Ep 022

Pitching Mark Cuban, Overcoming Adversity, and Investing in Fine Wine


Anthony Zhang

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Inside This Episode

For any advisors who are fans of wine and/or investing, this episode is for you!

I’m speaking with Anthony Zhang, co-founder and CEO of Vinovest—an online platform that allows anyone and everyone to invest in fine and rare wine.

In the past, wine investing was exclusively reserved for the ultra-wealthy. However, Anthony figured out how to leverage technology to eliminate barriers and make this lucrative asset class a lot more accessible.

BTW, this isn’t his first startup either. A separate company was backed by Mark Cuban and later acquired when he was only 21 years old. After a successful exit, he went on to start and scale multiple businesses. So, a lot to learn here on growing a team and getting the right people on the bus.

3 of the biggest insights from Anthony Zhang

  • #1 Why wine investing not only delivers delight, but also minimizes taxes and offers consistent returns that have outpaced the stock market.

  • #2 The values-first hiring process that allowed Anthony to scale Vinovest into a lean 20-person company that manages 9-figures in assets.

  • #3 How Anthony turned adversity into abundance and gratitude after an accident left him paralyzed from the neck down.


  • 00:00 How Anthony turned a college business idea into a $100K investment from Mark Cuban and Mark Burnett.
  • 03:06 The lessons financial advisors can learn from venture capital pitches and apply to client prospecting.
  • 12:25 The best business takeaway Anthony learned from his experience in Peter Thiel’s fellowship program.
  • 15:19 How Vinovest makes wine a more accessible alternative asset class to everyday investors.
  • 25:16 How can investors be tax-efficient when investing in wine?
  • 28:16 A look at the nuances between investing in wine and investing in whiskey.
  • 32:33 Why does alcohol as an asset class tend to do well in periods of market volatility?
  • 36:34 Vinovest’s five core tenets that built a low-headcount team able to handle the pressures of scaling.
  • 40:36 Using adversity to create a mindset of gratitude, perspective and abundance in life.
  • 49:46 Building a career in pursuit of work-life harmony instead of a work-life balance.





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  • “Confidence is everything because if you don’t believe in yourself, why would they believe in you?” – Anthony Zhang

  • “Even though I lost so much, I still have so much to be thankful for.” – Anthony Zhang

  • “Luxury items have been pretty well insulated from recessions because the folks who are buying these luxury items are insulated from recessions as well.” – Anthony Zhang

  • “To me, a perfect day is not just down the beach doing nothing, or it’s not just having a bunch of kickass business meetings. It’s a little bit of both, and that’s what makes me feel fulfilled.” – Anthony Zhang

Brad Johnson: Welcome back to another episode of Do Business, Do Life. Very excited to have my friend Anthony Zhang here with us today. Welcome to the show, Anthony.

Anthony Zhang: Thanks a lot for having me on, Brad. It’s a pleasure.

Brad Johnson: I’ve really been looking forward to this, Anthony, because basically, your background is the intersection of two of my loves, which is investing and wine. So, for those advisors out there that are fans of either of the two of those, this should be a fun conversation today. But as we get into it, obviously, not everybody kind of knows your background, I’d love to just hear, you’ve got quite the story, Anthony, with forming your first business at the age of 18 and where that journey took you. So, do you mind as we dive in here today, just give everybody a little mini bio of how the journey began?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, not at all. And I guess we can kind of start from the top, which is enrolling as a freshman at USC, and a few months into it, decided to start what started as just a side hustle to earn some money as a college student. I started a dorm room delivery service called EnvoyNow, and the premise of simple regular delivery drivers, they didn’t really know how to navigate campus. They didn’t have the student ID access to be able to get in to the right buildings. So, deliveries were never really as convenient as they needed to be.

So, as a student, I could just zip around on my skateboard, be able to do a few deliveries in between classes, or when I had breaks and be able to make some good money. That service turned into me and my roommate not only just being the couriers, the delivery people, but we kind of started becoming traffic control when more and more other students saw us to like, hey, I’d love to make some extra money too. And we created this marketplace connecting students who were hungry or studying or just lazy. They didn’t want to move from their study spot in the library with other students who needed cash.

And this business really grew. And recent inflection point in my sophomore year when I had the opportunity to pitch Mark Cuban and Mark Burnett. So, they were at my school doing a speaker series, and I had the good fortune of being picked up as one of the student entrepreneurs to be able to actually pitch them in a live Shark Tank-style pitch. And I walked away that night with a $100,000 offer for 10% of my business.

And that was what really helped me realize that, hey, I’m studying undergrad business administration, the goal was always to be able to start a business eventually, but I never really thought EnvoyNow was that business. It seemed to me as something initially as just a resume booster or something to make some extra cash. But after getting that vote of confidence from a billionaire, it made me realize that, hey, this is the thing. I shouldn’t wait to till I graduate. I shouldn’t wait till I have an MBA. This is the opportunity now to throw everything I have into it and actually scale it, which is what I did.

Brad Johnson: Okay. So many places to go from there. Now, I do think, and we’ll probably throw this in the show notes, there is a video of this pitch somewhere out on the Internet, I believe, because I think I watched it back in the day. So, we’ll find the Mark Cuban pitch video, and well, we’ll put that in there so everybody can see it.

