How A (Wine) Glass Half Full Philosophy Created A Small Business Success Story

04/11/2015 6:05 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
Vino Paradiso

For many people it’s a dream to open a small business -- but for Matt Williams and Kieran Tanner their Sydney food and wine festival literally came from a dream.

“I had a dream once and it was incredibly vivid,” Tanner told The Huffington Post Australia.

“Matt and I had a business and we were out to dinner one night celebrating with a glass of champagne and the business was really, really successful.

“And I woke up in the middle of the night with that dream so clear and called Matt the next day and said: ‘This is just so bizarre, I have had this dream and I know we will start something together'.”

Fast forward a few years and the pair -- who are best mates but also first cousins -- are set to stage their second food and wine event, Vino Paradiso.

Both have run small businesses independently in hospitality, fitness and goods imports, but Tanner’s dream literally sparked a long process of research into the events sphere and trying to nut out a business idea based around their shared passion for food and wine.

The pair visited hundreds of food, wine and music festivals around the world (yep, a tough gig in the name of research) to identify what they thought current Aussie events were missing.

“I’ve said over and over it’s hard to not have a good time at a food and wine festival -- you’re eating and drinking and being merry but we did feel like a lot of them were kind of stale expo-type events,” Williams said.

Tanner says from their research they developed their philosophy of authentic engagement -- allowing the producers the chance to really engage with attendees.

“What we like about food and wine is talking to the people who are creating it,” Tanner said. “There’s something exciting about that -- having a drink of something that someone has put their blood sweat and tears into.

“We kept coming back to that engagement philosophy of putting an event on that showcases the producers and their amazing products to consumers who were hungry and thirsty to engage and consume.”

Tanner clearly loves to dream, but neither are afraid to dream big. Their first event last year included renting a massive 6000sqm space for 130 exhibitors and catering for 10,000 visitors.

And this year’s event will be even bigger, including a move to iconic location The Rocks following an agreement with the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, wineries from 32 of Australia’s finest regions and a supplementary program of live music, interactive art installations, and wine masterclasses.

Williams says starting big could be seen as risky, but they were comfortable to take a leap of faith in their business model.

“The safe mode for us was to get a smaller space and build something over a number of years but neither of us are really wired that way,” he said.

“Somehow we’ve managed to pull it off -- with lots of sleepless nights. It was really a crossroads to decide how much we were going to bite off, and once we had decided that was the direction we were going to take you don’t have any choice but to work towards that and try to be successful.”

Tanner says starting with a big bang wasn’t as scary as it could have been because they were confident in themselves -- and in each other.

“Matt and I believed in a concept,” he said.“We put in literally years of research in it and we really believed in what we were doing.

“Running and starting a business is a risk and we thought if we are going to take the risk, then let’s at least take the risk on the actual concept that we thought would work -- and that concept was a larger venue that was open to a larger group of people.”

Williams says accepting the risks is an integral part of being a small business owner -- and you just need to suck it up.

“When you start any business you’ve really got to be able to sleep with the risk that is happening all around you during the planning phase and the setup,” he said. “If you can’t live with that on a daily basis then you’re probably not wired to start your own business.”

vino paradiso

The Vino Paradiso business model centres on engaging producers directly with consumers.

Getting into business with family can have its pitfalls, but both say their partnership was a no-brainer -- not only because they knew each other so well, but because they have mutual respect and a shared work ethic.

“You can’t choose your family but I wouldn’t have chosen anyone else,” Williams says. “We’ve honestly never had a big disagreement or heated argument and we both compromise a lot.

“Finding the right partner is super important, but neither of us are too stubborn to say ‘it’s my way or the highway’ and I really think you need that sense of compromise in life but definitely in business.”

Tanner says having Matt as a business partner is brilliant because they share so many passions (the Wallabies included) but also because their personalities complement each other.

“I am the worrying partner in this business -- Matt and I work well together because he is a bit calmer and level headed,” Tanner said.

“Matt can be very calm in situations that involve high levels of stress. He was a professional triathlete in his youth and he has learnt to develop and manage those situations with careful evaluations and considerations where I am a bit more impetuous.

“And also to have someone you can bounce ideas off and who can present an alternate view to you builds strength within the business -- because you’re not always right all of the time.”

Vino Paradiso is at The Rocks from November 6-8.

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