Season 2 Episode 1
March 8, 2022

The Caring CEO’s People Dilemma

We’re back for Season 2!! This season, we’re daring to do something a little different and a little scary, but highly beneficial. Season 2 of Infinite Shelf is all about workshopping very real problems brands have in real-time for the listener. Joe Fisch joins Ingrid on this first episode to boldly share about his efforts to grow and rebrand Wine Access, as well as share all the growing pains that go with it: organizational changes, rebranding, and walking alongside the right kind of people in the journey.

<iframe height="52px" width="100%" frameborder="no" scrolling="no" seamless src="https://player.simplecast.com/8fdfd09a-9b18-4678-966f-645ab78d72ad?dark=false"></iframe>

This Episode Sponsored by:

Infinite Shelf- Synder
Infinite Shelf- Shopware
Infinite Shelf- Gorgias

Workshopping for the Future

  • Joe Fisch is the CEO of Wine Access, a web platform that makes it easy to discover wines through expert curation and their satisfaction guarantee.
  • Wine Access is all about curation, content, and customer service. Joe believes that these three things are the core to Wine Access and everything else builds around it
  • “Any time I'm meeting with anyone on my team, I always ask how they see the world? Is it through numbers? Is it through sounds? Is it through words? Is it through feelings? And have always tried to guide people in that way.” -Joe
  • How they took a fast approach to scaling, and the appropriate steps they chose to follow from where they were going top line, how many bodies they would need, and how looking at a variable method could sometimes damage the infrastructure.
  • “We said, OK, if we keep beating the drum and we hit the same core things of curation, content, and customer service, and we hit those over and over again, we can be a really successful company.” -Joe
  • Joe and the Wine Access team are looking at the future on how to continue scaling and working with a new structure, so it’s time to workshop!
  • To begin worshoping, its important to look at the organization rationally, taking out the names of people in the positions, and just looking at the position 
  • When looking at each role independently, you can start to see the gaps in where an employee might need more help, or where they can create a separate new role in a different position, and bring on another strategic employee to fill the gaps
  • “As your company grows and as your priorities change, it's really important on both sides, the employer and the employee, to take an honest look and determine whether what the company is doing is serving both parties.” -Ingrid

Associated Links:



Stay in the loop with Infinite Shelf!  Let us know your thoughts on Futurecommerce.fm, or reach out to us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or Facebook. We love hearing from our listeners!


Ingrid: [00:00:06] Hello and welcome to Season 2 of Infinite Shelf, the human-centric retail podcast. I'm your host, Ingrid Milman Cordy. I am incredibly excited to bring you Season 2 and [00:00:20] really just endlessly grateful for the incredibly warm and encouraging support that we got during Season 1 and after Season 1. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This season, we are going to add a bit of a spin to the content so you can expect the same caliber [00:00:40] of incredible guests that we had in Season 1, including Founders, CEOs, retail executives, award-winning agencies, and digital innovators. While they are sitting down with me, we are going to, live on the show, begin to workshop a problem or opportunity that the guest is going [00:01:00] through, or that, frankly, I'm going through as an operator myself. We will have open and sometimes vulnerable conversations that hopefully we can, in the precious 30 to 45 minutes that we have together, try to reframe or resolve or optimize challenges [00:01:20] that we're, let's face it, having right now or we'll struggle with somewhere down the line. Topics that include scaling teams for rapidly growing businesses, optimizing customer acquisition costs in a privacy-constrained world, and of course, how to grow brands [00:01:40] on Amazon or Google without having to go broke with these crazy, expensive search terms. If you haven't subscribed yet, now is a really good time to not miss an episode of Season 2. It is so good. In this first episode, we will sit down with Joe Fisch, the CEO of Wine Access, [00:02:00] and we have a really enlightening conversation about what it takes to reinvent, evolve, and then scale a direct to consumer wine business. We dive deeply into one of the most important topics that we have to solve as leaders, and that is our organization. How do we reshape our existing [00:02:20] organizational structures to not only match where we are today but where we want to be in three to five years from now? So you won't want to miss this. I'm really excited to have you back. Let's hit it. Hello.  [00:03:20]I am here with Joe Fisch, the CEO of [00:03:40] Wine Access. Hi Joe.

Joe: [00:03:42] Hi, thanks for having me on.

Ingrid: [00:03:43] Yeah, I'm so happy to have you. Welcome. So we have had some really, really interesting conversations that I'm really excited to share with our audience here. Why don't you go ahead and help us understand you, Joe, as a leader [00:04:00] and a Founder and a CEO, and also how you've been able to lend your talents to Wine Access?

Joe: [00:04:07] Yeah, yeah. So I came to Wine Access about five years ago and my route to CEO I always think of as [00:04:20] not necessarily the most conventional. So of all things, I started in audit. So any perspective, audit people out there, if you're trying to get out there is hope at the end of the tunnel. So I came in about five years ago originally as the VP of Finance, and that's just kind [00:04:40] of how I saw the world. So any time I'm meeting with anyone on my team, it's always like, "OK, how do you see the world? Is it through numbers? Is it through sounds? Is it through words? Is it through feelings?" And I have always tried to kind of guide people in that way. So [00:05:00] when I came in, it was a little luck in some sense where the former CEO was looking for, "Hey, we need someone who knows wine," which I knew a little bit of from my early days in audit. We need someone who knows eCommerce and had run  [00:05:20]a corporate finance group," all of which I had done previously at Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. And I've always said, if I can't eat it or drink it, I probably can't understand it. So I'd be terrible in software.

