A bean bag chair, tea caddy, ping pong table and more than six dozen workers wearing casual clothing and headphones sitting row after row at open plan desks.
Sounds like scenes from a downtown San Francisco or Silicon Valley-style startup. But this operation is right here in Napa.
Called nakedwines.com, the business is perhaps most visible to drivers whizzing along the Maxwell Bridge. The company’s new offices are located in the South Napa Century Center on Gasser Drive.
What does nakedwines.com do?
“We crowdfund winemakers all around the world,” said Ryan O’Connell, a company spokesman with the title Naked Narrator.
Nakedwines.com works with independent winemakers to help them make their wine. The winemakers can use their own label or name but nakedwines.com is listed on the back of the bottle as the winery that produced the wine.
The company uses a custom crush facility in Kenwood to make the wines. Nakedwines.com then sells the wine for the winemakers. The company serves buyers in the U.S. the U.K. and Australia.
“We want to get to a world where wine drinkers can afford to drink really great wines, and you do that by connecting winemakers and wine drinkers directly,” said O’Connell.
The company uses a somewhat unusual method of financing the business. “Angels” or subscribers pay $40 per month up front. The angels can then buy wine from nakedwines.com at a deep discount – 40 to 60 percent — using their credits.
Nakedwines.com now has more than 115,000 angels in the U.S. who have helped the company invest in more than 159 independent winemakers in 14 countries.
Some in the wine industry consider the company business model a disrupter, O’Connell acknowledged.
“But I don’t think of us that way,” he said. “We want to create a great system for people to enjoy wine and we want everybody to benefit from it.”
“It’s really inspiring being part of an industry trying a new take on an old industry,” said Cari Cameron, head of acquisitions at nakedwines.com.
This is the fifth Napa location for nakedwines.com, said O’Connell. The company moved last spring after most recently occupying space near the Napa County Airport.
The design of the new building includes cork flooring, sliding partition doors, large windows, metal and wood accents and winery-inspired elements such as metal catwalks and viewing platforms.
“It was really important that it be an office built around wine and wine tasting,” said O’Connell. “We have a real facility to taste all of our winemakers’ wines; all the bells and whistles to really feel like we’re part of wine country.”
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Plus, it’s a fun place to work, he said.
The staff break room features Astro Turf-style grass, along with personalized bulletin boards displaying hashtags such as #wallofhappiness, #makeadifference and #keepingthemagic.
Large handmade dioramas made by a nakedwines.com employee decorate one coffee bar area.
“We’re part old world wine-making tradition and new world dot com, and we think the design reflects that,” said O’Connell.
While the back of the building that faces the Maxwell bridge is clearly identified with a nakedwines.com sign, the actual entrance and front door of the business is harder to identify.
Except for a small security keypad located off to one side, there’s no actual door handle or sign. Instead, upon admittance, a large wooden and metal door pivots to open, as if to reveal a secret entrance.
The front door isn’t meant to be mysterious, said O’Connell. But even though nakedwines.com is all about wine, the Napa location isn’t open for wine tasting or drop-in visitors.
Originally, the company planned to host a wine-tasting room for clients at its new Napa location, but that idea did not progress. However, nakedwines.com still hosts its own events and groups on the property, said O’Connell.
Inside the vast open office, 84 people staff departments such as finance, operations, business development, data, shipping, compliance and customer service. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., staffers work in multiple shifts.
Large monitors installed at row ends display current statistics such as the number of calls, average customer hold time and number of missed calls.
“We want a person to answer you within one minute,” O’Connell said.
The open plan office takes some getting used to, O’Connell admitted. Even company executives sit side-by-side with the other staffers.
“If anyone likes hearing the buzz, it’s the executives,” he said.
To know what customers want and wine drinkers are talking about, “You have to be close” to the people talking to your customers, he noted.
Now that nakedwines.com is established in the Century Center and has more employees, the company is evolving in new ways.
“We finally have the ability to reach out and participate in the community a little more effectively,” said O’Connell. That includes joining in with local charity events and organized activity such as with Napa Humane or for fire relief.