Simon Dell: My interview today is with the joint CEO and co-founder of Vinomofo. It is Justin Dry. Welcome to the show, Justin.
Justin Dry: Thank you for having me. Much appreciated.
Simon Dell: I made a mistake in that first sentence. It’s what nine hours on a plane does to you. Now, I’ve got a couple of questions, a couple of statements I’m actually going to make first. Number one, I normally ask the guest to give us an overview of their history in everything, but Vinomofo has an epic About Us page.
I’m just going to say to everyone listening to this, pause this and go and read that page because it’s quite…
Justin Dry: It’s long. It might take a while.
Simon Dell: How long did that take you guys to put together?
Justin Dry: To be honest, not that long, because Andre is a great writer. Andre is my co-founder and brother-in-law. He’s a great writer. We just played around one day with what we thought should be on it, and then he wrote it very quickly. He’s amazing at what he does in that sense.
Simon Dell: We’ll come back to that and we’ll talk about that in a minute because I think there’s some really interesting things in there. The second statement or confession I wanted to make is that I don’t drink wine.
Justin Dry: I’m out.
Simon Dell: I was waiting for a dial tone to appear there. I never have, and it’s mainly because, and I do have a legitimate excuse, it’s mainly because I’ve been in the beer industry for most of my life.
Justin Dry: You drink, but you just don’t drink wine.
Simon Dell: Yeah. I joined what was Bass Brewers back in the UK in the late 90s. I was a sales rep for them for years. My 8 to 10 years’ worth of sales and marketing, my early stage, was all with beer companies. That was Bass Brewers, and Coors, and Heineken, Interbrew, and all those. XXXX as well, actually.
Justin Dry: I’m still not getting a great excuse.
Simon Dell: My confession is, I have drunk wine, obviously, but I’ve never appreciated it in the manner that I suspect you appreciate it.
Justin Dry: But you have drunk it before?
Simon Dell: A glass here or there.
Justin Dry: Okay, cool. I’ll remain on the interview.
Simon Dell: I know you guys have got something; it’s about half a million subscribers now?
Justin Dry: Yeah. I think it’s about 550,000 or something.
Simon Dell: Do they surprise you with the passion that they have for the product?
Justin Dry: Nothing really surprises me about passion for wine because I’ve been a wine nerd and super passionate about it since I was a teenager. I don’t think you’re going to find more passionate people than the 120 odd people that we have working for us. I’m surrounded by it. So, no, I’m not actually that surprised.
Occasionally, I find one random person that is just completely over the top and I can be surprised, but it is so rare these days because I’m surrounded by such passion, anyway.
Simon Dell: How were you introduced to wine?
Justin Dry: My family drank wine as I was growing up as a kid. But probably, the biggest influence early was my Uncle Peter. He’s a viticulturist, which is basically the grape-growing side of the wine business. He was a lecturer at uni. He used to teach viticulture. He’s quite well-known in that world and he travels all over the world consulting.
He used to write the textbooks that people would study at university, and Australia’s got a really famous university for winemaking and grape-growing, which is in Adelaide. It used to be based out of Roseworthy. It’s now Adelaide Mains campus or the Waite Campus, I think.
He was this really well-known guy in that space. He used to write textbooks, and he, at family Christmases or gatherings, he would pull me aside. I was a teenager at this stage. I wasn’t probably even supposed to be drinking. He would pull me aside and he’d line up some wine glasses. He’d make me do a blind tasting. Three or four glasses, and he’d ask me the variety, and the vintage, and the region.
And I’d be like, “Uncle Peter, how the hell am I supposed to pick this? I don’t even drink wine.” And he’d talk me through what they should look like. So, what that region would look like, what that vintage would look like, and what that variety would look like, smell like, taste like; he’d guide me through it. He was probably the first guy that got me interested.
Simon Dell: What was it about that? I mean, uncles can do that and parents can influence you, but there must’ve been a hook for you at that point.
Justin Dry: I actually think it’s in our DNA. My ancestors actually planted some of the first vines in the Barossa, which I found out later. Some of the oldest shrubs, vines in the entire world were planted by my ancestors in the Barossa Valley in South Australia.
Uncle Peter used to tell me these stories about that, and then he talked me through these wines. I think it’s in the DNA, and I just fell in love with the different kind of things you could get from wine. I really love the experience of tasting, and smelling, and all these fascinating flavours, and aromas, and what they meant, and what you could tell because of them. I just got lost in it. I think I just fell in love with it.
After that, and learning about our family history, I actually went and studied at uni. I studied wine marketing, originally. It was a marketing degree with a focus on wine. I did that for a while, and then I went back and did some chemistry so I could study winemaking. I didn’t actually finish the winemaking degree, but I finished the marketing degree.
I started working in the wine industry for a few years. I was holding tastings for people, so I would go to different locations around the city that I lived in, holding tastings for different wineries, then I worked in a wine shop. I just was surrounded by it really early, and I just fell in love with it. You can tell how much I fell in love with it.
By the time I was 18, I think for my 18th birthday, my parents offered to hold a party at their place, buy some beer, some wine, have my friends around. They said, “Does that sound good to you?” And I was like, “You know what I’d prefer?” And they’re like, “Yeah, what?” I was like, “I’d prefer to spend all the money that you’re going to spend on a really nice bottle of wine that I could never afford myself, and just have it with a dinner with my family, and you cook my favourite dish.”
My mum’s like, “Really?” And I was like, “Yeah.” Thinking that works for them, too, because they get to try the wine. They gave me enough money, and I went down and bought my birth year of a bottle of Penfolds Grange. So, that’s a ’77, and I was 18.
I think I went down that following Saturday or something, and went down to a store, bought it, and I was handing over so much money. When I said to the guy at the wine store, I was like, “I’ll have that one.” And he’s like, “Really?” Looking at me going, “What is this 18-year-old doing ordering the most expensive bottle of wine we have in this store?”