Ingrid: [00:05:33] I love the awareness of yourself, by the way. {laughter}

Joe: [00:05:38] So that [00:05:40] brought me into Wine Access about five years ago and really started with running the finance group there. And then about four years ago, there was a change in leadership, and moved into the seat of CEO with the idea of being tasked [00:06:00] with hopefully helping right the ship. So we had had a couple of missteps along the way and we tried to do a lot in a short period of time. So we did a rebrand. We moved our 3PL provider. We [00:06:20] launched a couple of new revenue streams that then ended up really kind of cannibalizing our main one. And just a little bit of background, in the simplest sense, we sell wine on the internet. So whether it's via email marketing or traditional eCommerce [00:06:40] or subscription, at the time it was it was a single email marketing send of one wine. And we had tried to kind of tackle all of these big things at once. And it left the company without, [00:07:00] in a sense, without direction, of trying to do a million kind of different things. And in our performance suffered. So as I mentioned, we try to rebrand. We tried to launch all these different revenue streams and we really lost sight, I think, of one, connecting with the customer and meeting them where they were, [00:07:20] or where they are, I should say. And then two, giving our employee base and our and our team the right direction and leadership and alignment to really thrive. So this is back in 2018 and myself and our [00:07:40] new management team kind of looked at each other and said," OK, this isn't working. What do we do to really kind of turn this around?" We said, "OK, let's scrap everything. Let's look at what makes us successful, what historically made us successful, and then also too in the future, what do [00:08:00] we need to do?" And we said, "OK, curation, we do that really well. We have the best wine team. So that needs to be at the forefront. We love content. Like we live for it. Every wine that we send needs to have a five hundred or thousand word narrative on it." Ensuring [00:08:20] that the way we taste the wine is the same way that the consumer does in their own home and superior customer service. And we just said, "OK, if we just keep beating the drum and we hit those same four things over and over and over again, we can be a really successful company again." So we had in short, we had lost our way. And then we had found it. And [00:08:40] with really with what I would say is concentrating and being very, very focused, beating that same drum ended up helping us write that ship and turn it around. So my long-winded story on kind of the short history [00:09:00] of Wine Access, at least in the last five years, and myself.

Ingrid: [00:09:03] Yeah, and actually really inspiring. And I think that you've hit on so many themes that are, you know, we think about them and we talk about them, but to actually put them into action and understand [00:09:20] the actual benefit to whittling down and truly taking a look at everything that you do and finding what are the three things... It doesn't have to be three, but in your case, you mentioned three things... That really are the lifeblood [00:09:40] of your brand and your place in the market and how you're serving consumers. And when you mentioned sort of understanding that you're all about that curation, you're all about the content, and you're all about that customer service, everything else that you build out from that core is in [00:10:00] service to those things, and it seems incredibly simple when you put it in the way that you just did so eloquently and in a short way. I don't think that a lot of companies have that awareness around what are the three main things that are special? What's our  [00:10:20]special sauce, what's our thing? And how do we make sure that everything that we do is surrounded by that? And then the connection to the customers, as well as leading your team to embody all of those principles is really important. And if no one [00:10:40] takes anything away from anything that we ever talk about, those fundamentals are so critical. So thank you for laying that out so effectively just right off the bat. That's so great. Thank you.

Joe: [00:10:52] Yeah, yeah, of course. Yeah. And I think it's one of these things where whenever we would talk with [00:11:00] our board about it, we had one person who would always say, "Focus on the core, focus on the core, focus on the core." And it seems so obvious. And maybe sometimes it doesn't seem as fun as chasing the other exciting projects. But what's fun is actually delivering an amazing experience to our  [00:11:20]customer and to our consumer. And that's a lot more fun than I think chasing some of these other opportunities. And that's not to say those don't come, they absolutely do. But I think really nailing down who we are, how to deliver on that core then allows us to be more successful when it comes to launching new initiatives.

Ingrid: [00:11:40] Yeah. [00:11:40] And honestly, just the awareness of when you are serving your core and when you are not serving your core, I think is an important distinction because every brand goes through this when it comes time to scale. And I'm sure having the finance background that you do, you've seen this pain point time and time again. [00:12:00] But serving the core is where a lot of our brands get to where we are. And now we're like, OK, so we either stay the same size and we continue servicing our core or we grow. And I think that's where that inflection point happens, where a lot of brands can so easily lose their way. But [00:12:20] just because you're expanding out from your core, at least from my perspective, when you're expanding out from your core, it doesn't mean that you should forget about your core. It's just making decisions that are very, very lucid in the distinction between when you're serving your core and when you decide to step out [00:12:40] from that and test and learn from another audience that could eventually become part of your core is sort of the way that I would approach that. What do you think about that perspective?

