Winepost: Launching a direct-to-consumer lockdown project
Monzo’s marketing VP Tristan Thomas has launched a wine subscription startup. How much crossover is there between banking and booze?
At the end of this month, Tristan Thomas will be ended a five-year stint at the app-only bank Monzo, where he serves as VP of marketing. While he works out his notice, he’s been trying to figure out where he might want to take his career next – and so while the UK was fully locked down, and with a bit more time on his hands, he launched a wine subscription startup. Each month, Winepost sends out a selection of red and white wines that it has hand-picked based on what it thinks its customers will like. The service is very much a part-time job for Tristan, but it is proving to be a small, but growing success: Winepost now has over 200 subscribers, and is growing at a rate of between 30-40% month-on-month.
There are, funnily, some similarities between wine and banking in that they're both industries that [most people] really don't know much about. With wine, for the vast majority of our target market, which is younger people who haven't necessarily grown up with wine or don’t have the experience and knowledge of [it], it's a very obtuse, frankly quite stuffy market. Most of their interaction with it is going to the supermarket and not really knowing much about it. It feels like an interesting opportunity to both educate younger people who are wanting to start learning about wine [but] without having to go on some course to learn about what body and tannins and acidity mean. In some ways that's similar to how we approached banking at Monzo, which is also something [people don’t] really interact with if they can avoid it.
But there are a lot of differences. This is a direct to consumer ecommerce subscription play, which is a very different marketing challenge... Oh, and dealing with packaging and carriers and couriers is a whole new world of pain that I wouldn't wish on anyone.
In the first week we had 25 signups and we were very unprepared – so cue total panic, buying more packaging, figuring out how to get it all out to people. We decided that within London I would go and deliver it myself, and we worked with UPS [to do the rest]. I figured it would take me a few hours and it would be a nice end to my Friday – instead, it was seven hours, and by the end I was pretty much just chucking wine boxes over people’s hedges, I’d had enough of delivering. I thought that was the worst of it, but then I found out five of the 15 packages we sent with UPS either didn’t turn up or had smashed into pieces. So people were receiving wine-soaked cardboard boxes with shards of glass in it. We very swiftly upgraded our packaging and upgraded our courier. We're learning as we go along.
As part of the signup process, we say if you know anything about wine, to tell us what you like and we’ll make sure to include that [in your first box]. About 70% of people give us some guidance. For customers who don't give us anything, we're starting to build up quite a good data set on what people [generally] like and dislike. With this you can take two approaches. You can either send a selection of wines you're pretty confident they're like, or you can send a selection of wines that are very varied, and they'll probably like one or two or three and probably actually quite dislike one of them. The second one obviously [helps up] to be much clearer on their tastes for the subsequent boxes. But you [also don’t want to give your customer] a bottle they hate. So we're trying to find the balance in between those two, while gathering as much data as possible to make sure we can give them good selections.
We've got beyond the stage where we're just buying a few bottles of wine, so from a product point of view we’re now at the stage where we can steadily increase the quality of the wine. The beauty of getting to a small bit of scale is that we can start to buy wine on a bigger scale from our importers, and pass that quality on to customers.