By establishing the first registered distillery in the country, Jack Daniel built his success on two fundamental ingredients: identifying a need in the community and crafting a quality process to satisfy that need. Today, Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey honors the makers who follow this time-honored success model of finding the sweet spot of where demand and innovation intersect.
Prologue — A Businessman From the Beginning
Quality time at the dinner table means something different to every family in America. When Jason Finger was eight years old, the conversation in his house typically revolved around the family business, and he wanted in.
Finger’s mother and aunt ran a modest jewelry business when he was growing up, and when he was nine years old, the company— which only had ten employees, including his grandparents —was once swamped with an uncharacteristically large order for beaded bracelets. When Finger asked to help, his relatives playfully offered to pay him one dollar for every bracelet he made, thinking he would get bored quickly and head for the playground.
“I ended up beading 800 bracelets,” Finger says with a laugh. “I got blisters on my fingers, and for the next three weeks I was there after school, just beading these bracelets.”
It may have been Finger’s first foray into business, but it certainly wasn’t the last. By the time he was in college at the University of Maryland, he was selling lavalier pins to sororities and fraternities across more than 20 campuses nationwide, making enough noise to get a cease and desist order from the jewelry giant who handles class rings and jewelry for high schools, colleges, the military, sports teams and more.
When he sought legal counsel on the matter, he had an epiphany.
“Once I learned enough to know that they could actually prevent me from future sales, I decided I wanted to be the one sending that letter next time,” he says. “Not receiving it.”
The Journey – A Hunger For Success
Sparked by the experience at Maryland, Finger ended up earning his MBA and law degree from New York University. He landed a job at a prominent New York City law firm but wanted to do something entrepreneurial. He decided to collect dinner orders for all the staffers working late so he could earn cash back from his credit card.
Coordinating that project and all that it entailed —calling each restaurant, collecting payment, dealing with a steady stream of Manhattan delivery people— sparked a series of conversations. Finger and two friends soon came up with a solution that became Seamless, an online food-ordering service that revolutionized the restaurant industry and made Finger a household name in the business.
SeamlessWeb, as the company was originally called, launched in April 2000, contracting with a handful of Manhattan restaurants and contacting various enterprises with lots of employees—law offices, investment banks, etc.— to build a client base. By 2004, they were the fourth fastest growing company in the U.S. In 2013 they acquired GrubHub and rebranded the company, adopting this consumer-friendly name.
“I like being involved with companies that enable small- and medium-sized businesses to compete effectively,” Finger says, calling back to his days with the family jewelry business. “And I looked at what we were doing at Seamless as a way to help those independent restaurants compete against the companies with multi-billion dollar budgets. We equalized that playing field.”
The Challenge – Make Your Money Count
Since moving on from the restaurant industry, Finger has focused much of his energy on advising and investing in technology companies. And as he works with aspiring business people these days he sees a common problem: Inexperienced entrepreneurs don’t know what to do once they’re flush with cash and things go wrong or how to create an efficient business model.
“Right now there’s a lot of available capital for early-stage businesses,” he says. “A lot of the people who are building businesses take someone else’s money but haven’t fully thought through the market. Raising money was so easy that they don’t feel a sense of vested interest.”
When Seamless started in 2000, shortly after the first tech bubble burst, raising capital was nearly impossible. The company needed to raise money from 44 dfferent people just to secure $345,000—including a $500 investment from the financially conservative grandfather of Finger’s wife—and was able to make every dollar count, knowing full well there might not be more to come if they made mistakes.
“A lot of companies now go out and raise $30 million from the Series A round, not because they need that much money but because it’s available” he says. “And I look at them and say, ‘Getting the right mentors is much more important than the money as, the right mentor can help you figure out your business plan with one tenth of that number.’”
The Future – Eager to Help
Finger’s early work experiences with his family still loom large in his life, as does his desire to work with emerging businesses eager to make their mark. He currently invests in and sits on the board of a wide variety of tech companies, but one theme persists as he looks to connect with more entrepreneurs eager to follow in his footsteps.
“One of the things that really gets me excited is helping people,” he says. “I truly get joy from seeing someone start a company, create hundreds or thousands of jobs and follow a dream.”
Visit The Pitch Distilled to learn how distilling your business model can lead to success and read more inspiring entrepreneurial stories.
This article was produced by WIRED Brand Lab in partnership with Gentleman Jack.