Joe: [00:12:49] Yeah. And I think it makes total sense. It sparked in my mind one thing when we're thinking about maybe going, I [00:13:00] won't say, going outside of our core, so to say, but I think when we're looking at different demographics and a new potential consumer, we want to make sure that whoever that person is they align with the values of what we're offering. So 10 years ago, if you look at our demographics, it typically was 55-year-old male [00:13:20] drinking Bordeaux Cab, and that was kind of even during the turnaround, that was the drum that we were sort of beating. But if we were looking at what's important to that consumer, you know, it's all the things, it's curation, it's [00:13:40] making sure that superior customer service, it's getting access to things they wouldn't otherwise be able to. And that is far from exclusive to just our typical 55-year-old male customer. I think that they're across all sorts of demographics, whether we're talking matures [00:14:00] down to millennials, those are different values that exist within each one of those groups from a psychographic standpoint. So when we're looking at moving into a new market or marketing a different way, we need to make sure that we're true and authentic to that because if we're not, I think the consumer nowadays is very, [00:14:20] very smart and they're going to see right through it. So when we've expanded through whether it's either different partnerships or a different way in which we're buying wine, say via subscription versus single email marketing send, we're very, very cognizant of that, of still delivering on that core customer. [00:14:40] But being able to move into kind of these different markets and still being true to ourselves.

Ingrid: [00:14:48] Yeah, that's a really helpful North Star to have, and that's really, really clear laying that out. Thank you. So, OK, so [00:15:00] you've done this incredible job of rebranding, changing your 3PL, analyzing why you exist, how you are going to continue serving your core while also stepping out in a principled and values-oriented way toward introducing yourselves to new customers. It seems like [00:15:20] what you're doing now is a lot different than probably the company that you found five years ago when you first joined. And so what does running that day to day today look like and what changes do you feel like need to be made that are going to set you [00:15:40] up for the next three to five years?

Joe: [00:15:42] Yeah, I mean, great question and something I think I probably think about daily. So when I came into role, newly minted CEO with the company, we had shed 30 to 40 percent of [00:16:00] our customers, our employees were probably confused about what was actually happening and "Who are we?"

Ingrid: [00:16:09] Right. New leadership.

Joe: [00:16:09] And so I think coming into that, it really was kind of determined that we need to solve a couple of those questions, and we need to do it fast. [00:16:20] So it was OK, what makes us special? So we answered those. It was why do we exist? And we said, OK, well, if we think about it, our mission is to connect people and places through wine. And our purpose and the reason we exist is we make it easy for people to discover and enjoy the [00:16:40] world's most inspiring wines. So it was really important to kind of layout those two things so that the employees knew what were we doing. Are we just selling wine or are we selling the experience? Are we selling access? What are those? So I think like just beating those two over and over and over and saying, "This is exactly [00:17:00] what we're going to do," at a high level, "Who are we?" And then the second would be, or I should say, the other part of it is what are going to be the strategies and tactics to get there? We had talked about this earlier where I thought, hey, I almost think a turnaround might end up being easier than  [00:17:20]continued kind of aligned growth in the sense that you're picking one activity, one or two activities, and you're trying to do it really, really well and you're doing it over and over and over. It's almost like, OK, just hit this drum to the same beat and keep doing it over and over and over again. And presumably, if it's [00:17:40] the right strategy, over time it will end up working.

Ingrid: [00:17:44] Right. You figured out a formula and you just keep doing it.

Joe: [00:17:47] Exactly. And that, I think, works really well for a turnaround because everyone's focused on that and everyone's just like, this is just what I'm doing. And if you just [00:18:00] continue to do that, you start to see results coming out of it. You're like, "Holy cow, this is amazing." We've now gone from negative growth to flat. We've now gone from flat to steady growth. Now we've gone from steady to like amazing growth. So I think that made it easy in a sense. I think there are plenty [00:18:20] of other things that make it very hard from a turnaround perspective, but I think that made it very, very easy in a sense. So that's what I had walked into and really the first couple of years, 2018/2019, was solely focused on that. Twenty twenty hits, we [00:18:40] had already kind of completed the turnaround and then we had these tailwinds of COVID happen, and we had all these different opportunities. So this was our time. How do we expand share? How do we chase everything down? We're still that turnaround company infrastructure, but we need to build this infrastructure [00:19:00] as well as take advantage of a lot of the tailwind opportunities. And the question has been, OK, how do we put the infrastructure, the people, the process in place so that we can kind of truly scale because this growth is coming a lot faster than we otherwise thought. We thought we had five years to get to this place, and now actually we had five [00:19:20] months.

Ingrid: [00:19:23] We [00:19:40] call it like the hug of death, sometimes, where it's a great thing [00:20:00] and who wouldn't want that level of growth, but it could also be really, really difficult to scale so quickly. So yeah, tell me more about that. What did you do? How did you handle it? What's the first step you take?

