Two-thousand and five was the year of the perfect merger and acquisition. It wasn't your typical big-business-buys-a-small-business story, though.
Our merger was one of not just business, but of our entire lives. We got married, we got pregnant, and we founded a business, Heritage Link Brands, which is today the largest importer to the United States of black-produced wine from Africa. It is sold at 1,000 retailers and restaurants across more than 40 states. Here's how it happened.
I married the love of my life, Khary Cuffe. We had met three years earlier while I was a student at the Harvard Business School and Khary was a prospective student. In April of 2005, we got married and recited our vows in Egypt, atop Mount Sinai.
I was 24 years old when I first met Selena while visiting prospective graduate schools in New England. I had no idea that I would meet this young and vibrant businesswoman who would soon become my girlfriend, and later my wife. Within six months of merging our lives as husband and wife, we were on the road to creating our first entrepreneurial venture in founding Heritage Link Brands.
By nature, Selena is an optimist, while I'm definitely a "half empty" kind of guy. But when she called me from Johannesburg in September 2005, I was amazed to learn about South Africa's 350-year history of making wine and astonished, at the same time, that this $3 billion industry had less than 2 percent black ownership in a country where 90 percent of the population is black. We immediately knew there was an opportunity there, and we were determined to make an impact.
Selena shared the details with me from half way around the world, while I was in Massachusetts in the middle of completing a joint program at the Harvard Business School and Kennedy School of Government—totally not planning to start an entrepreneurial venture. But, when opportunity knocks on the door, sometimes you've just got to enter!
Fortunately, we had the benefit of living on campus, the bonus of access to our brilliant and supportive professors, and the belief that there was an opportunity to trade with Africa and expose western consumers to the incredible wine and other products from this great continent. Moreover, as newlyweds, we believed that the sky was the limit. So on October 25, 2005, Heritage Link Brands was born with the intention of transforming select African products into global brands.
Just seven days after we launched the company, I found out that I was pregnant! How could I even sample the product that I was planning to make a household name in the states? What would we do?
In this column, we'll take you on the journey of how we did it all, what was learned along the way, and we hope to impart some entrepreneurial wisdom on you by sharing our experiences around:
How to launch a brand with limited funds, the highs and lows of starting a company with a spouse, how to grow a business (and a family!), innovative ways to grow a business without a load of cash, and how to leverage the power of your network! We'll also take you on a behind-the-scenes of our venture with South Africa's former first family, the House of Mandela.
But what fun would this column be without a weekly wine tip to share? Since food and wine pairings are a dime a dozen, we thought it only fitting to share with Inc.'s readers what wines go best with doing business! "What goes well with brainstorming start up ideas?" We recommend the 2008 One World Shiraz, produced by the Fair Trade community of Koopmanskloof, who's been making wine since 1777. Its plum nose and raspberry palate get the creative juices flowing while its spicy long finish inspires new ideas to harvest.