SSU Alumni on Unique Sales Journey with SommSelect
February 18, 2014 7:51 AM
SSU Alumni on Unique Sales Journey with SommSelect
By Christine Pinella
Ian Cauble and Brandon Carneiro, Sonoma State University Alums and co-founders of SommSelect (www.sommselect.com), sit across from us in the School of Business and Economics conference room. They look professional yet eager, both in pressed navy suits, adorned with wide smiles, comfortable on this familiar campus.
SommSelect (short for Sommelier Selections) is a direct to consumer website where wine enthusiasts subscribe, at no charge, to receive daily offers selected by a Master Sommelier. That Master Sommelier is Ian Cauble himself, who in 2012 passed the exam to become the 197th Master Sommelier in history. Each day, Ian searches the world for the best wines and hand-picks a unique bottle that he considers to be of exceptional character: some days it could be from a private collection being disbanded; other days it could be a great bargain from an emerging label, or an opportunity to purchase the last few bottles of a stellar vintage. All offers will be limited in production, and include an education about the wine itself.
If you are thinking that a daily deal site for wines has already been done, it has, but that's not the vision for SommSelect. What makes SommSelect different is its approach. As Brandon puts it, "It's more of a curated item site. There are a lot of websites where customers can get a discounted price on common wines, but none of them are using a Master Sommelier to choose their wines."
"We are committed to honoring and respecting the brands we choose," says Ian, "We're finding wines that we love, educating the consumer with the history and story behind the wine, then providing our customers the best possible prices we can. Our offers will be limited production wines that are not easy to find for most consumers."
The first inception of SommSelect happened in June of 2013 when Brandon and Ian applied for their LLC. They organized a structured approach, using their own income to create a foundation they could present to investors. "The most difficult part was getting the initial investment," says Brandon with a grin, "When it finally happened it was an emotional moment." Brandon and Ian both let out a contagious laugh.
They met as freshman at Sonoma State University and became fast friends. Ian studied International Business with a Spanish and wine business focus. As an undergraduate, he took a wine course which allowed him to travel to Chile with the class. He says this was a pivotal moment in his life, one that opened up his passion for wine. "I got back from Chile and thought, that was amazing. After graduating later that year, I accepted a winemaking job in Portugal through a connection I made at SSU. I wouldn't be a Master Sommelier today if I hadn't attended Sonoma State. The connections I made there changed the trajectory of my life." In 2011 Ian won the Best Young Sommelier in the World gold medal in Greece and the same year won the US Top Somm Competition. In 2012, Ian passed the Master Sommelier Examination. Most recently, he starred in the documentary film "Somm" in which the director followed him for three years throughout his course of study, through the ups and downs, and eventual triumphs.
Brandon studied Economics as an undergraduate and went on to complete the Executive MBA program as part of Cohort 2. He admits to similar feelings of gratitude towards the University. "I don't think I would have ever done this [SommSelect] had I not gone through the EMBA program. I think I would be plugging away as a sales guy in the wine racket, making money, being happy and providing for my family....but this is completely different, this is a dream."
There is no denying that the duo takes their education seriously. When asked how higher education affects the way they run their business, Brandon and Ian don't hesitate to answer.
"Education gave me the right energy and focus. School teaches you to complete a task. What do we need to do to get from A to B? My education taught me how to formulate a structured plan, stay focused and follow through. I'm still learning this though, " says Ian with a smile, "I mean, I'm like everyone, I'd rather have a glass of wine and watch the sunset than study, but higher education trains you to value that focus you need in order to complete a task at hand."
Brandon says the professors and people he was able to build relationships with through his studies at SSU are invaluable, especially Rob Eyler, Professor of Economics.
"Rob is a great guy. He's been a mentor of mine since I was an undergrad. Before we moved forward with SommSelect we had coffee with Rob and I asked him, 'Is this a viable business model? Do we even move forward with this?' And Rob was the guy who said, 'I think you've got something here'. I value his opinion and advice. His mentorship has been invaluable."
Brandon and Ian approach their business model with a refreshing sense of focused enjoyment. While undoubtedly serious and structured, the backbone of their mission is rooted in passion and positivity.
"Surround yourself with positive people," Ian says, when asked what advice he would give to other young entrepreneurs. "Positive energy is huge. And my dad always told me, 'If you're passionate about what you do, you'll never work a day in your life'. Keep your passion at the center of everything you do."
Brandon nods his head in agreement and adds, "Exactly, get that negative energy out and keep it out. My dad's famous sales cliché was always 'Work hard, tell the truth'. That has always stuck with me. I think if we keep that as the moral compass of SommSelect, we'll go far."
SommSelect is set to launch in March 2014. To subscribe for free visit www.sommselect.com