A string of less-than-successful business ventures led to a stronger bond between Vinomofo co-founders and brothers-in-law Justin Dry and Andre Eikmeier, and the community of customers gained through those same ventures also played a key part in their eventual success.
Speaking at LaunchVic’s Yeah Nah summit 2018 in Melbourne today, Dry explained how he and Eikmeier worked together on several other businesses before launching wine deal platform Vinomofo.
These included wine-based social site Qwoff and Road to Vino, a YouTube show that essentially saw Dry and Eikmeier driving around Australia in a VW Combi meeting winemakers and tasting wine.
For a while they were working on “three or four” different businesses, “but we weren’t making any money”, he told attendees at the summit.
Applying a Groupon-style daily deal business model to their existing network of wine makers and wine lovers, they launched Vinomofo in 2011, “and thank fuck that worked”, Dry said.
However, having some hard times together solidified the business relationship between the co-founders.
“The hard years showed you how difficult it was — we’re very different people,” Dry said.
“We had opposite skill sets, which actually really helped, but when its tough, when you don’t have any money and the things you’re trying aren’t working, the differences can seem pretty extreme, so there’s a lot of tension early.
“When it starts working, it gets a lot easier. You can start appreciating the other person for the things they bring to the equation,” he said.
Dry also attributes part of their synergy to their family connection. In the early years when money is tight and nothing seems to be working, it’s good to know “you’re after the same thing”, Dry said.
“Your end goal is to look after the family … that’s the only thing that probably kept us tight,” he said.
Ultimately, the relationship between the two founders was one of the things that helped Vinomofo grow, Dry said.
“In hindsight, we both could have done stuff independently, I’m sure, but the two skill sets we had was a beautiful thing and actually really, really helped us accelerate Vinomofo when we finally got the right business model.”
It was also the community and the network the pair built up through their previous ventures that helped get Vinomofo off the ground.
“For us, that’s most important,” Dry said.
Although he accepts they didn’t exactly get rich from it, Dry said the founders built Qwoff, and other ventures, through the community and through referrals, and “early members in each of those businesses are still our greatest mofos”.
However, while this system worked in Australia, it was something of a different story when Dry and Eikmeier took the concept overseas, starting in New Zealand after Vinomofo secured a $25 million investment from Blue Sky Venture Capital in 2016.
Dry said he went from working with a network of half a million people in Australia to speaking to rooms of just 20 people at a time, on a good day, in New Zealand. For one talk “literally three people turned up, and I think two of them were the next speakers,” he said.
No one knew anything about Vinomofo: “I worked my arse off to build a community over there”.
Customers referrals come once you’ve built that community, if “you treat [customers] like kings and queens and you look after them and you deliver a great experience with a great product,” Dry said.
“That’s always been the biggest source of our customers, and that continues to this day.”
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