Thursday, June 12, 2014

Aaron Sherman (CAS '06), Co-Founder and CEO of SevenFifty

SevenFifty was launched in 2012 by Aaron Sherman (CAS '06), Gianfranco Verga (Stern '06), and Neal Parikh as a way to bring together professional wine buyers and sellers online. We had an opportunity to ask Aaron about the company and his time at NYU.

What did you study while you were a student at NYU and was starting your own business something you were considering or did you start off on a different career path? 

I ended up taking a fairly focused set of courses, which was somewhat surprising given that my only goal when I first arrived was to get a broad liberal arts education. I ended up with an Italian major and an "almost" History major, a result of having become singularly focused on a career in the wine industry after graduating. My assumption was that I would eventually own and operate a restaurant in New York, so yes, I've alway considered being in an ownership role, but I couldn't have imagined it taking shape as it has.

Tell us about SevenFifty and how the idea came about? 

I and my two co-founders were all involved in some capacity or another at a local bar in the East Village, and the idea for SevenFifty evolved over a series of months as we complained out loud about why someone hadn't provided a good, modern, online platform for buyers and sellers in the alcohol industry. Gianfranco (also an NYU alum) and I, having worked in wine and spirits for nearly a decade each at that point, had a good sense of what problems and inefficiencies afflicted everyone in the industry. Our third partner, Neal, is a computer scientist and wine/spirits enthusiast, so was able to work with us to design and build a solid technology product.

How has SevenFifty changed the business model that was previously in place between buyer and seller? 

The average person's interaction with the beverage industry is via restaurants, bars, and retail shops, which are usually run very well, at least from the customer's perspective. The professional and wholesale side of things, however, is still very old-fashioned and inefficient. As one example, before SevenFifty, it might take a beverage director at a restaurant a (sometimes long) series of phone calls to even find out whether a given distributor carries a given product, whether it's available for purchase, what its current price is, or what the available volume discounts are. If a product switched distributors, that could result in the product simply being dropped from a restaurant's menu due to it being too much work to track it down again. You couldn't simply check to see what Napa Valley wines were available across the market. And so on. SevenFifty doesn't change the industry's business model, but it makes it all work much more efficiently. All the information above, and much more, is now accessible instantly online, which significantly streamlines the sales process and lets buyers and sellers each devote their time and attention on what they do best – build high quality beverage programs and educate professionals about their portfolio, respectively – instead of wasting a large amount of their time and money finding, sharing, and managing basic information about products in the market.

We have a number of Arts and Science Alumni who are producing wine. What is the process for someone who wants to start using SevenFifty to get their wine out there? 

We encourage any local wineries in NY state to reach out to us and make sure their products are available on the site for members of the trade, either direct from the winery or via their distributor. We understand that small wineries who are focused on making the best wines they can make might not have the time or resources to properly market their products. SevenFifty can help them get their brand out in front of the decision makers in the industry who move the needle on awareness of their brand in the market in a time and cost-sensitive way.

Do you have any other wine-related ideas/products that you are planning on introducing in the future? 

What we've done so far is exciting in part because it suggests many future opportunities to help beverage professionals throughout the industry. We think of SevenFifty as a core platform on which a number of future tools and products can be built.

Can you give us a few of your favorite go-to wines? 

My first true education in wine came while I was studying abroad at NYU's campus in Florence, Italy so I will always have a soft spot for Italian wines. The first "ah-ha" moment I had was with a bottle of Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino from the 2000 vintage – I'd recommend it to anyone fortunate enough to find a bottle on a wine list!

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