SO, HOW MUCH WINE CAN YOU SELL OUT OF A GARAGE?
Answer: Not a lot.
But that's what Ryan was doing.
He was making wine in his garage. He was selling a few hundred cases a year. Legally. His landlord let him have the garage bonded as a winery by the Feds so it was all above board and he was paying his excise tax.
And understand, this is the Napa Valley.
Stories like this one are not that unusual.
Here's the problem: even if it's really good wine, nobody gets rich on a few hundred cases of wine a year.
IN A WAY, RYAN WAS THAT FABLED GUY WHO WOULD PERFORM BRAIN SURGERY ON HIMSELF
He just had to figure out how to stay awake during the operation.
That is one of the classic definitions of an entrepreneur.
The driven guy with the hyphenated job title who does it all himself.
Winemaker, Chief Bottle Washer & Brain Surgeon.
However, it seems that Ryan was not the egomaniac who insists on staying the brain surgeon.
One day, at a wine event he was running, Ryan met Crystal.
Crystal is a dynamo.
When she met Ryan, her career was vibrant and vigorous. She was getting on jets and going places. She was moving and shaking and making stuff happen for big companies.
CRYSTAL AND RYAN ALSO KNEW THEY HAD A CONNECTION
But they didn't hook up right away.
After the event, the Napa winemaker and the corporate shaker went their separate ways.
But that didn't last long.
Geography couldn't keep them apart, and good wine brought them together.
Crystal became the yin to Ryan's yang.
They married, and she joined the winery in the garage.
Fast forward to today. It's no longer in a garage. It's in a huge cave.
With Crystal's help, Ryan gets to focus on the winemaking instead of the brain surgery, so to speak. He focuses on the science and the art of turning grapes into liquid poetry.
Meanwhile, Crystal works a different kind of science and art: that of winning friends and influencing people. She handles the sales and marketing.
AND IN THE PROCESS, SHE DEVELOPED ANOTHER KIND OF POETRY
She has created the entrepreneurial poetry of building a desirable cult brand.
Through a combination of evocative personal touch and scarcity, she has helped attract legions of dedicated followers.
She also made it happen by doing something that would scare the pants off of a lot of business owners.
While Ryan began making more wine, and the hundreds of cases turned into thousands, Crystal made that wine harder to get.
No more retail.
No more restaurants.
Sales direct to the customer only.
And preferably, through a club-membership model.
YES, MEMBERSHIP DOES HAVE ITS PRIVILEGES
Make a better product.
Make it harder to get.
Make it available on a monthly subscription.
And you know what happens?
By cutting out the middleman and selling the product for what it's worth at retail, you double your margin. And boy are these wines worth far more than the retail price. Phenomenal.
By making it rare, it's made more desirable. They don't even sell it on their own website for the most part. As Crystal likes to say, "It feels like you need to know somebody to get it."
By making it available on a club basis, the worth of each sale is far more than just a single accidental retail purchase.
And by winning friends and influencing people, you create a steadfast and enthusiastic group of supporters who are there for you. Your die-hard fans help keep you in business and love your product.
THIS IS A FAMILY BUSINESS WHERE THE CUSTOMERS ARE LIKE FAMILY
Yes, it sounds like a cliché.
A cliché that yours truly has railed against.
Fortunately, in this case, it's true in the best way possible.
This was very much in evidence in the wake of the Napa fires.
Crystal says that she handles all the customer service, which means she handles a whole lot of email.
With the fires, the amount of email was overwhelming, all of it inquiring about the health and welfare of the family.
Crystal, who typically expedites such things, said that it was taking her weeks to catch up and let everyone know they were OK.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED HERE IS A LOVE FOR THE BUSINESS MADE INDEED MADE MANFIEST IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE
Talk to Ryan, and it's clear that he has a love for people, and for the science and the art of making wine.
He also has a word for the kinds of wines he likes to make: "Balanced."
In an age when it seems like vintners are trying desperately to show the world they can make wines that punch you in the face with a particular quality, he's making wines that invite you in and seduce you.
Talk to Crystal, and it's clear that she has a love for people and for sharing her husband's craft with them.
Talk to Crystal and Ryan together, and it's clear they have a love for each other. It's also clear that the business is a labor of that love. And it has balance.
Ryan has another word, this one for the reason why the business and the brand work.
THAT WORD IS: "RESPECT"
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I interviewed the two of them for the CoupleCo podcast.
