‘Vinomofo was our Fourth Try’: the Start-up Journey of Australia’s Non-Snobby Wine Spruikers

It took a few tries but founders Justin Dry and André Eikmeier are now on the straight and narrow.

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You’d think top-notch wine at great prices wouldn’t be a hard sell but for Vinomofo founders Justin Dry and brother-in-law André Eikmeier, shifting stock wasn’t the most challenging aspect of building their business.

“I’ve always had a love of wine and discovered in my teens that it is in my DNA with my ancestors planting some of the first vines in the Barossa. I ended up studying wine and marketing at uni whilst working in the industry,” Justin tells us. “However after a few years, I was questioning whether it was a passion or profession so I decided to study financial markets and moved into stockbroking with a focus in the tech space.”

Justin found his way back to wine with the help of André, who also had his fair share of careers: accounting, acting, event management. The two agreed on one thing: doing one thing in one way just wasn’t for them.

“Both of us aren’t fans of the idea of settling into a career, we’ve always been about creating and disrupting – we both naturally think this way and it’s this thinking that has ultimately lead to us creating our own businesses in the past.”

Originally conceived as ‘the Facebook for wine’, Qwoff was the first iteration of the now hugely popular wine bulk-buying site and was intended to create a community aspect to the bevvie. But while the founders had built a strong audience and a solid network of wine producers, it wasn’t until the Justin and Andre made three more business model pivots, received a cease and desist letter, made a name change and clocked up a “hell of a lot of late nights,” that Vinomofo, launched officially in 2011, really started to pick up.

“There were definitely moments where we questioned what we were doing,” Justin confirms. “Particularly [during] times when we were exhausted, strapped for cash and just generally having a hard time. But we always had a lot of support from our original Qwoff audience, these were the people, along with our families, backing us and pushing us to keep going, and that’s what we did.”

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Founders André Eikmeier (left) and Justin Dry

Although Justin insists that they’re “lucky” their hard work eventually paid off, luck has little to do with it. The young entrepreneurs went through a few years of instability as they tried to nail down the best option for their burgeoning business. First, in 2012, they sold 70 per cent of their business to online retail giant Catch of the Day in an attempt to reach a wider audience.

“Initially, we needed buying power and the ability to scale, fast – we had an audience that loved what we did and the wines we were selling, and we had producers who loved our concept, but they were receiving pressure not to support us from the bigger players in the market. And at that time we didn’t have the buying power or the audience to go head to head with them.”

But it was only the following year that they decided that wasn’t the road for them.

“It was a great move at the time but Vinomofo is Andre and my heart and soul – we’ve put everything into it and we wanted to be independent again. So we bought it back.”

After taking back control, the two were nervous to discover whether they’d made the right choice. But when the first sale went through at 12.02am on the 1st of July in 2013, there was a major shift for the better.

“It felt like us again,” Justin says. “Even though we always had the freedom to make decisions, it just felt different without the weight of a major shareholder. We could be our risk-taking selves once more.

“It also means that we are ultimately responsible for the survival of the business. We no longer had a fat bank account to bail us out if we did something silly.”

So far so good: Justin and Andre have already launched a “light” business model in the US and are planning rapid expansion across multiple markets without having to set up larger teams in a new country.

“Then we can roll out the full model as we see enough traction to make it feasible.”

They’ve also just launched a new campaign, highlighting not just the company but its deep-seeded set of values.

“Vinomofo has always been about more than just selling wine – yes, that’s what we do and we do it really well, but we take a stance and invest in important issues. We believe it’s the responsibility of people and businesses in a position of influence to use their voice and resources for good. It’s a concept that we’re really proud of and truly inspired by.”

Justin will share more start-up insights at our inspiring Kick. Start. Smart conference in Melbourne on 25th November. For more info and to buy tickets, have a look here.

 

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