Wine Collector Series: Mike Rose, CEO of Mojo Media Labs
A Wine Collector Instagram Story
“Say hello to my new little friend.”
The post, authored by Dallas-based entrepreneur Mike Rose, features a bottle he acquired on the trip earlier this year: Freemark’s 1997 Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Rose, who brought his wife to California for her birthday, is the CEO and Founder of Mojo Media Labs and a self-described wine lover.
Like many Instagram posts, Rose’s was a brief social media engagement—but one loaded with personal meaning. Tying it to the wine, Rose noted that 1997 was the year he started his “#entrepreneurial journey.”
With a click of the “share” button on his phone, he cleverly mapped out the intersection of his career history and Freemark’s storied past, via that bottle of ’97 Sycamore. A half-century’s worth of vintages tucked away in the Freemark Abbey wine library provide such timeline crossovers, which have evolved into a narrative of their own on the winery’s Instagram feed. As Rose demonstrated in February, there’s a story behind each of them.
Reached more recently by phone at his Irving, Texas headquarters to comment on Freemark Abbey and on the larger role wine plays in his life, the accomplished CEO offered thoughts on both.
Mike Rose grew up in what he described as “a very Italian, very red-and-white checkered tablecloth town” in Western Pennsylvania, raised by Italian-American parents who owned a small grocery store. The family moved to Fort Worth, Texas—his mother’s hometown—after he finished high school. “I learned enough about entrepreneurism growing up to know that I never, ever wanted to own my own business,” he said with a laugh and no small irony.
While at Texas Wesleyan University, he “decided to go 180 from owning a business” and pursued a degree in biochemistry. Hired upon graduation into research and development at a Fort Worth pharmaceutical company, the overachieving Rose then started to take evening law courses.
“After the first year of law, I decided that lawyers and scientists are pretty similar, and I was probably a little more extroverted than that and couldn’t necessarily see myself working in law or science,” he said. “So I went against what I said I’d never do, and in the summer of ’97 I started my business.”
“It was the best time of my life,” he added. “I was 29 years old, so I could take risks. I didn’t have a lot of responsibilities.”
In those early days of the Internet, he launched a traditional marketing agency that focused on promotional products, printing, and events. The company enjoyed both success and growth, but after running it for ten years, Rose admitted he felt “bored and complacent.”
“As an entrepreneur, when you lose your passion, the universe is telling you something,” he said. “So I started another company at the time called Mojo Media Labs, and that’s where it evolved from.”
A Storybook Beginning
With energy to spare in 2011 and ’12, he even wrote and published a book about the process of launching this new company: ROE Powers ROI: The Ultimate Way to Think and Communicate for Ridiculous Results.
At Mojo, Rose and his staff offer inbound and account-based marketing, along with sales enablement and web development—a “one-stop shop for all things digital marketing,” as they advertise on their website. “We create content for our clients, particularly in the B2B space, to educate their buyers through the journey of making informed and educated decisions through a purchase before they talk to salespeople,” he explained.
If Rose’s web-based pursuits seem a far cry from the relatively low-tech world of converting grapes into fermented juice, he nonetheless recognized some equivalence between the two disciplines. For him, business ownership and entrepreneurship transcend the low-tech and high-tech labels.
“Not everybody can see the vision or appreciate the high level of passion that entrepreneurs traditionally have. You know, if you translate that passion into other areas of life—particularly wine—clearly it’s a high-energy, a high-touch, high senses industry or hobby or whatever you want to call it. Or a career, particularly for entrepreneurs who own wineries. I mean, what a passion that’s behind that.”
Rose credited his upbringing, and especially his mother and grandmother, for his own passion for wine, though he wouldn’t begin to pay much attention to “fine” wine until he was well into his 20s. Growing up in an Italian family meant that “there was always wine flowing, somewhere, around dinners.”
“Every Sunday,” he recalled, “we would hang out at my grandmother’s—Nonna’s, as we would say in Italian. And they owned a restaurant-bar, as well, so my Nonna would always serve the adults wine in very small wine glasses, essentially a small rocks glass. I didn’t really discover wine glasses until later in life!”
This lack of formality didn’t skip a generation. Rose described his mother, Janett, as a straight-laced woman who never smoked or swore, he said. “But she drank wine. It was something that always kind of resonated with me, that she would buy the big 1.5 liter ‘cheap’ stuff, and that’s what she would drink. So I always kind of associated that wine’s not a bad thing, but it actually could be something that is a little nostalgic, not just from the Italian upbringing, but to her, as well.”
The Culture Café
Rose circled back to the subject of his company to talk about an office rebuild completed last year. Like his passion for wine, the exercise was influenced by his family and his Italian roots. He and his staff moved Mojo Media Labs into a larger space and designed it around a kitchen and family room they call The Culture Café. Including the free drinks and snacks and wine bar, the reboot seems to have Rose’s cultural fingerprints all over it.
“The kitchen here in the office is really the center point,” he said. “Because that’s how I think families get together at dinner tables and things like that. So to take it up a notch and further segment your family or further segment your friends or co-workers or whomever into niches like wine is pretty special, because now you're able to experience things together at a whole different level.”
Rose’s wife, Nikole, would agree. She is Mojo’s President and Chief Operating Officer. In a separate email, she acknowledged that “the wine enthusiasm for both Mike and me is well known at the office. [Our staff] chuckle as they're signing for all of our wine shipments. And they know that wine is always the perfect gift for us.”
From their staff’s perspective, Nikole observed that her husband is “always thinking of ways to make people feel special in creative ways. Professionally, they'd say that Mike pushes the whole team, all the time, to grow and be better and never settle for the status quo. He's been known to remind everyone that if you're not growing your skills, you'll get run over!”
The successful couple’s Freemark Abbey visit earlier this year was, as Rose documented on Instagram, an opportunity to reflect on the arc of his career as an entrepreneur—and to take home something akin to a trophy as a reminder of how far he and Nikole have come.
A Wine Club for Life's Vintages
“It really tied the wine back to an experience,” he said. “The ‘vintage’ of the business is ’97. That’s a special year, as you would imagine. When we were at Freemark, they were talking about older vintage wines and the cellar that’s reserved for wine club members. So we joined the club, and I said, ‘Well, I’d like to take a ’97 home with me.’ And they were, amazingly, very accommodating and went down and found a ’97! So being able to now take two passions and put them together through something as simple as a wine label is a pretty cool thing.”
“It’s been 20 years full-time as a business owner,” Rose concluded, “but the past ten years at Mojo have been fantastic for mostly good reasons. And I think it’s also been great for same bad reasons: there’s a lot of opportunity to learn when things aren’t going well, provided you’re comfortable being uncomfortable, and you can learn from it.”
He sounded suspiciously, and perhaps not coincidentally, like a winemaker.