Simon Dell: How much was it?
Justin Dry: Back then, it was probably a couple hundred bucks which back then was a lot of money. It’s a lot now, but that same bottle now would probably be $700 to $1,000, I reckon, in equivalent time. It’s a ’77 Grange. It wasn’t one of the greatest years of Grange, but still worth a lot of money.
Anyway, I bought this wine, and I remember taking it out to the car. I was holding it like it was the most precious thing in the entire world because I never held anything so expensive in my life that was fragile. It was almost like I was holding a baby. I remember trying to open the door but not wanting to take both hands off the bottle.
I took it home, and I opened it, and I decanted it over a couple of hours before dinner. Every time I walked past the kitchen and I’d see it, I’d have this thing, I’d smile to myself, and I’d go and smell a little bit, and I just watched it evolve over time. Wine changes so much when it has some air, and this was just a magical experience. I think I was just hooked super early. I had no chance, really.
Simon Dell: I think that’s incredibly lucky. I think that’s incredibly lucky to find a passion like that early on in life. Lots of people don’t get that. They’re still looking for it in their 30s and 40s and that kind of thing.
Justin Dry: Well, I kind of went away from it for a while as well. I had that passion, and then about 23, I went off and started other businesses. I only got back to wine when I was about 28 or 29, I reckon.
Simon Dell: Was that being 2007?
Justin Dry: Yeah, 2006, 2007, when we launched our first wine online business which was called Quaff.
Simon Dell: What other businesses did you go in? I’m interested in that and why you decided to go away from what was clearly a passion for you.
Justin Dry: I had two passions in life, like many. Sports, I loved as well, but the two main ones that stand out to me is I always love creating businesses, even from when I was a kid. I had a business when I was 10, and it was like a lawn mowing and car washing business in the neighbourhood, basically door-knocking. I created quite a decent business. I had enough clients that I hired my first person when I was 10, 10 and 1/2, I think.
Simon Dell: Were they older than you, or were they 10 as well?
Justin Dry: They were 10 as well. It was my cousin. It was the easiest guy. He was just standing there. My hiring policy was you’re standing there, you got the job. I hired him, and it’s so funny, because I actually ended up firing him pretty quickly after. He’ll be forever known as Lazy Ben.
Simon Dell: Are you still friends with him today?
Justin Dry: Oh, I love him. I went to his wedding, actually, last weekend. I wanted to make a speech so I could tell that story. But yeah, so Lazy Ben, he’s a lovely man, but he was more interested in going to the shops, and buying lollies than actually doing the hard work.
Simon Dell: I can just imagine the conversation between two 10-year-olds with one of them firing the other one.
Justin Dry: It was pretty uncomfortable, but it was my first experience at hiring and firing. That was my first business, and then I had another old. I sold Christmas trees when I was like 14 or something like that. I convinced my dad to drive me up to a Christmas tree farm four or five weeks out from Christmas.
I bought 20 Christmas trees at wholesale, and I convinced the petrol station that was on a major corner, like a major intersection, to let me stand on the front grass bit with a Christmas tree business and signs. Christmas trees for 20 bucks or whatever it was.
Back then, no one was really doing it. A lot of them have them now, but it went really well. I sold out in half a day, and I was like, “I’m doubling down on this.” And so, I called a Christmas tree farm and I said, “How many Christmas trees do you have left?” And they’re like, “40.”
And I said, “If you drive them down to me, I’ll take them all right now and I’ll pay cash.” And the guy said, “Okay, done.” And I was like, “Great, amazing. This is incredible. I’m going to make so much money.”
He drives down and delivers 40 of the ugliest, most poor excuses of Christmas trees ever, because they’re the last 40 on the lot. You can imagine what they look like. There was a couple there that had two branches and a little bit of green, like nothing at all.
I was trying to sell these things for the next three days, and I ended up with about 15 left over, and that was my entire profit. My profit was 15 Christmas trees on that business.
Simon Dell: Valuable lesson, though.
Justin Dry: Yeah. Valuable lesson in seeing the stock before you buy it, that’s for sure.
Simon Dell: It’s a good lesson to learn at 14 rather than 20 years later, as well.
Justin Dry: Yeah, exactly. It was a good lesson. I was really happy to read later that Richard Branson had actually done a Christmas tree business, too, and I didn’t realize at the time. So, we’ve both done it independently, and that was probably about where the similarities end, but it was kind of nice to have that.
Simon Dell: It sounds like your parents have been quite supportive in those years. There wasn’t that sort of case where your father, when you were 14, was just sort of rolling his eyes and going, “Here we go, Christmas trees.”
Justin Dry: No, he was worse than me. He was encouraging me. He’s an entrepreneur, had some good stuff, had some not-so-good stuff as most of us have, but he was really encouraging.
I probably think that’s where I got the excitement around starting businesses. I probably got the more sensible financial side from my mum. You combine those two skill sets and you’re probably in a better place than just enthusiastic here.
Simon Dell: I just want to go back to the About Us page that we spoke about at the start. You mentioned that’s easy for you guys to sort of put together.
I just want to get an understanding, because there’s quite a few questions in that that’s come from that page, but I just want to get an understanding how you take the pledges, and that tribe cultural thing. How do you make that come alive in the business, and what are the things that you do that you think other businesses should do irrespective of whether they’ve got 100+ staff, or whether they’ve got 5 staff?
Justin Dry: One of the more important things to get right in the business is, obviously, the culture of the business. I think to have a great culture, which really determines the success or failure of a business is so important. People make or break a business. It’s one of the things you just have to get right.
And so, I think to get that right, you need to know who you are, and what you do, and why you do it. I think you need to have a really strong proposition and understand that. I think to get that right and to have people understand what you do is so important. In order to do that, you need to communicate it clearly, and strongly, and regularly. I think for us to have a great culture that we do, we had to decide who we are, who we were, and what we stood for and why we’re doing what we were doing.
