Finance

Divine wine: How a love of vino helped Winephoria founder Suzi Devine build a $5 million business

Kirsten Robb /

Name: Suzi Devine

Company: Winephoria

Based: Castle Hill

Winephoria founder Suzi Devine is the first to admit she drinks wine everyday – but it would be hard not to, given her and her team of “wine nerds” want to be across every single drop that comes through the online wine retailer.

The platform, which Devine founded last year, acts as a ‘matchmaker’ to help wine fans find their perfect drop from independent winemakers across the country.

“Every single day we try and taste our wine,” Devine tells SmartCompany.

“I don’t buy on price, I buy on taste. I don’t go out and say, you can get this for $9.99 and this for free, because that’s not fair to our winemakers, it cheapens their products” she says.

“That customer that’s looking for that rock-bottom discount bargain, that isn’t our customer.”

Devine came up with the idea to disrupt the bargain-focused bottle shop chains while working in a corporate marketing career, which saw her take up gigs with companies like Commonwealth Bank, News Corporation and AMP.

“I used to work in tier ones,” Devine says of her previous career.

“Friday night, after a really tough week, I’d go to the bottle shop on the way home, fight to park the car, walk in and be really overwhelmed by all the labels. I’d have no idea what to buy with my $20 or $30.”

“Then often, you’d go home and open your bottle and be disappointed. I’d pour it down the sink because I don’t drink shoddy wine, and I definitely couldn’t be bothered going out and doing that whole scenario all over again.”

A self-described “wine lover” and a “rogue employee”, Devine says it was only a matter of time before she launched her own business to pursue her passion.

But she says it wasn’t smooth sailing from day one.

“When we first started the business, I remember picking up the desks to move them around the office and they all fell apart – that’s how bad it was in terms of making do with what we had,” she says.

But 12 months later, business is booming, with Winephoria on track to turnover up to $5 million in its first year of business.

“We just moved offices two weeks ago and we now we all have beautiful new flashy desks and the furniture is brand new – it’s quite exciting,” she says.

Devine sits down with SmartCompany to chat about why she thinks some people take wine too seriously and how being an entrepreneur means always challenging the status quo.

Mornings

Devine is an early riser, getting to the office by about 6.45am – but she’ll already have checked her emails from bed.

“I’m one of those people who open their eyeballs and open their emails immediately on the iPhone,” she says.

“My colleagues say I come into work guns blazing, but then by 3pm I hit a lull. But then by 4pm, it’s wine time and we pick it back up again,” she laughs.

Daily life

Devine will spend a lot of time travelling around the country to meet Winephoria’s wine producers and – as director of the company – she also spends a lot time reviewing strategy, sales performance and leading management and recruitment.

Her team of 15 staff are integral to Winephoria’s success, according to Devine, who believes a company is “only ever as good as its team”.

And while she admits she’s a “pretty tough” recruiter who goes through a three-stage process with potential candidates, Devine says she’s also willing to back someone without formal qualifications if she feels they’d suit the company culture.

“I don’t want them to just be a salesperson on the phone, I want them to think and I want to come with out-of-the-box ideas and be empowered and confident they can say something,” say Devine.

“If two people on my team don’t like [a bottle of wine], chances are we won’t buy it – they are my customers after all.”

But you won’t find Devine and her sales team sitting around discussing pretentious wine terminology; Winephoria’s mission statement is all about ‘demystifying’ wine and making the experience a bit more fun.

“I think wine can sometimes be taken a little too serious,” she says.

“It’s all about taking the pretence out of wine, making it fun and engaging and accessible to everyone.”

It was this ethos that led Winephoria to create its free Wine Personality app, a quiz designed to identity personality traits of wine drinkers and match them to 10 different kinds of wine, created in conjunction with a sommelier and a doctor in psychoanalytics.

The novel idea has already proved successful, with more than 400 downloads and a “phase two” in the works.

When asked what wine her personality matches with, Devine laughs: “I’m a sparkling queen, of course.”

Leisure

Devine admits being an entrepreneur means her work-life balance will often fall in favour of work.

“There’s absolutely no personal life,” she jokes.

But she believes her “wonderful supportive partner” is the key to maintaining her sanity and says any downtime she has from the business will be spent with him and her family.

“With a nice glass of wine – naturally.”

The future

Devine says the first 12 months of Winephoria have been a roller-coaster and admits it hasn’t all been “Champagne and caviar”.

“To be honest, with cash flow, it all is reinvested back in the business,” she says.

“They say that the first three years of running a business is very challenging, and I would believe that, I’m always learning new things.”

And while Devine believes there’s still plenty of room to disrupt the wine industry, she says she is considering eventually expanding the business into other product categories.

“Our customers love that we’re disruptive, but I don’t think disruption is exclusive to the wine industry, it’s across the board – people are tired of the old ways of doing things,” she says.

“I’m not sure what we’ll eventually segue into, but I’m sure it will be something a little different … You always need to challenge the status quo.”

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Kirsten Robb

Kirsten Robb is a former journalist at SmartCompany. Previously, she worked at News Corp as a property reporter for Leader Newspapers and the Herald Sun, and holds a Masters of Journalism at Melbourne University.

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