And I remember what I took from that as an 18 or 19-year-old at the time, you did have some pretty good confidence going. You were kind of giving it back and forth to Cuban a little bit, which was fun to see. Where did that confidence come from? Was this, I was kind of born, like I kind of always had this kind of go-getter, problem-solver mentality where I had this confidence that I could do things? Or was that somewhere nurtured along the way?

Anthony Zhang: I think it was a little bit of both. Growing up, I was definitely lucky to be able to be really, really competitive in sports. So, I think that confidence comes from achieving some sort of personal success in school, in sports, and extracurriculars. But when it came to that Mark Cuban moment, and I’ve been a big fan of Shark Tank for years, I know how the sharks can rip you to shreds when you don’t have confidence. So, it was really more out of necessity.

If you look at the video, there was another company before us, and rightfully so, the student entrepreneurs were super nervous. And you just sense that blood in the water and you’re just torn to shreds. So, even though I was also very, very nervous, I had to put a confident front and almost be a little bit cocky toward him so I can break through that and really feel like I was on an even playing field when he was grilling me with the questions and I was firing the answers right back at him.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Yeah, you reminded me of an excerpt from a book. Are you familiar with the book called Pitch Anything by chance?

Anthony Zhang: No, I’m not.

Brad Johnson: Well, it was basically a pitch meeting where this startup investor, this startup entrepreneur, I should say, went and was pitching his idea to this, I don’t know if he’s a billionaire, but a guy that funded a lot of startups. And what he saw when he walked into this meeting, the guy was sitting behind his massive desk and had his feet kicked up on the desk. And Pitch Anything is a book about how to sell. And this guy, obviously, he calls it framing. He said, I could tell just from the body language of this individual, I didn’t have a shot if I didn’t reframe the situation.

So, in that scenario, he grabs the guy’s apple off his desk that is his apple, takes a bite out of it, and starts pitching. And that’s like kind of the version of what you just did. You kind of like, “Hey, I got to power up to meet Cuban so I don’t get run over in this meeting.” And we should probably continue the conversation so we get to Vinovest and what you’re doing now. But as you’ve raised funds because you’ve had multiple rounds of raising real money, have you found that to be something you kind of have to make sure you do when you’re presenting yourself as an investor that’s obviously taking money on or raising rounds?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, I think confidence is everything because if you don’t believe in yourself, why would they believe in you? They’re the ones in the position to give you money and they want to know that their money’s in good hands. And I think, especially to start a startup and to be able to raise venture capital funding, the outcome is pretty much binary. You’re either a billion-dollar company or you’re a failure and you kind of need to be a little bit crazy, cocky, confident to be able to pitch that big vision because you’re changing something in the world that doesn’t exist. So, I’ve been in hundreds of pitch meetings, and I think being able to bring that energy, that confidence is super crucial. Even if it’s your 10th meeting of the day, you got to slap yourself a little bit before the meeting and get in there like it’s your first meeting of the day.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Well, it’s funny you’re talking about people giving you their money and trusting you with that money that you’re going to be a good steward. It’s exactly what financial advisors that are listening to this do every day. Here’s the million dollar nest egg they’ve saved their entire life for, and now, they have to have confidence and trust in you. And so, I think that applies so perfectly to many of the listeners out there. Okay. So, let’s fast forward because I know our time is limited. So, give us maybe the end of the EnvoyNow story, which was food delivery inside of the– did DoorDash exist back then? Was that…

Anthony Zhang: They did, yeah. So, DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates, Uber Eats, they were all there, but they were all competing in tier one cities, the Chicago, San Francisco, New York’s of the world. Nobody was focusing on college towns. And you have the same sort of geographical density in college towns as you do in major cities, but they’re in Tuscaloosa or Ann Arbor. And no one was competing with us.

So, we ended up getting acquired by a larger food delivery app called JoyRun, which now is part of Walmart powering all of their local last mile deliveries in college towns. So, that was our exit, our outcome. And we raised some venture capital money along the way and scaled that business out to at its peak, right before we got acquired, we had 22 markets nationwide and couple hundred thousand students using our app.

Brad Johnson: Wow. And at what age did that exit happen? How old were you then?

Anthony Zhang: I think I was either 21 or 22.

Brad Johnson: So, about a three to four-year run. Pretty quick, really.

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Brad Johnson: So, before we get off to the exit, were you still in college or had you exited college at this point?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, I dropped out of school to run that business full time.

Brad Johnson: And did that happen right after kind of the Cuban pitch where you got the 100k funding, you’re like, hey, this is my full time gig now?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah. Because a few weeks after that, I had talked with the Thiel Fellowship. So, Peter Thiel’s program, they also give you $100,000 non-dilutive grant and a stipulation of that grant as you actually have to be not enrolled in any sort of formal education. So, those two in tandem helped my decision to be like, all right, there’s two billionaires that believe enough in me to want to give me money, I should take this seriously. I can always come back to college. I’ll take a leave of absence and let’s just do this thing.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Love that. Peter Thiel, give me your favorite Peter Thiel story before we move off of that, just because he’s a legend, obviously, in the startup investing space and everything that he’s helped build.

