Friday, January 2, 2009

Beat the Recession with Multiple Streams of Income

For Christmas I traveled south of the border, to Bogotá, Colombia. This Central American city has become quite Americanized -- Dunkin' Donuts and TGI Friday's have set up shop, and in the malls, Zara, Louis Vuitton and Paul & Shark share space with local retailers (click here to see all the photos I took).

I was there to visit my good friend Claudia, whom I've known since the mid 80's when I worked with her husband Rodrigo in Wall Street. Rodrigo is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for business, and it was fascinating to hear about his latest venture and how he got it off the ground.

From stocks to steak
In 1988, after 4 years in New York, the couple decided to move back home, where Rodrigo had plans to open his own brokerage business. His office started out with 5 people in a small room, and today it's grown to 350 employees with 8 lines of businesses. Four years ago he branched out into dining, launching a sushi restaurant at a time when raw fish was still a novelty in Bogotá. His first foray into the culinary world ended in disaster, but not one to quit easily, he took the lessons he learned and opened a steak house instead, "La Biferia" along with other investors. Bogotanos love beef but there were very few dining options to chose from, so Rodrigo and his partners came up with a totally new concept: a mid priced steak house with a modern, minimalist decor, and serving 12 different cuts of prime beef. It was a hit from the very start, and now it's grown to 3 branches.

Colombia gets "Cool"
To expand his knowledge of the wines offered at his eatery, Rodrigo took a university course on wine, and one of his instructors was Colombian oenophile Hugo Sabogal. The two became friends and Hugo later invited Rodrigo to Mendoza, the wine making region of Argentina, to the extreme west of the capital city of Buenos Aires. While there, at a wine tasting event, they came across Domaine Jean Bousquet, a 12 year old winery owned by a 3rd generation French wine maker. Frustrated with the humidity in France, Jean went in search of more ideal soil and climate conditions and finally found it in Tupungato, at the foothills of the Andes. The steady temperatures and lack of rain are perfect for growing the organic grapes they produce.

When Rodrigo visited the vineyard he was mesmerized by the crisp, clean air and beautiful countryside, as well as by the smooth, distinct flavor of the local Malbec and Torrontes grapes, along with the Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots, which are all produced by the winery. That's where he conceived the idea for Cool Wines Global, the company he launched to distribute the Cameleon and Jean Bousquet brands. He was going from dining to wining - it was a natural extension of his restaurant. So again he found some partners, and chose a very sleek and sexy look for the website and logo, to make the wines "friendlier" and less intimidating to their target market. He sells them at his restaurants as well as retail, and sales are growing steadily. In the future he plans to expand into wines of other regions. They have started hosting wine tastings at his restaurants, a great way to cross-promote both businesses.

Colombians take a liking to wine
Until recently the most popular alcoholic drinks in Colombia were beer and "aguardiente", a strong local beverage made of sugar, but that has changed dramatically in the last few decades. According to a 2007 GAIN Report, wine consumption in Colombia has tripled in the last 5 years due to increased demand, while Old World countries like France and Italy have actually seen declines. And local wine enthusiasts are starting to congregate in Facebook, with the "Bogotá Wine Club" page attracting 791 members, "Club del Vino" 1316 and "Buenvivir" 1013. These are great places to announce events and promotions.

Wine on YouTube
I couldn't resist showing Rodrigo one of my favorite video channels, Gary Vaynerchuck's WineLibrary TV which he loved. He says he'll definitely look for ways to incorporate video into his new site.

Rodrigo watches the Wine Spectator channel which has better production values but gets much less traffic (go figure - which one do you like best?).

This empresario isn't stopping there - he has investments in other businesses as well and is looking to add more to his "portfolio". When I asked him how he's able to juggle so many balls in the air, he credits the book Rich Dad Poor Dad, which he read years ago. The economic environment may be different now from when the book first came out, but the major theme still applies and is more pressing than ever: save money and invest it in productive assets that generate income so you can get out of the "rat race", where you only work to pay your bills. Time to dust it off from my book shelf and re-read it!

Another book he recommends is Blue Ocean Strategy, which describes companies that take an existing product or service and revolutionize it by making it bigger/better/different, like Starbucks did, and Cirque de Soleil, and is what he did with his steak house.

Rodrigo saw the trend towards more wine consumption in Colombia and decided to capitalize on it. If you'd like to read more about what areas are hot here in the US, check out Entrepreneur Magazine's 2009 Trends To Watch piece, definitely a must-read.

1 comment:

Mario Sanchez Carrion said...

Kudos to your friend Rodrigo. Many people have read those books, the difference is that he did something about it while others just read them. There are so many opportunities in Latin America for concepts that have proven successful in the US (especially in the Internet arena) that a lot of people like Rodrigo, with the right information and guts to take action, are going to make a lot of money.