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The Wine Business Innovation Summit in Brussels

The Wine Business Innovation Summit (WBIS in short) was organized on Jan 19th in Brussels to gather entrepreneurs and leaders of the wine industry and fuel inspiration among the participants. The least we can say is that it was successful.

We were invited to this event back in 2012 a time when the organizers, Jens de Maere and Marc Roisin, were looking for someone to give an inspiring introductory speech. Unfortunately the tight agenda eventually didn’t leave the opportunity to add this speech which we ambitioned to do on how consumers’ habits influence innovation adoption.

The day was split into 3 main slots with 3 workshops in each slot. A total of 9 workshops was held on various topics like branding, social media (a very very hot and much talked about one), database management, to give only a few. If you are interested to read more about all the sessions just follow this link to the program.

This post doesn’t aim at reporting about all what we heard or saw (you may want to read Sebastien Charles’ post to get an overview); yet we want to give you the big picture.


What is going on in the wine industry?

Here are a few bullet points about what we think you should remember.


What about doing business offline?

There is a surprisingly large number of new startups and all of them are pure online players. We haven’t seen or heard about offline. We think it’s a major flaw in the strategy. You obviously can’t do without internet. Yet, dreaming that you can capture a lot of value by being purely online will remain a dream. There are many offline aspects to master to succeed on the market nowadays and we found that startups and would-be entrepreneurs were underestimating its importance.


Any lessons learned from past failures?

We saw startups presenting business ideas which have already failed in the past or which are merely surviving today. We were surprised not to hear once the word “scalability”. Our impression was that would-be entrepreneurs don’t have a plan to develop their business beyond their regional boundaries. Let’s ask this question then: if you don’t want to become global, why the hell do you want to start a business? One very inspiring talk was given by Robert Joseph who said, quite provocatively, that there are 2 kinds of wine businesses: those which are started by passion and those which are started for the money. The problem is that major businesses and major players are in for the money and that “passion businesses” will therefore  have a hard time. We totally agree with this. Our take is the following: don’t start the wine business if you don’t ambition to scale it globally and make money out of it. The same applies for all other businesses.


The dreams of social media

Social media is just too hot to be true. Too many people think that social media is THE solution. We think it’s only one way to attract consumers’ attention and that the rest of the job needs to be done the right way to convert those “fans” into loyal customers. Yet we see hope. We heard many people talking (finally) about social media ROI. We think it’s a very important mindset change but business owners do not think sufficiently about KPI’s. We actually didn’t see any convincing KPI’s on social media ROI shown during the conference.


Advices for your market research and your business plan (be it in Brussels, Belgium or elsewhere)

We would like to pass two advices along if you are about to start a venture.

The first advice is to clearly plan how you intend to scale your business. If you have no idea how to become global it means you’re not yet done with your business plan.

The second advice regards social media. If you think social media will help you find your first customers, you’re wrong. Few businesses van claim to have relied on social media to find their first customers. The reality is that the first year(s) you will find customers in your first- and second-order network, that’s to say the people you know and the people who know the people you know. In that perspective networking is essential to develop your business.

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Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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