We had to make that clear to our team and to everyone that became a member or was in touch with our business. In other to do that, you need to state it clearly everywhere and regularly. We’ve got it up in our walls. It’s part of our decision process. It’s part of our meetings. We refer to it when we are making decisions, or there’s a challenge, and we put it into the town halls. You’ve got to live and breathe it.
If you don’t, it becomes something that you write, and then you put it in a book, and you put it away, and you never refer to it again. I think the most important thing to get right is culture in a business. Once you’ve got it right, to keep it, you have to live and breathe it. I think that’s what’s so important.
Simon Dell: What are some of the things that you would do that would actually… You’ve mentioned putting these on the walls, and I think that’s a fantastic idea, and I’ve suggested that to many businesses in the past, the mission statements, and promises, and have those visible to everybody. Are there some other things that you do with the team that you go, to sort of bring them together as a team, to demonstrate that culture or live that culture?
Justin Dry: Absolutely. There’s so many things that we do. One of our credos is to do some good. And so, to do some good is basically do some good for the world. In other to do that, there’s numerous initiatives that we have. One of them is called Wine for Good, and that’s where we use wine and what we do for the good of the world. One of those things that we do, one of the projects that we do is called the Vinobomb.
The Vinobomb is basically, we get our community to nominate, privately, through social, so not tag the person they’re nominating so the person doesn’t know. It’s kind of like a random acts of kindness thing. They nominate someone who deserves recognition but doesn’t normally get recognition. We want to recognize those people doing some great things in the world but don’t normally get the recognition.
You know, the people that are, whether they’re looking after animals that need care, or whether there’s domestic violence, it’s all the people behind the scenes that don’t actually get the recognition for doing this amazing work. We get people to nominate our community of half a million people and nominate people they think are worthy. We get hundreds and sometimes thousands of nominations.
We go through them all. We investigate their story, and we have a shortlist, and we get one of our team leads to choose a top couple. We go through those even more, and we finally choose one person to do a Vinobomb. A Vinobomb is basically this beautiful, wooden-carved box with Vinomofo on it. It’s full of goodies.
It’s full of wine, and it’s full of goodies from other partners, whether it’s massages, gift vouchers, beautiful spa products. We surprise them where they live or where they work, we rock up with the team, with a bunch of people from our team in our combie and do this kind of surprise delivery to this person.
What that does is, it goes along with our credo of doing some good in recognizing amazing people doing some good for the world, but it allows our team to be part of that process and to be part of delivering this amazing experience to these people that are so deserving. It’s such a beautiful thing. The first couple of times we did it, because we’ve been doing it for many years now. We’ve delivered hundreds and hundreds now.
The first couple of times, we didn’t take any photography or video because we really want it to be for our team and for the people, and not about this, “Let’s promote how wonderful we are.” For the first couple of months of doing it, we didn’t actually get any footage, which is a shame. But we would get these calls, like through customer service, from these people that had this Vinobomb delivered to them, they’d be asking to chat to Andre or myself.
And so, I remember this one time when, in particular, the customer service put their hand up to me and said, “Hey, Justin, can you come over and chat to this lady? She’s just received a Vinobomb, and she’s beside herself, and she really wants to talk to you.” And I was like, “Okay.” So, I chatted, and she was bawling her eyes out. I almost cried myself. I probably did, actually.
She was at a breaking point in her life, and she was doing so much good for the world, and it just meant so much to her because she was doing it by herself for all the right reasons, but she was doing it as a single person trying to change the world. She was just feeling quite overwhelmed, and then she gets this random act of kindness that a friend had nominated her for, and we delivered, and she just really needed it.
She just let out all of this emotion. It was the most beautiful thing, and I was like, “Oh my god, we’ve got to capture this. We’ve just got to capture this.” So, about a month or so in, we started capturing it. This footage is just the most beautiful footage in the world. They’re such good people, and so deserving, and very rarely are they recognized for the work that they do.
To see them be appreciated, and be awarded, and feel like people know what they’re doing and are thanking them for it, it was just amazing. Anyway, that’s just one of the things that flows from that credo. Do some good for the world, and you get your team involved, you help the community, you get the community involved, the teams involved.
You’re delivering this great thing to a really deserving person who is doing amazing things for the world. So, you’re living and breathing this credo, and that’s really important. That’s how we bring parts of our credo into our business.
Simon Dell: I think that’s important irrespective of the size of the business, but I think a lot of businesses are scared of that. Two things, they’re scared of perhaps taking time out to do that, the smaller businesses. The second thing is, I think sometimes, they feel, exactly as you’ve said there, that it’s a bit of shameless self-publicity, when I don’t think it is. I think you just need to approach it with a different view.
Justin Dry: It needs to be authentic. It needs to be real. If you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, it’s quickly going to be discovered. People see through that straight away. If you’re doing things for the wrong reasons, people can tell. People aren’t silly.
Simon Dell: Yeah. Well, I had the interview last week with a guy called Nick Bowditch who used to work for Facebook. Lots of people know Nick.
Justin Dry: Yeah, he’s popular.
Simon Dell: One of his cornerstones was his authenticity. He often says it’s very easy to see through people who aren’t authentic. Authentic stories on social media, they’re the sort of things that people want to engage with, and that kind of thing. On that note of people facing those challenges, looking again at your About Us page, there’s several references there along that story to you guys being broke and not having much money.
Again, the lesson I want to get from that is, how did you keep going? What was in the back of your head, or at the front of your head, even, that said, “This is a great idea.” You didn’t think about jacking it in and getting a normal job. Again, there’s small businesses, medium-sized businesses out there who are in probably that situation every day. I’m just interested in getting your psychological take on how you push through that.
Justin Dry: Stupidity? I think it was like a little bit of stupidity, a little bit of ignorance. Honestly, the first four or so years of working with Andre were really, really tough because we started with Quaff and it had a pretty average business model. It was getting some really good traction in the market, but the actual business model wasn’t very good.
