion.
Where do you see Baacco going forward?
We’re continuing to see very strong demand for our services in the UK from customers and merchants. This is a trend we feel confident we can replicate in other European markets. So for now, we will build on our success to date. Going forward, however, we plan to launch in one or two other European markets.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?
Our biggest challenge so far has been turning down very early stage investment several times. We have, however, been happy to start with only a little money as it forces discipline and focus. Our belief is that a huge market where customers are yearning for a product developed by great engineers should require very little firepower. We’ve maintained meaningful relationships with every investor who has expressed an interest in working with us. In fact, several receive weekly updates and act as mentors to us.
This experience reaffirmed our belief that relationships are very important. More importantly, it helped us understand how time and openness make relationships more meaningful. Speaking to partners early on allowed them to get to know us. We built a level of rapport, and they then understood exactly where we are and why we started.
What is your work-life balance like?
I suspect it’s the same as most co-founders who are very focused on their business. Sports really help me unwind, so I play a lot of football, rugby, and I also run and cycle. Reading and listening to audiobooks is also a hobby. I am currently reading a Harvard Business Review paper, “Design Thinking” by Tim Brown. It’s very interesting.
What do you make of the stereotypical entrepreneurial image – i.e. being a glamorous city slicker?
That is a tough question. Like most professions, if you’re at the top it can certainly be glamorous. If like us you’re working hard to grow your business and make your mark then it’s far more normal. Perhaps more gritty than glamorous.
A few words of wisdom
How can someone inspired by your story imagine their journey to be mapped? What were the key steps in your development?
The best lesson we were learned early on was that you should take an empirical approach to building a business. Validate assumptions, and your hypothesis, early and often.
Conduct customer research by asking people whether the problem you want to solve truly exists. Ask the question: do others face the same challenges and are they willing to pay for it?
Ensure you leave enough time for the market to respond to the product or service after launch before spending considerable amounts of time and money on the idea. Test the waters and then plan your next steps from there.
If you could say one thing to yourself at the start of your entrepreneurial journey, what would it be?
Build better habits. That is the key to any form of success.
To find out more about Baacco, or Tai himself, you can visit their website. If you’re looking for more inspiring stories, or help and advice on how to make your business dreams a reality, take a look at our blog or help centre.