Picking the brains of an entrepreneur who started a business with a social impact

Tell us about Vin2o? 

We sell great wine online and use the profits to help fund clean water projects in Sub-Saharan Africa through our charity partner Pump-Aid.

Where did the Vin2o idea come from? 

I was keen to start a business and so I explored some ideas around food and drink. I knew I wanted the business to be a social enterprise and so the concept came together quite naturally. 

How do you choose the communities you wish to help?

Our charity partner PumpAid has staff working in Malawi to identify communities that have a desperate need for a pump to provide clean water. PumpAid is able to work with rural communities that other agencies overlook, which is was one of the reasons we chose to work with them.

It provides clean water to communities in Sub-Saharan Africa and since 1998 it has installed more than 8500 pumps providing clean water to over 1.25 million people. Today the charity works mostly in Malawi where it is estimated that 2.4 million people do not have access to clean water. 

What are the advantages of using this business model?

For me being a social enterprise is a great motivator, creating a business that makes a difference to people really helps during the tough times of a business start-up. 

Being a social enterprise and funding clean water projects is also a clear differentiator from other businesses in the sector. There are also less tangible benefits; people have really connected with the concept and we get a lot of positive feedback and people really remember us.  

What were you doing before?

I’ve had a varied career. I have been an Army Officer, worked in advertising and was once a bouncer on Celebrity Big Brother.  I have worked for the Red Cross in conflict resolution in Indonesia and worked in various management positions. All this experience led to a spell freelancing as a business consultant.  

Chris Coles

How did your business journey begin?

I had been mulling over various ideas for a while with a mind to starting a business. The ideas were all based around wine or food and many had some element of social enterprise as there are loads of brands that I admire in that space.

I was working as a consultant for a startup in the luxury food sector and effectively starting a business for someone else. This gave me the appetite and confidence to start something for myself and pretty soon Vin2o came together as a concept. 

What do you love most about running a business that makes a social difference?

Our business is very new but I feel very proud that I have been able to “put something out there” that is designed to make a positive difference. On a practical level, social enterprise is a really vibrant community. There are lots of great people exploring interesting ideas and there seems to be a much better approach to cooperation and collaboration than in traditional business. 

Did you always want to run your own business?

Not as such. My career has been really varied and I have had some great adventures. I thrive on learning new things and like to be able to make an impact. When you put these things together it was perhaps inevitable that I would start a business, but it wasn’t necessarily the plan. 

What are Vin2o’s plans for the future?

We are keen to grow the business. We’ll be introducing a subscription model very soon which will allow customers to pay a small amount and get a case delivered every quarter. We’re also exploring the idea of doing a pop-up shop and some more events.

We’d love to run a pop-up bar at some festivals next year. There are plenty of festivals that have amazing food but quite ordinary wine. We think it would be cool to provide our great wine and the opportunity to help fund projects. 

What entrepreneurial skills do you regard as most important?

It’s tough to say as each business is going to need different skills to bring it into the world. I think that being able to learn and adapt quickly is the very important. Vin2o is an e-commerce business and I knew nothing about coding. Being able to quickly master some (very) basic skills has paid dividends for me. 

Resilience is also very important. People tell you that starting a business will be tough and it is. Having started a business for someone else I thought I knew how tough it would be but when it’s your baby (and your money) it soon gets a whole lot tougher.

Best advice you've been given?

The best advice is to seek advice. I’ve worked with a coach (Phil Bolton – Less Ordinary Living) and I have found that and incredibly helpful process. As an entrepreneur you can sometimes be so close to your business that you can’t see the obvious answers.

I use O-Desk and have been able to get some really cost effective support for the business. They have everything from book-keepers to strategy consultants to help you. They come from all over the world. I have had help with accountancy from someone in Sweden and graphic design from Argentina. 

For more information, log on to the website at vin2o. Enjoy fine wines from around the world while supporting Pump Aid as it brings clean water to those who need it. 

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