The MBA startup built on 8000 years of wine history
For twenty years Irakli Svanidze believed his biggest ambition was to build a career in the corporate world. In fact, he joined RSM's OneMBA programme for that very reason. When the Personal Leadership Programme urged him to investigate his roots, he discovered a deep desire to reconnect with is Georgian roots and long-standing family tradition of artisanal winemaking. He is now using his busines acumen and MBA skills to grow his successful wine startup 8Millennium, built on 8000 years of history.
Growing up on the family vineyard in rural Georgia, it didn’t take long for Svanidze to get involved in winemaking, he says: “My grandfather was a wine maker and at ten, I was already helping out in the fields and winery. My studies and the start of my career in procurement took me out of the vineyard and eventually out of the country.”
Personal Leadership Programme
In the Personal Leadership Programme students are asked to investigate their own backstory and motivations. “The classroom discussions and coaching sessions are really intense and personal. I learned that to be successful, you have to go where the energy is. I found that my childhood memories were my source of energy. So, that was the direction I decided to take.”
Not only had the passion for the wine business returned, the finance and management courses allowed Irakli to analyse the family business from fresh angles: “In the MBA you are trained to shape a business from all perspectives to gain competitive advantage and maximise value creation. Basically, I haven’t needed to rely on external advisors.”
“To understand the value of our wines and my business model, you first have to know that in 2013, an 8000-year old amphora (‘Qvevri’ in Georgian) was discovered in Georgia with traces of grapes in it. Archeological analsysis revealed that the clay jugs were used for what is now seen as the earliest recorded instance of winemaking. Our wines are produced not only with exactly the same grape, but also the same methods: you won’t see a tractor in our vineyard, we don’t use additives, we don’t filtrate wine. The wine is even stored in the same type of amphoras. That makes for a beautiful product with such an interesting story!”
Over the last few years, the stars began to align in ways unexpected. Svanidze’s brother, the winemaker-in-chief, started winning international acclaim and gold medals with their latest wines. Then the European Union signed a trade agreement with Georgia, allowing for easier import. Finally, around that time consumers started developing an appetite for ‘nature wines’. All in all, the time was right. Just before the global Covid-19 pandemic Svanidze received his import license and was officially good to go.
“This year has been a big commercial success for me, despite the pandemic, but in a way also because of it. It actually gave me time to work out the best market approach and pricing model for example. Most of our B2C wine sales have been through the website anyway, so when consumers turned to online shopping during lockdown, we were ready. Still, I have comfortably exceeded every sales target I set for the year.”
But how do you scale-up a company that can only produce a limited number bottles a year?
“That is tricky”, acknowledges Svanidze. “Our vineyard is one of many in Georgia that works according to these methods, so I decided to import some of their wines as well. Very soon I will offer 26 wines around different price points.”
Even with growing wine sales, he will stay true to why he started this company in the first place: “What better way to share the wine’s unique history than to open a wine bar here in the Netherlands. Or even better, a hotel in Georgia, so people at some point can come over and see with their own eyes why I love this wine so much and experience something truly unique.”