Decisions: Rowan Gormley, Naked Wines

The wine expert on dumping his job in the City, setting up a business in Richard Branson's house and why he should have invested in Dell.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

MY BEST DECISION...

...was to dump my job in the City, which paid an eye-watering amount, take a 60% pay cut, and set up Virgin Money (and, five years later, Virgin Wines) in Richard Branson's son's bedroom. At the time, I was working in private equity and I had only met Branson once or twice through a deal that I was working on. One day, though, I got a phone call and this guy said: 'Hi, this is Richard Branson.' I went to see him and that was it.

Another good one was when I was setting up Naked Wines. Because we were starting just after Lehman Brothers went bust, we had to figure out a way of doing it which meant we could compete with companies such as Tesco and Sainsbury's.

We decided to do the opposite of what they do. Instead of roughing up our producers and squeezing them on price, we invest in them and make them love us to bits. All they have to do is make the wine: we design the labels, pack it, ship it, sell it and market it - which means a talented wine-maker can focus on being a talented wine-maker.

MY WORST DECISION...

... was not investing in Dell. I'd just arrived in the UK, I had a new job and I went to this meeting where there were 15 bankers from Goldman Sachs, myself, and this American college kid - who turned out to be Michael Dell. They pitched this whole idea and I was sitting there, dazed. I went back to the office and said it sounds really impressive - but the guys said: 'Nah. This kind of thing never works. We don't really do technology.'

My other big mistake was in the early days of setting up Virgin Wines. In short, I believed my own bullshit. We got lots of great publicity about how Virgin was going to shake up the wine business. There was lots of glowing stuff about me.

In reality, we hadn't thought it through. It wasn't an original idea - all we did was set up a wine shop online and call it Virgin. It took ages to admit that it didn't work. When we eventually did, we had to cut the staff by 18%, get rid of the fancy office, relocate to a grubby loft in Norwich and start again. After that, all of a sudden, we made things work.

- Rowan Gormley's new venture, Wine Demon, launches this month

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