Russian StudentsWe recently had the honor of hosting 40 graduate entrepreneurship students from Skolkovo Moscow School of Management. They were here to tour Silicon Valley and gain knowledge from the shrines of American Entrepreneurship. At the end of their tech tour, we invited them up to the Russian River wine country. Here they enjoyed some time in nature, a few talks on entrepreneurship, an outdoor luncheon, a history lesson about grapes and wine in Sonoma County, and yes, a wine tasting.

Skolkovo is one of the top universities in the world and is associated with MIT. The students were in their 30s and many already had their own businesses. Others were either considering the prospects or just wanted a better understanding.

Introducing the Russian Students to Soft Skills

We knew they had seen a lot and heard a lot about hard tech in the Valley. Between the VCs and the auspicious examples of technical success, we figured they might appreciate a more natural environment and a talk on something entirely different, so we presented them with our course on “How Soft Skills Earn Hard Cash.”

We decided to take them through the three basic soft skills (Appreciation, Acknowledgement, and Communication), and how they apply to the three basic business relationships (Employees, Vendors, and Buyers).

Although soft skills are not the only thing you need to be a success, their absence can result in expensive and crippling turnover, higher costs, loss of credit, and loss of customers. In other words, there has to be a balance between tech skills and soft skills.

We were impressed with the students and their sincere interest in achieving business success. We started with what we had in common: a desire to have loyal and engaged employees, a need for extended credit and terms, and a need for ongoing and increasing business.

Even with the obvious cultural differences between our societies, business is business and people are people. How folks are treated makes a big difference in their discretionary decisions regarding your company’s products and services. And probably the most important consideration you can give others as a business person is respect for their concerns.

If they are employed by you, do you have their interests at heart?

Do you demonstrate it? For instance, can employees enhance their careers with your company? Do they get the compensation, recognition, education, security, and the time with their family they need to remain loyal?

If they are your vendor, do you treat their salespeople with respect?

Do you call in advance of a late payment with a plan to bring your account current? Do you consider a long-term contract so they can feel confident extending the terms and credit you need to grow your business?

If they are your buyer, do you service what you sell?

Do you honor your warranties? Do you provide the kind of support they need to stay with you, increase their purchases, and promote your products? Do you understand and address every level of buyer from your warehouse to your ultimate consumer so your products will move freely through the channels?

All of this really comes down to putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes. Know what they want, and get what you want by giving them what they want first. In other words, as our friend Ivan Misner likes to say, “Take off the bib and put on the apron!” Or, as we like to say, “If you are going to be a jerk, get out your wallet! It’s going to cost you more.”

These lessons are international and timeless. Anyone with a great idea that can change the world will have a much easier time doing so by practicing these soft skills. They can make the critical difference between success and failure.

When we first got into business, we thought that our product was so good, that it would sell itself (Gold Medal winners under $6). We couldn’t understand why the world wasn’t knocking out windows and kicking down doors to get to us. It cost us plenty of time, money, and anguish to finally learn and master these essential skills, which, ultimately, resulted in our major success.

We were thrilled to be able to share the practical benefits of soft skills in business with the impressive students of Skolkovo.  We wish them the best in their own businesses and hope they will return for  another visit to their “Outdoor Classroom in the Wine Country!”  Надеюсь увидеть тебя снова в ближайшее время!



Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact