We were honored to be guest speakers last week at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. After our major addresses, we worked one-on-one with seven students of entrepreneurship. They asked many interesting questions, one of which was, “How do you get by the no-sayers?”
Our advice was to consider the source. Are the no-sayers people you respect? Do they produce a quality product or service? Do they stand for more than their goods and services? Do they compensate their people fairly? Have they been successful? If so, was it in your industry? Did they understand the need your product satisfies?
If you can answer yes to all these questions, then maybe you should listen to these folks. Find out why they feel your idea won’t work. Constructive no-sayers can tell you about the real roadblocks you have to circumvent to avoid costly consequences. Consider going back to the drawing board and make revisions using their input. Then ask them for their advice again and see what they say.
If the no-sayers are folks whose businesses are unprogressive, who practice old school policies that treat labor as a commodity or abuse the environment, and whose products are losing relevance, perhaps you should realize that for them there is just one way to do it: the old way that may have worked for them for decades. They may be overly resistant to change if, for no better reason, it has never been done before, or worse, it threatens them! Perhaps they have lost sight of the changing needs of the market and are trying to keep the old establishment, upon which they depend, alive.
We certainly ran into this latter group when we started to build Barefoot Wines. We were told “no” at every turn. Many of the “no’s” actually helped us to understand the complexity of what we were attempting. Some of our original ideas were unattainable or outside of compliance. Some of the reasons we heard were like a diagnosis: we were afraid of what we might hear, but once we knew, we knew what we could do about it. In many ways the no-sayers helped us build a winning strategy.
So how did we keep from being discouraged? How did “we keep on keepin’ on,” as they say? We always went back to the yes-sayers and asked them to tell us again why they thought we would be a success and why they thought there was a demand for our product. And tell us again why they loved it. We went back to the folks who were having success with our brand and studied why they were successful. We then applied those techniques in more markets and took those successes to the no-sayers whom we respected.
What’s funny is that you would be hard pressed today to find anyone who will admit to pooh-poohing Barefoot Wine, who said it was a joke, or a novelty not to be taken seriously. They told us that if you put a foot on the label, nobody would buy it. They said being a non-vintage blend was a non-starter. We considered the source: snobby wine producers who at the time, had alienated the majority of folks who just wanted approachable, affordable and accessible wines for everyday enjoyment.
We got by with a little help from our fans!
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders