Executive Briefings

For This Start-Up, the Secret to Selling Wine Online Is Making It Yourself

In 2012, a Los Angeles start-up named Club W set out to help millennials find and buy decent wine on the internet. With bottles from a few boutique vintners, a slick web platform and a simple recommendation algorithm, the company had a propitious plan.

It didn't work quite as hoped. So when the company's founders tried again, they decided to get their hands dirty.

If there was ever a product in need of what Silicon Valley calls a discovery engine, it's wine. Consider the numbers: About 25,000 different wines are for sale right now, says Nielsen, with 14 percent of them having hit the market in the last year. Not even the most soused sommelier can keep up.

"There are a lot of people who are intimidated," said Kristie Petrullo Campbell, a wine consultant and former sommelier at the Manhattan restaurant Jean Georges. "If they go into a wine store and a salesman comes up to them immediately, they just close up."

Winc, as Club W rebranded itself, intended to demystify wine and shrink the supply chain, not unlike Warby Parker's eyeglass play or the boxable foam mattresses of Casper. It cut out distributors and retailers and offered an online rotation of 50 to 100 wines based on a short survey, including questions such as: "How do you feel about salt?" and "Do you like citrus?" Prices clumped around $13 a bottle, and members who took four bottles a month got free shipping.

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It didn't work quite as hoped. So when the company's founders tried again, they decided to get their hands dirty.

If there was ever a product in need of what Silicon Valley calls a discovery engine, it's wine. Consider the numbers: About 25,000 different wines are for sale right now, says Nielsen, with 14 percent of them having hit the market in the last year. Not even the most soused sommelier can keep up.

"There are a lot of people who are intimidated," said Kristie Petrullo Campbell, a wine consultant and former sommelier at the Manhattan restaurant Jean Georges. "If they go into a wine store and a salesman comes up to them immediately, they just close up."

Winc, as Club W rebranded itself, intended to demystify wine and shrink the supply chain, not unlike Warby Parker's eyeglass play or the boxable foam mattresses of Casper. It cut out distributors and retailers and offered an online rotation of 50 to 100 wines based on a short survey, including questions such as: "How do you feel about salt?" and "Do you like citrus?" Prices clumped around $13 a bottle, and members who took four bottles a month got free shipping.

Read full article