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Dean Taylor, wine-tech entrepreneur

“If you’re not a tech company, you are about to be disrupted by one”; Wine-tech serial entrepreneur, Dean Taylor, shares his story

Dean Taylor is an entrepreneur well-known in the wine world; he is named one of the 50 Stars of Wine and Top 50 People in Ecommerce and has seven – yes, seven – successful online wine ventures.

Dean moved away from a career in architecture to launch his first business Wine Ark – an off-site climate-controlled storage for wine collectors. 

Wine Ark was the first company of its kind in the world to provide their customers’ online access to their collections. “Start as you mean to go on” is a piece of advice Dean definitely listened to, as this first business ended up being sold for $8.5m.

Dean didn’t stop there – further leveraging tech, he established Wine Exchange, which is an online trading platform, The Cellar Club, a premium wine club, as well as Crackawines.com.au, which is an online marketplace that allows wineries to sell direct-to-consumer.

Today, Dean is the CEO of Digital Wine Ventures (ASX:DW8) and founder and Managing Director of WINEDEPOT – again an online offering, which deals with the end-to-end trading and logistics for Australia’s $6 billion wine industry.

So despite his busy schedule, we’re happy to say that Dean carved out some time to speak with us about his entrepreneurship. We were keen to understand his viewpoint on what makes a great eCommerce business, how to scale a company and how he got married wine and entrepreneurship in the first place!

First of all – where does your passion for wine come from? When did you decide to marry this passion with entrepreneurship?

On reflection, I think I was always meant to be in wine industry. It took me until I was 30 to realise it though and walk away from a successful career in architecture to follow my passion and put my money where my mouth was (literally).

My parents lived on acreage in the Yarra Valley and visiting them on University holidays there were only two real leisure activities: riding horses and tasting wine. Not a natural equestrian, I opted for the latter and spoilt by the likes of Coldstream Hills, Domaine Chandon, Mount Mary, Yarra Yering and Yeringberg, I developed a palate for fine wines.

I paid my way through my architecture degree by working in pubs, wine bars, and bottle shops. As a young architect my taste in wine, well and truly exceeded my income, so I launched Wine Ark, a side-hustle gig to help fund my love of great wine. Wine Ark took off and within a few years had grown into a national business. Entrepreneurship came naturally – I am always considering new ideas in an ever-changing industry and thinking laterally about ways to expand and build complimentary businesses and solutions.

Talk us through your first venture with Wine Ark, what were the biggest steps involved in taking it from startup to eventually selling it for $8.5m?

When I first launched Wine Ark in 1998, I needed funding to get my idea off the ground. Eventually, a friend bought into my vision for Wine Ark and provided the initial capital I needed to bring it to life.  From there, the off-site climate-controlled storage for wine collectors, which was the first of its kind in the world to provide customers online access to their collections, grew quickly. It now manages over $200m of wine across the country.

Further leveraging technology, I launched two complementary businesses, Wine Exchange an online trading platform and The Cellar Club, a premium wine club that sent highly targeted eCommerce offers to its members.

After an intense 10 years, often working 7 days a week I accepted an offer that was too good to refuse and sold all three businesses and took a break to consider my next steps.

“If you’re not a tech company, you are about to be disrupted by one”; Wine-tech serial entrepreneur, Dean Taylor, shares his story

From there, you have gone on with multiple other businesses and organisations. What drives you to keep founding and growing these?

While taking a break, I began exploring the online wine industry and was shocked to discover how fragmented the market was. Australia alone had more than 1,000 websites selling wine, with the most popular one receiving only 4% of the traffic. I knew there had to be a better solution.

At the time classified sites like Realestate[.com], Carsales[.com] and Seek[.com.au] were all booming. Their models were disrupting the traditional media companies by using the internet, inventory and information to connect suppliers and consumers at scale.

The light bulb went off and I realised that I could do the same – by aggregating inventory and information to create a direct-to-consumer marketplace for wine. Cracka Wines was born.By cutting out the middleman up to 50% additional margin was released, saving money for both customers and wineries.

Seeing the opportunity to cater for niche market segments, I then launched My Wine Guy – initially in partnership with James Halliday’s Wine Companion, then later with American Express.

