Winc Wines Founders Geoff McFarlane and Brian Smith on Winc Shares
Updated: Nov 25, 2019
On today's episode, Winc Wines Co-Founders Geoff McFarlane (CEO) and Brian Smith (COO) sit down with me to discuss a whole new way the brand is fostering a community and influence -- an investment opportunity called Winc Shares.
Today, you'll learn:
How Winc built their direct business with customer-centricity at its heart
The ways in which Winc taps into consumer participation to create new products and build the brand
What Winc Shares is, and how Winc plans to foster a new community of investors within and alongside its fans, followers, and subscribers/customers
The journey ahead for Winc as a brand
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Music: "Streetview" by Jahzzar is licensed under a Attribution-ShareAlike License (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Adam: Welcome back to a special midweek episode of Authentic Influence. I'm your host, Adam Conner. All right. As most of my listeners know, and if you're new to the show, I'll educate you. I like talking to brands who are mobilizing their masses, it being their fans, followers, consumers, donors, just generally concerned individuals and how they create communities out of their experiences and funnel them back into the market at large. When we talk about this on social and through experiential and other things like that, but today I've got a rather unique way in which a certain brand is doing it and it calls for a special release. I'm going to talk to Geoff McFarlane and Brian Smith. They are Co-Founders of and respectively the CEO and COO of Winc Wines. Now, you may be a customer already, but the wine delivery and subscription service, which has made a $169 million to date since their founding has created a brand new way for customers and people generally interested in the industry to get involved with the brand and it's not through social… It's not necessarily through experiential. It's through an investment opportunity. They are essentially crowd sourcing, a new round of capital. They're calling it Winc Shares and I'm going to sit down with them today and talk about why they're doing that. I'm going to talk about their mentality around getting more direct in building their mentality from the ground up with the consumer first in mind and then explain the some of the ways in which they're planning to create a whole new community of investors outside of their fans, followers, customers, and maybe including them within that, but regardless how they're using this opportunity to brand an entire new color of authentic influence for their business. I'm going to step back and give their perspective to you directly, but I want you to listen in because I think this is a unique opportunity for the show… Certainly haven't had this sort of conversation on the podcast before, so enjoy. I'll be back in a little while. For now this is Winc Wines, Geoff McFarlane and Brian Smith.
Adam: Alright, everybody. I'm here with Winc Wines and I'm here with Geoff McFarlane and Brian Smith respectively, the Co-Founder and CEO and the Co-Founder, COO and President of the company. And today we're going to talk a little bit about something called Winc Shares, which I'm curious about. I'm sure you might be curious about potentially a new way to get involved with wink and perhaps we'll talk a little bit about ways to make a community out of it. But first, before I do any of that, Geoff, Brian, thanks for coming on the show today.
Geoff and Brian: Thank you. Pleasure to be with you. Appreciate the time. Thanks.
Adam: It's my pleasure. My pleasure. And before I jump straight into the meat and potatoes of all this, or perhaps the wine of the conversation, let's first start with what inspired you to start Winc and your journey to this point because you've gone from zero to nearly $175 million in revenue and uh, seems to be growing at a pretty good clip. Wanted to know what the, uh, the impetus for founding Winc was?
Geoff: Yeah. So, um, you know, Winc started with, uh, as many businesses do, started with a really simple idea. And that is, uh, how do you connect a new and emerging audience and today's wine drinker, uh, with a category that's ultimately pretty complex, lots of different languages, lots of different options, um, and very little in the terms and the way of, uh, guidance to help people navigate that. And so, um, you know, the goal was just how do we help people discover and enjoy great wine and what can we leverage in the modern economy? What sort of capabilities can we leverage to do that? And so, um, the initial business, uh, really started very much focused on the customer experience, which we, um, still hold very dear to our hearts today and, and really informs our decisions around Winc Shares, which we can get to later. Um, but the original launch, you know, people were engaging with brands and new ways at the time. We're about six years old. Um, so we looked at direct to consumer, uh, which is a relatively, um, uh, sort of slower to evolve in the wine space. And we'd looked to leverage, um, uh, direct connection with consumer consumers and sort of the, um, the tech stack and communication strategies that come along with that, um, over the years that that direct relationship with the consumer in the direct consumer channel allowed us to, um, uh, really grow awareness and create, um, you know, great experiences but also a, a feedback loop and a form of trial, um, that, that just hadn't existed in wine. And so our customers and the trust that we built with them really allowed us to put more and more, um, interesting products in front of them that might not make it through the buyers, um, you know, to the shelf on your grocery store. So you might not have access to it. But because of that trust where we'll launch things and we're also able to get, um, real-time feedback and, and, and data from our, our customers. So it created this ecosystem, uh, where we can be more innovative on the products and more experimental. And ultimately, um, ultimately that led to some, some early breakout brands for us. Um, and, and ultimately led to us getting more and more involved in production. And so today, uh, you know, we have a hand in producing all of our own lines. We have an amazing wine and talented wine making team. We work directly with vineyards and we create and launch, uh, products. But those products really started direct consumer first. Um, and what we realized is we had built these brands that had never hit the shelf or weren’t available and, um, other channels where consumers were engaging with the category and engaging with the product. And we call it these consumer led wines. They had sort of press, brand affinity, they had been validated and optimized with, with, uh, you know, our consumer. Um, and, and ultimately we felt that there was a gravity and a real opportunity and the need for those to expand outside of just direct consumer. So for the past. couple of years we've been developing a national wholesale team and national wholesale program. We now sell into, um, most states in the US with, you know, 4,000 different points of distribution. Um, we've worked with national wholesalers to connect with, uh, restaurants and retailers on a national basis. And we're growing a portfolio of flagship brands with really, that really started with, you know, in many cases, just a few hundred cases and direct consumer are now north of 40,000 cases. So we have five flagship brands, um, that we're developing and in an omni-channel way. So today, you know, we really see the business as, uh, still very much consumer first. Um, and that relationship with consumer enabling some of the other capabilities and opportunities that we have. Um, but we see it as really one of the first, um, tech enabled platforms for beverage alcohol. Um, and, um, you know, we think there's a lot of opportunity in this space, uh, based on what we built.