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, I mean, I’ve only had limited interactions with him through the fellowship, but I remember, in our sort of welcome event, every year, you welcome a group of about maybe 20 other Thiel fellows in his just massive Hollywood Hills home. And it was just getting to see someone who you pretty much idolizes larger than life. You read his book, Zero to One. You see all the interviews. You know his track record. And being able to talk to him and just realize the level of sort of intellect that he possesses, but also just really how approachable you can be, right?

He started this foundation with his own money without any sort of expectation of return. That leads to a very special passion for something which is very different than his passion for investing, where that’s very financially driven. So, I think that sort of dynamic led to it being very, very friendly and collegial rather than, say he’s a board member or an investor on your cap table, right? There’s a different sort of power dynamic there.

Brad Johnson: Was there anything, because I would assume becoming a Thiel fellow is not an easy club to get into, what sort of filtering system did you go through to be welcomed into this club?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, so anybody can apply. I think it’s less than 1% acceptance rate and you need to be, I think, under the age of 21, you need to be building something, some startup, some company, researching on some sort of breakthrough medical advance. And there’s just several, several rounds of interviews. You’re meeting the program directors, you’re meeting current and past Thiel fellows.

So, now, sort of as a past Thiel fellow, I’ve been involved in the application committee and interviewing current prospective Thiel fellows. So, you have several rounds of interviews, and then they usually fly you out a final round on this sort of in-person retreat. And I remember mine, they asked all of us to pitch our business in front of Peter Thiel and be able to answer some sort of really quick, rapid-fire round questions and see how you’re doing under pressure. And then, a few weeks later, just got a really happy call that I got in.

Brad Johnson: Very cool. All right, before we get off the Thiel Fellowship, if you had to narrow it down to here was the one learning or piece of business advice I received from that network of incredibly brilliant people that have built crazy companies that we’ve all heard of, what would be the one thing that was the big aha or takeaway for you during that time?

Anthony Zhang: I think it’s that you have to work for your network. We’re all busy, especially as founders or starting your own business, right? And the network is only as valuable as you make it. So, you have to carve out time to be able to connect and be able to create space in that because first, I’d bet the first six to nine months of the fellowship, I was just still so heads down building my business. I didn’t really talk to any other Thiel fellows.

And it wasn’t until our yearly retreat and I realized, wow, there are so many inside, so many cool new people, so much sort of, as a founder, it can be really lonely as well, right? So much sort of sharing on what’s going on in the trenches that I didn’t realize I was missing so much. So, then after that, I made sure to carve out some time each week, each month to be able to catch up, reconnect, and even if it doesn’t feel like work in the traditional sense, it’s proven to be massively valuable down the line with connections, intros, insights, things that have helped me be able to take a path and grow in a smoother and faster way.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, there’s two schools of thought that come up a lot on this podcast along those lines. One of them was a quote I heard from Cameron Herold. This is probably going on almost 10 years ago now. “Your network is your net worth,” which is a great quote, but I don’t like that it’s so monetary focus because I just think the richness of the human experience is like personal relationships and experiences with people that you love. But that, and then the Jim Rohn quote of “You’re the average of the five people you surround yourself with.”

Anthony Zhang: Yeah. That one I love.

Brad Johnson: It feels like you just were surrounded not only by five, but just an incredible room of really brilliant people. And there’s no way you can’t benefit from that, I wouldn’t think.

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, I totally agree. I think spending time with people who have been there, done that, and I think also part of the culture of the startup ecosystem is giving back. I think that’s why angel investing is such a big thing, right? Statistically proven, it’s not the most high percentage thing to do, but a lot of people do it because they like supporting other founders because they realized when they were early stage, it might have been just one angel check of somebody believing in them when 100 other people didn’t. That helped them push through and believe in themselves, right? Similar to what Peter Thiel did for me.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Very cool. Okay, we’re at the exit. I’m assuming this wasn’t money where Anthony is just going to sail off into the sunset for the rest of his life, but I’m assuming it was substantial. What was that time period where hey, exit EnvoyNow, and now, Vinovest is next? And kind of walk us through the mindset of what was next and how you went through that.

Anthony Zhang: Yeah. So, I think after nearly four years of building the business, it was definitely a relief to kind of have a reset period. I was still working at the company that acquired for us for about a year and ended up taking a leadership position at a cryptocurrency company. So, I worked at a company called Blockfolio for about three years running their marketing and business development and growing the teams there. And that was when I was becoming more in-tune and interested in investing in alternative asset classes, and also, where I met my now co-founder, Brent.

So, in that period of three years, I was exposed to investing in everything from your real estate, commodities, cryptocurrency, then a little bit more esoteric stuff, into antiques, into watches, into art, into wine and whiskey. And that’s what really sort of sparked my aha moment is I read a Wall Street Journal article talking about the best performing alternative assets over the past couple of decades. And at the top of that list was actually wine and whiskey returning about 11%, 13% a year for those two asset classes, respectively.