We pivoted that three or four times till we eventually ended up with Vinomofo. How did we get through it? We actually did look for jobs at one point because we were so broke, and Andre being my brother-in-law, when the business wasn’t doing very well, and I wasn’t doing very well, it also meant my sister wasn’t doing very well. I had that extra pressure.
We’re a really, really close family. I think seeing my sister go through the stuff was far more powerful than me having to go through it. And so, there was a couple of years there were she would go to the supermarket and get groceries, walk up to the cash register, and her card wouldn’t work. She’d actually have to… Sometimes, she’d just leave the groceries there and walk out, “Oh, I’ve got to go and transfer some money.” Super embarrassed and not be able to afford grocery.
We’re a really close family. I adore my sister. And to see my sister go through that was really, really hard. The first year was really tough. The second year was better but still tough. Third year was better again but still kind of tough. But in that second to third year, I remember Jodie, my sister, saying to Andre, “I can’t keep doing this. We’ve got two young kids.” They had two kids in this stage.
They were getting chased by creditors. They were hardly being able to afford their rent. When I say it was tough years, they were tough years. My poor sister, after having some pretty average Christmases, was like, “I can’t keep doing this. I just cannot keep doing this, Andre.” Andre was always so super positive and going, “No, we’re just around the corner. This thing is going to happen. That’s going to change everything.” You know, as entrepreneurs do, we just keep going,
“It’s just around the corner, it’s going to all break, and it’s going to be amazing.” But then, my sister would start asking me. She didn’t believe Andre anymore. And I can’t lie to my sister, so she would go, “Justin, I don’t believe Andre anymore. Is it going to be okay? Is this happening in this time?” And I was like, “Yeah, no, just give us this amount of time. Just give us six months or three months.”
And she’s like, “Okay. I can give you this amount of time. Seriously, Justin, please stop it for our family’s sake.” And I’m like, “Oh my god, my sister who I adore, who we made poor for years, is basically asking me for, if I love her, please give up.” That’s a really tough one to work through.
Simon Dell: That’s some pressure. I ran my own agency and I had exactly the same experience as your sister. I stood in a supermarket, and I swiped the card to pay for $25 worth of groceries. The card got rejected and I had no other accounts to transfer money into. The difference with me, it was just me. It wasn’t impacting other members of my family, or there wasn’t children at that time. I can imagine the stress of doing it. I guess now, you guys must owe her a fairly hefty debt of gratitude for sticking with you.
Justin Dry: I think she’s okay now. She’s doing alright now. We did actually go looking for jobs at one point. Andre came to me, and we had the big chat, and she’s like, “She said we’ve agreed to a timeframe, and this is what it is, and then we hit that timeframe, and we’re still in trouble.” He begged for another couple of months and we got through.
But as a point there, about two or three promises in, that we went looking for jobs. We got offered jobs. I got offered a great job at a winery that I loved, and Andre got it off at a great job at a tourism body doing wine-related videos. There’s a wine tourism body, and we came back together, and I think that’s when we felt like the biggest failures, that’s when we felt that this…
I think giving up and going, looking for work, and then accepting it, and feeling like, “Okay, we’ve failed. We need to move on now and we need to take these other roles for the sake of our family.” That was the moment when we came together and we’ve both been offered jobs that we sat there, looking each other, and probably the most disappointed. It was also the same conversation where we went, “We’re not taking those jobs, are we?” We went and had another conversation with Jodie.
Simon Dell: Wow, your poor sister when she found out you were both turning down good jobs.
Justin Dry: Yeah, and the poor thing, she probably cried a little bit, which is understandable. But thank God we did, because that was the turning point for us. We started working and getting better from there. She stuck with us, but now she’s good. She’s really happy. She’s thankful that we stuck to it, and that led to a couple of really great businesses.
Simon Dell: I’ll ask you a couple of questions from a marketing perspective. That growth of Vinomofo in those early years, what did you find worked best for you guys? What were the channels to the end user that you just went, “Wow, this is working. Let’s just double down on this channel.”
Justin Dry: What has always been the biggest for us has been referral. So, very, very early, it was deliver the most amazing experience. Your customers wanted to tell their friends about you. And it’s simple stuff, and it’s age-old, but referral has always been and still is today our biggest channel of new members and new customers. That was always super powerful.
We incentivized it to encourage people. It was like $25 for the person referring, $25 for the new member on the first purchase. We played around with different incentives, $50 one-way, $20, $10. We found that $25 each way for us is the best way and encourages the most. We still rely on that hugely today. It’s such a great channel.
The funny thing is, the lifetime value of customers coming through referral is so good. It is so much higher than most other channels because the connection is real. They’ve been referred by someone they trust. So, that’s always been really powerful.
Simon Dell: You don’t have to answer this because this might be sensitive information, but I’m just trying to understand, from your perspective, how many people would be referring?
Justin Dry: As a percentage of the audience?
Simon Dell: Yeah, like for 10 sign ups, how many of those have been referred, or how many of those are then referring people?
Justin Dry: About 50% of the people refer. But of the people that are actually joining, because not everyone obviously joins, referrals are probably in that 20-30% mark, I reckon, regularly. That’s huge numbers now.
Simon Dell: That’s big numbers.
Justin Dry: People are not just referring one person, either. They’re referring 10. Sometimes, the referral has been well over 50% of new customers, which is amazing. That’s free, really. You’re giving away credit, but it’s on a purchase, which there’s a profit in a purchase anyway. It’s literally free. It’s a great channel, and they’re worth so much. Their lifetime values are so strong because of that connection, I think.
Simon Dell: I’ve just come back from Japan. I had a conversation with the company I was working for there about launching into that company, and I’m going to talk about it because you’re launching into Japan soon, aren’t you?
Justin Dry: Japan’s on the cards, but it’s not the next market.
