Brandon Stauber Class of '95
The Spy Who Loved Wine
On his business card, Brandon Stauber MPP ’95 identifies himself as “Agent White.”
Relax. He’s talking about wine.
In 2007, the 41-year-old oenophile launched The Wine Spies LLC, with partner Jason Seeber, who goes by “Agent Red.” The company’s ecommerce site (thewinespies.com) sells a different wine each day, offering wine lovers a “confidential wine dossier” on each daily pick. Dossiers include a review, an interview with the winemaker and background information on the vineyard. Featured wines, produced in small quantities and usually not found in grocery stores, are sold at a discount for one day only.
“We came up with the concept of ‘spying out’ family wineries and introducing them to a wider public,” Stauber says, explaining his company’s cloak-and-dagger conceit. The website plays the espionage theme to the hilt. Members are called “operatives,” and they can earn “spy points” by contributing wine reviews, inviting friends to join or buying wine. As they accumulate points, operatives can be promoted to “field agent” or “station chief,” making them eligible for special promotions and gifts.
The Tom Clancy-esque trappings of the site reflect its founders’ belief that wine should be fun, not intimidating. “The ultimate goal is to make wine accessible, to get it off the pedestal and into the glass, where you can enjoy it,” Stauber says.
Since going live, the site has attracted nearly 30,000 members, and its 2010 sales were about $1.5 million, according to Stauber. It moves 15 to 25 cases a day, with most bottles selling between $20 and $50.
The Wine Spies is the second entrepreneurial venture for Stauber, who credits USC’s Master of Public Policy program at the School of Policy, Planning, and Development for teaching him the strategic thinking necessary to succeed in business. “It’s given me a framework for looking at challenging problems and finding effective solutions,” he says.
In 1999 the Los Angeles native, who also holds a B.A. in public administration from San Diego State University, launched an online event-management firm. After selling that company in 2004, he worked as a business consultant. In 2006, a friend from the Sonoma Valley asked Stauber to write a business plan for a venture exporting California wines to Europe. Although that business never got off the ground, the friend - Seeber - partnered with Stauber to create The Wine Spies.
It remains a small enterprise, with Stauber and Seeber the only full-time employees. An operations whiz, Stauber works remotely from his Exeter, N.H., home, while creative guru Seeber oversees marketing from the company’s Santa Rosa, Calif., headquarters.
Sharing an equal passion for wine, the partners personally taste and review each vintage they sell, Stauber says. If one of them doesn’t like a wine, they won’t sell it.
“We’re actually taking a lot of time with each wine to try to give it its due,” Stauber says. “Every wine has a story, and winemakers are in the business because they have a particular skill and passion for a product. If we can reveal what that passion is, then we’ve done a good job.”