The key to startup success is often about having an idea so simple that once you’ve thought of it, you wonder why no one else has done it before. For Santiago Navarro, that lightbulb moment came when he considered how wine could be better delivered to people’s homes. “After having given the problem weeks and weeks of thought, I had the eureka moment of flattening a wine bottle – or another way of seeing it is taking a cross section of the wine bottle shape – so that it would fit through a letterbox but [still] look like the bottles we all know and love,” he explains.
Up until then, wine bottles had been big, clunky and prone to break during deliveries. Moreover, they usually required additional packaging that meant they wouldn’t fit inside the letterbox. Not only did Navarro’s simple solution make it easier to deliver wine but it also paid homage to the heritage and tradition of wine. “[It] meant we achieved maximum emotional benefits whilst also being functionally and sustainably beneficial too,” he explains. Thanks to this final push as well as the founder taking part in London & Partners’ Business Growth Programme, Garçon Wines, the wine delivery startup, was poised to become an e-commerce success.
Fortunately, Navarro was well-placed to leverage the idea, having already spearheaded the launch and growth of his wine startup Vinopic Wines. That combined with his friendship with Joe Revell, founder of the flexible co-working space startup HelloSpace, enabled Navarro to take advantage of his lightbulb moment. “[It] put me in a unique position to team up with Joe to forge a co-founder partnership to solve the millennial problem of inefficient wine delivery,” he says.
While a great idea is vital to succeed, no startup can scale without money. Recognising this, the founders began by bootstrapping the early stages of the company when they were still researching the business opportunity. “During this period, I did consultancy work on the side to have the income to be able to sustain my cost of living and the money needed for the business expenses,” Navarro explains. Fortunately, the founders would soon have an opportunity to get their hands on some serious capital when they heard about a show produced by CNBC and the e-commerce giant Alibaba – Pop Up Start Up. Not only did they sign up and win the competition and the £20,000 prize but they also benefitted in more ways. “It provided us with the opportunity and connections to prototype our flat bottle, which, before that stage, had only existed in drawings,” Navarro says. “The TV show was a platform for us to start curating the reputational traction through media coverage which has been key to our growth and global recognition.”
Having established a platform through their appearance on the TV programme, the founders filled their coffers even more by convincing an angel investor to inject capital into Garçon Wines. “Nowadays, I fund the business through convertible debt as we get to the point of raising a considerably larger external investment round,” Navarro reveals.
The company has also benefitted from partnering up with London & Partners. Navarro initially reached out to the organisation in 2017 when he was planning Garçon Wines overseas expansion. Following a few initial conversations, it didn’t take long before the founders found themselves taking part in the organisation’s Business Growth Programme, which offers free impartial business advice and support to SMEs looking to grow across London.
Launched in July 2017, the programme has gone on to help nearly 400 companies realise their growth ambitions. Partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund and offering in excess of £5,000 worth of support, the programme did to Navarro what it does to every other business signing up to the programme, it helped him unlock Garçon Wines’ potential by identifying barriers to growth and providing tailored solutions including mentoring, workshops, business growth advice and opportunities across its London network.
And it’s safe to say he is more than satisfied with the experience. “The learnings are many, more than I’d be able to cover in an article,” he says.” I guess the key learning is that there are organisations and initiatives whose raison d’être it is to help fledgling companies thrive and grow and it’s important to collaborate with these to help increase one’s chance of success. Nine in ten early-stage companies fail and so using all opportunities, resources [and] partners to ensure you’re in the 10% that will succeed is fundamentally important.”
And he’s making no secret of the fact that the collaboration with London & Partners has done just that. “Thanks to the engagement with [them], both during the programme and also after as a result of their recent development to create and support an alumni network, we’ve grown to be better connected and informed,” he says. Navarro is especially excited about how the Business Growth Programme enabled Garçon Wines to tap into an extensive network to help them connect with people and organisations they’d otherwise wouldn’t have had access to. “London & Partners’ support in the growth of Garçon Wines has been so great that I also recommended that my second startup, innovative hotel booking company Nightly.travel, also join the [Business Growth Programme], which has also happened and once again that has proven a success,” Navarro says.
With these partnerships in place, it’s safe to say that Garçon Wines has ramped up its expansion immensely. In April 2018, the scaleup secured a product launch with Bloom & Wild, the UK pioneer of letterbox flower deliveries. More importantly, the company has already registered its intellectual property in 35 different countries. So be ready for some serious international growth in the years ahead. “Our first steps will be to move into the North American markets,” he says. From there he plans to expand the brand to “everywhere where wine is consumed,” which initially means across North America, Australia and Europe.
And that’s not even half of it. “I also expect that within the next three years, we will have successfully expanded the range and use of our products into many different channels, across many countries and even containing different beverages,” Navarro says. The list of different initiatives includes growing into corporate and consumer gifting, online retailing, subscription services, impulse purchasing, travel retail, festivals and events, outdoor consumption and street food dining. “In summary, flat wine bottles are an innovation which offer many benefits to different businesses and I hope that within three years they will be entrenched as a viable and widespread alternative to round glass bottles, surpassing all other alternative primary packaging formats such as can, bag-in-box, pouch, etcetera,” he concludes.
We can’t wait to savour the news about where the startup will go next.
This article comes courtesy of London & Partners’ Business Growth Programme. Tailored to your business growth ambitions, the programme offers free impartial business advice and support to SMEs looking to grow across London.