Simon Dell: The reason I ask that is because I was in Japan looking at your site, and the little thing pops up and says… But yeah, my conversation with them was about trial, was about saying, instead of spending thousands of dollars, or millions of yen, as it were, on magazine advertising, and print advertising, and those kind of things, we should just be giving the product to people to experience it so that they can then make a decision based on actually having something tangible in their hands to trial.
Justin Dry: Absolutely. I 100% agree with you. I think giving people the opportunity to try a service or reinvesting in your own audience is the most powerful thing you can do.
Simon Dell: Are there any other channels? Obviously, the cornerstone of your business is going to be that referral traffic. Is there anything else that you find works really well for you guys?
Justin Dry: There’s a couple of things, two main ones. Social is huge. Facebook advertising is one of our major channels, always has been. Different businesses suit different channels. Some businesses really suit visual, where you look at Instagram. And we still use Instagram and we’re using it more and more, but it’s a very visual channel. Facebook’s great for other businesses more so, and it’s always been amazing for us.
What we’ve found with social, though, is as new platforms come out, you get in early, super early before everyone else is in them, and you don’t have the big corporates using huge budgets to buy up that space, and you get much cheaper advertising early. We were super early into Twitter and Facebook and really turned that up, dialled that up as much as we could really early because it was such an efficient channel.
It’s got less so as more and more money has flooded in. Once you’ve got the massive corporations around the world competing for Facebook advertising, the cost per click and per acquisition is going to go up as it has and it continues to do. We always look for new platforms. We play around with Snapchat early. It’s a younger audience, so didn’t particularly love it for us, but Instagram is great.
Twitter, in the early days, was phenomenal. We were the first wine company to advertise on Twitter in Australia. When we were doing that many years ago, we were getting customers like so cheaply. It was insane. I couldn’t spend enough money through the platform. Now, it’s not even worth it for us down through Twitter. You just wouldn’t do it. It’s way too expensive, and Facebook’s still great up to a point. I guess long story short, social has been amazing for us, both paid and organic, especially when you go in super early.
Simon Dell: Are they the good channels for you if you’re going into a new country? Because obviously, that referral traffic probably doesn’t exist straightaway.
Justin Dry: No, it doesn’t. So, what we do when we go into a new country, it’s basically grassroots mentality, startup lean mentality, where we create the business like we did in Australia. We build a company from one person, to a hundred, to a thousand, and we rely on those people to refer their friends.
What we do when we land in a country is we get people from Australia or the other countries that we’ve launched to refer their friends in those countries first. Second, we do a PR campaign where I go and talk to all the media as much as I can. We focus on the food and wine scene and the startup scene. So, I go and spend lots of time in the startup communities, because they’re the early adopters that get the message out there as quickly as possible.
You have startup communities, food and wine scene, and just the bigger media that are talking in the spaces that we want to be heard. That’s the kind of plan, and then lots of events and lots of one-on-one. We really do build it from the ground-up. I’m literally sitting there with one person on day one and telling them the story.
And then as I’m sitting there with 10 people, and then we have an event and it’s 50 people, and then the next time it’s 150 people. They’re the early adopters. They’re the advocates that know me personally and tell all their friends about it. That’s how we’ve done it in Australia. That’s how we’ve done it in New Zealand and Singapore, and it’s how we’ll do it in every market going forward. It’s really as if we were a startup every time we go into a new country. We don’t go with big budgets.
Simon Dell: I saw, obviously, public speaking for you is now an important part of what you do. I’m guessing… It’s one of those things I’ve said to a lot of businesses. If you do have the capacity to stand up and talk in front of people, be it at a local BNI event, or be it at a Chamber of Commerce or something like that, to grow your business, that’s always a fantastic opportunity because it’s free, people get to experience, you’re an expert in your industry, you swap business cards, you get talking, you meet people. It’s interesting that you go back to square one, almost, in every country.
Justin Dry: Exactly, and it’s fantastic. You get to meet people. It’s about those relationships as all business is about relationships. You know that, and everyone does. And if you can build those relationships and get them to tell your story, it’s super powerful. Getting to the speaking engagements which you were talking about, I think that’s so powerful. I know a lot of people don’t do it because it’s so scary. People fear standing in front of people, and delivering a message, and I completely understand it. I used to be the same.
Simon Dell: It’s absolutely terrifying for some people, yeah. I completely get it, but once you get over it…
Justin Dry: You’ve got nerves, you’re shaking, but you just do it. If you just don’t give yourself a choice and just get up and deliver the message, the first time is awful, the second time is pretty bad, the third time is okay, and then all of a sudden, it becomes quite normal and easy. Eventually, you become really good at it and it’s such a powerful medium, to tell you a story.
Because like you said, you become an expert in your field, too. You have an opportunity to have, whether it’s 50 people or 1,000 people that are listening to you, you have their attention for an hour or half an hour to talk about who you are, and what you do in your business, and what you want to achieve. It’s really hard to get that much attention from that many people for that long.
Simon Dell: I think the other slight advantage that potentially you have and when I talk to people as well, is that we’ve probably got a subject matter that people are quite interested in. If you’re an accountant, or you’re a financial planner, or those kind of things, I sometimes think they might struggle more, because who wants to really listen to an accountant talking to you for an hour?
Justin Dry: You just offended all the accountants listening.
Simon Dell: I think there’s a lot of accountants that would agree with that as well.
Justin Dry: Yeh they are the first to do that.
Simon Dell: I think one of the things they’ve got to look at is it’s about being creative in that conversation. People don’t want you to get up and talk about best accounting practices, but people might want to get up to talk about 10 quirky ways which you can save tax. It’s the approach that you take versus what you actually do for a living. A lot of people need to look at it from another angle sometimes.
Justin Dry: I agree. We encourage that for all of our team, just thinking about accountants talking. Our CFO, we have encouraged to go out and on the speaker circuit where she can. Now, she’s flying to the States in January to deliver a talk at a conference, which is amazing. She did her first one a couple of months ago. She’s done another one since. She’s super nervous and stuff, but she’s amazing.
