Vinomofo is Australia’s largest pure-play online wine retailer that aims to democratise wine, connect like-minded people and disrupt the stuffy elitism and unnecessary layers that have traditionally existed in the industry. Head to their office, and you're likely to find them hanging out in t-shirts cuddling the office dog alongside a life-size cardboard cut-out of Beyonce.
We spoke with Justin Dry about the challenges his team has had to overcome to grow Vinomofo to the business it is today.
Tell us a bit about your business and how the idea came about?
We only choose the wines we love (5% make it through the tasting panel) which means we have a very focused product range and hence the ability to buy more of the wines we feature than anyone else. This allows us to have the buying power to offer these wines at the best prices in the market by a long way.
What is your role in the business?
My role is Co-Founder and joint-CEO; I share this title with my brother-in-law Andre.
What does your day entail?
My time is mostly spent on big picture strategy and whiteboard sessions, mentoring our team leads, PR and media commitments, global expansion plans and working on business opportunities and challenges to help continue the growth of Vinomofo.
I’m blessed that I can work from almost anywhere – when I’m in Melbourne, I get into the office as much as possible to see the team, but I also like to work remotely from my boat in Palm Beach. I love being on the water and often organise to have meetings up there because the environment does good things for people’s connection and creativity. And there is nothing quite like jumping off the boat into the ocean to refresh your mind and refocus.
How many people are employed by the business?
We have over 120 people at Vinomofo - this is split between our Mofo HQ in Cremorne, our office in Adelaide and our Warehouse in Port Melbourne.
How do you set goals for your business?
We’ve got an awesome team at Vinomofo, so developing our broader longer term business strategy is a collaborative process between our team leads, Andre and I. We first work out where and what we want to be, then where we currently are and finally how we’ll close the gap. Then we prioritise the most important and impactful and get to work. However, change is happening faster and faster these days, so our strategy is fluid to allow us to adapt to new opportunities and challenges as we see them.
What were some challenges and roadblocks that you have had to overcome?
The first major challenge while building Vinomofo was to scale super fast. After an incredibly promising start, we’d come onto the radar of some of the bigger players who decided it would be more beneficial for them if we weren’t around, so they decided to put pressure on producers not to deal with us.
To avoid dying a slow death from lack of supply, we needed to become a much bigger player and hence a viable alternative to the bigger guys. We decided the best path forward was to either raise money and double down on marketing or join forces with a much larger partner.
After nearly doing a deal with a major media company, we ended up deciding to join the Catch Of The Day Group instead. This gave us a large database of new potential customers, greater buying power, a lot of PR and financial credibility within the market. In a twist of events however, we ended up buying Vinomofo back about a year later which turned out to be an awesome decision. We had our independence back but we now also had the size necessary to compete with anyone.
Another major challenge was finding the right people. In a fast growth startup, you need to hire quick enough not to slow down business growth but slow enough to get good people. It’s a challenge most startups face and one you only get good at it with experience.
There is no one way to get this right but the key is to put in the effort it deserves to get good at it. The wrong hire can have a detrimental impact on any business. And make sure once you have made a decision you have a great onboarding process and act quickly if you’ve made a mistake.
What is your vision for your business within the next 5 years?
To be a truly global player having launched in over ten markets around the world. We’ve created the most epic wine site on the planet and have a fast growing highly engaged tribe of more one million Mofos who we’re inspiring to drink awesome wines.
Do you have any tips/tricks that you can share with us that you use to help keep you productive?
I’m most productive when I’ve got space, so I make sure I put aside time (sometimes days) in my calendar to achieve this. I find I do better work overall the more regularly I do this.
The other method I use is around prioritising. At the start of the day, I list in order of importance the six things I want to finish that day. Then I start at the top and work my way down. Whatever isn’t completed by the end of the day makes it to tomorrow’s list. It’s simple but very effective.
Do you have something you’re currently working on that you can tell us a bit more about?
The two most exciting projects for me at the moment are our global expansion, having recently launched in NZ and Singapore; and the work we’re doing on personalisation to improve the customer experience.
Tell us a bit about the company culture
We’ve got a brilliant team at Vinomofo and we really work hard to make sure we have a culture that makes people happy to come to work. We’re flexible in that people can work from home when they want, we’ve got the usual ping pong tables, dog-friendly office. We do team lunches, birthday parties, Christmas parties, all sorts of celebrations at the office (you may have seen me dressed up in a lobster outfit that has made its way onto our social channels) and of course as a wine retailer, we’ve got daily wine tastings and masterclasses.
But one of the things I love the most about our culture is its transparency and the genuine relationships between people. We hold ‘Townhall’ meetings once a month with our entire team where we share business updates, what we’re doing well, where we need to improve and also encourage everyone to share their own thoughts and feedback. We’ve got such a good team that both Andre and I genuinely love. There are so many real conversations about so much more than just work; it’s a real pleasure to have a team that feel like family.