From Cabernets to Chardonnays, Alyssa Rapp loves wine. While serving as copresident of the wine club at Stanford, where she earned her MBA, the young entrepreneur decided to parlay her passion into a career. “I realized something seismic was happening in the wine industry, with people under 40 becoming more interested in it, and with greater access to imports than ever before,” says Rapp, 32.
Fresh out of Stanford in 2005, she founded Bottlenotes Inc., which started out as a custom wine-delivery operation tailored to individual customers’ tastes. When the economy tanked and regulations around Internet shipments of wine became more stringent, Rapp’s team of seven decided to switch business models and turn Bottlenotes into one of the leading digital media companies in the wine world.
Bottlenotes is now a favorite online destination for 20- and 30-somethings who are new to wine or are curious about it. A kind of “Facebook for wine,” as Rapp puts it, the site offers wine recommendations and lets newbies and aficionados add tasting notes and share information. A mobile phone app will soon allow users to share their wine thoughts and tasting experiences while on the go.
The company makes money by selling ads and info bites that appear on the site from a wide variety of purveyors of wine, cheese, chocolate, and more. “If their products and services tie into wine and the wine lifestyle, then it makes sense that their brand would be interested in reaching our wine enthusiasts,” says Rapp.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the company runs large-scale “Around the World in 80 Sips” wine-tasting events in major cities, each of which helps support a local nonprofit.
Rapp’s recommendations to aspiring entrepreneurs: “Build a prototype and test your idea as early as possible, and get a top-notch board of advisors. That’s been key to our success.” DW