Joe: [00:20:15] First, we're trying to get an idea of more or less [00:20:20] where are we going in terms of top-line and quickly kind of back of the envelope on a napkin figuring, OK, we think we're going to do, pick a number, 70 percent this year. Great. How many customer service people are we going to need? Because [00:20:40] we know that with every order that goes out, it's going to be 0.24 tickets per order. And it's kind of this linear sort of calculations quickly figuring out, OK, how many bodies, what do we need? But that's not a super effective way to scale either, because [00:21:00] you're just adding kind of variable cost to your infrastructure. So in the short term, it's don't lose market share or maintain it or grow it. So we're going to definitely put heads towards it. So you're kind of changing, you're racing down the hill [00:21:20] in your Ferrari, though we're far from a Ferrari, you know, maybe closer to Toyota Camry, and we're having to like change the wheels as we're sort of doing that. So it's let's keep the momentum going kind of forward. And then with the rest of the management team, it's then figuring out, OK, who [00:21:40] are like those next kind of key hires? Who are the five next key hires, especially, I think, in that kind of middle management sort of director, manager level who can then put us in a place to where they can effectively build out a team, whether we're talking our finance team or operations team [00:22:00] and help kind of pull the management team who had been, I think, largely in a turnaround situation. You're so much more in kind of the day-to-day. And now it's OK, how do we take a step back and how do we really start to kind of build to take us from what I would say is a small to medium-sized company to it to a much larger [00:22:20] company?

Ingrid: [00:22:21] Right. Yeah. And oh man, the analogy of having to rebuild your vehicle on your way up or down the hill is something that I think we all can very, very, very much relate to. And so it sounds like where you're [00:22:40] at now is we're sort of past the place, I'm assuming, so I'm just, you know, tell me if I'm on the right track here... You're sort of past this place where this like crazy exponential growth is to a certain extent, surprising and unplanned, because who in the world could have planned for what happened to us [00:23:00] in 2020? To now, ok, so we've gained this market share. We've gained all of these customers. We've hired on a bunch of people. We still have a bit of our staff from before days. And now we need to figure out what the future looks like, right? Is that [00:23:20] sort of what you're grappling with these days of how do I now take this new structure that's this hodgepodge of before, during, and now, and how do we set ourselves up for the future?

Joe: [00:23:31] Yep, exactly.

Ingrid: [00:23:34] Yeah, yeah. Well, that's a fun one. Let's work it out. Let's workshop it. So [00:23:40] thinking about the things that you, the way I always approach this or start to is I take out the individual names from the roles because I think there's a lot of flexibility and also, frankly, emotion that's connected to individual names. So that's like the first step. [00:24:00] I take that out entirely because it allows me to be really, really rational in my thinking, doesn't mean that everything ends up being rational, but I at least try to start there, right? So let's be as rational as possible. And then you just figure out structurally how you want to set [00:24:20] up your business for success. And so one of the things that you had said when you were just walking us through the story is your customer service analogy, and I was really impressed that that was the first thing that you went to and then you doubled down on taking a data driven approach to doing [00:24:40] that back of the envelope math on what type of customer service you're going to need going forward. And so clearly, you're already mapping back to those three pillars that you had mentioned way back, which are curation and content, and customer service. So that would sort of be the first place that I would start, right? Is that logical [00:25:00] for you too, like starting that customer service component?

Joe: [00:25:04] Yeah, I mean, the customer service, I like to work backward because that's normally going to be the place where the customer is interacting. So I think that's a great place to start.

Ingrid: [00:25:15] Yeah. And so for me, at least, if that is a key pillar, [00:25:20] then you need a key strategic leader in that space. And if you're not hiring a key strategic leader in one of those pillars, I think you're losing an opportunity to just make sure that that's something that you're always, always, always thinking about. And I think customer service happens to be one [00:25:40] of those parts of an organization that sometimes is incredibly execution-focused, and you have maybe entry-level or people who are just starting their careers that are just interfacing with customers day-to-day. And I think a lot of times we [00:26:00] tend to forget that those people need a visionary leader to be able to take advice from, learn from, get the tone of voice, and all of that. So I think that's where at least I would start in a natural position. Where is your customer service organization and leadership at today?

Joe: [00:26:18] Yeah. So right now [00:26:20] we have a customer service manager who we hired about a year ago who has really brought in... I think we got really, really lucky with her. She has been able to really bring in that sort of both the people, but then the quantitative [00:26:40] tracking and measuring and dashboard. So that's someone where we knew she was really great when we brought her in. I don't think we knew she was going to be  [00:27:00]this good. So she's turned it in an organization, or I should say, a department that has done well in the past, and we've always been known about that to kind of that next sort of level. And I think the piece that [00:27:20] will make that area really strive is how do we make the right kind of tech bets in that particular space to really drive it forward?

Ingrid: [00:27:34] Well, first of all, the awareness that you have around that person's contribution [00:27:40] is incredible, and I do hope that you tell them that frequently and also pay them appropriately. {laughter} And the other piece is I wanted to make sure that that person, whether they officially sit on your leadership team or if they have access to your leadership team conversations on a regular basis, [00:28:00] I think is also another important point to have in this in this new org.

