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Don't Screw Up! [Entrepreneurship
Posted on September 21, 2016 @ 01:55:00 PM by Paul Meagher

I recently picked up a short book called Wine Faults (2010) that also contains some lessons for thinking about startups and business in general.

The book discusses a litany of flaws and faults that can occur when making wine. A flaw occurs when your particular style of wine does not live up the expectations of that particular style of wine. A chardonannay that lacks any fruity character might be considered a flaw for that particular style of wine. A fault on the other hand makes the wine mostly undrinkable. Faults include letting your wine oxidize, wine that is too acidic or not acidic enough, cork taint, unfinished fermentation, too much residue in your wine, etc... The book discusses ways to detect these flaws and faults and measures you might take to prevent or correct these flaws.

Flaws can arise at any point in the process of making wine:

  1. How you grow your vines.
  2. When you harvest them (e.g, wet versus dry weather, hot versus cool temperatures, etc...).
  3. Post-harvest handling of your grapes.
  4. How you press your grapes.
  5. How you manage your must at the beginning of fermentation (e.g., kill wild yeasts, yeast selection, cleanliness, etc..).
  6. How you manage your must during fermentation (e.g., punch down frequency, temperature control, measuring fermentation progress, etc...).
  7. How you cellar your wine.

If you don't have any major screw ups, or if you are able to appropriately remediate any screw ups, then the end result is often a good and drinkable bottle of wine. Indeed, one common way vinters think about wine making is that their goal is not to create a superior wine but rather to produce a wine without any obvious faults or flaws.

It might be useful to think about launching a startup or running a business in a similar way. You may be tempted to think that your job is to create a highly successful and disruptive enterprise when in fact you might be more successful if you focused more on the negative goal of not screwing up too bad. Like wine, there are are host of flaws and faults that businesses can exhibit some of which can be fatal to its success. A bad business structure, a bad partner or employee hire in the early days, inadequate cash flow, no insurance against catastrophic loss (e.g., health or legal problems), not running a lean operation, poor or inadequate tax planning, poor business planning, inadequate venture capital, poor market research, etc... Less fatal issues, called flaws, occur when we run a particular type of business (e.g., car dealership) but don't do some of the things that businesses of that type do to be successful (e.g., offer financing). This may not kill the business but it will make your line of business less successful than businesses of the same type. Business flaws are industry specific whereas business faults are industry-agnostic issues that businesses in general have to overcome to be successful.

There is the view out there that you should expect to make lots of mistakes when starting or running a business or defining what features your product or service should have. That is true but it is also true that some mistakes can be faults that sink your business. You can be so fixated upon producing a great business (or a great wine) that you make rookie mistakes when it comes to running your business (or making wine). You don't measure or address seemingly minor issues that can potentially be fatal to your business (or wine). Some of the "little things" can make a big difference in the end and can't simply be blown off as "mistakes".

So one lesson we might take from successful wine making is that it is often a matter of looking out for and addressing common flaws and faults that often happens to wine. Sometimes you can end up with a superior wine simply because you watched out for and addressed all the potential flaws and faults that could have ruined your wine. Likewise, a highly successful business can happen by taking care of the boring fundamentals rather than actively striving to create a great business. Success can be the result of not making too many major screw ups or quickly detecting a screw up and fixing it before it becomes a big problem. So the lesson from wine making is that a focus on not screwing up can produce a good wine and that the lack of a faults and flaws is a pre-requistite to producing a great wine. Sometimes a great wine happens without striving to produce a great wine. It is the absense of faults and flaws, not the presence of something.

Business has a Yin (what you strive for) and a Yang (what you avoid) side. Today's blog is about the Yang side of business and wine making. Cheers!

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