Scott Monette – Founder of 100 Percent Wine

Learn how to sell, sell, sell. Sales are the oxygen of every business, and all of your employees are in sales. The more wine we sell, the more people we can help. Improve your pitch. Meet new customers. Always be ready to tell your story, even though you’ve told it a million times already.

Scott Monette is the founder of 100 Percent Wine, a premium winery based in St. Louis that donates all profits to nonprofit organizations working to create jobs for people with disabilities. Previously the chief financial officer for Ralcorp Holdings, Scott is now a dedicated father, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.

Where did the idea for 100 Percent Wine come from?

When the company I previously worked for was sold, I started thinking about what I wanted to do next. My family had moved to St. Louis to improve our eldest son’s education opportunities. As he got older, I started thinking more and more about employment. After speaking with plenty of parents of older children with disabilities, I realized employment options for this population were limited at best and poor at worst. I knew I wanted to help my son — and the other 57 million Americans living with disabilities — live a better life. I believe meaningful employment can do that: A job is the best social program.

I think everyone remembers the first time their boss told them they did a good job. Remember how motivating that was? I still remember looking at my first paycheck with a sense of awe. My work has value. But a job is so much more than just a paycheck: It’s about dignity and respect.

Today, there are nearly 57 million Americans living with disabilities. This is the largest, fastest growing minority group in the country. More than two-thirds of people with disabilities are completely out of the workforce. I found that unacceptable, so I started 100 Percent Wine.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I come from a background in corporate America, so I have no experience starting a business. In a big company, you can call upon experts in virtually any area. But starting your own business forces you to learn about areas — for instance, intellectual property laws — that are not your strength. You inevitably make mistakes; it’s a long, arduous process.

But I always remember that I chose this path, and my work is deeply important to my family and me. That enables me to push through things I am uncomfortable with, like cold-calling a potential customer. My work has meaning.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I speak to people from all sorts of backgrounds. I meet with virtually anyone who would like to meet, so I hear many different viewpoints. The issue of unemployment among persons with disabilities is a difficult and complex one. The more people I can meet with (and the more ideas I can gather), the better. I think it is critical to surround yourself with people who do things well that you do not. Ideas come to life when you assemble the right team and give them the autonomy to think about new and different approaches. Ideas are key, but execution is absolutely essential.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Inclusion. When I grew up, persons with disabilities were segregated from the rest of us. Because few people truly interacted with this population, a lot of biases and stereotypes emerged. I think many of these stereotypes still pervade older people.

I’ve ensured my children have grown up differently. They know and attend class or play sports with children with disabilities. They see the person — not the disability. They’re willing to interact, engage, and help, if necessary. Stereotypes and prejudices fall away when you actually get to know others by spending time with them and working to understand. I am proud that my children’s generation has made huge strides in this area.

What is one habit that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Resilience. This is a new adventure for me, and I’ve made so many mistakes. If I weren’t completely committed to this mission, then I would have quit. You have to be willing to humble yourself and really listen to customers.

Interacting with the general public at wine tastings can be tiring and frustrating at times, too. But then I meet someone who really appreciates what I’m trying to do, and we both end up almost in tears as we share stories with one another. I believe so deeply in what I’m doing that resilience pulls me through even the toughest days.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

One of my first jobs was cutting grass for a municipal water department. It was a summer job in San Antonio, Texas, so I started sweating before I even started working. I remember cutting a large area and standing in a bed of fire ants for way too long. It seemed like I had hundreds of thousands of ants on my legs as I danced around trying to get them off.

Well, my co-workers thought my dance was the funniest thing they’d ever seen; it became a game to see who could do the best imitation of my ant dance. I, of course, did not see the humor in it at all — especially because it went on every day, all summer long. Talk about beating a dead horse!

This taught me humility. I was a high-school kid working a summer job, but for many of my co-workers, this was a full-time, year-round job. They were around my same age and always told me how lucky I was. I came to understand that that was very true. It made me appreciate my family and everything they’d done for me.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would be more patient with myself. I’m hypercritical of my own actions and decisions; combined with impatience, that can be a dangerous mixture. Sometimes I forget that I have no experience doing this and still have plenty to learn.

I think you have to remember to grade yourself on a curve. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Remember that you made the best decision you could, given the facts you knew at the time. Keep working hard and you’ll be fine.

As an entrepreneur, what is one thing you do repeatedly and recommend others do, too?

Learn how to sell, sell, sell. Sales are the oxygen of every business, and all of your employees are in sales. The more wine we sell, the more people we can help. Improve your pitch. Meet new customers. Always be ready to tell your story, even though you’ve told it a million times already. You might be just one person away from meeting the game-changing customer.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I’ve learned to listen. Early on, 100 Percent Wine was called “Big Heart.” Then, we got feedback from a potential customer that our name didn’t fit. He didn’t see the charitable intents behind the name, and he thought it must have something to do with heart research. I struggled with whether or not he was correct, but eventually I changed the name. He was in the wine market every day, and I was not.

Even with the new name, listening has been important. Once, we used a focus group to test the name, the packaging, and the concept of giving all profits to charity. The participants uniformly hated the idea — they didn’t trust it and thought it must be some sort of scam. I didn’t want to discuss my son’s disabilities with the world, but then I realized it was the only path forward. I listened to my customers, and that has made all of the difference.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I think the biggest mistake I made was to overpay for expertise in areas that were not my strengths, like marketing. I spent plenty of time with marketing experts, particularly those outside of the alcohol business, and I thought their ideas were unique and original.

Well, it turns out some of their ideas were actually illegal and the rest weren’t viable at all. I didn’t trust my experiences and instincts like I should have. Logic and customer insights always prevail, even in marketing. It was an expensive but worthwhile education.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

This idea is actually related to my employment-creation mission for people with disabilities. A new federal law forces all government contractors to have 7 percent of their workforce be composed of people with disabilities. Most major corporations are government contractors, so they have to show progress year-on-year toward this goal. No sizeable business is even close to this goal, and the federal government itself is only at 2 percent.

What if somebody created a service similar to manpower focused solely on providing employees with disabilities? Employers don’t want to make dozens of calls and strike out as they try to hire from this population. This would be a highly specialized employment agency that provides qualified employees to a wide range of businesses.

This would help both parties. There are literally tens of millions of people with disabilities who want jobs. Employers desperately need them in their workforce, but they’ll never connect en masse with the community with disabilities without help. This is a huge business opportunity that also has tremendous benefits for society.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What did you buy, and why?

I went out for dinner with my youngest son. We went out alone to a nice restaurant and had a chance to really talk, man to man. He’ll be going to college next year, so I won’t get to spend as much time with him as I do now. Being a good father is one of the most important things in my life.

He told me things he remembered about growing up that affected him. It’s amazing what small things and actions made him who he is today. Teenagers, especially boys, don’t like to talk to their parents much. This dinner was a gift that I will never forget.

What is the one book you recommend our community read, and why?

How Will You Measure Your Life” by Clayton Christensen.

I read this book on one of my numerous business trips. I can honestly say this book changed my life. I realized I was falling into the short-term trap of work and missing the long-term benefits of family and friendship. I’ve since bought dozens of copies of this book to send to people that are struggling with their purposes in life.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Clayton Christensen
Blake Mycoskie
Laszlo Bock


Scott Monette on LinkedIn:
100 Percent Wine on Twitter: @100percentwine