And like you, Brad, I’m also a wine lover. So, this was something to me that was really cool. It was something that could further my own education in the wine world, but then also be able to make a profit off of down the line. Buy a few cases of wine, send out on them for a few years, and then maybe sell off a few, drink a few and be able to offset my cost basis and drink some pretty nice wine down the way.

Realize that it’s very, very difficult to do that if you don’t have resources already. You need a massive wine cellar. You need connections to the top wine brokers at the top wineries because these wines are highly allocated. And a home insurance policy won’t really cover and understand the value if you’ve got $100,000 worth of wine in your fridge. So, I realized that we could use technology to build a better solution and really decrease those barriers to entry, so pretty much any investor would be able to get exposure to what I thought was a really quality and proven asset class that really, only the ultra wealthy or ultra sort of niche wine lovers could have invested into until this day.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, because basically, you would have had to have gone to one of these super high-end auctions. Who are the common wine auction houses, the ones that you have to go to?

Anthony Zhang: I’d say Zachys, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Acker, those are all the big ones that do hundreds of millions of dollars in volume every single year off of their auction sales on wine and whiskey.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. So, I mean, there’s a huge wine collector here in Kansas, the Koch brothers. And I remember, in fact, now is a good time to just bring it up. There was a documentary that I watched back in the day, I believe it was called Sour Grapes, and I believe Rudy was the infamous guy. But basically, which is one of the other problems you all solve with Vinovest, but basically, very, very high-end wine, like the sort of wine that cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars per case.

And this gentleman kind of smoothed his way into these auction houses, started buying up very high-end wine, but then basically draining it, mixing his own version of it, rebottling it, and basically had counterfeit wine that he was reselling at auction. And this became a really, really big thing, right? I don’t know if there’s more context you want to share, but it’s a crazy story.

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, I think I remember some stats. It was like over the course of maybe 10, 15 years, he had defrauded over $100 million worth of fake wine. And amongst that, the Koch brothers, other really, really well-known people, even Robert Parker, the wine critic, he got got. So, even the top palates and taste buds, like this guy Rudy, obviously, he was a crook, but he also had talent in his sort of mixing. And that’s why he was able to get away with what he did for so long.

But what it did to the wine industry was it created a lot of distrusts rightfully on the condition and what we call the authenticity and provenance of those bottles. So, that’s another huge issue that Vinovest is fixing is being able to guarantee the authenticity, being able to work with reputable third-party insurance companies and custody providers to be able to trace that lineage of the wine. And everybody on Vinovest, they have their certificates that can show, hey, this is exactly what the wine is, here’s who we bought it from, and be able to know that which when you do end up eventually exiting and selling it, the auction houses are going to want that proof or the eventual buyer is going to want that proof to know that what they’re buying is real.

Brad Johnson: Well, one of the things, I’m still explaining the concept of Vinovest to my friends because they’re like, wait, what is this? It’s like a virtual wine cellar. Wait, it’s like a wine portfolio. And yes, yes, and yes, all of the above. But I was explaining this. They call in on our team. He’s a 23, 24-year-old, and obviously, just getting started in his investment journey. He was like, “Wait, how does this work?” And then he’s like, “Well, why don’t you just buy the wine and put it in your cellar?” Because we have a cellar in our house. And I said, “Well, actually, and I’d love to fact check this with you.”

I go, actually, I believe that makes it less valuable because if I take DRC, one of the most famous wineries in the world in France, and now, I shipped that to my house, that’s assuming I could even get on the list, which is near impossible. Now, there’s no track record of when that wine went from France to Kansas, was it temperature controlled? Did somebody hijack it and swap it out for a fake case of wine because there’s no authentication? And what you all do, if you look at, like I believe, one of your wine storage facilities is the same as the British royal family where they store their wine. Is that fair?

Anthony Zhang: Yep. At Octavian.

Brad Johnson: So, now, it goes direct from winery to professional wine storage facility where it’s temperature controlled, insured, authenticated, and I think especially, like some of the high-end bottles now, almost have a UPC barcode over the cork, right? But walk us through that as more of the investment, like, here’s how we maintain the value of the investment along the way and kind of the checks and balances that are required on that front.

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, that’s a really important topic because a lot of people, especially people with wine cellars, why can’t I just store it at home? And I liken it to driving a car off the lot. You immediately will lose a ton of value, 30% to 50%, because I don’t know how you store it at home. You could have had a power outage. You could have said you put in a wine fridge, but actually didn’t. And there’s so much risk that the counterparty is taking on when they’re pretty much just taking your word for it.

So, when we store in these third-party bonded storage facilities, they’re really required to keep the records. And that’s why insurance policies are able to also cover that because they trust these third parties that have been operating. They have a full-time staff 24/7, monitoring around, keeping that temperature and humidity level consistent. So, when we’re able to have that level of trust in our chain of supply and custody, when somebody like an auction house comes and sees our condition of the wine, they know that they’re going to be able to go to their buyers and say, “Hey, this is stored straight from winery to warehouse. It hasn’t moved since, and it has only had one owner or two owners.” And this is going to fetch the highest retail price because it presents the least risk to the end consumer on the condition and authenticity of that bottle.

