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Wine and Wisdom ... and Interrelativity

There were lots of insights and experiences involving entrepreneurship, investing and wine flowing at The Rainier Club during last night's Zino Society Roundtable meeting.  As with the last Roundtable meeting, the event offered a unique combination of business and pleasure, with a short keynote address and four investment pitches by entrepreneurs, followed by a wine tasting.  Unlike last month's meeting, Interrelativity deployed a proactive display to help people connect before the meeting started and during the latter portion of the event.  [And due to my focus on this aspect of the event, my notes from other aspects are not as thorough as last time.]

Cathi Hatch, CEO of the Zino Society, led things off with some introductory remarks about the presenters at the Roundtable, as well as highlights from other events organized by the Zino Society, whose mantra is "Connecting investors, wine professionals and enthusiasts—from A to ZINO".  Cathi noted that many of the entrepreneurs who have presented thus far at Roundtable meetings have commented on the "intensive coaching" they received as part of the screening and preparation.  I have been increasingly attentive to various kinds of advisors and advice, and can see the positive outcome of the efforts of the volunteer coaches on the quality of presentations I've seen thus far.

Tom Hedges, co-proprietor of Hedges Family Estate, shared an "Insider's Scoop" about some differences between "old" and "new" styles of winemaking, which I would characterize in terms of elegance and refinement vs. exuberance and [fruit-]forwardness.  Among the trends that are shifting the marketplace toward the new style are the drop in wine consumption in Europe (where the "old" style is dominant) and the rising influence of Robert Parker: Tom suggested that a single 100-point rating from the editor of the bi-monthly Wine Advocate would enable a winemaker to retire. Winemakers often face a choice between producing for profit and producing for love ... a perspective that contrasts with the notion of "do what you love, the money will follow" that I've blogged about recently ... although I can't say that I have been able to demonstrate a linkage between passion and profit in my own venture.

I imagine that the four entrepreneurs who gave their pitches are hoping to establish a linkage between their passions and future profits.  Judy Johnston, CEO of Blue Lake Children's Publishing, shared the story behind the Tessy and Tab Reading Club, a children's magazine offering a fresh approach -- with respect to content ("genuine preschool life experiences") and presentation (lots of images) -- that contrasts with older approaches represented by Highlights for Children, for the 2 to 5-year-old market.  They have already achieved a renewal rate that is twice the industry average, and have a number of other publications in planning of production for older children.

Doug Perednia, M.D., founder and CEO of Kietra Corporation, talked about the pros and cons of paper vs. digital medical records, and showed how Kietra's eXtensible Practice Record (XPR) seeks to take advantage of the best of both worlds, enabling doctors to use paper forms during their interactions with patients, and then applying scanning technology to digitize some of that information (e.g., the diagnostic codes) for later processing, storage and retrieval.  Doug noted that they do not market directly to doctors, who are feeling increasingly pinched, but instead market to medical billing companies, and to medical billing software vendors (whose customers are medical billing companies), who in turn encourage their customers (ultimately, doctors and their staffs) to use the specialized forms by passing on some of the cost savings.

Chad Stevens, president and CEO of Signature Destinations, talked about the motivations behind this regionally-oriented resort club: offering greater availability than most time-share programs (a 6:1 member to property ratio), and fewer hassles and restrictions than owning multiple homes.  Another distinguishing characteristic is their focus on regional "hubs" -- destinations from which a number of short excursions are possible.

Fred Ledbetter, CEO of CourtTrax Corporation, presented their vertical content search solution for a horizontal market, offering a single user interface to a variety of professionals seeking information from the 4500 database systems that underly the 80 court systems across the United States.  Given the range -- and age -- of these systems, individually querying them can be extremely time-consuming.

After the presentations were over, Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges poured samples of all of the Hedges Family Estate current releases, and Ron Yabut of Austin Robaire Vintners was pouring his 2002 Ryson Reserve Cabernet and "4th Street" Syrah.  I wasn't able to sample as much as I would have liked to, given my focus on and near the proactive display -- which, unfortunately, was on the opposite end of the room from the wine tasting stations -- but my two favorites were the Austin Robaire Ryson Reserve and the Hedges' Two Vineyard Reserve.

And last, but certainly not least: the proactive display triggered a number of conversations that I was able to observe (and in some cases, participate in, so this is hardly an unbiased account).  As has been the case with every deployment, the technology itself -- especially our radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, reader and antennas -- is the topic of some conversations, and I overheard other conversations that were clearly triggered by images that people had provided in their online profiles (given that I could see the images that were on the display while the conversations were underway).  I hope that we can do a full survey to learn more about what kind of impact we had on Zino Society members' experiences at the event.


Scott Axworthy was once again willing to help out in this deployment.  One of the things we learned from our recent deployment at the Seattle Games Conference was that a power imbalance may diminish the inclination of people to seek connections with those around them, e.g., many of the students at the earlier event were primarily interested in connecting with the sponsors (who were potential employers), and not so interested in networking with each other.  At the Zino Society event, there was a similar sort of dynamic (entrepreneurs seeking investment, and investors), but I think that the fact that the two groups last night represented different demographics, who may have better recognized the value of networking (and for whom, in fact, networking may be more valuable), may have led to a stronger inclination on the part of the participants at last night's event to create profiles (though there were definitely some attendees who had no interest in creating a profile).  Also, the fact that there was a time slot explicitly reserved for wine and conversation may have helped provide more impetus for some people to create profiles.  And, of course, the influence of the fine wine itself cannot be understimated.

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