And more than once in previous CoupleCo interviews, the husband has said, unsolicited and in no uncertain terms, the reason why the relationship and the business work is because of respect.
Ryan was just the most recent.
Also, something else happens when we're recording these podcasts: Honey and I get the best seats in the house.
We get to watch two people who never expected to be hearing the things they're hearing, about their business and their marriage, from each other.
It has been revealing.
It's also humbling. As Honey repeatedly says, "It makes me want to be a better couple."
And the thing about being a better couple in business together is it makes for a better business.
WHY IS A COUPLE LIKE CRYSTAL AND RYAN SO FASCINATING?
We've been pondering this.
And we think the answer is in something another one of the CoupleCo couples said in their interview: "It's not just your business. It's your whole life."
And the woman who said that is dead on.
It's one of the reasons we've found couplepreneurs so interesting to interview, and why so many people who aren't in business with a spouse are enjoying the test podcasts we've given them.
It's not just about being in business together. It's about risking everything.
In a culture where the marriage ideal is to live happily ever after? Running a business together throws all of that into question.
Because it IS your whole life.
IT'S ABOUT TWO PEOPLE WANTING TO MAKE THEIR LIFE EXACTLY THE WAY THEY WANT IT
And the odds seem enormous.
The deck is stacked in the other guy's favor.
And if a husband and wife business goes down in flames (or up in flames, as has been happening in Napa), what does that mean for life, the universe and everything?
Looking at Crystal and Ryan, and the fabulous business that has grown from a rental garage a decade ago, there's fortunately no need to answer that question.
They've survived the fires, this epic challenge, and their business is as strong as ever.
It's pretty cool.
If you want to know more about Crystal and Ryan's winery, visit www.waughfamilywines.com.
And if you want to visit Napa right now, the place is open for business. Honey and I spent an astonishing week there.
While you can see what the fires have done, you can also see the majority of the place, which is untouched and glorious, a joyful and thriving place full of entrepreneurs like Ryan and Crystal who are happy to welcome you.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
If you were here for the last two installments of the screed, you know that we've been ranting about an internationally famous cult brand that is sexy and enormously profitable.
That brand is filled with azure blue waters, white-sand beaches, suntanned, nearly naked customers, and the Caribbean's best pizza.
Here now, something else.
Here now, an internationally famous cult brand that is unsexy.
It is unlikely to ever be profitable.
It is filled with sweat, blood, grime, thorns, blisters and ridicule.
Customers around the world clamor to do business with this brand--and few ever get the opportunity.
AND IF THEY DO GET THAT OPPORTUNITY?
They can be guaranteed to endure pain, exhaustion and mockery.
Welcome to the Barkley Marathons.
Never heard of the Barkley Marathons?
You've certainly heard of the Boston Marathon.
It's the world's oldest annual marathon, established in 1897.
It is also notoriously difficult to qualify. And its economic impact on the city of Boston is estimated at over $170 million.
The Boston Marathon is the mac daddy brand of organized running.
Everyone who runs wants to get to Boston.
But maybe that's not you. Maybe you're just thinking of getting off the sofa and reaching for your running shoes instead of another slice of pizza.
SOMEWHERE, THERE IS A RACE FOR YOU
And if you want an "epic" distance, you can probably find a Rock & Roll Marathon near you. They presently run more than 30 events in nine countries.
The owner of the Rock & Roll Marathons was sold to a capital group in 2014 for $250 million.
Their races support you like crazy.
They have water, sports beverages, energy foods, aid stations, live bands, encouragement and cheering all along course.
And whether your distance is a half marathon or a full marathon, at the finish, there is always a medal waiting for you. (I should know. I usually finish in the middle of the pack, yet I have medals from half a dozen half marathons, one full marathon, and five triathlons.)
Organized road racing is a national phenomenon. Running USA tells us that in 2015, over 16 million people competed in an organized road race.
ALSO IN 2015, NOT A SINGLE RUNNER FINISHED THE BARKLEY MARATHONS
So what the hell?
The Barkley Marathons has become known as, "The race that eats its young."
Founded in 1986, it has been finished only 19 times by 15 runners.
The brainchild of a former ultra-marathoner in Tennessee, finishing The Barkley is almost impossible.
In fact, it's almost impossible to enter.
There is no official information anywhere about how to enter, how to contact the organizer, when the race is--and after you've entered, there isn't even an official start time. It's all at the whim of race organizer Lazarus Lake.
If you do figure out how to enter, the entry fee is $1.60. Your entry fee must be accompanied by an essay: "Why I Should be Allowed to Run in the Barkley."
