It began as good ideas often do—after several glasses of wine.
As Danilo Di Salvo and Anzor Mantskava sat in Anzor’s living room, sharing a few bottles of Georgian wine, a new business idea emerged: what if they could share this unique but little-known wine with the UK market?
The pair had met just a few weeks prior, through the Full-time MBA program at Warwick Business School.
“We were both staying nearby in Leamington spa, and met on the bus on the way to the university,” Danilo recalls.
They began chatting, and Anzor mentioned that he was from Georgia—the birthplace of wine making. Like most UK residents, Danilo was unfamiliar with Georgia’s 8,000 year old wine culture, so as his friendship with Anzor developed, he leapt at the offer to sample some.
From the first sip, he was a convert.
“It was as if my whole life I’d been drinking orange squash, and suddenly I was trying freshly squeezed juice,” he explains with a laugh.
Today, Danilo and Anzor are injecting new energy into the UK’s ancient wine market, by importing quality Georgian wine with their business, Gvino UK.
Danilo didn’t plan to launch a business when he enrolled at Warwick. An engineer by training, he began his career with Rolls-Royce, progressing to a project management role with their aerospace programs.
As his managerial responsibilities grew, he felt the need to take a step back, and develop his broader business knowledge along with crucial leadership skills.
Anzor, meanwhile, had a few entrepreneurial ventures under his belt before he came to Warwick. While working with TBC—Georgia’s largest bank—as head of operational risk management, he founded a few local businesses, including a coffee shop and an olive importer.
Hoping to take a step back from a hectic career and consider his next professional move, he chose to enroll in an MBA.
Anzor and Danilo chose Warwick for the same reasons: its prestigious reputation, consistently ranked in the Financial Times’ top 50 MBA programs, friendly culture, and diverse cohort.
Traditional Georgian winemaking involves large clay qvevri © Levan Totosashvili under this license
Despite its humble origins in Anzor’s living room, Gvino quickly morphed into a full-fledged business plan with the support of the Warwick MBA.
One assignment, for an entrepreneurship module, required students to write their own business plan, and Danilo decided to flesh out the idea for a Georgian wine import company.
“His plan was so well-researched that our professor thought I had written it,” comments Anzor—the only Georgian member of his cohort. “I decided we had to go ahead with the business plan.”
Danilo and Anzor soon got to work refining their business idea. Introducing a relatively unknown product to a crowded market, and persuading skeptics to give Georgian wine a try, was the first hurdle.
Fortunately, case studies and speakers at Warwick helped the pair carve out their niche.
“Our entrepreneurship professor brought in lots of business owners who had been successful and who had failed,” Danilo explains. “We got to ask them some quite personal questions.”
The case studies they tackled were equally enlightening—especially a study that focused on quirky UK smoothie maker, Innocent Smoothies.
“That really taught us how successful you can be by staying authentic to yourself and your business,” notes Danilo.
He and Anzor’s mission is to share Georgia’s lively food and drink culture with the world. As Anzor puts it, they “don’t sell bottles of wine, but bottles of experience.”
In line with this mission, Gvino is very selective when it comes to sourcing their wine. Only high quality vineyards, using traditional Georgian winemaking methods, are selected.
Georgian winemaking at its heart is small-scale, low intervention, and sustainable, and these are the qualities Anzor and Danilo look for in the vineyards they partner with.
By negotiating exclusivity with these vineyards, they ensure consistent supply and quality for the end customer, while building strong relationships with the winemakers.
Connections for success
Throughout their journey with Gvino, the relationships Anzor and Danilo built through the Warwick MBA have been hugely valuable.
During the program, career coaches offered an expert sounding board—and today a certain career coach is one of their best customers, Danilo jokes.
Gvino also tapped into the Warwick network more recently, hiring a fellow alumna to assist with their sales and marketing efforts as the business grows.
The most important connection, however, has been with each other.
“If you have a good partner in business, it changes everything,” Anzor comments. “Danilo is a fantastic partner, and I was lucky to be introduced to him.”
Since its launch in 2015, Gvino has gone from strength to strength. Sales are steadily growing, and Danilo and Anzor have received positive feedback at several UK wine festivals.
In the near future, they have big plans for Gvino, including overseas franchises and a brick-and-mortar wine bar in London. Although coronavirus has put these plans on hold for now, they are bringing the wine bar experience into UK kitchens through online tasting sessions.
Whatever direction Gvino takes, the Warwick MBA was instrumental in its creation, Danilo believes.
“Looking back, we probably wouldn’t have started Gvino without that entrepreneurship module,” he reflects.
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