Lara Crystal | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Lara Crystal

Background:  

Minibar Delivery promises to deliver wine, beer and spirits to your door in 60 minutes or less. The company partners with local liquor stores to supply its wares.

The Mistake: 

One mistake that resonates with me was in Minibar Delivery's beginnings. My co-founder and I had come from a background in consumer tech, and we were very focused on one side of our marketplace and not the other. We were very unaware of all the demands on the suppliers, and how we could best work with suppliers. We neglected how our partners — the suppliers, the liquor stores themselves — fit into the equation, meaning we failed to realize that the liquor and beer stores are our biggest customers. 

When we built Minibar, we were thinking about how to get consumers. We initially planned to launch in October because we thought, “Oh, that’s when customers want alcohol, around the holidays.” So in every aspect we were thinking less from the supplier's perspective and more from the consumer’s perspective. We went into liquor stores and had a very interesting change of dynamic, because for them, the holidays are the busiest time of year, so they weren't necessarily looking to take on new business.  

We ended up launching in February, and we said, “Great, we’ll just send you guys an email whenever you get an order,” and the suppliers said, “Well, we don’t have a computer at the station.” This highlighted our biggest mistake: thinking from the perspective of our marketplace rather than our suppliers.  

To us at Minibar, we saw it as, we have customers, and then we have suppliers. But really, the suppliers are our biggest customers. So, we figured if we had customers, we’d have suppliers, but it’s not the way it works. We also have to build the right tools and the right product for building customers as well, in order to understand what is most important to our biggest customers. 

We failed to realize that the liquor and beer stores are our biggest customers. 

The Lesson: 

I think in these conversations with liquor stores, I learned a lot about how to build out our entire system so that liquor stores could use our product effectively.  We began to start thinking about how we could attract a customer that wants wine and how to learn how to feature wine within the app and the website.  

We then started thinking about how to build out Minibar so that it works across every device, and so that the liquor suppliers could get their notifications by phone, rather than just email, and even by fax, for stores that were very low-tech. 

Looking back, thinking about the business from the liquor store side and not the side of our marketplace transformed how we think about every decision now that we make at Minibar, by making us think about how things affect both the suppliers and the end consumer.  

Follow Lara Crystal on Twitter at @lecinnyc.

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