Vinomofo's blend of innovation, expertise and persistence has matured into a business that is popping the wine industry’s cork.
On the surface, Vinomofo is a traditional online retailer; a website selling wine, nothing more and nothing less. And yet it is more.
Vinomofo has attracted unprecedented levels of private venture capital in Australia. The brand itself, in five years of existence, has developed a massive, loyal following of 450,000 members. What’s the secret?
Vinomofo’s co-founder Andre Eikmeier claims its success is the result of close connections with customers.
“It’s the fact that we stand for something,” he says.
“That gives people a way to emotionally connect. That’s the secret sauce for business. If you only make an impression with a product or a price, then you’re never going to stand for anything.”
"We are curators of great wines, but, more importantly, we keep it fun."
Vinomofo’s identity was built around a promise as cheeky as the brand’s name. Eikmeier, who founded the business with his brother-in-law, Justin Dry, wanted to remove the perception of snobbery and elitism that is often associated with the world of fine wines.
Their original idea had nothing to do with retail; it came from a late-night brainstorm during a Christmas dinner in 2006. Eikmeier had been running a video and web production company and Dry, who had studied winemaking and marketing but worked mainly in property development, had become fascinated by social networks.
The two came up with an idea to create an online environment where people could share opinions about specific wines.
The resulting business was a social site called Qwoff. It developed a loyal following, but the pair struggled to make it profitable and their relationship suffered. Had they not been related, says Eikmeier, the business may have folded.
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“For six or seven years, it was really hard for us,” he says.
“Things were tough financially, but once we had the first glimpses of success, we began to value our differences.”
That was a turning point for their relationship and the business. Qwoff had taught them a new way of marketing wine. Now it was time to start selling, but not the massive ranges that supermarket-connected stores offered. Vinomofo would instead stay narrow and high-quality, using its buying power to offer value on great wines.
The business was originally called Vinomojo, but a legal issue arose with a wine company that had the word “mojo” in the name of one of its products. The night before the 2011 launch, the team decided to change one letter and a naughty but memorable brand was born that reinforced the idea of what they were trying to do.
“We drew a line in the sand with our name,” says Eikmeir.
“If people were offended, we knew they were not for us and we were not for them.”
The online wine retailer now boasts annual revenue of A$50 million and employs more than 120 people.
Looking to fuel domestic and international growth, it recently raised A$25 million in private venture capital funding – the biggest funding round raised by an Australian tech start-up without the assistance of an overseas investor.
“We sell wines that we love,” says Eikmeier.
“We are curators of great wines, but, more importantly, we keep it fun.”
One piece of advice
“Work out what you want to stand for. Take your marketing hat off and ask yourself, why am I doing this and what do I really care about?”
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