Brad Johnson: And I feel like you’re also creating a marketplace for wine because there was originally Vinovest 1.0, which was, hey, I send 50k or 100k to Vinovest, and then they kind of build a portfolio of wine. Now, you actually have a marketplace where I could have wine and you actually swap ownership, but it never leaves the facility. It just transfers from my account to another person’s account. It’s almost like StockX for shoes, except the wine’s not being sent anywhere, it’s just transferring ownership, right? Is that fair?

Anthony Zhang: You’re exactly right. So, that was the second product that we launched, is being able to have our existing client base be able to pretty much trade wine with each other and be able to exit positions that they like, be able to take on. I have your position on a particular line or region if they really believe in it. So, now, we have the equivalent of a self-directed account and then a managed account for our investors to be able to choose from.

Brad Johnson: Cool. You said a word that I want to go back to because one of the things financial advisors that build holistic plans talk a ton about is not just returns but taxation and how to do proactive tax planning. You said bonded. And will you explain what bonded means in the world of wine?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah. So, bonded warehouse or bonded storage is huge when it comes to the world of wine, collectibles, art in general because a lot of times, when you’re buying these items, you’re buying them from all around the world, in this case, primarily from Europe. And if you’re looking at it for an investment purpose or even from an eventual consumption purpose, you don’t want to pay the VAT or the sales tax right away. So, storing it bonded allows you to be able to defer the VAT or the sales tax indefinitely until it gets taken out of bond.

So, you could conceivably say this bottle of wine that was $250, sales tax included, you could probably buy it for $220 in bond and sell it to another investor down the line, say, for $400 in bond, and only when someone’s eventually looking to consume it, so whether it be a restaurant or a consumer, they would have to pay those taxes at the end. So, by deferring those taxes, it’s a really efficient strategy, especially for investors in the wine, collectibles, and art world to be able to maximize their returns.

And then also, for the eventual consumer, say you want a special anniversary bottle, right? You wanted to buy something that’s 20 years old, it’s a $2,000 bottle. If you buy it in bond versus buying it out of bond, there is a pretty big difference in the form of the VAT that you can be able to save money on as well there. And that’s usually 15% to 20%.

Brad Johnson: On that note, I want to make sure my logic is right here. Let’s say you buy a bottle today for $250, that’s the cost you pay on Vinovest platform. And then let’s say 20 years from now, it’s worth $2,000, and it’s that bottle that you talked about, it’s for my kid’s wedding and it’s their birth year, whatever. I pull that out. Do I pay the taxation on the $250 that I bought it for and it never came out of bond and it’s appreciated since? Or do I pay the tax on the $2,000 that it’s worth today?

Anthony Zhang: So, you only pay the VAT on the original purchase price. So, that’s another huge benefit, especially for folks who are holding long, like that situation you’re mentioning. Being able to buy those young wines that you know you’re not going to be drinking until 10, 20, 30 years down the line, and by paying the VAT on the original value versus the current market value, there’s also a huge tax savings that you can be getting there.

Brad Johnson: Very cool. Okay. I’m pushing this thing along quick because we have limited time, my man. So, sorry for hitting the gas pedal. Vinovest wine, you’ve also since launched Whiskeyvest, which I feel like bourbon and whiskey, it’s become the newer version of wine where there’s all these stories and all these different craft. I guess it would be distillers that are popping up. What are your thoughts the difference between investing long term in whiskey versus wine? Any big differences that you’ve seen?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, I think the main difference with the whiskey and the wine products is that, first of all, in the product, on the wine side, you’re buying a case of the wine. On the whiskey side, you’re actually buying entire barrels. And that’s because really, after you bottle a bottle of whiskey, it doesn’t really change in the bottle, right? It’s kind of the age that it is, an 18-year scotch or something like that. So, most of the value and taste sort of appreciation happens while it’s still maturing in the barrel. So, that’s the key difference there.

But also, in terms of the market, an individual consumer, there’s no way they can store a barrel in their home or even buy themselves. You need the correct licensing to do that. So, the barriers to entry and getting into the whiskey market are much higher than in the wine world. It’s not even an option to do.

And then second of all, is on the liquidity options. When you’re buying and selling a case of wine, you can sell to a friend, you can sell to a collector, you can sell it to an auction house. It’s usually the eventual consumer. Because you’re a little bit earlier in the supply chain with the whiskey barrel, oftentimes, we actually have contracts where we can sell it back to the brand that we bought it from.

So, it’s really a working capital problem as well that we’re helping to solve, whereas, say, Macallan, they want to age this scotch cask until 18 years. They can’t really just have this thing on their balance sheet for 18 years. That’s not making them any revenue. They want to be able to sell it off and buy it back even if they’re buying it back at a higher point because they know that they can be able to have the cash flow as to fund into future growth. So, your exit options are also different when you’re talking about whiskey and scotch because you can sell to a brand, you can independently bottle it yourselves, you can auction off the entire barrel. So, your options are also different.

