We’ve often said that entrepreneurship is at its essence brand building. Unless you are just creating a job for yourself or a legacy for your kids, you are building value in a brand which can be monetized through acquisition or merger.
Today there is an explosion of entrepreneurship education in colleges and universities, but there is no clear consensus on how to teach it or how to measure the effectiveness of the education.
With our background building the Barefoot Wine brand and speaking at over twenty schools and organizations promoting education in entrepreneurship, we have a unique snapshot of the state of the art. As they say in the tech world, it’s still an “emerging technology.” Here’s our take on how to teach this challenging course of study:
Hard Skills: Structure and Function: Most courses in entrepreneurship start with the hard skills needed to run any business, so naturally they can be borrowed from the business schools. These include how to write a business plan, how to get financing, supply chain management, finance, projections, feasibility studies, and market analysis, just to name a few.
These courses are essential to build and operate the entrepreneur “ship.” They are required for seaworthiness before one launches their “ship.” Most schools adequately teach the hard skills, and we wish we had that education available to us before we started the Barefoot Wine brand! Instead of taking almost 20 years to monetize our brand equity, it may have only taken 10! In the end, every business is really three businesses: Cash Flow Management, Personnel Management, and Distribution Management. The hard skills will acquaint the student studying entrepreneurship with the form and function, but it is the soft skills that help navigate the unknown.
Soft Skills: Leadership and Navigation: This is an area we feel is critical to success. The focus today seems to be on “launching” new businesses. We submit that every ship that sinks was first launched, therefore launching is no guarantee of success. No matter how seaworthy it is, structure and function can’t avoid the iceberg, get through the storm, or prevent a mutiny. Those are the skills of captaincy.
Knowledge of communications, political science and international relations will give entrepreneurs the skills they need to form strategic alliances and make critical decisions – from how to compensate people to how to grow their brand – and so we recommend a strong Liberal Arts component to any entrepreneurship program.
People skills will make the ultimate difference in success or failure. People generally make business decisions based on who they like and trust rather than the features and benefits that are offered. Therefore, understanding all one’s customers at every level, from production to the ultimate consumer, who they are and why they buy, is essential to business navigation.
Successful entrepreneurship comes down to creating a profitable product or service, which is building brand equity. That can only be done through sales. No matter how well designed one’s entrepreneur “ship” is, it will sink without sales. And since the customer, employee, supplier, and banker “buy” the individual they do business with and not so much the product or service offered, the question becomes, “Can the schools of entrepreneurship teach people skills and sales?”
When we know more about the other person, it’s easier to put ourselves in the other guy’s shoes. It’s easier to see mutual benefits, forge strategic alliances, reduce the need for capital, increase credit, avoid turnover, and increase sales. By adding strong Liberal Arts courses and requiring additional sales courses, schools of entrepreneurship can better prepare their students for smooth sailing and great selling!
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