Given the uncertainty around the economy and a lot of talk about recession, people are looking for alternative places to invest their money—and many are turning to wine.
U.K.-based Cult Wine Investment, founded in 2007, is one platform that aims to make wine investing accessible and approachable, with its millennial-friendly aesthetics; informational tools such as a global index to provide market data; and a soon-to-launch DIY investing app called CultX.
For chief financial officer Gemma Doran, her role requires her to work across multiple industries and numerous global markets, while keeping up with the frenetic pace of a startup.
“The life of a CFO in a wine-slash-tech-slash-investment company is challenging,” she says. “It’s exciting. You have to be dynamic, and you have to adapt.”
Here, she shares her thoughts on how to be a good leader, how the role of the CFO is evolving, and why you should invest in wine.
High-finance background, startup mentality
Doran originally went to school for politics, but a focus on international lending brought her to finance, especially with SMEs (small and medium enterprises). Her work with travel and leisure companies led her to Cult Wine Investment five years ago.
“They needed someone to come in who had international experience and could take them to their next step of growth, be it with strategy, with process, with setting up companies in new geographical markets,” says Doran.
“SME is very dynamic,” she notes. “I like the roll-your-sleeves-up mentality. If someone’s off sick, it’s all hands on deck.”
Whether sitting in a C-suite meeting to work on the launch of the CultX app or redefining processes to make them more efficient, “[each] day is never the same,” she says.
As CFO of a startup, Doran finds many tasks fall to her. “I think this is a very common trait of a CFO or finance director: We pick up things that nobody else does. So I look after the legal side of things as well, be it investment contracts, new leases for offices, insurance, and things like that.” Until 18 months ago, Doran served as Cult Wine’s one-woman HR department.
How knowledge fosters clear communication
This idea of being well-versed in every aspect of her work is core to Doran’s leadership style.
“I never expect a junior member of my team to do something that I wouldn’t know how to do because I think that’s quite disrespectful,” she says. “I don’t want them to think that their tasks are too menial for the CFO not to understand how to do them.”
Since she joined, Cult Wine Investment has opened up new offices in Singapore, Shanghai, New York, and Toronto, on top of the existing locations in the U.K. and Hong Kong. Satellite locations in Japan, as well as Dubai, also debuted within the past few months. This expansion caused her to think about how to communicate across time zones, cultures, and technology. “I’m very fortunate I can survive on little sleep,” she says laughing.
But organization and task prioritization keep communication flowing. Mornings are dedicated to queries from, and meetings with, the Asian markets, as well as addressing any urgent matters from North America so when they come online they will have answers. Midday sees to Europe and the U.K., and she ends her day back with the U.S. and Canada.
Although she relies on external partners, such as legal experts, to help navigate the nuances in each market, she says it’s imperative to arm herself with sufficient knowledge of every matter. It facilitates better conversations—and faster decisions.
Her biggest “bugbear” is when people don’t ask questions. “I have a philosophy that in general, no question is a stupid question,” she says. “What normally ends up making you look stupid is not asking a question, producing something that is entirely wrong, and having to do it again.”
One title, three industries
What makes Doran’s role unique is that she sits at the intersection of three industries: tech, finance, and wine. But as technology continues to play a central role in how we work and communicate, she thinks this overlap will continue to be common.
“I think technology underpins not just wine, but most industries these days. Without it, I don’t really see how you can advance,” she says.
And with this evolution, so will the role of the CFO. “It’s very important for me to understand [technology] because how could I go out and raise finance? How could I develop a budget? How could I develop the processes that my team needs?”
She points to a recent example, where she worked with the tech team to establish the relevant consumption tax codes that go into a finance package. This collaboration ultimately helps automate elements of her work.
Why invest in wine?
The Venn diagram of industries changes communication with the consumer as well. For wine, like many industries, the pandemic shifted its business online. More direct-to-consumer sales, online tastings, and other activations turned a rather traditional industry on its head. Because of this migration into the digital space, Doran sees more women and younger people getting into wine.
And reaching new demographics of wine lovers is the ultimate goal of Cult Wine Investment. “Wine is a great diversification tool [for a portfolio],” says Doran, as it doesn’t follow the fluctuations of traditional markets and generally is low in volatility. “At the moment, it’s quite a good hedge against inflation. If you are prepared to hold on to investment wine for a longer period, you’ll be able to capitalize on increasing prices.” The imbalance of supply and demand in fine wine drives the consistency on returns, she notes.
The core business, Cult Wine Investment, takes a hands-on, more traditional approach to investing: Customers work with an adviser to manage their portfolio, while an online portal allows a client to see their investments in real time.
But a minimum investment of £25,000 GBP (approximately $30,160 USD), can prove a high barrier to entry. For those looking to dip their toe into the world of wine investment, the company is gearing up to launch its CultX app, where users can buy, sell, and self-manage their collections. There’s no minimum to start, and Doran thinks this will open doors to a new demographic of collectors.
“You have to embrace the advancements in technology and shifts in demographics,” she says. “Challenges are definitely changing, and we have to—particularly in the size of which Cult Wine is—adapt.”
Learn how to navigate and strengthen trust in your business with The Trust Factor, a weekly newsletter examining what leaders need to succeed. Sign up here.