Their book about saving Barefoot Wine from the verge of bankruptcy and transforming the company into an industry leader became a New York Times bestseller. Now, the two entrepreneurs are going to divulge how they changed their fortunes.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, who started the company with limited sources, will share their experiences and insights at the latest installment of the Dean’s Leadership Forum hosted by the College of Business Administration on Tuesday, April 18.
“The lessons we learned apply to all businesses,” Houlihan says. “We are asked the same two questions from students all over the world: ‘What keeps you going in the face of adversity?’ and ‘How do you prepare for the unknown?’ ”
Houlihan and Harvey have spoken at more than 50 colleges and universities that teach entrepreneurship in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Their book, “The Barefoot Spirit, How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand,” is used in business schools.
The Dean’s Leadership Forum aims to inspire and motivate future leaders to transform business and society. Past speakers include FUBU apparel founder and “Shark Tank” star Daymond John and hostage survivor Capt. Richard Phillips.
Houlihan and Harvey will recount their humble company beginnings from the laundry room of their rented farmhouse in 1986 to their ascension to the board room of the world’s largest wine brand.
“Barefoot Wine, with its colorful packaging and laid back attitude, disrupted the wine industry at a time when it was exclusive, staid and snobby,” Houlihan says. “Cal Poly Pomona prides itself in doing things differently, and so do we.”
Void of industry experience and eschewing traditional marketing, Houlihan and Harvey began their enterprise with an initial investment of 18,000 cases. Barefoot Wine sold 18.1 million cases in 2015, according to the industry’s Impact Databank.
“There is a misconception that startups need substantial investments from well-connected venture capitalists to succeed,” says Erik Rolland, dean of the College of Business Administration. “Michael and Bonnie outsmarted and outworked their way to the summit of the wine industry.”
The forum will start at 7 p.m. in the Bronco Student Center’s Ursa Major. Tickets are free and can be reserved at https://houlihanandharvey.eventbrite.com.