Conner Taylor and Jessica Bush Taylor of Sommify: Why You Need To Learn To Outsource At Your Level
“Outsource at your level.” Chances are, you’re not a phenomenal videographer. Chances are also good that you know someone in your social circle that at least knows a great videographer, for example. If you’re not the absolute best at something, you should find the person that is the best!
I had the pleasure of interviewing Conner Taylor and Jessica Bush Taylor, creators of Sommify: A Blind Wine Tasting Game.
This married duo has created a board game that teaches blind tasting in the context of a game night. Players accidentally learn to taste like the ‘Somms.’ The couple, alongside designer Andrew Mckee, just Kickstarted the project and funded it completely in 13 hours. They finished the crowdsourcing process hitting 217% of their goal. Games will be available to all this holiday season.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Conner: “In 2019 I wanted to step my wine knowledge up. I had been in the wine industry for 10 years and knew a decent amount, but I had never really tackled blind tasting. I was preparing for two exams last year, the Certified Sommelier (level 2) exam and the WSET III, both extremely challenging and both with blind tasting portions. Most candidates for these tests study for the blind tasting portions in tasting groups, usually meeting weekly at a restaurant or a home. I went to several of these, and unfortunately they were not for me! The people in the groups are great, but the format felt stuffy and intimidating (and I’d been in the industry for a decade!). I can’t imagine joining one of these groups from scratch. So instead of sucking it up and pushing through until I felt comfortable, I decided to make a blind tasting board game that we could practice with anyone. This is how Sommify was born. We traded in our Cards Against Humanity decks for very bad prototypes of our game on weekly game night (Wednesday). 18 months later, we felt we had perfected what we sought to create: a blind tasting board game that put fun at the forefront, taught blind tasting simply enough that anyone could win, and helped us prep for our wine exams. It worked well enough for me to pass both the Certified Sommelier exam and WSET III!”
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Jessica: “Prototyping a blind tasting board game is very difficult! The biggest challenge is that wine is a very subjective beverage. We had to game-ify and make hard rules on a beverage that can change drastically by vintage, winemaker’s style, etc. The first few months of prototyping were frustrating because we knew we didn’t have it right. Changing one game mechanic can be hours upon hours of work, only to test it and realize it wasn’t the right fit. Luckily, our prototyping included drinking LOTS of wine on a beautiful patio in Atlanta, so it was always fun.”
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Conner: “As a wine professional, one of my biggest desires has always been to explain wine to people quickly, to get them to their “Ah-Ha!” moment. The problem with wine is, unlike beer and spirits, the barrier to entry is very intimidating. I’ve never been talked down to asking a question about a bourbon or beer. With wine, condescension happens. We hate that. Our drive is to find a way to teach a ‘newbie’ enough about blind tasting in one evening so that they call the mystery wine correctly, which happens with our game all the time! I love seeing the switch when a player realizes, ‘Hey, this isn’t that hard to understand!” Breaking wines down helps people understand what they love about them.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Conner: “In lieu of answering this question, I’ve attached a segment of our Kickstarter called “Ghosts of Boards past,” where you can see the terrible board designs I came up with before my brother-in-law, Andrew Mckee, intervened. I think you’ll see why he took pity on us and threw us a life preserver! In all seriousness, his design is our secret sauce. It’s direct and beautiful. We’re very lucky to have him.”
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self regarding life lessons, things you would like her to know what would they be and why?
Conner: “I’ve always loved having creative projects in my life. My biggest mistake in creative endeavors has always been trying to do all aspects of the project myself. For Sommify, I had a revelation: If you’re not the absolute best at something, you should find the person that is the best! That sounds like common sense, but I think ego can get in the way of many entrepreneurs. Our designer, Andrew, is the best designer I know. Our actors for our Kickstarter videos and tutorials are incredible. The producer and editor of our videos, Dustin Frissell and Markus Oskarrson, are the best. Our sister Kate created and edited our hilarious wild cards. My wife Jessica has been the best editor of all things Sommify. It takes a village, and we’re lucky to have this particularly talented village.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think we stand out because there’s nothing really like our game out there, at least yet. I think most people want to know more about wine, but blind tasting grids are really intense and complicated. We stand out because we have total amateurs calling wines correctly over industry professionals, all at the same table.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Jessica: “Blind tasting is FUN! The main thing we’ve learned playing with people of all skill levels this past year is that the pro’s get it wrong all the time. It’s a tough skill to hone, but you should never feel bad missing a wine.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Jessica: Over the past 18 months, we’ve had probably hundreds of our friends volunteer to help us prototype our game. Those early months were pretty brutal, as far as gameplay goes. Luckily we were providing the wine! We can’t thank them enough for helping us develop what we think is a good game and new method for blind tasting wine.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Conner: “Be Patient.” When you have an idea that you’re really excited about, you can get equally paranoid that someone develops a similar idea to yours before you. Developing a new idea takes so much time, and it’s no use dwelling on things you can’t control.
2. “People want to help.” It’s still astounding to me the amount of support we’ve gotten from friends, and especially from our talented friends. I’ve learned to not be shy about asking for advice or help. If my friend can’t help me with X problem I’ve presented to them, they may know the exact person you need to talk to. It takes a village!
3. “Just do it.” Just take the leap. Fewer people jump than you think, and your community and support system will be excited for you and want to help.
4. “Outsource at your level.” Chances are, you’re not a phenomenal videographer. Chances are also good that you know someone in your social circle that at least knows a great videographer, for example.
5. “Seek out experts.” You’d be surprised at the willingness of successful people in your field that will be happy to give you advice.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Conner: “Our biggest goal is to remove the barriers of entry to the wine world. We love wine and really want people to get past the stuffiness of it. It’s grape juice!”
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Our instagram is @sommify and our Facebook is www.facebook.com/sommify