Alcohol and business school don’t usually mix well, but for Bruno Balbás, things were a little different.
His Executive MBA from ESADE Business School brought with it a massive career change. Having previously worked in hospitality management, in 2011 Bruno and three friends founded Sangría Lolea, the world’s first gourmet sangría.
Consisting of red wine, chopped fruit and brandy, sangría is an immensely popular drink in Spain and Portugal, with an increasing worldwide presence.
In the midst of the global economic crisis and overshadowed by the inexpensive and omnipresent Don Simón brand, Bruno originally found it tough to convince retailers that Sangría Lolea was worth spending the extra money on.
With over two million bottles sold and a presence in more than 40 countries, it’s safe to say that Bruno has overcome those teething problems. On the horizon is a restaurant chain, although Bruno’s primary aim is to consolidate Lolea’s position in the market.
Where did the idea for Sangría Lolea come from?
I started Sangría Lolea with three of my good friends – Nieves, Cheles and Javier. It came from our collective need to recover from a global economic crisis.
In 2011, we began to think about what we could do to push our careers outside the company we all worked for. The company in question, like so many others at the time, had to drastically cut its budget.
As a consequence, we suddenly became unable to implement our many ideas, because there was little support available.
We wanted to continue creating new experiences and projects for clients, but the message we received continuously from our bosses was that people didn’t want new things, that people were too sad.
It was at that point we started to dream about creating our own business.
What are the main challenges you’ve faced so far?
In 2012, when we were contacting retailers about our new gourmet sangría, their only point of reference was Don Simón, the low-cost boxed sangría.
Once we had bottled Sangría Lolea, it had a price similar to that of a premium wine. We therefore had to convince traditional retailers that we had invented a new category, that of gourmet sangría.
Our last challenge was to try to explain our history and the values of this new product to the market.
We overcame these problems through use of the Internet, social media and doses of originality in our communication campaigns, but also because we were convinced of the eventual success of the high-quality product we were offering.
Why did you decide to pursue an Executive MBA?
When you’ve been working in the same job for ten years, you start to feel that your career might be becoming too specialized, and you begin to feel the need to open up to new opportunities.
That’s exactly what happened to me, and an Executive MBA was the logical response.
Why was ESADE the right school for you?
Of all the business schools that were accessible to me, ESADE was the most open-minded in terms of education, as it placed a high value on people both individually and as part of a community.
From the very beginning, I felt like I was part of a team of people characterized by mutual support.
How have you gained from your Executive MBA experience?
I’ve gained general knowledge and expertise in many areas that I didn’t practice regularly, despite having learnt about them before.
I believe the EMBA gives you a wider view in this sense, as well as the security you need to face new challenges thanks to the toughness and experience of the other students.
Have you made much use of ESADE’s resources for entrepreneurship?
I used the ESADE Creapolis during my EMBA, which was a great incubator to be a part of. I also hope to utilize ESADEBAN, the school’s business angels network, very soon, and on a couple of occasions I have used the alumni network to enquire about new markets.
What do you consider your biggest personal success with Sangría Lolea?
I always love seeing bottles of Lolea in the most remote places in the world through Instagram.
It’s also incredible when someone writes to me asking to represent Lolea in a secluded place like Bali, Barbados or Uruguay.
You recently opened Casa Lolea in Barcelona, your first actual restaurant. Is this something you’d like to bring to more cities?
The opening of the first Casa Lolea was a real triumph. At the moment, we’re looking into the possibility of opening another location in Barcelona, as well as new locations in Miami, Dubai and New York.
Do you have any advice for budding MBA entrepreneurs?
MBA entrepreneurs must have confidence in their project, and must also put together a cohesive, committed team. I’m sure that all together the students can dream of that winning team.
What advice do you have for people considering an executive programme?
If you have professional concerns but also want to expand your vision of the business world, an EMBA is your best option.
What are your plans for the future?
We’ve already broken into the market, so now I want to ensure that gourmet sangría is here to stay. With more than 20 premium brands in our niche, difficult and exciting times are around the corner.
I also hope to continue supporting Spanish cuisine around the world through Sangría Lolea, and of course with the expansion of Casa Lolea.
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