By Phyllis Mak, RIC Centre’s Communications Intern
What does it take to bring good wine to consumers? For Alan Serpa, CEO and founder of VINI, it’s a mixture of strategic insight, good ol’ fashioned research, and knowing in the ins and outs of the wine industry— all while keeping the customer at the centre of the wine discovery and selection process.
“We created VINI because the Italian Trade Commissioner in Canada asked us a simple question: how can we use mobile technology to sell more Italian wine?” says Alan. “Shortly after, we realized that this wasn’t just about selling more Italian wine, nor was it about the selling direct to the end consumer. It was about the agent or the people who are licensed to sell wine.”
VINI allows wine lovers to, as their motto says, “buy wine easy”, and for agents it allows them to “sell wine easier”. The app not only allows you to browse for Vini’s collection of featured wines, but also gives suggestions for great wine choices for each occasion and finds offers, sampling opportunities and specials from VINI’s agents, restaurateurs and wineries. For agents, VINI empowers them with a set of sales, marketing and operational tools that will help them sell more effectively and help them use modern technology to meet the wishes of the on-demand consumer of today.
“VINI focuses on the customer, but brings together the various partners like wine agents, restaurants or venues and connects the experience someone has with wine. It allows them to get the product faster, more conveniently, and brings them back for more,” explains Alan. “The industry is so constricted by liquor boards in each province and their selling techniques are outdated. We realized there was an opportunity to empower the people in the trade who do not have the technological capabilities or can afford to reach the on-demand consumer of today.”
One of VINI’S projects includes developing the online web platform VINI for the Canadian wine trade marketplace. “We won a contract with a premier wine agent in Ontario and will be building our model with them and launching across Canada starting in Ontario,” says Alan. “We’ve also been focused on strategic partnerships with venues, restaurants and brands who want to offer experiences and products to unique audiences.”
And that’s not all— VINI also secured $500,000 from the Upper Canada Equity Fund after a lot of hard work, meetings, and research.
“I decided to reach out to First Stone Venture Partners, applied on their website, and got a call from First Stone and Upper Canada Equity Fund for a meeting and chance to present our business to their panel,” reveals Alan.
VINI was invited by First Stone Venture Partners and Upper Canada Equity Fund in September 2016 to pitch their business, but Alan continued to conduct research to prove the viability of their business model. VINI was invited back in December 2016 and subsequently got the supermajority vote; they were then selected as one of the investments. Thanks to Alan’s persistence and determination, VINI secured $500,000 in funding, which will start at the end of March 2017.
“The RIC Centre and our mentors have truly been a major help,” adds Alan. “We were asked to participate in investor pitches which helped us refine our presentation skills and business model. We had to answer a lot of tough questions that at first we were shaky on, but then refined them through practice. We knew we had a business but we needed to prove it to some smart and successful people who were able to poke holes in our story. RIC has been quite valuable to our success and has been there the entire way, offering us advice on our business plan, financials and legal.”
It was definitely a productive 2016 for VINI, because not only were selected they for investment by Upper Canada Equity Fund, they also raised additional capital from their existing shareholders, launched their wine platform in April 2016 to both the iOS and Android app stores, and acquired approximately 400 subscribers. VINI also secured a five year deal with a major customer, who will be using their platform to sell product in 2017.
“In 2017, our goals are to white label our platform and expand into other provinces,” reveals Alan. “We are also focused on building our business with our primary customer and expanding our tool into the US markets. This is going to be a great year and we look forward to working with RIC and growing our business while transforming the wine industry and how consumers look at buying wine and consuming it.”
Are you looking to start your own business? Become a RIC Centre client today and get expert advice for your startup business! Don’t forget to check out our upcoming March Startup Boot Camp for more resources and opportunities for your business.