Brad Johnson: Very interesting. How does that impact the return profiles? I know that’s a broad question, but if you just kept it at wine return profile, whiskey return profile, how would those two differ?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah. I’d say when you’re looking at the wine return profile, it’s around 10% to 12% a year, usually a longer hold than whiskey. So, wine, we usually recommend as around 7 to 10-year hold. And then on the whiskey side, it really depends on the age of the barrel that you acquire. If you’re acquiring a whiskey that you know is going to be bottled in two or three years, it can be as short as a two or three-year hold. And if you’re buying a brand new make whiskey, planning on aging it from age 0 to 18 years, that can be an extremely long hold. All right. So, whiskey does give you that optionality in terms of the age of the barrel. To an extent, you can get that with wine.

And then the other thing is on liquidity options, right? Everyone can buy wine and sell wine and drink wine at any age. Of course, there are sort of ideal drinking windows to drink wine, so you can see liquidity be stronger. But whiskey barrels, you’re pretty much limited until that sort of ideal exit age, right? That’s why you don’t see a 17-year scotch or a 19-year scotch. For whatever reason, the industry’s decided on 18-year as that number. So, say if you’re holding on to a 15-year scotch and you need to get out for whatever reason, it’s kind of going to be a distress sale. You kind of need to hold on until 18-year because that is that marketable year when the distiller or the brand wants it back.

Brad Johnson: Very cool. Well, we could spend the whole rest of this interview and I could just geek out down that path. But any closing thoughts on just if you were a financial advisor out there and you were just thinking through, huh, this is something new. I hadn’t really thought about this as an asset class. Actually, maybe a better question would be, we just went through this crazy COVID time period, how did wine and whiskey perform during this kind of crazy volatile market time period?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah. So, the really great thing is that you’re looking at the returns of this market, it’s really driven by consumption, so not really the macro factors, right? So, COVID, we definitely saw a boom in alcohol consumption. And now, we’re kind of writing a different way in which we see alcohol consumption also go up during recessionary periods and a lot of volatility in the stock market, right? So, people are drinking more on average, so we’re seeing that second tailwind hit the market as well.

So, over the last couple of years, the wine market’s been around 15% in 2020, another 14% in 2021, a little bit down to 11%, 12% last year. Whiskey market’s been on a tier. It’s been 15% plus for the last five years straight. So, both markets have been really strong, really haven’t shown any correlations in the market. And we’ve seen that as well during the last couple cycles. At the start of the COVID boom as well as during the sort of 2008 financial crisis, they’ve shown to be very low correlation assets and really have helped to outpace inflation because the cost of inflation has built into those price increases.

Brad Johnson: Because this is not the box of wine that we’re talking about at the local liquor store, how do you define high-end collectible wine? Is there a definition you look out there?

Anthony Zhang: I think when our team does and analyzes potential options, we look for three things. A is the longevity. Is this a wine or a whiskey that can age and has shown the track record to be able to age? Does this have scarcity? It’s not mass produced, stuff you can see at Costco. It’s stuff that has limited demand, a limited supply and demand that outpaces it. And then finally is the brand equity value. These are at the end of day, luxury items. And usually, luxury items have been pretty well insulated from recessions because the folks who are buying these luxury items are insulated from recessions as well. So, those are the three main things that we look for.

Brad Johnson: All right, last selfish one question, we’ll get on to business building stuff. What is the hardest, most sought-after wine for you to get allocation in the world?

Anthony Zhang: It’s got to be DRC, the one that you mentioned. So, it’s tiny, tiny productions in the region of Burgundy and France, and they’re highly allocated. One of these bottles can go for easily 20, 30 grand on release. And after you age them for a few years, you’ve seen auction sale records be broken year after year, right? Six-digit price tags for a single bottle. We’re very lucky to be able to even get a couple of cases a year of these wines.

Brad Johnson: I did grab three of, not the DRC because there’s multiple tiers, it was a couple tiers down. And by the way, I would say the last couple of years, it’s done very well. I think it’s been the number one winner in my personal Vinovest portfolio. So, well, cool, and by the way, we’re probably going to have to put some disclaimers on here, like we didn’t offer investment advice. Anthony is not telling you all to go put all your money in wine. So, we’ll flip it up.

Anthony Zhang: Do not put all your money in wine.

Brad Johnson: Yes. Yeah, drink a little bit every once in a while, right?

Anthony Zhang: Yes. At the end of the day, someone’s got to. It’s there for enjoyment.

Brad Johnson: Very cool. All right. So, let’s go to talent acquisition. You’ve scaled, well, if you count the stop in crypto because I know you were a big contributor on that team before you moved on, you’ve now had three stops in very quick scaling startup companies. If you were to offer financial advisors lessons in how to acquire and keep great talent, what lessons would you share?

Anthony Zhang: I think number one is on the hiring process, to make sure the values that you bring to the table resonate with the values of that candidate. So, at Vinovest, we have five core tenets. Number one is defaulting to action. Number two is defaulting to transparency. Number three is having empathy over ego. Number four is always growing through feedback. And finally, it’s don’t be a robot, build the robot. So, those are kind of the five things that really, really drive every single decision that we do.