AND IF YOUR ESSAY PERSUADES LAZARUS THAT YOU ARE BARKLEY MATERIAL?
He sends you a condolence letter.
"Dear Runner's Name, it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that your name has been selected for the Barkley Marathons."
He suggests that while you could spend the next several months in rigorous training, that time would be better spent putting your affairs in order and updating your will.
Or, you could come to your senses, bow out and he'll pass your entry to some other "unfortunate fool."
He will never tell you what time the race starts.
He will never reveal the course until the day of.
He will merely require that you and 39 other unfortunate fools arrive in Tennessee's Frozen Head State Park at the appointed time, at the infamous yellow gate, and wait.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN TO START?
Sometime between midnight and noon of race day, Lazarus Lake will blow on a conch shell.
That signals one hour until the start.
One hour later, he signals the start by striking a match and lighting his Camel cigarette.
Then, you and 39 others will be off.
It's a little different than starting the New York Marathon with tens of thousands of joyful goofballs shuffling along to a big-ass PA system belting out Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York."
IN THE BARKLEY, YOU WILL RUN A LOOP THAT LAZARUS CLAIMS IS 20 MILES LONG
Runners who've done it claim the loop is 26 miles.
You will attempt to run that loop five times in 60 hours.
Over those 60 hours, you will attempt to run the equivalent of five full marathons with an accumulated elevation gain of 54,000 feet.
And you will fail.
There will be no organized support, no aid stations, no live bands.
And there will be no medal.
But you will have survived areas of a course with names like Rat Jaw, Little Hell, The Bad Thing, and Testicle Spectacle.
YOU ARE IN THE BARKLEY
How did this all happen?
Why do hundreds of runners from around the world annually compete for 40 slots in this barely organized madness?
And of those hundreds of runners, who do so many of them shoot for the one, single slot open to the "sacrificial virgin," the one entrant deemed to have no hope at all of completing even one loop?
Welcome to the cult.
No prize money.
No 15 minutes of fame.
At best, you get a hearty handshake.
Lazarus Lake is relentless.
If you come in from one loop of the race and even look like you're going to drop out, he will goad you into doing more.
IF THAT FAILS, YOU THEN GET TO ENDURE THE BUGLER
The bugler announces your failure in the Barkley by playing taps.
Most years, taps is played at least 39 times.
Frequently, it is played 40 times, once for each failed runner. Once for every man and woman who made the attempt and went down in flames.
Like in 2015--when more 16 million Americans competed in an organized road race, and a year after the Rock & Roll Marathons organizer was sold for a quarter billion dollars--nobody completed the Barkley Marathons.
Somehow, there is one runner, a guy from Salt Lake, who has never heard taps played for himself. He's finished the race three times.
His name is Jared Campbell. And his blog is really interesting.
In talking about the Barkley, he uses words like "quiet," "introspective," "exhaustion," "exploits," "heroes," and "tireless. He also uses phrases like, "dark challenges," "preventable disasters," "swallow the pain," and "The Final Hallucination."
YES, THE RACERS WHO GET FAR ENOUGH WILL HALLUCINATE
And in a world of overprotective fussing in the big business that is organized road racing, Mr. Campbell's blog elucidates the appeal of the Barkley Marathons.
He refers to it as less a running race and more a psychological and social experiment.
He says it has taught him lessons about life, himself, and others.
That it has shaped who he is and how he looks at life.
And I get it.
As a guy who has twice crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a sailboat, who has spent nights alone on deck in the dark while the wind is blowing stink, having heated, one-sided conversations with the deity, and who has occasionally wondered whether This Is It, I get it.
It's a test. And it changes you.
The Barkley is something most people will never experience.
It is Everest.
NOT THE PAY-YOUR-MONEY-AND-BE-LED-UP-THE-ROPES EVEREST
It is the Everest of Hillary.
It is the Everest of the psyche.
It is the Everest of the soul.
It is a tight-knit group, a brother- and sisterhood, a dare, a genuine and immense challenge in an age marked by coddling and prefabrication and the inanity that is social media.
The Barkley is something that is becoming ever more difficult to find.
The Barkley core customer is a runner who craves a test of the mind, body and spirit.
And the one way that core customer should feel is that the Barkley is unabashedly authentic.
In the social, psychological and physical insulation of the 21st century, authenticity is dead.
Long live authenticity.
Condolences for entering the Barkley.
You will enjoy ridicule.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.