Published November 11, 2011
33-year-old Philip James is selling wine on a website. That’s not a novel idea.
What’s unique is that he only sells a few, hand-picked wines at a time--with an editorial explaining where it’s from and what it tastes like. It’s also significant to note that in a year his startup Lot18 has grown to over 600,000 users and received almost $43 million in capital.
“Lot18 is a site that provides insider access,” said James. “So we have a team of procurement specialists scouring the U.S. So, for instance, some Oregon high-end pinot noir that isn’t sold outside of Oregon because all the locals buy it—we will work with the wineries and brings a batch of that wine to our consumers.”
The Oxford University undergrad, who grew up in the English countryside, said he became interested in wine — part of the $40 billion dollar spirits industry—because the U.S. has such a lucrative market.
“6 out of 10 adult Americans drink wine every month,” he said. “It’s a massive industry.”
Since Lot18’s start in November 2010 it has branched out to selling gourmet goods and “experiences” to places like Sonoma and Napa Valley.
James, who also started another successful startup called Snooth, said he is thrilled about his company’s triumph so far. But the Columbia Business school alum, with his quintessential English self-deprecating nature, stays gracefully modest.
As for advice to other entrepreneurs, he said, just keep going.
“I took a lot of entrepreneurship classes at Columbia but I always got rejected from the business plan contest. There was also a business entrepreneurship class. I got rejected from the class – they said my idea wasn’t good enough. And this business plan workshop where you were supposed to work on a company you were incubating – I got rejected from that too. In hindsight, it was quite funny but at the time was quite a bit depressing.
Six Shooter with Lot18's Philip James
What is your favorite quote and why?
"If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!"
“If” by Rudyard Kipling
We don't have long on Earth, and the quote is a reminder to live a full life.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
Professionally, I'm inspired by the great business people of today, none more so than Richard Branson, the original "adventure capitalist." He's started more than 200 businesses, and he hot-air ballooned around the world. Everything he's done has helped build the Virgin brand.
What do you wish you had more of: time or money?
Time, by a long margin. It's immutable, moves in just one direction, and we can't generate it – only save it.
Why is Lot 18 going to succeed?
For the reasons that most other wine sites haven't. We put the utmost care into curating excellent wines and providing superior customer service to resolve issues as quickly as possible. Our members want to come back to the site for more.
Why is Philip James going to succeed?
Do I have to answer this question? With luck, you can ask me this in 20 years...
What is your biggest tip to other entrepreneurs?
As a founder you'll be asked to make decisions when you only have 10 percent of the information you need. Get used to that knot in your stomach – it's always there. Eventually, there'll be a team that can support you with data-driven decision making, but at first that doesn't exist. So embrace the fact that you started your company because you were passionate about fixing something, and let your internal compass guide your decisions.
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