And we look for those values and the people because what motivates employees, I think, above salary and title and all of that is being able to do things that align with their personal values. And I think if the way that you work and the way that you operate aligns with the way that your employee wants to work and operate and what makes them happy at the end of the day and feel fulfilled, that’s going to be the biggest thing to align on. So, it’s more than just resume, it’s more than just a fancy title or anything like that or fancy work experience. It’s really like going first principles, in my opinion. And that’s kind of led to the best hires, the best retention, and the happiest employees as well.

Brad Johnson: We talk about first principles, thinking a lot of Triad. So, I love that you brought that up. Also, one of our core values is check your ego at the door. So, I love that, the overlap there. Let’s get to that last one that you just shared, build the robot, don’t be the robot. Obviously, you’re a tech company, so that applies even more so. But the whole world, ChatGPT, it’s going the way of the robot and AI. What’s the meaning behind that for your team? Like, expand on that one a bit if you don’t mind.

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, that’s one of my favorite ones because of our tech company DNA, but also because realizing that our human time and energy is finite. Context switching kills productivity. And being able to do high value tasks instead of low value tasks, that’s the biggest difference. If you’re on a call with 10 clients and those are 10 clients I can give you 100k each, what if you spent your time with 10 clients, I can give you a million dollars each? That’s 10x leverage.

And when you’re doing this small sort of advent task or repeatable task during the week, even though they’re mindless and small, they’re still draining you in ways that you don’t really realize. So, it’s something that we can automate. It’s something that’s a five-step process we can turn into a three-step process. We can make efficiencies here and there. That not only makes your employees happier because they can focus their time on high-energy, high-leverage tasks instead of repeatable work.

The other thing is that when you’re scaling the business, you don’t have to scale your headcount linearly when you’re growing. And that’s why our team is very small. We’re less than 20 people and we’re managing now into nine figures of assets. And we’ve grown that very, very quickly. And I think that’s also really crucial, especially in this economic time, where you’re hearing about layoffs left and right, especially in tech companies.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Congrats, by the way. I think last time we talked, it was not nine figures, so that’s crazy growth, which is well deserved because the product’s incredible. I’m a personal believer and user, and yeah, so that’s awesome to hear. I want to save some time here. This podcast is called Do Business, Do Life for a Reason and growing up in finance, this is a very type-A, personality driven world where it’s kind of, especially the top performers typically came into this space where it was like, you want something done right, you got to do it yourself. The grind kind of very similar to the startup grind that I know can be a little bit of the Silicon Valley mantra.

You’ve experienced some serious adversity in your life. And I think anybody that’s built a business as an entrepreneur, that’s part of the game. But I remember it wasn’t until our second or third Zoom that we did, I realized, wow, Anthony actually had a legitimate accident in his life that I would not have even known it had I not seen it in person. And then, I think I read an article kind of what happened. But I would love to just hear your take on mindset because it just blows me away. Like you’ve humbled me, you’ve taught me lessons. I probably haven’t shared this with you, just how you show up and the mindset that I see you approach regardless of the circumstances that you had to deal with. So, I would love to hear your take and your version of how that all played out.

Anthony Zhang: Yeah. No, first of all, I really appreciate that. That’s very, very touching. So, when I was 21 years old, so still running EnvoyNow, the food delivery business, I had a pretty horrific accident where I broke my neck, which then damaged my spinal cord at C5. And that meant that I was instantly paralyzed from the neck down.

So, I’m still in a wheelchair today now, seven plus years later, but going from being a very, very active, kind of feeling top of the world, young founder to being on a ventilator for five months, even fighting to be able to know how to breathe again, much less think about how am I going to feed myself, how am I going to even dress myself. What is my new life in a wheelchair even going to be like? It was a really tough time.

And I think, I have had a lot of support along the way. I’m really thankful to my now wife, McKenna, for being with me during a lot of those tough times, but it’s also made me really grateful. I could have died, right? I could have had brain damage, too. I’m really lucky to have all my mental faculties with me, being able to still work in a profession where I don’t need to use my hands and legs every day and still can operate at a high level being a founder and a CEO at a business and do what I love for the most of every single day. So, it helps to put things in perspective when I’m facing daily business problems and stresses because what’s really most important is my health, is being able to continue that and be able to continually be more independent as a person, as a husband, in the future, starting a family as a father. So, there’s a lot of things that are in my priority sphere that I think I wouldn’t have realized if that experience didn’t happen to me.

Brad Johnson: I think adversity is such an interesting thing, like the mindset and the psychology of just being a human in general because you’ve been doing business a while now, I’ve been doing business a while. There’s the abundance mindset people, there’s the scarcity mindset people. But I think if you’re ever going to test an abundance mindset, you damn near max that scale out, right? And that had to be being a– I remember when I was 21, I was like, thought I was invincible. And how do you go from that young, like the world is my oyster mindset to like you wake up and you’re in a completely different scenario? Can you walk us through how you had to have had steps of like how you started to train your mindset to be able to adapt to that?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah. I mean, it was really, I think, out of necessity. I did not have any education on what a spinal cord injury even was. In the beginning, I thought it was like, hey, it’s just breaking a bone. I’ll be up and running in a few months, realizing that given that damages to your nerves and your spinal cord is not something that can heal. At least now, medical technology hasn’t really allowed us to be able to get there. That was a harsh awakening and realizing that, all right, well, this is kind of going to be my life. I think just realizing the gravity of that.

