Adam Levy is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in New York and co-founder of NetTects, a technology solutions company providing secure network solutions. A serial entrepreneur, he also runs alcoholprofessor.com and is founder and CEO of International Beverage Competitions, a series of wine, beer and spirit competitions held around the world. We asked Adam how a business failure helped him find his passion. Here's what he shared:
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.
The entrepreneurial "spirit" is in my blood--my mother, uncle and both grandfathers each had their own businesses--so I always knew I would start and run my own company. I flourished working for small startups in the tech industry, then focused on continuing my education with an Executive MBA. I was on the lookout for the right opportunity and started a company called Brooklyn Gear, which failed, but led me to reassess my interests. That's why I started my passion projects in the wine, beer and spirits world and co-founded an internet security company.
What was your biggest failure?
It was starting and keeping Brooklyn Gear, right after 9/11. I lost a good friend from business school when the twin towers came down and was strongly affected by it, as I was living across the river from ground zero. I was running US operations for a struggling tech startup but felt it was time to make a change.
My best friend--who was like a brother to me--was in the music equipment industry. I traveled with him to trade shows and met the industry players. He and his business partner were splitting; I saw an opportunity to start a new company.
In January 2002, we started Brooklyn Gear. We manufactured music equipment in Korea, China and India, handled artist relations for the bass players of Bon Jovi, Destiny's Child and Prince, and distributed product in the US and internationally. All this, and I didn't even play a musical instrument or have a genuine passion for the industry--I just wanted to own a business and make money. I bought my partner out, losing our friendship forever. I spent without paying attention to how much I was losing. I was quite enamored with myself for running my own company.
Looking back, I was a walking Harvard Business School case study for why you should never get into a business you know nothing about and have no passion for. In the end, I lost all of my money and nearly lost my marriage.
But I gained a valuable insight: I wanted to build something that I could be passionate about for the next several decades.
What inspired you to become involved in the spirits industry?
At first, I was a craft beer freak, but as my palate changed, I was drawn to the whiskey world and found a terrific group of fellow whiskey fans. I started attending consumer events and met trade people including master distillers who welcomed my interest, as the whiskey boom had not yet begun.
I found a passion for the industry and soon began writing for magazines and websites. Eventually, I hatched the idea for the Alcohol Professor, a website where we answer questions about cocktails, wine and beer, and feature other timely topics from the world of spirits. We view it as a "prosumer" site because a lot of domestic and international trade people read it, in addition to consumers. I wanted to make the site upscale but approachable--a place where people could find unique, high-end ideas without having to tackle complex recipes that contain hard-to-find ingredients or require you to marinade cherries for 10 hours.
How did you differentiate your international beverage competitions from other well-established events?
Years ago, I was disheartened to learn that more than 83 percent of entrants won medals at many international competitions--including most of the well-known west coast events and the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. To me, that felt like the equivalent of giving out grade-school soccer participation ribbons.
As a consumer and journalist, I wanted to curate a more ethical, equitable competition rather than one where high entry fees appeared to increase your chances of winning a medal--and I decided to do so in my hometown, New York.
I started a merit-based spirit competition--the only international event judged by trade buyers from top restaurants, retail stores, distributors and importers.
What separates us from other competitions is that all of our judges are actual trade buyers judging the liquid by its category and retail price--as if they are buying it for their own business.
The industry responded very positively to this concept. It wasn't long before we expanded from spirits to wine and beer, and then from New York to Melbourne, Berlin and Hong Kong.
I'm honored that our competitions are well-respected by trade professionals, along with consumers and journalists. The trade respects our method and medals because our judges can directly impact a brand's sales.
On average, fewer than 50 percent of entries win a medal in our competitions. This empowers buyers in smaller, secondary markets to buy based upon our medals--because they can be confident that their peers judged it as if they were buying it.
What's the most surprising thing you've learned about the industry?
It's full of people who are passionate about their brand and the products they make and sell. That's great to see. I've learned that it's a very welcoming industry for those who enter with good intentions and want to support it. Finally, maybe the most surprising thing: Some people have asked to buy a gold or double-gold medal from us--because they know our competition medals have meaning and it will positively impact their marketing and sales. I was shocked when that first happened. My reply: "Sorry (not sorry); our medals can only be earned!"