Joe: [00:28:07] Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah, she reports to our COO. And I think, fortunately, this year, what we've really tried to kind of institute is really [00:28:20] robust OKRs and planning for the year where in the past you used to just be, "All right, do whatever you can do to get as much revenue as possible, make sure we're keeping the customer happy," but not as well spelled out. So we've been trying to institute more [00:28:40] of her presenting to the management team, to the leadership team, and really having her kind of own the strategy behind it. And I think we just had a meeting. It was either last week or the week before and did absolutely phenomenal. So I think that's the other pieces when we identify [00:29:00] someone like this, how do we continue to kind of help promote strong growth with her or with anyone else that fits that description?  [00:30:20]

Ingrid: [00:30:57] For [00:30:40] me, at least, that's all around [00:31:00] having a voice and a seat at the table and also empowering them through creating an environment in which they feel comfortable and have the sort of emotional security to be able to share what's actually going on because that person [00:31:20] has a really unique perspective about what the voice of the consumer is and in organizations that really differentiate through customer service, which it sounds like Wine Access is one of them, empowering that person is critically important [00:31:40] because they are the embodiment and the voice of the consumer to the leadership team. So I think that should continue to permeate and lead all of your decisions or a majority of your decisions. One of the things that you had said, though, is that she reports to the COO. Can [00:32:00] you tell me a little bit about that structure and how that happened? That's unique, I think.

Joe: [00:32:06] Yes. So the way that we've set up our operation side, our COO oversees supply chain, so fulfillment [00:32:20] logistics, oversees compliance, and then also oversees the customer service component as well. So in a previous life, he's run all of those as well as overseeing [00:32:40] all of those in sort of different structures. And when I thought about kind of number of direct reports, I kind of like to be around five to six, probably for a company of this size, and that [00:33:00] ended up falling into the place where we thought it made the most sense. It had historically been there and we had talked about, do we move it into kind of like into customer experience, which sits with marketing? Do we have it as its own standalone? Do I think over time it could potentially move in  [00:33:20]into that? Absolutely. I think for where we are at with company size, we had put it there. Where have you seen it in the past?

Ingrid: [00:33:33] Yeah, so typically I would assume it would be, [00:33:40] to your point earlier, within the marketing organization, mostly because it should be sort of this like push and pull model of putting messaging out there, creating content, and then hearing how that content is doing and then in real-time [00:34:00] optimizing the content to really sort of connect things. So that's like the one perspective. Their other perspective is in my experience, the operational team has a very, very important role in sort of streamlining [00:34:20] and optimizing costs, so they're there to make sure that what you're doing, there's a reasonable price to how that's happening and keeping cost of goods sold and technology and all of those things in a pricing optimized model. Whereas [00:34:40] the goals of customer service are around delighting your customers, hearing back from your customers, supporting them, and in my experience, I've had lots of misalignment with some operational leaders whose charter and understandably and rightfully so, is around [00:35:00] profit optimization and those goals sometimes create a really healthy tension with marketing and customer experience because that's not always their North Star. And so that was one of the things, and just food for thought in terms of where that sits and how that could impact decision making, I [00:35:20] do think that there may be a consideration for putting it under marketing at some point.

Joe: [00:35:26] Got it. Got it. No, I love this sort of stuff. In our pre-call, we had talked about how I've been just devouring different books on people and organizational theory. And  [00:35:40]then also too and when you told me to pick up, "Think Again," by Adam Grant, I actually have sitting next to me now. I'm about halfway through from when we talked last week.

Ingrid: [00:35:49] Do you love it? Are you enjoying it?

Joe: [00:35:51] It's so good. It's one of the ones where I don't want it to end. It's like when you're watching a really good TV show and you're coming up to the end of the [00:36:00] series finale, and you start slowing down so that you can kind of like, enjoy. You're like, "OK, I'm going to cut this off a little bit earlier." That's kind of like where I'm running into this, and I can see that there have been more pages red than our left, so I'm really happy about it. But I'm also a little sad that that may be coming to an end.

Ingrid: [00:36:19] It [00:36:20] feels like you're losing a friend, right?

Joe: [00:36:22] Like, totally.

Ingrid: [00:36:24] Yeah, I very much empathize with that. I felt like that about that book and also Patti Smith, "Just Kids." That book is amazing. So, yeah, I think, you know, again, it's just like food for thought. And we're talking organizationally, we're trying to workshop this [00:36:40], this is all just like for fun and just ideas to think again. Yeah, exactly. Shout out to Adam Grant. Cool. Ok, so now let's go down the line. This is fun. Let's talk the other principle that you laid out, which is a big brand differentiator for you, which is curation. How [00:37:00] does that come to life?

Joe: [00:37:02] So that sits under... And then I also kind of think of curation in two senses. So in the sense that we normally talk about its sourcing, selecting the wines. But then I also think you have this kind of product website eCommerce aspect of it where you [00:37:20] are literally curating and putting the wines and merchandizing certain wines in front of people for certain different reasons. So we'll kind of start with the sourcing piece. So right now for Sourcing that sits under our Head of Wine and under our Head of Wine, we have Sourcing. And [00:37:40] then we have Content as well. So the actual writing of the offers, understanding what goes into each wine. Why is it relevant? I think this is one where there's a heavy collaboration also with marketing. And I think as you'll see, there's a lot under the marketing plate [00:38:00] and where different things can kind of sit. So curation itself sits there. Plus we do a number of events as well. So as you'll see, our management team wears a lot of hats and we're a pretty lean organization. Probably from my days at Ghirardelli, who's a Lindt [00:38:20] company. So it's that Swiss lean that has been kind of like built into me.