And there were a lot of other people in the hospital as well, struggling mentally, dealing with loss, dealing with grief, and dealing with their new lives. And I think that also gave me a lot of perspective and being like, hey, I could either just lay in bed and not want to go to physical therapy, reject all of my medical appointments and kind of just mope around, or I can find a way to move forward.

And I think part of what helps me do that was realizing that even though my injury is extremely severe, there is always someone who has less than you, right? There’s always someone who had a more intense injury or has less family support or has less financial resources to be able to even afford medicine. It just helped me realize that even though I lost so much, I still have so much to be thankful for. And I shouldn’t be feeling sorry for myself anymore. I got to get up and do things.

Brad Johnson: Man, I don’t know if you’re a big stoic, if you’re into reading Stoicism or not, but so much of what you just shared reminds me of my first journey into Stoicism, where I just remember I kept an acronym in my head. It was PAC, P-A-C, control your perceptions, direct your actions accordingly, willingly accept what’s outside of your control. And that last one feels like you kind of went down that path quite a ways of like, this is my world, so let’s make the most out of my world today, not just sit there and, like you said, mope around and feel sorry for myself. Was that part of that journey?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, I think I hadn’t discovered Stoicism until a few years after my injury. And I think it’s still an ongoing journey. I saw days and moments where I’m like, wow, still can’t believe this has happened to me and this is my life. But I think that is definitely part of that sort of process and acceptance. And I think also, being able to see the impact that I can have on people, that I think in the COVID period, when we’re all on Zoom, really no one realized that I had a spinal cord injury.

But now, that kind of started out, back in person meetings, back traveling, and things like that, realizing that, hey, I’m really the only person I know in a wheelchair who’s doing this. I think that’s really, really cool for other people who may be at home with a disability, whether it be physical or not, who can see, hey, there is a possibility. You can do things. And that’s also part of what really keeps me going as well.

Brad Johnson: It’s inspirational, man. And I’m not saying that in a cliche way. When I met you, I was fortunate, I guess, full disclosure, to invest in Vinovest in early days through AngelList. And I know Noval’s been a big supporter of what you’re building. But I legitimately would not have known because we were on a couple of Zooms. And I look at as an entrepreneur and as a founder, it is kind of an entrepreneurial rollercoaster. There is the highest highs and the lowest lows as an entrepreneur, and it’s been an inspiration to me because I see you building things and you’re not letting anything get in your way, man. So, who am I to say, oh, today’s a rough day at the office? And I think it’s really cool.

One of the hopes that I have is somebody listening to this interview, it’s dealt with maybe a physical disability or dealt with some adversity, they can look at you as an inspiration because you’re building big things that are changing the world. I mean, you’re democratizing the ability to invest in wine and whiskey. And it’s really cool to watch. And it’s inspirational to me and I know it will be inspirational to others. So, I know we’re right at the end of the time. So, maybe we end it at that.

I’ve got one last question for you, Anthony. This is the Do Business, Do Life podcast, and the way we define that, it’s the yes, and versus the either, or approach to doing business in life and work-life integration. But if I was to get Anthony’s definition of what Do Business, Do Life means to you, how would you define that?

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, I think what you said, work-life integration, I like to think of it as work-life harmony because a lot of people talk about work-life balance. And to me, that kind of insinuates that one has to suffer at the expense of the other. A balance kind of has like a seesaw image in, at least my head. So, when you have harmony between work and life, you can enjoy both at the same time. Even if you’re on vacation, maybe you’re still doing something that could be considered as work that feeds that part of your brain, where humans love work for a reason, right? It feeds something in their mentality to feel like they’re doing something, feel that value. And we all seem to have fun and have leisure time and have life.

So, every single day, I try to incorporate a little bit of that. And sometimes, it’s more than the other. And you kind of be able to find those new harmonies based on what’s happening in your life, but I think it’s really finding that and being able to feel good doing both. To me, a perfect day is not just down the beach doing nothing, or it’s not just like having a bunch of kickass business meetings. It’s like a little bit of both, and that’s what makes me feel fulfilled.

Brad Johnson: Well, my man, love that definition. Well, thanks so much, Anthony. I know you’ve got to run to your next thing. So, thanks so much for the conversation. Thanks for the wisdom you shared with the audience here today. Always good to connect, man, so.

Anthony Zhang: Yeah, it’s so great to catch up with chat. And yeah, thank you again for allowing us all this time and to thank you all, for the listeners, to have spent time out of their day to listen us as well.

Brad Johnson: All right, Anthony. Till next time. See you.

Anthony Zhang: All right. Take care.

Brad Johnson: Bye.


This conversation is not to be considered investment advice. All individuals should independently evaluate the suitability of any investment based on their own circumstances. Brad Johnson is an investor in and a client of Vinovest, Inc.

These conversations are intended to provide financial advisors with ideas, strategies, concepts and tools that could be incorporated into the advisory practice, advisors are responsible for ensuring implementation of anything discussed is in accordance with any and all regulatory and compliance responsibilities and obligations. TP07233006405


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