Possibly the most epic wine site on the Internet. Disruptors of the old and large wine industry, Vinomofo is is an online wine site that gives good wines, real people and epic deals – without all the bowties and bs. What does that mean? Find out more as we chat with Justin Dry about the cheeky founding story of Vinomofo.
From driving around Australia doing a wine TV show to a wine social platform, Justin Dry finally got it right when he launched Vinomofo, a site where you can order wine online and get it delivered straight to your home. Vinomofo has built a global wine tribe with intense love and passion, but it hasn’t been without its hiccups.
Growing up learning about wine from his family even before he could drink wine, it was no surprise that Justin followed this familial trajectory to study wine in university and then work in the industry. Justin, the joint CEO, shares the story of Vinomofo and how they’ve grown so big, so quickly, and their wine for good program.
In this interview, we speak to Justin about:
> How a digital wine company is taking over the market
> Uniting a global tribe with a love for wine
> Keeping your company’s culture epic as you grow
> Producing wine for good
How did you get into the wine business? What sparked the idea for VinoMofo?
There was a moment in time that drove the philosophy behind my few first businesses, which was to remove the bs (bullshit) around wine. As a 23-year-old wine nerd, I would go into independent wine shops to look for interesting small-batch wines and I wanted to find something really special and interesting. I remember walking into these shops and there’s always this guy with a shirt on, rosy cheeks and a bow-tie and it was just such an intimidating environment. I was a 23-year-old with so much experience in the wine industry, so can you imagine how everyone else feels (walking into a wine store)?
So I just thought “This is all so full of shit” and we wanted to do something about democratising wine and opening it up to a younger generation so that they wouldn’t be intimidated by this and experience this wondering thing we are all so passionate about.
How did Vinomofo come about?
I’ve had a few unsuccessful businesses before Vinomofo. We had a social website for wine previously. But as I traveled through South America, I got into Facebook early and used it frequently. I decided that I wanted to go into an online space and do a Facebook for wine. We built a strong tribe of young wine lovers but had to pivot that model because we weren’t making money. We started with an online wine travel show and “Road to Vino” – me and my brother-in-law and co-founder, traveling around the countryside and filming all these amazing wine producers. Eventually, after 4-5 years of starting our first online platform, Vinomofo was started and it was the one that really took off.
How did you come up with the name Vinomofo?
It was originally called Vinomojo. Mojo as in “get your mojo working” since vino meant wine. We really liked it and got this whole pre-launch campaign and countdown. But 2 days out from the launch, we got a cease-and-decease from a big public company who had a wine called Mojo Wines. The letter said that they were going to get an injunction to stop our trade if we didn’t change the name. We called a cheap solicitor who told us to change our name.
Although they were different from us because we haven’t traded, we would be brought to court and it could last 6-12 months. The reality was that the market was ripe for what we were going to do and we didn’t want anyone to beat us to the market. So we had to play around with the names for a bit and we joked with the name Vinomofo (yes, to the mofos that were stealing our mojo). It was so rude and so crass and we laughed at it. But we thought it’d be a funny story. It’s one of those lucky things because it made us stand out far more than Vinomojo would.
You’ve become disruptors of an old industry. How did you focus on building that tribe and doing it so quickly?
If you look after the initial community, they become brand ambassadors and will tell all their friends. Whenever we start in new places and new markets, we start from the grassroots ground up and focus on one-to-one friendships. This 1-1 grows to 1-50, 1-100. The fact that we skyrocketed so quickly at some point was because the big guys didn’t like what we were doing to the industry as we were skipping all the middlemen. Traditionally, there were wholesalers, producers, importers, exporters. It’s ludicrous how many hands have touched the bottle of wine before it goes on the shelf. They didn’t like it because there’s a lot of money to be made and instead of taking the margins, we passed the savings onto consumers. This meant that we were selling wines no one could compete with.
How are you able to grow the company culture as you are growing?
We started with 2 people in our garage and we did everything. Hence, you become the culture. When you introduce 5-10 people, you’re still a huge influence as you are part of every meeting. With 20-30 people, your influence becomes smaller. That’s when you start thinking about how to communicate better. We can’t control the culture anymore when we hit 100+ people. So you need to pass that expectation, responsibility, and education to the team leads. These team leads got to be the people who will bring it down to their teams.
You have to live and breathe the values of your company, in every part of your business, every decision and every communication. It all starts from the top, and then it trickles all the way down. You’ve got to communicate it over and over again. It’s up on our walls, in our documents and in all our meetings. Living and breathing your values is such an important part of building a great team.
What are some mistakes and learning curves you’ve had to deal with?
- Pick the right people
People are everything, especially if you’re a fast-growth start-up. There is so much pressure to get it right and employ so fast as to not slow your business. This means meeting with multiple people, different team leads to get different opinions.
- Never take the easy path
If you don’t find the right person, start again. If you get the wrong person, they can rot the culture so quickly and you need to get rid of them as soon as you can.
We noticed that you guys have a social heart too. Tell us more about your social programmes!
Part of our mission was to be proud of what we do. And that was the birth of Wine for Good. It is an umbrella for all the social things we get involved with. We wanted to recognise the people behind organisations and charities so we have this thing called the Vinobomb. Vinobomb is this surprise wooden case with wine and a whole bunch of services. These people are nominated by the community and we dive deep to find out what they do before our team goes down to surprise them. These are people who don’t get recognition but do amazing work.
We also have a Homeless Grapes project which ties in with social good and sustainability. A friend of ours was a grape grower and he had a block that he wasn’t going to pick due to a bountiful harvest that season. My co-founder saw his Facebook post about the unwanted grapes and wanted to do something special with it. So we had our community pick these grapes that would go to waste, and had our friends to make the wine and bottled them while we at Vinomofo created a label. We then sold it and no one in the process took any money for anything they did. Every single dollar goes to our chosen charity and we raised just under $40,000 with a single Facebook post.
What are some #LittleGreenSteps we can take when making mindful wine choices?
- Look for small batches of interesting bio-dynamic wines. These are good for the Earth and good for you!
- Support local, and the small independent guys who do some good for the world.
Get your hands on some Vinomofo.
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