Andre Eikmeier is cofounder + joint CEO at Vinomofo, an online wine site and one of Australia's fastest growing companies. After years of poverty, stupidity, half an accounting degree, an acting career in four out of five of Australia's worst TV shows, a singing career that never transcended being lead singer in a One Hit Wonders covers band, a failed theatre production company which led to an event management company to pay off its debts, a job on the phones at a direct marketing wine company, a one-man video production company, Australia's biggest online wine community site which made absolutely no money, and a year-long kombi wine adventure travelling round the country...... Andre finally launched online wine site Vinomofo with brother in law Justin in 2011. They just wanted to “do something cool and useful for the wine industry”, and it's grown to be one of the most successful wine sites in the country, winning a host of business awards including Deloitte's Fastest Growing Tech company in 2013, and Startup Smart’s Best Startup 2014. With 50 staff, 270,000 members, and a turnover run rate approaching $30 million within just 3 years, Vinomofo is living up to its promise of being "the most epic wine site on the planet", dedicated to their mission of inspiring the world to drink awesome wine.
How did you get into the industry?
My first wine job was as an out of work actor in 1999, working in the customer service and outbound phone team for a large direct mail wine company at the time. I quit that job to start a video production company, and my first client was a wine tourism agency. From there I became the wine video guy, started doing websites as well for winery clients, and then teamed up with my brother in law Justin to launch a wine social site called Qwoff in 2007, which was the predecessor to Vinomofo.
Any emerging industry trends?
In Australia, particularly in restaurants, we're seeing a move from big traditional wine brands to cooler artisan small producers, making more interesting wines. Interesting sometimes means faulty, but the trend is good!
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Absolutely. Wine retail is dominated by big retailers who are vertically integrating, creating more of their own brands, which means less shelf space for producers with provenance, producers making wines with love, wines with stories. Unless they have other avenues to reach drinkers, we're in very real danger of losing some of these great smaller producers.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Originally, it was all about customer reviews. I wanted to create a site where people could look up a wine and see what real people thought of it, rather than just a professional review from a wine critic. Justin wanted to make facebook for wine. Vinomofo came four years later, out of a need to start to generate some revenue.
Our vision has always stayed true - we want everyone to be able to experience good wine. Our model just shifted from recommendations only, to supplying the good wines from the makers' cellars to the drinkers' doorsteps.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We're taking Vinomofo global. We just launched in New Zealand, and Singapore and the US are next, which is pretty exciting.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
For us, it's about getting the foundations right. Keeping true to our promise to only sell wines we love, ensuring we deliver best in market value, and an epic member experience.
Personalisation is a big focus for us at the moment, and a better mobile experience.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Probably just before coming up with the idea of Vinomofo. We had no money, we were building up debts, juggling supplier payments, facing the very real prospect of having to close the business. Basically, we just hadn't found the version of the product that people were happy to pay for. I learned that you have to really understand what the problem is, and make sure your solution is the best one, and a complete one.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
A human one. Feeling like you are valued, and that the people behind the company are good people who care.
How do you motivate others?
I have always delivered big rousing speeches, and led by example, but I'm learning more and more that it's the personal relationships and one on one time that really inspires people to trust you and go with you on an adventure.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Be human in everything you do. Try to create something that the world needs, not just something you need to do. If you're going to make a wine, make it interesting, and make it good. If you're going to write about wine, write from the heart, in natural language. If you're going to sell wine, then make sure you're adding value for the makers and the drinkers.