Ingrid: [00:38:26] I love it.

Joe: [00:38:27] Tough to pull out

Ingrid: [00:38:31] For good reason. I'm a big fan of lean.

Joe: [00:38:34] That's I think it's just the best way to operate, or can be one [00:38:40] of the best ways to operate.

Ingrid: [00:38:44] I hear that Adam Grant in what you just said, by the way. {laughter} "Can be..."

Joe: [00:38:48] I should think about that, actually.

Ingrid: [00:38:50] That's good. That's good. I love the awareness. Ok, go on. Sorry.

Joe: [00:38:56] I keep finding myself doing that a lot. I'm like, "Am I not being [00:39:00] confident and I keep second guessing myself, or is this actually a really smart path to go down?" But I'm going to take the latter on this one. So, yeah, so right now, I think it's a really big job itself, just global sourcing. If you think about the number of wines that are being sourced and from all [00:39:20] the different places. She's done a phenomenal job of representing our brand, of really during the turnaround phase too, making sure that our suppliers were happy with us because as you can imagine, you go from, let's say [00:39:40] that you used to sell two hundred or three hundred cases in a day for a particular winery, you lose 30/40 percent of your customers, well, now your volume drops by 30/40 percent. Your suppliers normally have that built into their plants. So she did a phenomenal job of kind of doing [00:40:00] the roadshows, representing our brands, and in doing that, we found that she had this phenomenal ability, and we always knew this, of representing our brands in front of consumers and in front of the wine community at large. So I think the one piece here is that we found, wow, there's also this other aspect [00:40:20] that I think she does better than anyone else on the planet and how do you kind of reconcile, hey, we want to be the best at chasing every wine deal out there, but then there's also this massive benefit of having her out in the world.

Ingrid: [00:40:35] Being the face of the brand.

Joe: [00:40:38] Being the face of the brand. Really, [00:40:40] we actually have made her the face of the brand. And I think that those two kind of tend to be in conflict because one is like, you're like on the phones behind your computer, like constantly like chasing deals and then you have this other one, which it's very hard to do that if you're on the road. So I think that's where from a departmental responsibility standpoint [00:41:00] is one that has this sort of tension that we've been trying to figure out how to how to do.

Ingrid: [00:41:07] Right, right. It sounds like she needs an assistant or two.

Joe: [00:41:13] Yes. Yeah. Well, let her borrow mine [00:41:20] for it. And we've started to do that a little bit, but I think it probably makes a lot more sense to really, really open that up.

Ingrid: [00:41:31] Yeah. And I think that's one of the roles as you're scaling that is a really natural place to promote people [00:41:40] into because they'll have that history of your brand and where you came from and be able to speak to suppliers and partners in the way that you trust is going to feel connected to your legacy. And I think that that is yeah, that's definitely [00:42:00] what I would do. And I actually applaud you for observing the ability that this person had even... A lot of times... Here's what I'll say. A lot of times there are people who are exceptionally great at their jobs, and it sounds like this person was really great at the partnerships and navigating through a really complicated time [00:42:20] and in doing something so well that feels so unique to that person, a lot of times leaders will almost not intentionally, but they'll end up stifling that person into that position for the rest of time [00:42:40] because they're so terrified of not having them work their magic there. And so I applaud you for being able to see that she's also capable and maybe can grow into more and more being this face of the brand. But I think that that also requires some backfilling [00:43:00] and some support on the things that she was able to lead through that difficult transition and not taking that away from her, but being able to have her train people up on how she did that other component of her job so that she can sort of spread her wings and also contribute to the brand [00:43:20] in this new way.

Joe: [00:43:21] Yep. Yep, no. Makes complete sense. Yeah, and it's probably a little bit of that Swiss lean training where I'm like, "Everyone can just totally do just everything on their own."

Ingrid: [00:43:37] And they can, but they can't do everything super [00:43:40] well. I think that's the main difference.

Joe: [00:43:42] Exactly. Yeah.

Ingrid: [00:43:44] Yeah. All right. We're just we're getting it. So then curation in terms of the brand? So I guess in my world, I'm in CPG world. So that person used to sort of be like an innovation, frankly, like they're [00:44:00] creating the product that you're selling, which ultimately is that curation. And now they're sort of moving into a more marketing role. So how do you handle the content component of the curation and communication to your customers?

Joe: [00:44:17] Yeah. So that as it [00:44:20] currently stands sits under our Head of Wine, and we have a Director of Content who then has a number of copywriters who are pulling together the stories for every single one. The wines that go out, if we have any content marketing [00:44:40] pieces, it sits in there with, obviously with heavy influence from marketing. If there are profiles that we're doing on different wine producers that sits there as well. So the content output, so to say, is really driven by what are the wines that we're bringing in, which the wine [00:45:00] team is sourcing. The wine team is coming up with what are the relevant selling points? Why do we care about this wine? And that ultimately gets kind of fed down into the content team, who will then start producing different offers in different pieces. The thing that this one is, in [00:45:20] my understanding, throughout the history of Wine Access, it's kind of bounced around between the wine team and between marketing. And we're selling wine online, so at the end of the day, it does become a marketing piece, but there's also this such specialized nature [00:45:40] of wine in it's super confusing. There are all these different weird laws. Like it doesn't make sense. It takes a really long time, and you really need a wine expert or master of wine or master somm to help you kind of differentiate these. And if the wine consumers [00:46:00] are fickle, so if you say something wrong, like you call a red burgundy, just pick anything else, some different varietal that's not Pinot Noir, I cannot tell you how many... Customer service would be.