Adam: The way that you just said that made me think of dominoes. I'd once heard, I've once heard a them referred to as a tech company that just happens to make pizza, but to talk to you specifically in this space, sounds like you're pretty consumer centric as far as the development of your labels go. And, uh, and to be building that relationship of course is important. We hear on the show tout that all the time. But something that I have not talked about on this show ever really, which I want to hear directly from you, is an opportunity to invest specifically, uh, for, for your fans, for your followers, for investors perhaps for current consumers. And I want to know a little bit more about that because it seems like that is the most direct that you could be with your, uh, with, with the masses, with your average Joe walking down the street who has of course, disposable income to invest. But talk to me about what the mentality was to start Winc Shares and I just want to hear it soup to nuts.
Geoff: Sure. Yeah. Um, I think, uh, I, you know, this is something that we've been thinking about and considering for a long time. I mean, I mentioned it earlier, like the trust that we built initially with, with our customers and with our consumers and that we still focus on now has really enabled our creativity and innovation in the space. Um, it's a huge part of it and we're always trying to think of, you know, everyone is trying to think of how do you, how do you engage your consumers more? Um, how can they be partners in the business? How do you get them to share in the success and excitement and affinity around products? Um, so philosophically the concept of investing, uh, or being able to invest in a product or a company that you, um, that you either love the products or believe in, um, is something that's not available to most people. You know, we're in, uh, we're in the business, we're in venture capital. We don't, you know, we don't even have access to, you know, a lot of fields personally. Um, it's oftentimes restricted to venture funds and PE funds and, um, you know, accredited investors. Um, but a lot of what we focused on is the democratization of the category. And we feel that this model is one step further and not only democratizing the category, but democratizing the business and letting the people that have allowed us to create some success, participate, uh, in the future of the brand. Both as people who can own equity, uh, and sort of like reap the financial rewards, but also, um, create a, a really exciting, um, uh, group of evangelists for the future.
Adam: So you are building this community of, of potential investors, again, individuals who are passionate about the brand, want to invest and it's growth and of course it's right in line with that being as direct as possible as you just mentioned. But once you have that community, how do you anticipate you'll be able to leverage it just beyond the resources that they'll be able to provide? Because it seems well rather intuitive to me that you would want to take a, you know, leverage that as much as possible, but wanting to know what some of the early thoughts there were for you and perhaps at the same time be able to allow for listeners to this show… potential investors to learn a couple of those types of benefits.
Geoff: Yeah, I mean, I think it's, it's about, you know, bringing them into, um, you know, our mission and vision for the company and, and, uh, you know, using that group of evangelists to, to help us, um, you know, fulfill those, that, that mission and purpose. And I think, you know, we'll continue to innovate, uh, with that community and the way that we've continued to innovate with the business. So I think, you know, when we imagine what we'll do in the short term, it's, you know, to truly it's really engage that community to help us get the word out about our brand and what we're really trying to do. Go deeper with them and really telling the story and the division and the purpose for, for, for a broader group of people than, you know, just our employees are our current investors. So to expand that community, uh, and you know, let them, you know, help us drive new product launches and, um, you know, which products to launch. Uh, and then, um, you know, I think we'll, we'll, we'll continue to figure out how to, how to innovate, uh, with that community over time as well. So I think, um, it's a mixture of things, but it's really about bringing a broader community into sort of the inner circle of wink and, um, you know, going on the journey of building, building weight together.
