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May 12, 2009

Sparkling wine, chocolate, pigs, and a man we would like to have dinner with…

…and not just because he looks like Robert Redford!

John Scharffenberger has a fascinating entrepreneurial story. He has been the founder and leader of 3 businesses (Scharffenberger Cellars – bought out completely in the mid 90s, Scharffenberger Chocolates – sold in 2006, and upcoming third venture focused on curated Iberian-like ham). Each of his businesses has focused making accessible American counterparts to exclusive international delicacies. He hasn’t sought to compete or replicate these international products but instead expand the number of people who enjoyed these like products.

Scharffenberger was recently profiled by Inc magazine writer Arthur Lubow in an article called
"The Tastemaker" and another wonderful comprehensive piece was written in US News World Report in 2006. Both are an enchanting reads full of entrepreneurial lessons.

It seems that he has applied much of the same approach to each of the businesses: pursuit of a new idea, thoughtful tinkering to achieve product perfection, experimentation with several business models, tons of hands on involvement, (so far) using the Scharffenberger name, leveraging creative fund raising strategies among other things, and investing a tremendous amount himself.

But the stories are not without hiccups and challenges. His exit from the Scharffenberger Cellars serves as a cautionary tale of selling majority interests to larger companies and staying on. His partnerships in Scharffenberger Chocolate illustrate all the cliché pros and cons of partnership.

However, at the end of each venture (and each profiles mentions a handful of other entrepreneurial attempts and side ventures as well including EaglePoint Ranch Winery located on the Scharffenberger family ranch), Scharffenberger seems excited and determined to do it again. What an entrepreneur.

Food for Thought:

* How would you apply your same winning business technique to another venture?

* How are your business philosophy, mission, or vision transferrable to another venture?

* What lessons have you learned that would help you with your next venture?

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