She was involved in a panel recently, and our Head of Marketing, Kip, who is amazing but probably the most fearful person I’ve ever met of standing in front of the crowd. I actually forced him to do the first one, and he hated me for it. And his face went bright red, and he’s just sweating, but once he got through it, he thanked me and he was like, “That was actually amazing.” The second time he did it, he was a little bit less nervous and he delivered a great speech.
If you’ve got your team, you’ve got marketing, our Head of Culture does talks now, Andre and I do talks, our CFO does talks, you think about all the people you’re reaching in all the different ways you’re reaching them, it’s really, really powerful.
Simon Dell: Just going slightly off subject, I’ve got a friend of mine who’s challenged me to do stand-up comedy. There’s a little comedy club around, and I am genuinely terrified.
Justin Dry: I would be, too.
Simon Dell: You only got to get up and do five minutes, but I vowed to do it because it’s something he wants to do. And I said to him, I’d support him, and I’d support him by doing it myself. I said to him, “If you do it, I’ll do it.” And he’s been wanting to do it for like eight years. So, we’re just gradually getting closer and closer.
For me, I feel comfortable getting up and talking in front of people. I wanted to go, “What could I do next that could scare the crap out of me?” That would be good. I’m looking forward to it in a strange, kind of perverse way. Maybe there’s a challenge there for a few of your team.
Justin Dry: Don’t throw out that challenge.
Simon Dell: It’s on the podcast now, you’re stuffed.
Justin Dry: I hope no one listens to it that I work with. They’re like, “Justin, next challenge, stand-up comedy.” I’d be like, “Oh, god.” I’m a little bit funny. I’m not that funny.
Simon Dell: There’s a couple of other marketing questions I just wanted to ask you. The first one was, what doesn’t work? What if you guys tried and just gone, “Nah, we’re not doing that,” or it’s too expensive, or it didn’t get the return on investment, those kind of things?
Justin Dry: I think one of the things is knowing where to turn off the spend in most of the channels. You go, “Alright, this month, this year, you’re spending $100,000 a month on marketing, and then you’re spending $300,000 a month.” There becomes a point where all channels are no longer useful or no longer worthwhile or feasible to spend because the acquisition costs go up.
I reckon all channels get to that point, or obviously, you just keep spending. As far as ones that haven’t worked, for us, the ones that have really probably been a waste of time has been the smaller partnerships where you spend a lot of time for very little reward. So, lots of small partnerships with smaller businesses that didn’t have much reach has been…
There’s been businesses that we’ve wanted to work with because we liked the founders, or we liked the brand, but then the time and energy for a team that you keep lean, so very limited time, so they’re all working lots of hours, if they’re investing a big chunk of time into a smaller partnership, it often hasn’t worked. Sponsorships are a hard one to justify in a marketing sense. They never really work.
Simon Dell: You’re right. I struggle with sponsorships, unless it’s a localized business and it’s a like a small sports club, you can get access to a database of the mums and dads for a couple of hundred bucks a year, maybe. But yeah, I struggle with sponsorships. I really do.
Justin Dry: We’re a wine business, so we get asked 10 times a week to sponsor something for the drinks. If you have a sponsorship or if you’re sponsoring the wines, it doesn’t matter if your logo is up on the screen and they mention you three times. People don’t care. They’re there to eat food, drink wine, and socialize.
Very rarely has that ever been any use to us. So, the way to do it now is we just choose those ones that we want to do for our do good part of our credo. It’s all charitable. It’s all causes that we believe in, that we choose four or five causes every quarter that we focus on, and if we’ll support them, we also found just focusing on four or five is far stronger, and it’s an easier way to get the biggest impact if all your energy, time and money, and resources are focused on four or five.
Simon Dell: I used to field the sponsorship inquiries for XXXX when I worked there years ago. I can probably imagine the sort of things that you get through email every day, but we used to get people asking for sponsorships of Under 11 sports teams because they wanted a XXXX logo on their kid’s shirt.
We were like, “Do you not see the problem with this?” But they didn’t. XXXX is one of those brands that’s so ingrained in that local Queensland community up here that they never even considered that that would’ve been a problem. I’d imagine you get a few inappropriate ones every now and again.
Justin Dry: We do. Sometimes, we wonder if the person had thought, at all, asked us. It’s like there’s some things that just do not go with wine. And so, we don’t do that.
Simon Dell: The last marketing techie question I’ve got for you is: You’ve got a lot of data. You’ve got a lot of people on your lists across multiple countries, and populations, and postcodes, and demographics. What system do you guys use to manage all that? Is it something you’ve built yourself, or is it something that’s off the shelf? Just out of interest, because there’s obviously a lot of systems out there that people might be looking at for things like that.
Justin Dry: We’ve done both. We originally used an off-the-shelf. I can’t remember what it was called. We custom-built, because the off-the-shelf wasn’t working for us, and we had all this great data, and it just wasn’t seeming to deliver what it needed to deliver. We thought, “Oh, this is good. We can custom build this thing.”
We spent probably 9 months with one developer, fully focused on custom building the system and didn’t work. It was a decision tree thing. Like all these different things, you put in so much time, it’s going to based on all the behaviour, and pages they’re viewing, and all the stuff that personalization tools use these days. It just didn’t work.
It just didn’t move the dial and we were like, “Oh, god.” We’d call around other founders that are great mates and run these huge, successful companies, ask them what they were doing. And then like, “Oh, so anyway, we’ve just custom-built our thing and it’s not working at all.” Or someone would say, “Oh, we custom build it first, now we’re onto this other tool and it’s not working.” It’s this never-ending thing of trying to get that right.
Having said all that, we are using a tool now. The thing that makes any tool work better is just getting the basic data right. What we found, because we were like, it was just so complicated, and there’s so many things leading into this personalization tool. Like, the page they clicked on, or how long they spent on this, the products that they looked at, or referred, or talked, or opened in their email.
