Alyssa Rapp is managing partner of AJR Ventures, a firm providing strategic advisory services to companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500’s in the technology, beverage and luxury goods categories. In 2014, Alyssa Rapp joined as a lecturer in management at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, annually teaching a course on the Global Dynamics of the Wine Industry. Previously, Alyssa Rapp served as the founder and CEO of Bottlenotes, Inc., the leading interactive media company in the U.S. wine industry. She is the author of Bottlenotes Guide to Wine: Around the World in 80 Sips®. Alyssa was named in Inc. Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Coolest Entrepreneurs in America and is consistently named one of the wine industry’s top 100 most influential people by Intowine.com. Bottlenotes received the “People’s Choice Award” at the Empact Showcase at the United Nations, honoring the top 100 companies with founders under 35. Alyssa frequently serves as contributor to national print publications and television networks such as Forbes and The Today Show as an expert on wine and entrepreneurship.
Alyssa earned a B.A. in political science and the history of art from Yale University in 2000 and an M.B.A. from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 2005. Alyssa serves on the Board of Trustees for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the country’s leading contemporary dance company, on the national Board of Directors of Spark Program, a nonprofit that provides life-changing apprenticeships for middle school students, and is a gubernatorial-appointee to the Illinois Housing Development Authority board, dedicated to providing affordable housing throughout the state of Illinois. Alyssa is also a wife and mother of two young girls.
How did you end up at AJR Ventures. What was your career path?
While a Stanford MBA student from 2003 to 2005, I incubated the ideas for my first company Bottlenotes, Inc. It started as a “Netflix for wine” concept. Due to a regulatory shift, we pivoted to become one of the leading media companies in the US beverage industry. Upon selling that venture, I knew I wanted to take some time to figure out what was next. AJR Ventures became the best vehicle for doing so. I founded AJR Ventures with my former director of operations from Bottlenotes, Anthony Overstreet, in order to advise large-scale private enterprises on their ecommerce, digital, and social media strategies and new business unit innovation. We’ve had the privilege of working with great companies and a great team of advisors and interns so far on projects that really excite us.
What is a day as Alyssa like? Please walk me through a day!
Woken up by 3 year old Audrey or 1.5 year old Henriette.
Work out—with my husband whenever possible.
Audrey nursery school drop off
Transition to office or first meeting of day
Quick lunch, most often at desk, sometimes over a meeting
Dinner, bath time routine with kids
Catch up with husband and on lingering work from the day
What is your favorite thing about working at AJR Ventures?
The ability to leverage a decade of experience in the trenches as an entrepreneur on behalf of great partners and enterprises.
What are the most important characteristic someone needs to have to be successful in your role?
Vision. Clear communication skills. Ability to inspire a team.
What has been your proudest moment from your career so far?
Getting invited to give the keynote address to all incoming admits at Stanford Business School admit weekend a few years ago. It was an honor and hard to believe that they felt me worthy of standing as a role model of how to leverage your GSB experience in your career. Similarly, being appointed as a lecturer in management as Stanford GSB a few years ago. Both sets of experiences made me feel that, in part I’ve come full circle since my time as an MBA student even though I know I still have a long way to go and grow in order to achieve all my professional goals.
What is your advice for someone who hopes to work at AJR Ventures or a similar company?
Work your ass off.
You have been a lecturer in management at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business for the past 3 years. What has been gratifying about that experience?
I believe firmly in the saying “if you want to learn, teach” and so I truly love the opportunity to teach a course every year on the Global Dynamics of the Wine Industry at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business because it affords me the opportunity to take a 50 thousand foot view in an industry in which I’ve been operating and executing for the past 10 years. While it is gratifying to share insights gleaned from the school of hard knocks over the past decade with a classroom full of eager students, it is equally inspiring and even more beneficial to me to get to tease out existing challenges and new major opportunities in the global industry as a whole with such exceptional minds.
You were previously the founder and CEO of Bottlenotes, Inc., the leading interactive media company in the U.S. wine industry. What did you learn from that experience?
I learned more from that experience than I can probably distill into just a few sentences. (Who knows someday maybe I’ll write a book.) But to summarize,
- Even if you are underfunded, a small group of highly dedicated, motivated people can accomplish great feats.
- Being too early in a market is, in many ways, equally if not more detrimental as being too late. Market timing is a crucial ingredient to a startup’s success.
- Having great capital partners can make or break your success as a young, growing enterprise.
You are immersed in civic life. Has service always been important to you?
Yes. My parents, Fay and Daniel Levin, have set an extraordinary role model for service in our family. Perhaps its no surprise therefore that my brother works at the White House and I serve on several boards for areas of keenest interest to me civically, which are early childhood education, the arts, and housing as a human right.
How has becoming a mom impacted your leadership style?
Being a mom myself has clearly impacted how I manage other working moms in the workplace, providing me with a greater level of understanding, compassion, and flexibility around “momtrepreneurs.” On a personal note, it has required me to be even more efficient with my own time. My time with our girls has also been some of the most rewarding of my life so far.
What is one thing that you wish you had known when you were starting out your career?
I am extremely fortunate that I met my life partner, now husband, Hal Morris when I was 25 years old. He has stood by me and with me through the roller coaster of entrepreneurial life and all related transitions. I underestimated how helpful that steadfast support would be particularly as an entrepreneur.
Similarly, I feel extremely fortunate to have had extremely important woman and mentors, starting with my mother, ambassador to the Netherlands, to my first boss, congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, to a dozen extraordinary women mentors and friends over the past decade and a half. Whether they are major CEOs, partners at major consulting or venture firms, etc., so many of the unique challenges to us as women executives in the workforce are consistent. Their shared experience and perspective has been invaluable throughout my career.
What are your three favorite books?
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Personal History by Katherine Graham
What are you reading right now?
I really try hard to stay on top of The New York Times and The New Yorker these days. That’s about as good as it gets with a full time career, a wonderful husband, and two small children. I hear that will likely change in the next few years.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Just because someone can’t help you doesn’t mean they can’t hurt you. Make nice.
What is your career advice for other young professional women?
Find great mentors and maintain those relationships vigorously.
Image via Alyssa Rapp.