soft skillsWe often invite international Entrepreneurship Master’s students to our home in the wine country. We want to give them a break from the steel and glass buildings on the campuses they tour in Silicon Valley. They come from all over the world to pay homage to the great Technopreneurship successes of our time. After touring Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others, and after being dazzled by technology and lectured by VCs, they get to put their feet on the ground – literally. We take them to what we call “Your Outdoor Classroom in the Wine Country.”

Instead of steel, glass and concrete, we offer grassy meadows, creeks, oaks and redwoods next to a vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Instead of tech talk, engineering, VCs, and unicorns, we offer soft skill approaches to the three critical business relationships: employees, vendors, and buyers.

We sit them down in a natural setting and engage them in a discussion of how to use soft skills to earn hard cash. It is, after all, through soft skills that we are able to attract, train, and keep the best people. It is through soft skills that we are able to establish extended credit and terms. And it is through soft skills that we are able to make sales and achieve loyal customers.

But some students come from cultures that view soft skills as some kind of weakness, like actually being soft and weak.

They may come from cultures that are relatively new to entrepreneurship. For instance, they themselves may have good reasons for not trusting their governments or businesses. They may view monopoly, brute strength, amassed wealth, or coercion as the primary tools used to achieve entrepreneurial success.

Of course, the problem with that type of thinking is that it reduces the opportunities for entrepreneurship unless of course, you are in the moneyed class. When nobody trusts you, you can easily suffer from high turnover, lack of staff engagement, and having to spend too much of that money because you are less likely to secure beneficial credit and terms.

Hence the fascination with the West. Our business culture is based on trust! And the foundation of trust is compassion. “Does the person I’m doing business with understand, care,  and acknowledge my challenges? Do they communicate with me in ways that make me feel comfortable taking a risk with them?” These are the questions that, if answered in the affirmative by your employees, vendors, and buyers, can significantly reduce your need for capital and dramatically increase your bottom line.

A business culture based on trust is not weak!

Its strength is based on mutual benefit and the proliferation of entrepreneurship, not just “old money.” That proliferation results in more breakthroughs that reduce costs and raise everyone’s standard of living. Most of the jobs in the US are with small entrepreneurs.

We draw a distinction between engineering on the one hand, which is based on the laws of physics and hard science,  and negotiation on the other, which is based on mutual benefit and soft skills. A good negotiator discovers win-win situations and efficient solutions, which displays anything but weakness. On the contrary, it demonstrates a transcendent strength that turns competition into cooperation.

Cultures that are relatively new at entrepreneurship are sending their students to the US to see what makes us tick and why our form of entrepreneurship works. We hope to share these underpinnings of soft skills and their impact on the trust that promotes credit, terms, loyalty, and reduces the need for capital. We hope to demonstrate how soft skills earn hard cash!

Perhaps they will take home some of these soft skill seeds and plant in their own back yard. And perhaps they will blossom into more opportunities for more of their own people! Soft skills are strong skills!


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