Startup WithWine is like a wine festival in an app that helps consumers buy wine based on word of mouth

- October 15, 2015 4 MIN READ

Australia may have a reputation for being a country of beer drinkers, but the number of startups in the wine industry that have emerged over the last few years may suggest otherwise. From startups offering wine subscriptions to those that help you pick wine by matching it to your meal or your personality, there’s almost a wine startup for every occasion.

Sydney startup WithWine, backed by BlueChilli, wants people to find wine by looking at what their friends have enjoyed and then helps them buy it, with lists of wine on the app ranked according to ratings from friends. Users can follow friends, wineries, and specific wines. As well as this social aspect, the app allows users to save and keep track of wines they like, eliminating one of the most common issues when it comes to wine: actually being able to remember what you found at the bottle shop last time you went, or what you drank at a restaurant or at a friend’s place.

The second aspect of the app is the marketplace. Essentially, With Wine allows wineries to have their own online store and sell direct to consumers. This offers them an alternative sales channel, with wineries most often supplying restaurants and supermarket chain bottle shops which push for them sell at the lowest possible price, or selling at their cellar door, a long drive away from most consumers.

At its core, founder Richard Owens said With Wine can be likened to a wine festival.

“We’re an online wine festival in which any winery in the country is invited to have a store. When you’re at a wine festival, more often than not, what happens is you walk in and you’re catching up with friends and inevitably one of the friends says, ‘Oh, such and such winery is here, let’s go over there’. And this is the exact same mechanism where it’s like a festival, and because the friends are the ones doing the endorsements, the friends are the ones that are steering what stores the users are going to,” Owens said.

The focus on recommendations from friends was the main factor driving the creation of With Wine. Funnily enough for someone who now works in the wine industry, Owens never really drank wine until he was 30, four years ago, and only then at the urging of his father’s friend.

“The more wine I drank, the more frustrated and annoyed that it took me until the age of 30 to discover that there’s this stuff called wine that’s actually pretty bloody enjoyable. And I thought, now that I know that I do like wine, I’m going to go to the bottle shop and buy more bottles, and experience number one was standing in the aisles of the bottle shop looking at row upon row of bottles of wine and I thinking, what the hell do I get?” Owens explained.

Of course, there are a number of other startups looking to solve this problem. Vinomofo, perhaps the most popular, has staff curate its selection of wines, while The Wine Gallery helps customers match wines to their food from a relatively small selection so as not to overwhelm, but Owens is confident that the social angle is an important one. This angle also helps differentiate the startup from other services helping wineries sell direct to consumers, such as From The Producer.

“Word of mouth is the cheapest and most effective marketing there is and you trust your friends the most. So we wanted to show the recommendations of your friends rather than the recommendations of complete strangers,” he said.

Owens, who has a background in tech, having worked at Apple and as innovation manager at Macquarie Bank, began working on the app last year. His background in tech helped get development going and put him in touch with BlueChilli, who took With Wine on board.

The startup began testing out its marketplace feature at the end of January, and signed up 40 percent of wineries in the Hunter Valley within three months. There are now wineries on board from around Australia, with a number of importers of foreign wines also expressing interest in creating a store on the app.

Given Owens’ philosophy on sales and the competition, it’s not too hard to see why wineries have been eager to come on board. Rather than trying to secure the lowest possible price for each bottle, he is confident that, like paying a premium for an iPhone, consumers will be happy to pay for quality and know that they are supporting the wineries.

“Plumbers, electricians cost $250 an hour to fix your lights, and you don’t dispute it. We pay 100 percent of the fee and that’s that. But wine producers, when they come out with a product, it’s expected that product should be discounted and it should be discounted heavily. And we’re basically saying, you know what, it’s such a good product, what’s wrong with paying full price for it?” Owens said.

“There’s some wine out there that should be discounted but there’s a lot of wine that shouldn’t. It’s been produced with care and with love and it’s a damn good product. I don’t believe that the person who put their blood, sweat and tears into it should be asked to forgo a whole chunk of their margin in order to ship that product. So we’re not about bargain basement prices, we’re about finding the gem that you always wanted to find and getting it at a fair price.”

Wineries set their own prices, though are encouraged to be competitive. With Wine takes a cut of sales.

Owens said he’s “stoked” with how the app has grown since January. At the top of the agenda now is getting more wineries on board and introducing new features into the app, with a subscription service to come soon.

Featured image: Richard Owens, Founder, WithWine. Source: Provided.