Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary — An Interview with Graham Veysey of MANCAN Wine
Graham Veysey (right) is a neighborhood developer in Hingetown; the head wine guy at MANCAN Wine — the first exclusive wine-in-a-can company; and the Principal of North Water Partners — an Emmy Award winning production firm. North Water Partners produces content for global brands, arts and cultural institutions, and political campaigns. Graham consults for the Aspen Institute, producing aspects of the Aspen Ideas Festival and is a Contributor for Vanity Fair for The New Establishment Summit. Graham was formerly the project director for the Ohio City Farm, a six-acre urban farm in Cleveland. He serves on the boards of Cleveland Public Theatre, Policy Matters Ohio, and the Bidwell Foundation. He was a 2016 Presidential Leadership Scholar.
We were lucky enough to interview Graham about the story of his latest venture, MANCAN. Be sure to check the end of the article for a special discount code exclusive to Hum readers and look for MANCAN at your local Costco, Total Wine & More, or BevMo!.
As Graham Veysey puts it, MANCAN Wine is still in its introductory phase. “We are still at that ‘hello’ moment,” says the 35-year-old founder.
Despite the infancy of his latest venture, Graham is no stranger to entrepreneurial success. He founded and leads North Water Partners, an Emmy Award winning creative consulting and video production team and heads up Hingetown, a neighborhood development project in Cleveland, OH, with his wife, Marika Shiori-Clark.
Even though he has found success in other areas, Graham’s curiosity and drive to create lead him to keep innovating, most recently with MANCAN.
Curiosity can strike anywhere
“It happened after a night of being covered in construction dust, working with a project my wife and I have been undergoing, which is neighborhood redevelopment in Cleveland… We’d been working on that project and finishing some drywall work and I went out to the bar with a buddy and I thought, ‘Why isn’t there wine in a can?’
I looked at all of these craft beers and said, ‘Why do beer drinkers have it so easy?’ And really, I whipped out my cell phone at the bar I bought MANCANwine.com… I woke up and I had the invoice from GoDaddy and I thought, ‘Wow, I actually love that idea.’”
Graham jokes that this isn’t the first time this has happened.
“GoDaddy knows a lot of my curiosity. All of a sudden I’ll wake up and have an invoice from GoDaddy for $12 for whatever website I bought the night before.”
Wanting more confirmation that the idea had legs, Graham turned to his 3 brothers and they quickly gave their approval.
“I am one of 4 boys, so I called my brothers. They love wine too, but they’re not persnickety about it. And they said they would put in their fridges in a heartbeat.”
“If I don’t do it, no one else will.”
Despite the potential of the idea, it is reasonable to think it could have died right there. Graham had already found plenty of success and he and Marika were plenty busy, to be sure.
“I think it boils down to the creators’ mentality. I love the shoes but I love the motto even more — ‘Just Do It.’ If you see an opportunity, you should just do it. And I think for me and for my wife who also has the entrepreneurial spirit, we see something and say, ‘Alright, well how could we do that?’ or ‘What’s the best way to skin this cat?’
Thomas Edison, he’s got one of the best quotes ever, ‘Ideas without action are mere hallucinations.’
From my standpoint, I wanted the convenience of wine in a can. I figured, if I don’t do it, no one else will.”
From hucking juice to making video
Graham grew up telling stories through video. As a 14-year-old, he spent his summers hucking juice for Tom Scott and Tom First, founders of little juice company you may have heard of, Nantucket Nectars.
Tom Scott was a great mentor for Graham and once Tom’s interests changed, so did Graham’s.
“When Tom and Tom sold Nantucket Nectars to Cadbury Schweppes, they bought the local TV channel and I went from hucking juice to making video content. And that was really the transition.”
From there, Graham worked on Tom Scott’s new project, Plum TV, a broadcasting network aimed at covering resort and vacation life in affluent communities in areas like Nantucket, Aspen, and the Hamptons.
Graham’s work on Plum TV and mentorship received by Tom Scott eventually led him to begin and find great success with his own project, North Works Partners.