Adam: You mentioned as one of the perks of coming on as an investor, the ability to name one of Winc’s new products. What, what's that all about?
Geoff: Yeah, I think, you know, we've done a lot of different, I've done a lot of different things over the years around, um, you know, product iteration and tried to, you know, engage the, our audience and our members. You know, we've done any, uh, anything from, uh, sort of launching the wine with charity: water where, you know, the community helps build two wells in Africa to, uh, doing sort of user generated content labels around Instagram for different thematic, uh, brands. Um, but you know, we love this idea of participation and I think that our, um, our members really, really love that too. And so this is just a, um, kind of, to put out, really to put a fine point on it and to show that, um, there's an opportunity to engage with the brand and really shape, um, what we put out in the world. Um, so it really is an initiative, an additional way for participation. Um, and I think, you know, we will, you know, we're, we're really excited to, um, well I would say, um, one thing that's been really interesting for us is, is, um, you know, the member interests, you know, people who know Winc and who are members… Their level of interest in participating in this way, um, has been extremely exciting even in early days. Um, so we'll take a lot of the, um, you know, a lot of the community practices through emails, social, um, uh, physical meetups, experiential, um, and really start to focus on, on our, our group as investors because, um, historically we've had a lot of success with referral. As you know, word of mouth referral or, or any type of referral is extremely valuable to, um, driving a company forward. And, and so we see this as a, you know, a great opportunity with this group. So, you know, we're, we're will and what we'll do is we'll approach it just as, as anything else with the company is we'll really, you know, try some new things and, and sort of AB test and, and really figure out what's, what's a successful track for communication, um, in the early days and longterm with this group.
Adam: Well, it's a great way to go about it. Of course, listeners to the show will know that that's some of the gold standard for a way that any brand can be mobilizing its masses in a proper way. And yes, referrals, of course, word of mouth that is truly your most credible source of authentic influence to use the name of the show. But I, if, if we can, uh, so a very interesting opportunity for anybody who wants to get involved with Winc on a deeper level. I'm curious and actually one of, uh, the closing questions that I, that I will give as part of this little conversation here is with regard to advice, because it sounds like, you know, of course the meat and potatoes of today's conversation being Winc Shares, but there's a whole lot behind that and the way that your mentality is consumer centric and consumer first. And that aligns well with at least the way that I define what authenticity is for a brand. I'm curious because our listeners are largely marketers and students of the craft, what advice you might have for them as they build up their brands and perhaps it's not through a, through an investment opportunity for their consumers, fans, followers or the like, but I'm curious just some of the ways that you would advise that they seek to get more direct and more consumer centric with their followings.
Geoff: Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, at the very foundation of our company is putting the customer first and, and starting with the customer. Uh, and so, you know, that's, that's a good, that's a good foundation to build off of. So I think, you know, and in today's world, um, you know, there's more of an opportunity in that than there ever has been. You know, the new way that you can now have a two way conversation with your customers, um, really has, hasn't existed, uh, in the past. Like it has grown over the last 5 or 10 years. And so I think it's about listening to your customer. It's about, um, you know, creating and building your company, uh, you know, over time, you know, with the customer as part of it rather than, um, you know, sort of the old world, which was such a push driven world where create a product, create a bunch of advertising, um, you know, get it on store shelves and, and hope customers like it or, or, you know, it does an okay job at solving a customer's problem. I think in today's world, um, you know, you can, you can launch more products quickly, you can get customer feedback quickly and then you can really perfect your products. Uh, and I think, um, you know, we, we had numerous examples of including our most popular brand, Summer Water where we continually over the last four years, uh, improve the customer rating and customer feedback on that product by just listening to the customer and always trying to improve, uh, behalf of the customer.
Adam: Yeah, I'll always be listening in to be nimble in that and to stay centric along the way. Great pieces of advice for anybody to be using as a foundation of the way that they start their brand. And what are the questions for you, just out of pure entertainment and curiosity, really, if I were to head on over there to [inaudible] dot com find a new bottle for dinner, uh, what's, uh, what's your favorite selection there? What should I really be going after?
Geoff: We just launched the wine we've been working on for a couple of years. It's called, uh, Cherries and Rainbows. It's a really, uh, fun wine, kind of a hippy wine actually. So we made this in Southern France. It's organic, biodynamic red with no sulfur. So, um, uh, you know, we're really excited about the natural wine movement. Um, the better for you movement and this is a just a delicious, uh, natural wine with, with very little human intervention. I'm really excited about that one.
Adam: Well, alright. I have to go and check that out and for me again in our listeners, if we wanted to learn more about Winc Wines, where do we go there?
Geoff: Great. You can visit seedinvest.com/winc
Adam: seedinvest.com/winc sounds great. Check it out folks and Geoff, Brian, thank you so much for your insight on the podcast today. It's great to have you.
Geoff: Thank you. Really appreciate it.