Once you look at all of these data points and trying to bring that together to personalize, it was so complicated and it just wasn’t moving a dial. So, then, we were like, “What about if we just ask them? What if we just do a survey and ask them the question?” And so, we were just like, “Do you like white or red?” “Red’s my favourite.” “Okay. Which is your favourite: shiraz, or cabernet, or pinot noir?”
They’re answering these things, and we’re using that data to personalize their experience. It works massively. That moved the dial. We realized, get the simple things right before you go super complicated. We are talking huge shifts in our results by just focusing on the simple things.
Simon Dell: Wow, that’s huge. I’ve had the same experience. I worked for a business that was getting something like 8,000 new sign ups a day. It was a small piece of software, but we were just trying to overcomplicate things. It was so many different target markets were coming in: corporate, education, and just general users. It was almost like a deer in the headlights with all this data coming towards everybody and going, “What do we do? Somebody make a decision.” You kind of get paralysed.
Justin Dry: Exactly, and too much information is confusing. I know that once you layer upon the simple stuff, there is tremendous value. Some companies do it really well, I just don’t know many of them. I just don’t know many of them. I think when you get the simple things right, it really moves the dial. The added layers can help, but it’s not a really common theme for me to hear from my founder friends when they’ve tried these things, “Oh my god, we got all the data in the world, and my god, it moved the dial” compared to “We got the simple stuff and it changed our business.”
Simon Dell: Yeah. I unsubscribed from Myer’s email campaigns a good two to three years ago because I was just getting email blasts for things that were completely inappropriate for me. Somebody, somewhere in Myer must’ve said, “Why don’t we just ask this guy what he wants?” But nobody had ever done that. They just went, “You know what? We’ve got 100,000 people. Let’s just all send them the same thing.” That clearly wasn’t working for them because of the position they’re in now.
I get the same thing from Fishpond, a small Australian version of Amazon. I’ll go and look at a couple of books on Fishpond, and then I’ll get books recommended in email that are completely inappropriate, that I’m just not interested in.
Justin Dry: It’s such a negative experience. It just kills a brand. Especially if you ask for information and you don’t deliver on it, you’re like, “Okay, I invested in this and you’re not making any use of it.”
Simon Dell: I have a habit of buying too many books that I can actually read. I know that if Fishpond got their act together, they’d be getting a purchase off me weekly or fortnightly.
Justin Dry: Yeah, and conversion rates on emails when they’re super targeted to the right audience are so powerful, and unsubscribes are so much lower.
Simon Dell: Is a good channel for you email?
Justin Dry: It’s huge for us. 60% of our sales come directly from email. That used to be 90%, but as you get a larger audience and a bigger brand, then you get the organic and you get people thinking wine, thinking Vinomofo, so they come directly on thought as opposed to being pushed.
Email is huge and powerful for us. You can see the impact of personalization with the results, open rates, click through, and unsubscribe levels. It’s phenomenal. You’re talking three, four times the conversion. It’s incredible.
Simon Dell: We’re on the final straight now. We’ve got three more questions for you. The first one I ask anybody. I want to understand some of the brands that you like, outside of your category, outside of your channel; things that you might go back and buy frequently, brands that you aspire to emulate. Last week, I actually had toilet paper, so feel free. That was Nick Bowditch, yes.
Justin Dry: Did he say Who Gives A Crap? Was that his type of brand?
Simon Dell: No, Kleenex. He genuinely was excited about Kleenex toilet paper.
Justin Dry: That sounds like Nick.
Simon Dell: He may have been winding me up.
Justin Dry: I think he may have been.
Simon Dell: He said it with such passion, I kind of went, “Perhaps he is that interested.”
Justin Dry: You never know. He’s a passionate guy, too. He’s a funny guy, I really like him. That reminds me of the toilet brand, the toilet paper. Do you know Who Gives A Crap?
Simon Dell: No, I’ve never heard of that.
Justin Dry: It’s a social good kind of enterprise. I think 50% of the profits go back into supplying a sanitary product or something like that to third-world countries.
Simon Dell: Now you’ve said that, that rings a bell, yes.
Justin Dry: Yeah. I think it’s a really good business. One of our graphic designers who used to work for Vinomofo now works for them. I wasn’t going to even think about that brand, but that is a cool brand. I actually realize the branding is cool. What they do for the world is good. They’re cheeky. It’s colourful. I think they’ve got a good brand which I wouldn’t have thought of until you said the toilet paper story with Nick.
I’ve always loved Virgin, Richard Branson. I love his attitude to life. I love his attitude to this business, around, “Let’s give a lot of stuff a go and see what sticks.” I love that. I love the attitude within the brand. That’s probably one of those brands, but you know, so many entrepreneurs would say that brand, I think. There’s some great startup brands in Australia that have done really well recently that I love. I love Canva.
Simon Dell: Yeah, Canva’s a good brand.
Justin Dry: The brand represents, which I think it’s so important with brands, is to have authenticity around the founders. Mel and Cliff, who are goods mates of mine who started Canva, are just beautiful, fun, friendly, slightly cheeky people. That’s exactly what the brand is. It kind of represents who they are, and I think that’s what Andre and I had with Vinomofo.
Vinomofo is very much us, and I think that’s what’s really powerful. Virgin’s very much Richard Branson. And so, I think there’s similarities in the brands that I love, and I think it’s an authenticity around who they are, and why they’re doing what they’re doing. And so, I think they’re the brands that kind of talk to me.
Simon Dell: Okay, that’s good. Another toilet associated brand.
Justin Dry: There’s a theme coming.
Simon Dell: Maybe there is, because in the other segment on this show, we always tend to talk about poo as well. I don’t know how we keep getting onto these things. What’s next for the brand? What’s next for you guys? What country is next? Is there something else that you’ve got in the pipeline in terms of expansion?