The right partner
Through his work at North Works, Graham knew he had the necessary skills in storytelling and marketing to build a brand and ethos around MANCAN. But he also knew the value of a partner to compliment his skill set and he found the perfect one in his childhood friend, Fisk Biggar.
“I was telling a bunch of people about MANCAN and one of them was one of my childhood best friends, Fisk. We’ve been pals for 25 years. He was in business school, finishing it up and I said, ‘Hey, would you crunch the numbers on this,’ because I am a marketing and storytelling guy, and he’s a much more numbers and scale guy… It’s a really good ying-yang relationship.”
That was all it took for the partnership to be formed and from there, they were off and running, but it was far from an easy process.
“You’ve got to be rabid about it.”
Graham and Fisk were facing the challenge of developing a new category and all that comes with it.
“The wine in a can channel… there’s a reason why it wasn’t already there. It’s hard and there are regulatory issues that we dealt with.
We took about a year and a half to develop a supply chain that was robust enough to scale. And we then created the brand and did all of the legal elements that were necessary, and we took it to market in October 2015.
We were going door to door in San Francisco to start off and that really shed a lot of light on how people were responding. We took 2016 and really rapid-prototyped. In 2017, we have implemented those best practices and lessons learned and we are seeing really strong pull through velocity.”
Graham knows hitting the ground running when they did was necessary for their success.
“The category has gotten a lot more populated since we first started on the journey. These are multi-step processes but you’ve got to be rabid about it. When you’ve got an idea, you can’t blink.”
Educating the consumer
Creating a new category, MANCAN faced the challenge of educating the consumer of the benefits of their product. The obvious benefit? Convenience.
“The big thing is convenience. You crack it open and drink it right from the can.”
The other less-obvious benefit? It is actually better for the wine. As Graham explains, “The 2 main destabilizing factors for wine are oxygen and light. Obviously, with an aluminum can, you get no light penetration so you don’t have the destabilization happening when the sun is shining on it.
And then with oxygen, we dose each can with nitrogen and then seal it up (to keep oxygen out). We lock in that universal drinkability right at that point.”
Consumers also expressed concern over the possibility of a metallic taste in the wine. “People have that apprehension, but we actually seal the can with a liner that prevents any contact with the metal, so there is no metallic taste.”
Through perfecting these intricacies and building their brand, Graham and Fisk are seeing MANCAN grow, and grow quickly.
“We are in 14 states and just got an additional Costco placement. We are in all the Total Wine & More’s, about 70 units and all the BevMo!’s, about 200 units
Even though this isn’t his first rodeo, Graham continues to learn new things every time he starts another venture. For MANCAN, it has been the idea that, in entrepreneurship, success and failure are not always logical.
“Logic doesn’t always apply. Particularly in the booze business; it doesn’t make sense when you all of a sudden sell out at a particular store and they don’t reorder. Logic would make you believe that if you sell it, they are going to reorder it and that doesn’t happen… You’re like, ‘What the f*ck, I don’t get it.’”
Despite the frustrations that come with constantly tackling new industries, it is obvious that Graham is never going to stop creating and, because of that, never stop learning. What keeps him constantly seeking new challenges? Graham credits his curiosity and his storytelling background.
“A huge part of it is curiosity… the fact that we are even having this conversation comes from curiosity… And part of it stems from the storytelling side of it. I’ll share anybody’s story and I try to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.”
A vision for the future
And that is exactly what Graham has done with MANCAN. He has taken a seemingly simple idea that should have existed decades ago, told a story around it, and built a brand.
The ultimate goal? “Being able to become the brand synonymous with wine in a can.”
The wine industry has been around for thousands of years. It’s ordinary. But finding space to build and own a new category within that industry? That’s extraordinary.
We cannot thank Graham enough for the chance to interview him and share his story and experiences with our readers.
Use the discount code “Hum10” when you shop at MANCAN Wine to receive 10% off of your order. Must be 21 years or older to purchase.