Ingrid: [00:46:14] Oh yeah.

Joe: [00:46:15] Would be flooded with calls. You just get so much. It's a [00:46:20] group of like of amazing but fickle consumers because I'm one of them and I'm the same way. And if someone did that, I'd be writing in is like, "How could you have made that mistake? Blah blah blah." So this is one where we've... It needs such big input, both from marketing and from [00:46:40] wine. And we've kind of made the decision to push into wine because of that specialized nature with kind of a dotted line, so to say, to marketing and marketing as it currently stands has, I should say, experience, I should say, our Chief Experience Officer has growth [00:47:00] marketing, brand marketing and then technology and product. So that's a lot on that person's plate as well. So that's where we've, for the last five, maybe six or seven years. It's sad with wine.

Ingrid: [00:47:18] Yeah, well, that actually [00:47:20] makes a lot of sense, and I think the sort of white glove nature of what you do and how important that is to continue that brand trust that you've established with your consumers makes a lot of sense. So I think that having a separation between the subject matter experts and the people who are good [00:47:40] at marketing is important, and I think that having sort of an editorial team that sits on the wine team, so they are experts and imagine you're basically creating your own like wine magazine to a certain extent. And so those people, the editorial... Like, think of a magazine [00:48:00]. The editorial team is not marketers, they're content creators, right? So they think about the actual stories and articles that your audience is going to resonate with. And then you use the marketing team to make sure that those messages [00:48:20] and pieces of content go out into the world. So it totally makes sense that you even have an even clearer line between who creates the content, that that team sits under the wine team, and then who markets the content, and that team sits under marketing and growth. But we can parse [00:48:40] out the piece of that technology and all of our marketing too. That's a whole nother story. But in my mind, I would split that and kind of like church and state, right? So you don't have that like marketing spin or growth or dilution of the purpose of that content [00:49:00] out into the marketing world. It truly just sits... And again, this is very fundamental to your brand. It truly sits with the experts. And then you use the marketers to be your sort of content proliferation team.

Joe: [00:49:12] Yeah, the one nuance I will add there, which I'd love your take on, is the wine team is selecting the [00:49:20] wines and then coming up with the selling points for the wine, which are then fed to marketing. Or excuse me, then fed to the content team to write the offers. There could also be, and this is one where I'm thinking again, there could be if it's under the wine team then sometimes [00:49:40] there is, I feel like content could potentially be more likely to just not push back if they feel that the selling points weren't quite there, whereas a marketer could say, "Hey, this isn't in [00:50:00] a place where I feel that I could effectively market this, this notion or this idea."

Ingrid: [00:50:08] Yes.

Joe: [00:50:09] And that's the one piece where it's a second layer. It's almost like a second layer of church and state where that's where I kind of wrestle. [00:50:20] And I think that's probably why it's bounced around in our company a couple of different times.

Ingrid: [00:50:25] Yeah. And I actually think this is so interesting because I think every brand runs into this. So there are the people who just can write pages and pages of content about a particular wine that they're just very, [00:50:40] very enthusiastic about. And then the marketing team is like, "Where in the world am I going to find the person who's going to read six pages on this one wine?" You need that marketers touch to be able to synthesize what the expert, in this case [00:51:00], the wine expert, is going to write and make it snackable and formulate it into commercialized content. And I do think that that expertize should sit in the marketing component, but that it's not that [00:51:20] they don't have any ability to make those edits or adjustments on the content piece from the subject matter expert. But they're the people who it then turns into a commercialized piece through their lens. That's how I would look at [00:51:40] that.

Joe: [00:51:40] Yeah, that makes a ton of sense.

Ingrid: [00:51:44] Cool. Well, this is really fun. I feel like I can do this all day with you, and I know we only have a few minutes left. What's a burning, burning desire from a people, from an organizational standpoint, from a human aspect? What [00:52:00] do you want to make sure that we cover today if we haven't already done that?

