Fast 50 contender: WineFriend
One of our Deloitte Fast 50 finalists waiting to hear about their placing on this year's index is WineFriend, a wine delivery and subscription service. We spoke to CEO Debbie Sutton about her experience of the Fast 50, WineFriend's unique digital matchmaking system and the team behind it.
Can you tell us a little about who you are and what your company does?
I'm Debbie Sutton and I'm the CEO of WineFriend. WineFriend is designed to take the hassle and guesswork out of choosing great wine at a reasonable price. Essentially what we do is we match wine to people, so we have created an eight-question taste test that gives us a snapshot of people's thresholds for sweet, sour, and bitter flavours. Then we can identify the kind of wines that might suit them and send them a selection.
Where did you get the inspiration for the name WineFriend?
The thing about wine is that it can often be intimidating and a little elitist, so we really wanted a name that conveyed that choosing wine is nothing to be scared of. I didn't come up with it - a friend came up with it over a glass of wine. I was telling her about the concept for the business and she was like 'oh, it's like having your own friend who can sort out your wine for you!’
Can you tell us a little more about how the matching process works?
The real secret source behind all this is an algorithm that we have created, run on proprietary software that does that matching process en mass. Now, whether we've got ten customers or 10,000, we can get matches at the click of a button. The algorithm looks at all the wines in our library - the thousands of wines we've tasted - then looks at the customer's profile to match those two together.
We also encourage our customers to rate and review all the wines that we send them and the more they do that, the better the algorithm gets.
How would you define the company’s purpose?
One of our philosophies is ‘Drink less, but drink better.’ We're really not about selling on volume or with huge discounts. I've been in the wine industry for around 24 years, have seen how wine retailing works and it's a pretty stale, unimaginative sector, to be honest. People just do the same thing they've always done year after year.
We wanted to look at a way to add value so customers still felt like they were getting a great deal but were offered more of a value added proposition. We found that a lot of people were just standing in the supermarket aisle like a deer in headlights and picking the same three or four wines that they know and getting them on rotation. They’re missing out, because there are so many amazing small producers out there doing incredible things and I really wanted to find a way to connect the two together.
Why did WineFriend enter the Deloitte Fast 50?
I've known about the Fast 50 for a long time. I was actually on the Fast 50 in 2009 when my sisters and I owned a wine company. We were named the fastest-growing consumer products business for Canterbury and Upper South Island, based in Marlborough.
For WineFriend, we've been in business three and a half years and it was the first time that we could enter. From experience, the Fast 50 does raise your visibility and gets people to have a second glance at you. Also, as we're a small business, it's a really nice accolade for the team to know that what we're doing works.
What has been your approach to growing the business?
With my first business, I just started it and made some decisions along the way. There was no grand plan. This time it's quite different - I started out with a business plan and had a very clear idea of where we're trying to go. I think it’s really helped enable our growth.
How have you developed your team?
We are uniquely a female-only business, not by design but it's just how it's turned out. We’ve really hired for culture and attitude more than anything else. As a start-up, we didn't need specific skills - we needed people who could roll up their sleeves and do a bit of everything. Liz was my nanny who ended up packing boxes, then doing marketing, and now we joke that she runs the show because she's a millennial and an IT whizz. People have found their niche with us but really it's been about hiring for that right attitude - that can-do, problem-solving, ‘we can make it happen’ kind of attitude.
Aly Wrightson is the Fast 50 Campaign Lead in the Deloitte Clients & Marketing team.