In 2017, I merged the Online Liquor Group with The Wine Society, Australia’s oldest wine club, now operating under The Wine Collective.

Looking for my next challenge, I’ve launched WINEDEPOT – an online platform designed to provide an end-to-end trading and logistics solution for Australia’s $40 billion wine industry.

All of my wine ventures have been disruptive with a strong technology focus and our strategic partnership with Australia Post will enable us to meet changing consumer demands for immediate or same-day delivery.

We’ve already Australia’s largest and most successful family-owned wine business, Casella Wines, sign on as a foundation customer, with brands like[yellow tail] Wine, Casella Family Wines, Peter Lehmann Wines, Brand’s Laira Coonawarra, The Magic Box Wine Collection, Morris of Rutherglen and Baileys of Glenrowan.

What are your top tips for making an eCommerce business a success?

My first tip is that it always takes longer than you expect to build a great business, so have a vision that you can remain passionate about for at least 5-7 years.

Next, surround yourself with great people with skills and experience that you don’t have. Hire long and fire fast. Don’t be afraid to let average people go to make room for great people. Create a workplace with a great culture. It helps attract great staff, which attractsgreat suppliers and in turn attracts great customers.

For an eCommerce business in 2019, fulfillment times are critical. Customers expect less than 2 days for product deliveries, with same-day or 3-hour delivery windows becoming the norm. One study found that 80% of shoppers want same-day shipping, while 61% want their packages delivered within 1-3 hours from ordering.

In addition to this, customers are becoming less likely to pay additional fees for shipping, meaning ecommerce retailers need to start building shipping costs into their prices.

Being visible on social media channels and engaging regularly with your target audience is also key. Technology has made the barriers to entry for ecommerce businesses low – people can knock up a website very quickly and cheaply, but to be competitive you need to focus on: reaching and connecting with the right customers, meeting their expectations (free, fast delivery without glitches), providing them with value in every communication you have with them and going above and beyond to delight your customers with little details.

 WINEDEPOT is set to disrupt the market – how did you come up with the Australia Post partnership idea and how do you see this taking off with customers?

The roll out of WINEDEPOT in Australia involves the establishment of several physical ‘depots’ around the country including Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth. Its an idea I’ve had for a while and timing was right to bring it to life – particularly with newly released Cellar Door and Direct-to-Consumer report 2019 showing that direct-to-consumer wine sales have hit $1 billion in Australia.

Australia Post will provide central ‘depots’, staffing, backend IT systems and infrastructure across Australia to support WINEDEPOT’s technology platform – a convenient and cost-effective solution for wineries, retailers and consumers.

Each depot will hold a broad range of inventory in limited quantities, which will be replenished from a central storage and distribution center. As supplier’s orders are placed with WINEDEPOT, they will be routed directly to the ‘depot’ closet to the end consumer where they are picked, packed (by bottle or case) and delivered.

We wanted to partner with Australia Post as their existing infrastructure would allow us to grow and expand the business quickly. At our core, we are a tech company and this is our focus. By using their fleet, warehouses, and staff, we are empowered to concentrate on what we do best.

We’re using technology to connect the global wine industry and enabling wineries and retailers to deliver direct-to-consumer on-demand or same-day, up to 60% cheaper than existing delivery solutions.

Wineries and producers will have access to faster and cheaper logistics, reduced costs of relationship and fulfillment management, increased reach and direct access to a variety of sales channels and more.

Where customers and retailers are concerned, this means same-day or faster delivery from thousands of wineries. One study found that 80% of shoppers want same-day shipping, while 61% want their packages delivered within 1-3 hours from ordering.

Since the arrival of Amazon, customer expectations around delivery times and costs have changed. We’re helping wineries meet those demands.

Finally, what three pieces of advice would you give to someone looking to scale their business right now?

  1. Surround yourself with great people, with skills that you don’t have. Don’t be afraid to let average people go to make room for great people to come in. Hire long and fire fast.
  2. Always make the happiness of your customers your number one priority. If you do that well, you’ll never need to spend a cent on advertising and marketing.
  3. The only way to survive is to be a technology company. If you’re not a technology company, you are about to be disrupted by one.

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Loren Webb

Loren Webb

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