Disrupting tradition

An interview with Andre Eikmeier, Co-founder and CEO, Vinomofo

Few industries come with as much cultural baggage as the wine industry. Steeped in a history as long as civilisation itself, wine has often polarised and divided audiences into those that know, and those that don’t. The veil of exclusivity that shrouded the purchasing of wine for decades was ripe for disruption. Andre Eikmeier is an Entrepreneur, Co-Founder and Joint CEO of Vinomofo, one of Australia’s fastest-growing companies and a leader in innovation, disruption and culture. Vinomofo launched in April 2011 from a little garage in Adelaide and has since grown to over $50m revenue, 450,000 members and a team of over 100. It was named Fastest Growing Company at the Deloitte Tech Fast 50 Awards 2013, Online Business of the Year at the Australian Startup Awards 2014, Best Startup at the SmartCompany Startup Awards 2014, Online Retailer of the Year 2015, and recently raised $25m (Australia’s largest VC raise) for future expansion.

Why did you feel the traditional approach to buying wine needed disrupting?

For us, it was about the attitude towards wine. The wine world was in many ways conservative elitist and intimidating. A whole younger generation wasn’t being included. Both Justin and I have always been wine-nerds, we love the stuff. We are educated on the stuff, but even we felt intimidated by the current wine landscape at the time and we both thought ‘if we feel this way, how does the rest of the population feel’?

We wanted to create a wine world without all the bowties. Something that opened up this industry and threw elitism out the window. We wanted to create a tribe of people, or mofos as we call them, who loved good wine, who could talk about good wine in a real, raw and human way. 

How sustainable is the model?

Our model wasn’t exactly sustainable initially. Well, let’s say it was very useful to people who had a stock/cash flow problem and good wine. It was VERY good for wine consumers, and solved a short-term problem for wine producers, but not a long-term one. Since then, we’ve opened up our proposition and now producers can really grow their businesses with us.

How do you stay innovative?

Stay paranoid. Always be looking outside at what people are doing, what they are responding to, what problems they have. And look inside, always, with humility, and ask yourself if you’re still the very best solution to their problems. Disrupt yourself, as they say, or someone else will.

How did Vinomofo come about?

Short version: My brother in law (Justin) and I got drunk on Christmas Eve 2006 and decided to start a business together. Created Qwoff, a wine community/review site, which we tried to make work, but just couldn’t turn it into revenue. Four years later, broke and very nearly bankrupt, we launched Vinomofo.

Is Australia unique in the way we buy and consume wine?

No. We’re quite parochial, but so is the US, and indeed so are most wine producing countries. Wine is becoming more and more ingrained into our food lives, but we’ve got a little way to go for the mainstream consumer. As compared with, say, Italy or France. 

What were some of the key challenges in growing the business from the startup phase?

It changes as you grow. First, it’s being able to pay yourself, support a family. Then it’s your time resource, you need to work 80-90 hours a week just to keep up. And then it’s people, and capital, and cash flow. But always, it’s about your ability as a founder/leader to grow. Unwavering self-belief balanced with brutal self-awareness.

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