Joe: [00:52:04] The thing that I've been thinking about a ton is we're still a small company. Thirty-five people and the layer from kind of analyst or associate to management team, there isn't a ton. I mean, there might be a manager, [00:52:20] there's typically a manager. Maybe there are two layers. And when recruiting people, when I was at PWC, a big company, it was pretty easy because it's like you come in as associate, you spend three years, you're going to be a senior, you spend another two to three years manager, and then another three to four years [00:52:40] director. It's pretty spelled out for you, which I think with younger employees is so, so important. And I think when it comes to kind of smaller organizations, it's you want titles to mean something. You don't want to just give a title [00:53:00] of manager if you don't manage anyone. Like you manage yourself. And then I also think career progression is really important as well. So what we've been trying to kind of figure out is as we've moved from the turnaround where it was almost like, don't get me wrong, that's super important during the turnaround, but everyone's just like, [00:53:20] OK, we're on the same goal. And at the end of the tunnel, it's going to be better. I think when we move into this now growth and trying to get bigger, I think those sort of questions tend to come up a lot more. And it definitely is one that I think about a ton and have been trying to kind of figure out how [00:53:40] do we show the right career progression? We do invest in people's wine education and to a certain extent, other things as well, but I think that's the next piece of saying, OK, like at least after two or three years, you've developed this sort of skill set where you feel like you're way far [00:54:00] further along in your career than you were, even if you went from analyst one to analyst two. And I actually don't even know what an analyst two would even mean in that sense. So that's always been... And at Ghirardelli, same thing because it's a massive company. You're talking thousands of people. It's harder at that [00:54:20] 30 person sort of level. And that's where I spent a lot of time thinking about.

Ingrid: [00:54:26] Yeah, and that's a really good thing for you to think about. And I think about that too. And what I do when I'm trying to help the people on my team to think about their careers is  [00:54:40]there's the depth in terms of subject matter expertise. And that's where I think the analyst one to manager director path sort of lends itself best. And that is inherent to just big companies because there are so many things going on. And so you have the ability [00:55:00] to really, really laser down into a specific component, right? I think with smaller organizations, one hundred employees or less or even two hundred employees or less, you have this unique opportunity for breadth of experience. I don't think that this solves your title problem. So we can [00:55:20] talk about that another time. But I think that the opportunity for investing in people's growth and what you're uniquely able to offer in the size and type of company that you're at right now is breadth of experience. So giving that person an opportunity to shadow the wine team or shadow the [00:55:40] operations team or just asking them, "What are some of the things that you're interested in that will expand out from the one specific element that you're currently managing?" And I think that experience itself is so incredibly meaningful, not just for people's resumes and saying, "Oh, I owned this," but even [00:56:00] just for their own exploration into what they want to do with their careers. There are so many people at even Nuun, where I am right now, that maybe started in field marketing and then field marketing got blown up in 2020 and Nuun had the incredible opportunity [00:56:20] to not fire those people and actually just incorporate them into the rest of the company. And so that person ended up, one of those people, ended up on my team, and she's now one of the most talented retention marketers that I've ever had. And that's progressed in her career, and she's been able to do so much [00:56:40] with it. And so I think that's the unique opportunity that we smaller to medium-sized businesses have to offer to retain talent, to attract talent, and ultimately to help people in their career path.

Joe: [00:56:53] Yeah, yeah. And I think it's one thing we've done, we've done a decent job if [00:57:00] someone wants to try a different job at a different department, but I do, that's not always going to be possible, right? It's like a job has to be open. I think the shadow idea, or whether you could make up something to call it...

Ingrid: [00:57:18] Mentorship program.

Joe: [00:57:19] Mentorship. Something along those [00:57:20] lines, I think could go a really long way. So I really like that idea a lot.

Ingrid: [00:57:26] Yeah. And I think this is another component too, as your company grows and as your priorities change, I think it's really important on both sides, the employer and the employee, to [00:57:40] take a really honest look at whether what the company is doing is serving both parties, because at the end of the day if you have people who were from a certain period of the company who at that point were getting a lot of value out of the [00:58:00] company, the company was getting a lot of value out of them, usually that's a really mutually beneficial partnership. As soon as that stops being mutually beneficial, it typically stops being mutually beneficial for both sides. And so I would not in a very fast or emotional [00:58:20] way, but just in a thoughtful way, start prodding and start asking questions of those people of, "What do you think your place is here? Where do you see yourself in the next three to five years?" I think some of those answers might be really clear and help you to enable those places that they're going [00:58:40] and want to go or want to explore. And it also might enable them to say, "Hey, maybe I spent my time here. Maybe I did what I needed to do, and now it's time for me to move on in my career too." So I think looking at it, not just from an employer to an employee perspective, but from both sides and making sure that that [00:59:00] employment status and role and contribution is mutually beneficial on both sides.

Joe: [00:59:05] Right. Makes so much sense. I think you're dead on.

Ingrid: [00:59:09] Man, Joe, I can just talk to you forever. This is so much fun.

Joe: [00:59:12] I know. We'll have to do it again. I'm sure there's plenty. And if nothing else, I know that we'll probably be pinging each other back and forth [00:59:20] with plenty of book recommendations.

Ingrid: [00:59:25] Definitely. Yeah. Well, this was so much fun, and I hope that this was helpful, and I hope it was helpful to our audience. Everyone, just let us know what you think. If you have questions, comments, join the conversation. And it was really just such a pleasure meeting you, Joe [00:59:40] Fisch. Thank you so much.

Joe: [00:59:41] Likewise, thank you so much. I feel like I got a wonderfully amazing free management consultant session.

Ingrid: [00:59:52] Any time. I'll talk to you soon. Thanks, Joe.

Joe: [00:59:55] All right, thanks.

Recent Episodes

[Bio]hacking Privacy Updates

Problem Solving masochists - AKA Amazon Experts

Recent Episodes

Latest Podcasts