In the 11 years that they’ve been together, Alex Oh and Samuel Hilbert have built both successful careers separately and an incredible business together. Both passionate about wine, they opened their tasting room, Aluel Cellars, to make wine more approachable and fun.
As they grew and expanded their business, they experienced many highs and lows. Communication, in particular, was sometimes an exciting adventure and other times a major, major challenge.
“Just learning how to get to those in-sync points, and it wasn’t without its challenges, we had to spend a lot of time focusing on communication, focusing on how we talk to each other and just being open with each other about our feelings,” Samuel says. “And a lot of that came from learning. Even pre-winery, that was such an important part of our journey together."
They also had to find the right balance in their differing approaches. Sometimes, this meant helping each other adjust their ideas of time management. At other times, it’s about remembering that you’re part of a team.
“Pick your battles,” Alex says. “My priorities and my standards for certain things are different from your standards and your expectations of certain things. But then you’ve got to remember that it’s a collective, it’s not just about me. Aluel bears both of our names in it. And so I've got to realize that, hey, I’m not flying solo here, I have a copilot.”
In the moments where you don’t want to or can’t bend, you have to rely on the strength of your communication.
“But at the same time, the communication and trust that exists allows you to push back when you do truly believe that something is important,” Alex says. “But how do you do that? You need to have that strong foundational level of trust and openness and communication to have those hard conversations. It’s not about you, it’s not personal. It’s not about me, it’s not personal. It’s about this particular situation and how do we get the best result.”
This trust also applies to employees. For both Alex and Samuel, getting to that level of communication and trust was a challenge.
“It was definitely a journey, for sure. We both come from high-pressure environments where we want to make sure everything’s perfect. And what you realize is, when you run a business, nothing is ever going to be that perfect,” Alex says. “And so you think, ‘Okay, what am I willing to let go of?’”
For Aluel, they have learned to evaluate what level of good is enough to maintain the business they want.
“You’ve gotta calibrate that for yourself or your partnership, because nothing’s going to be at 100%. There’s a range for comfort. Are you okay with 70%, is that good enough? Or are you one that requires 90% to be good enough? And that 90%, is that reasonable?” Alex says. “And so we’re constantly asking ourselves that, whether it relates to trusting others to do stuff or whether we want to outsource certain things. We’re just always coming back to that calculus.”
To get to this level, you need to have employees that you can trust to make their own decisions. Successfully running a business means having employees who can take on the responsibility and letting them handle what you give them.
“Some of it’s figuring out where we have weaknesses, but also having somebody who has the confidence in themselves and trust in us to represent our brand,” Samuel says. “Because if I have to make every decision for you, you’re not an asset to me and you really aren’t going to be part of this team. Because you need to be a team player and be able to do things on your own.”
When you have employees you can rely on, you should also ensure that your team is always working toward the same goals. These objectives will vary among your employees, but you should find a way to pursue every goal, not just your own.
“We need to know the track that we’re on and make sure that we’re headed on the same track and that we can align our tracks together,” Samuel says. “And that’s between me and Alex and me and any employee that works for us.”
Lastly, always be ready to adjust your course as needed.
“Don’t be afraid to pivot,” Alex says.
“We’ve done a lot of pivots and we’ll continue to do a lot of pivots,” Samuel agrees.
Catch the full story here, where we discuss how Alex and Samuel met, how they’re making wine less stuffy, and the ways they’ve kept their love of travel alive during the pandemic.
You can order your own bottles of Aluel wine at aluelcellars.com and catch up with Alex and Samuel on Facebook and Instagram.