As 2020 draws to a close, I try more than ever to understand the world we live in, the people we meet and the paths we get taken on, which aren’t necessarily apparent at the time. 7 years ago today, I arrived in Lanzarote, with no plan and certainly no knowledge about wine. After many years in a job spent mostly behind a computer screen, I craved flexibility, creativity and excitement. Oh and waves!
After finally finding a balance, this past year has been another experience of heading into the unknown, but for completely different and uncontrollable reasons. It’s had sad and very real consequences for many families, but within it, for many, it has provided time not just to think, but to act. Whether that be making changes, learning, improving or adapting. I am proud that all our team have done just that with the time available and will move into next year with something new at their own personal disposal. For me, it proves we attract the right, like-minded people to get involved with our project.
At the beginning of the year, I hung a print on the wall of the Lanzarote Outdoors office. It’s a print of the City of London and the River Thames. I was reluctant to hang it as it’s completely out of place in the middle of the vineyards of Lanzarote. I like the print, but more importantly it reminds me of the time it was given to me (2008); how quickly things can change and fundamental lessons which shouldn’t be forgotten. Less than a year later, it now, for reasons I can’t explain, fate maybe?, seems hung in the perfect position. The makeshift “desk” it sits above would be used to get our wines into the UK & Ireland on this very river.
We have heard lots about innovation of late, breakout sessions, spider diagrams, six-month courses to find and develop an idea (yawn, you’ll have been overtaken!). We already had an idea, long before COVID-19, and for us innovation started early in lockdown. The forced downtime provided time for change and adaption. Innovation in its simplest term started right here: the desk is what Dan and I usually use to brew beer on. It’s actually the side of an old broken up wardrobe resting on two decorators A-frames to be more precise. It’s worked a treat but maybe next year we can get a new one (a desk not brewers’ table!).
Nothing which seems a good idea is easy. Those close to me know just how crazy setting up Wine Shop Lanzarote has driven me, but I wouldn’t swap it. I would have gone crazy with nothing to do, so for sure it has been the lesser of two evils. Many days waking up it would have been easier to quit rather than face up to dealing with setbacks, delays and frustration, how something on the face of it so simplistic could be so difficult. We had no blueprint, experience or education in the field of turning an activity company into an exportation and retail company. We simply read, worked incredibly hard and learned. We had to work our way through COVID, BREXIT, licenses, UK tax, Spanish tax, transportation, customs procedures, banking, accounting, fulfilment, websites and software to name a few! Despite thousands of emails and hundreds of calls, it was one step forward and two back, for month after month. It was though, impossible to quit. At the end of the day, we had the basis of a business, a great product we were passionate about and customers. We also believed in ourselves and were very fortunate to start finding a network of amazing people, who importantly, though we had never even met them, believed in us, and had patience. Sven meanwhile, developed an amazing e-commerce website, and can now add this to his list of services at MediaFish.
We didn’t receive any help or advice from agencies or subsidies, we went to the bank to shore up our existing tours business and then went back again. With the support of the wineries and a few close people around us (not to mention the huge efforts and commitment from Dan and Sven) we finally got over the line. It all now seems worth it, reading and seeing the excitement of people taking delivery of the Island’s wines for the first time, because of the hard work and never give up attitude of everyone involved. It’s also brought us closer to our friends and colleagues in the industry and importantly to our loyal customers. We’ve also met many new amazing people who we now work with virtually and we can’t wait to share a bottle of wine with one day! Win or lose with this project, we have definitely tried and won’t carry any regrets, which is always my biggest fear. At the same time, we have also brought something new to our Island. The hard work though starts now, and a new challenge presents itself: making the business sustainable.
However, we’re excited to have this challenge heading into 2021, it feels positive even after such a dismal year. On our wine tour, guests always love to ask about how we ended up in Lanzarote, working with wine and for us in the most amazing landscape on Earth. People say we are lucky, but truth be told we’re not, it´s because of all these reasons written within. Change is hard, it takes a lot of commitment, nerves and belief but then you can always learn and adapt. In my first three years in Lanzarote, I trained and worked as a surf coach, before working as an estate agent and then a project manager, before setting up Wine Tours Lanzarote. I had no previous experience in any of those roles, least of all wine. But learning and adapting can be quick. We read heaps about wine while working in previous roles, spent time with the wineries and then sat an exam. As a further case in point, Paddy who I originally set up Wine Tours Lanzarote with, before he headed back to Ireland a couple of years ago, spent two months in Naples learning how to make authentic Neapolitan Pizza. He followed this up with a few months’ work experience and is now already running a bustling start-up (@paddyspizzapies) in Dublin, set-up during the pandemic.
When I made my commitment to leave my old routine I read. I had always been a fan of business books but also added some “self-help” guides as a source of idea generation. They aren’t all great, but I usually find a couple of takeaway points at the very least. But really, just follow your dream, it’s not all easy but it will definitely be an experience. Someone might not believe in you or tell you you are crazy, but for me that is just added motivation! I´m just starting another chapter.
I hope this proves to be a bit of inspiration to someone.
I would love to hear any positives, any changes, no matter how small which you have taken form 2020. One thing is for sure, 2021 can’t be any worse!