ToutSuite: Napa’s Tastiest Startup

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Think of a dinner party and you probably picture this: a long table filled with guests who don’t know each other very well. Strange food and a slightly uptight atmosphere are also par for the course.

ToutSuite Social Club is reinventing the dinner party concept by interviewing tastemakers and posting videos online.

Founders Susan Quinn and Didier Loustau created ToutSuite as a fresh spin on the dinner party. The popularity of podcasts and cooking shows in the past few years means the club should continue to grow.

ToutSuite’s unique experiences as a food and media business are a great inspiration for any startup. I recently spoke with Susan Quinn about the club and its success.

ToutSuite Social Club is recorded in Napa.

Top 4 from ToutSuite Social Club

1. Opposites attract.

Didier Loustau worked in restaurants all over the world before opening Dean and Deluca and Loustau Wines in the US. Susan Quinn was an internet entrepreneur who founded and was involved in many sites before she decided to try her luck in a new field of work. Together, they combined cooking, conversation and interactivity.

Susan Quinn made a resolution a few years ago to host more dinner parties. Didier Loustau had been around the food business all his life.  Both met in 2009 and felt that ToutSuite would help local wineries and other businesses improve sales.

Lesson: Don’t be afraid to work with people with unusual backgrounds. People with diverse work experiences and education can see things in a new light and come up with innovative solutions to problems. You never know what they can contribute to a seemingly unrelated job. Develop a strong common goal to strengthen the team.

2. Interactivity raises your profile.

While guests discuss the things that motivated them to  start restaurant and food businesses, viewers can contribute via social media outlets like Twitter. ToutSuite makes videos available on its site, Vimeo and YouTube.

The founders wanted to involve social media from the beginning. “We haven’t changed a thing from the original concept,” said Quinn. Viewer input changes the flow of conversation and makes the show unpredictably fun.

Lesson: If your business is still avoiding social media, think like ToutSuite and cover all the relevant social outlets so people can find you anywhere. Remember, YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine, which means if you don’t  have visual content, people won’t discover the business.

3. Invest in the right workspace.

You might assume ToutSuite is filmed in a professional studio with a kitchen. The truth is, Quinn had to move out of her house to accommodate the show, but it’s worth it.

“This is no joke, it’s a bootstrap! The house works really well,” Susan said. Bedrooms have been repurposed into offices and meals are cooked in her former kitchen.

Lesson: Use whatever you have to start up your business, including your house or garage. Thinking strategically about what you have will help you expand the business appropriately. Working from home is a great way to save money on furniture, transportation and other costs of going to a separate office.

4. Develop brand ambassadors.

ToutSuite brings consumers face to face (via social media) with winemakers, chefs and other food industry members. Viewers can’t get enough. They love the chance to communicate with guests and get to know the faces behind their favorite chocolates and wines.

“There’s a certain element of bragging rights being involved in the show,” said Susan.

Lesson: Don’t underestimate the power of brand ambassadors/evangelists. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell explained what marketing companies have known for years: a few select people can influence others’ purchase decisions. These people spread news of new products  and will spend big on something they love. Reach out to them and they’ll help you cultivate an audience and boost sales.

“People who watch the show are attending wineries,” Susan said. The show’s guests are getting more visitors and buyers who first heard about their businesses on ToutSuite.

ToutSuite’s unique business model has been incredibly successful in just a few short years.  No matter what industry you work in, it’s a great example of what it takes to start an innovative new company.

Joanna Ebizie earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from St. Edward’s University. Her experience includes writing traditional and online written content in a variety of industries such as finance and technology. Recent articles have appeared in The Business Finance Store and Rock Solid Finance. Find her online here.

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