While having the odd tipple was something that Andre Eikmeier and Justin Dry always enjoyed, they never thought they could turn it into a full-blown business. Now their company Vino Mofo, which was just bought by CatchofTheDay, is bringing wine to a younger, social media savvy audience.
“We try to have a lot of fun, to remind ourselves it is only wine,” Eikmeier laughs as he remembers the videos they’ve just produced for their website, Vino Mofo. A quick scan of their YouTube channel shows a group of guys having a great old time, and why not? When wine is involved, surely fun should be had. “Well, you try!” Eikmeier agrees.
Prior to Vino Mofo’s inception however, Eikmeier and Dry were thinking of a very different concept for an online community dedicated to their favourite drop. While running a video production company servicing the wine industry, Eikmeier realised that creating an online community of wine lovers who could all share their love of particular wines was something that wine-lovers everywhere needed. In a case of fortuitous timing, Eikmeier’s brother-in-law, Dry, happened to have the same idea.
“Justin came across Facebook when British backpackers were using it to keep in touch, this was before it had much market penetration in Australia, and so he was thinking of a wine community site, a bit of a Facebook for wine,” Eikmeier explains. “We got talking over Christmas and we saw that the two ideas really worked hand in hand so we decided to go into business together. That’s how Qwoff came about. We launched in 2007.”
Qwoff, an online community of wine lovers, all sharing their experiences of the various wines they’ve stumbled across, found a dedicated audience and today has almost 20,000 members.
As Qwoff started to become more and more popular, the two guys realised they’d stumbled upon an untapped market. “We found this group of people who loved wine, wine geeks I guess, that were all standing for the same thing. There was a bit of a movement against the traditional elitism surrounding wine and that idea of the bowtie set. These were people who genuinely loved wine and didn’t think it needed to be wrapped up in all this pretence.”
While things were going well with Qwoff, the pair realised that something was missing from their new venture. “Everything was going swimmingly for us; our audience was growing and we were doing a lot of stuff but we weren’t making any money. But people would always say where can we get the wine that we mentioned.” Putting the two together: a community of wine lovers and two guys with contacts in the industry who were interested in making some money, seemed like a no-brainer. They decided to sell wine.
“We tried a few different models for selling and nothing really resonated until we came across Groupon. We were particularly interested in this idea of group buying as we saw that it created a community. It seemed to go hand in hand with our approach and it really resonated with us and our audience,” Eikmeier explains.
Settling on group buying as the best option, Eikmeier and Dry got their new site, Vino Mofo, up and running. “It very quickly went from being a little side interest that we were going to put a bit of token effort into to pay the bills, to being something that people got quite excited about, therefore we got quite excited by it, and it became the focus of the business,” says Eikmeier.
With his background in video production and Dry’s passion for social media, the boys hit the ground running, publicising their new venture across the net, and quickly built up a growing customer base. Known already as the ‘Qwoff boys’, Eikmeier and Dry already had a lot of traction in the biz. “We started to get used as communicators by the wine industry to this new younger audience, an audience that’s really comfortable using social media. The wine industry had always struggled to reach a younger demographic,” Eikmeier says.
As customers jumped on the great wine offers they were advertising, Vino Mofo grew quickly. “It got to a stage really quickly where we were on the radar, but if we wanted to continue to get bigger quantities of wine, we had to compete with the bigger players,” Eikmeier explains. “We had to go from the size and the scale of what we were to being much, much bigger, because that middle ground was where we could probably get squashed. People would have come in and outbid us on the deals: say we could only afford to get 50 cases of wine but someone else would buy the other 950 and release it cheaper than us. It was quite a vulnerable time. We realised that we needed a partner to grow so that we could buy with confidence.”
They began the search for a business partner who could help them move into the big leagues without losing their close relationship with their customers. After a six-month process, things were looking good, as Eikmeier explains. “We were about to sign with a very large media company, and it was a great deal. We nearly got it across the line and then CatchOfTheDay swanned in at the 11th hour. It started with a casual Skype call and an email and we gave it a little bit of thought. After looking into Catch, we realised that they’re much more like us and they’d actually done it before. We thought that that was going to be really important. It was not easy to make the decision because we were lucky enough to have some really good options.”
When asked how they felt about signing with CatchOfTheDay, Australia’s number one online retailer employing over 300 staff, earlier this year, Eikmeier couldn’t be happier. “We just didn’t want to fuck it up,” he laughs. “It was exciting to get it across the line but I think we were mostly excited about just getting on with the business.”
Though wine might be more readily available online now than it was when Eikmeier and Dry originally set up Qwoff, targeting a particular audience and keeping up with trends is a constant learning curve for Vino Mofo. “Stuff moves fast in the online space in general, and this is such an exciting time to be online with wine,” says Eikmeier. “More and more people are buying cases of wine online as opposed to walking into a retail store and buying a case. They’ll always buy a bottle of wine from there, but online is growing really fast as more people like us get on there and convert people and get more and better wine to that space, instead of just a box of distressed rate wine that someone couldn’t get rid of.”
Vino Mofo, unsurprisingly with its catchy name and youthful tone, still aims to target the same audience that Eikmeier and Dry wanted to reach with Qwoff: the younger newcomers to wine. Their main tactic is to do this by tapping into social media in innovative ways. “I think you can do that with tone and trying to be a bit more personal about it all. Our hope is that people get engaged with our brand and develop a bit of trust in it and what we do.”
Using his video production skills to reach this audience is definitely something that helps Eikmeier stand out against the competition. “These great ways to communicate with your audience exist. And our customers are all there; they like using it as a means of communication, and you get instant conversations with people rather than just shooting them an email.”
None of this success has happened without Eikmeier learning a few crucial business lessons along the way. “Embracing the principle that you have to make more money than you spend,” lists Eikmeier when asked what he’s learnt. “Which sounds so basic but I’m from a creative background and I’m always driven by what we can create for customers and was never concerned about the mechanics of the money that came in. Although that’s a nice idealistic way to be and I think you have to carry that with you, you can’t build a business on that. You’ve got to be revenue focussed.”
Now employing nine staff, Eikmeier is excited about where Vino Mofo is heading and who’s joining the ride. “It’s an honour that not only have our staff chosen to work with us but they entrust us with their and their family’s livelihood,” he says. “I don’t understand a business owner who can have the attitude that someone’s lucky to be working for them, because it’s the opposite. If you want talented people, you have to know they can work anywhere. You really have to create not just the salary and the mechanics, but you need to create a work life for them that’s enjoyable. Justin and I always try to create a work environment where we can have a bit of fun and that’s fulfilling. You really owe it to anyone that wants to come and work for you to do that.”
When it comes to breaking down barriers, Eikmeier and Dry have certainly made wine more accessible for younger generations through their playful, though respectful, attitude to the wines that they sell. And if that isn’t enough of an achievement, the company is showing more than positive returns, making $10 million in annual revenue. But just what is it about that red and white (and sometimes pink) drink that gets Eikmeier so inspired? “Wine’s a funny thing,” he sighs. “It’s been around for millennia. It’s attracted the imagination of poets and philosophers and artists and it’s always been something a bit more magical than just a beverage or just a way to get drunk. A good bottle of wine has had a lot go into it. It is this magical thing and the more you learn about it, it just adds mystery and magic. I think that’s why I get so passionate about wine. It’s an amazing thing and it all comes in a little bottle that you get to drink.”