Justin Dry: Yes. It’s a super exciting phase for us. We launched Australia first, and then about a year and a bit ago, we launched into New Zealand, which is our first overseas market. Just under a year ago, we launched into Singapore, and that market is just killing it. It’s amazing. It’s growing so fast. It’s incredible.
The next one is the US. We’re launching in the States in April/May. I mean, with April, my teams thinks I’m crazy, so probably May. But I’m going over there probably in December and January. I’m in full preparation mode for the States. We’ve got the legals being sorted. I’m chatting to all the people you need to chat to. That’s really, really exciting for us because it’s such a massive market.
We looked at staying in Asia, and going the other way, and then doing Hong Kong then through to China, but I spent a fair bit of time in each of those markets. It’s one of those things that I’ve learned through plenty of mistakes early where I’ve got to go with my gut. Because if I don’t go with my gut, that’s where the problems, or the challenges, or the mistakes are being made.
You gather all the information you can like size of the market, what they’re drinking, how much they’re spending, all the things that make sense as a business. But then you kind of got to feel it, and go into that market, and just get a gut feel for me.
Simon Dell: What was it about China that didn’t endear you?
Justin Dry: There’s a lot of challenges in China. There’s so many, but I think probably, I think there was enough of a market there for sure. It’s a huge market and there’s enough of a market within our target market, but I think it was regulatory stuff that was happening. It’s changing all the time. They’ve just recently made it so you have to own the logistics business if you’re delivering liquid. You need to own the courier business. And so, in order for us to set up in China, you actually need to own a courier business. You’d have to set that up as well
Just extra challenges, and that is something that happened only recently. It just changes the landscape, and the landscape changes so frequently there. It’s so different from Beijing, to Shanghai, to Guangzhou. It’s just so different. You’ve got to learn so much. You’ve got to know so many people, and the thing changes so fast and for sometimes no reason.
America is sitting there. It’s still the biggest market in the world. There is 100 million people drinking wine. They’re currently drinking about 9 litres a head per capita but they’re heading towards 20, and it’s growing fast. There’s almost $1 billion dollars’ worth of Australian wine sent over there every year. It’s a really super exciting market, and California alone is much bigger than Australia.
There’s just such a huge opportunity. It’s English-speaking so you don’t have that, culturally quite aligned. They understand our brand. They understand us as Aussies. It just makes so much more sense.
Simon Dell: That’s fantastic. I really appreciate you giving me your time today. I cannot wait to see you guys in the US because I think one thing that the public likes is to see an Australian company go and kick some ass in the US. I think everyone will be watching that, and obviously, there’s some good Australian startups out there now, isn’t there? The Atlassian guys.
Justin Dry: Oh, amazing. Actually, it’s Mike’s birthday today.
Simon Dell: Oh, okay.
Justin Dry: I saw him yesterday, but yeah, the Atlassian guys are killing it. Canva is absolutely killing it as well. There’s so many great businesses. SafetyCulture is killing it.
Simon Dell: 99designs?
Justin Dry: Yeah, 99designs have been here for a long time. They’re one of the early ones and they’re still going great. We’ve got such exciting startups and global startups now, which is just really killing it on a global stage, which is so exciting to see.
Simon Dell: And I don’t think we talk about them enough. That might just be my perception, but there’s always this kind of talk about the kiwi startups, the zeros of this world, and things like that. I think the Australian ones are giving everybody a really good run for their money. It’d be fantastic to see you out there doing exactly the same as that.
Justin Dry: We plan to, so thank you.
Simon Dell: If people want to contact you, if they’re interested in having you speak somewhere, or they want to just ask you a question, what’s the best way… And for god’s sake, don’t put your mobile number or your email address.
Justin Dry: Probably best for me is either Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. It’s just Justin Dry on each of those, and you’ll find me. But yeah, connect up. We’d love to chat to the guys, and I will definitely respond.
Simon Dell: What I’d like to do, assuming that I can keep myself on focus and keep doing these podcasts, we should catch up again in six months’ time. I’d love to get another snapshot of your experience launching into the American market, because I think that will be fast. I need you to keep a little notebook of all the things that you think might be interesting.
Justin Dry: You know what’s interesting? Everyone should follow me on Instagram, because the Instagram is the platform where I kind of do a behind the scenes of what it takes, or my experience of a CEO, startup founder expanding a company globally.
And so, you get all the behind the scenes stuff. You get me flying on planes, me having meetings, me in each of the countries, meeting with the right people, and the communities, and the networks, people going inside into that.
It’s really fun, and I think people enjoy it if they’re a business owner, interested in entrepreneurship, startup world, or even just watching a guy expand a business globally, and how challenging, and risky, and amazing that is. I think probably follow me on Instagram and Twitter, where you’ll see a lot of that stuff.
Simon Dell: Thank you very much again for your time today. You never know that maybe the last hour is going to encourage me to go and get a bottle of wine this weekend, and sit with my wife and drink it.
Justin Dry: Please do. You know what you can do? If your audience aren’t members yet and if you’re not a member of Vinomofo yet, you should go to vinomofo.com/justin, and you’ll get $25 off your first purchase.
Simon Dell: That’s an offer that you just can’t refuse.
Justin Dry: Yeah, do that. And please, I’m going to watch to see if you join, pal, and I want you to order some wine.
Simon Dell: You may well see my wife’s name come through. Once she realizes they’re $25 off, she’ll be on it like a shark.
Justin Dry: What’s her first name?
Simon Dell: Renee.
Justin Dry: Alright, Renee. Let’s do it.
Simon Dell: If you see it come through, you know I’ve convinced her. Look, what we’ll do is we’ll put that link and everything in the show notes as well. Hopefully, a few people sign up there. Mate, thank you very much for your time. I really wish you the best of luck in the US because it’ll be great to see you guys smash that. I hope to everybody listening that they found some useful tidbits, useful information, useful ideas. Once again, thank you to Justin for your time.
Justin Dry: Thank you so much for having me.
For more transcriptions of the Simon Dell Show click here: Marketing Podcasts.