A Q&A with Drync co-founder and CEO Brad Rosen. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup, which has built a mobile app that allows consumers to find, track, share, and purchase wine, announced the closing of its first round of funding—$900,000 from various Angel investors—in mid-August. It was founded in the summer of 2008 by Rosen and Bill Kirtley, who currently serves as CTO.
SUB: Please describe Drync and your primary innovation.
Rosen: Drync is revolutionizing how people discover and buy wine. We have developed a mobile app that allows users to snap a photo of a wine label and buy it from their iPhone in seconds. Historically, there has been a gap between experience and purchase with wine. It’s nearly impossible to find wines you try in restaurants once you leave the table. Drync lets you buy wine the moment you discover it. By blending a network of retail fulfillment partners, we can source nearly any wine you might encounter ‘in the wild.’ Drync also lets users rate, remember, and share any wine they try through the app, and discover new wines through hand-selected lists compiled by top wine educators, experts, and sommeliers.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Rosen: Drync is very simply an app for people who enjoy wine and want to buy wines they have either tried and loved before or discover new wines that fit their personal taste. There are 100 million wine drinkers in the United States—our typical users fall into a subset who drink wine multiple times a week and enjoy discovering new wines. We are currently only on iOS, so they are also iPhone users.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition? How do you differentiate yourself?
Rosen: Drync is really the only app on the market focused on mobile impulse commerce of almost any wine you might encounter. The biggest wine ecommerce players are still web-focused and have limited portfolios. Amazon has an interesting new offering enabling customers to buy wine direct from small domestic producers online. Wine.com sells about 3,000 different wines and has a mobile app, but it redirects users to their website for purchases.
Other players in the space create social networks for wine, give people ways to log the wines they drink, offer wine pairings, or provide generic or limited selections of wines to order online.
We at Drync take this a step further and are the first app that lets you use your phone to capture and purchase nearly any wine instantly at the point of consumption. We have deployed perhaps the broadest catalog of wines in the U.S.—over 30,000 wines—and make them instantly available to consumers in 41 states. We do this through a proprietary model that blends wine sourcing from retail partners and wineries.
In comparison, most retailers carry less than 2,000 wines. As a result, it is often very hard to find the specific wine you are looking for. People are confronted with this ‘wall of wine’ that seems to have everything except that wine and end up making a choice based on a rating or label.
SUB: When was the company founded, and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Rosen: I founded Drync with Bill Kirtley, the CTO. My background includes an electrical engineering undergrad degree, an MBA from MIT Sloan and experience launching several venture-backed startups. In business school, I started a company called Zync, which was sold to Where, which was eventually sold to eBay. At Where, I ran the products group and became involved with mobile devices, primarily the iPhone. I launched the Where app for iOS in partnership with Apple for the launch of the App Store in 2008, and we saw about four million downloads. At that point, I became enamored with apps and left to start Drync. Along the way, I also co-founded two other apps: iFooty, which today remains the largest independent football—U.S. soccer—app with 2.5 million downloads, and Etude, a piano app which we sold to Steinway. I advise several mobile-related startups in the Boston area.
With some friends, we built the first Drync Wine app on nights and weekends and launched it in December of 2008. Within months we were the top app for wine. Apple promoted us heavily, placing us in three primetime television commercials. It started as a tool for finding, learning about, and remembering wines, but had no commerce.
Drync remained a nights and weekends project through June of 2011. We had about 500,000 organic downloads at that point, and had completely bootstrapped the company. I had always said that if we could get to that point, we could transition to selling wine to those users. We entered the Mass Challenge competition, along with 733 others, and our win gave me the impetus to begin full-time on Drync.
By August of 2012 we were off to the races rebuilding the app and infrastructure to support our current broad-catalog wine commerce model. We soft-launched the new Drync in Beta in February, 2013, at the Boston Wine Expo. Response was fantastic and we’ve been running as fast as we can ever since.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Drync? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Rosen: I started Drync after an ‘aha’ moment while traveling in Tuscany with my wife and friends. We were enjoying great wines around the small Tuscan villages, and started snapping photos of them with our iPhones, thinking we could then remember what we drank, and hopefully buy it later.
It occurred to me that capturing your wine life via your phone was a killer app for people like me who enjoyed wine and were interested in learning more. And it seemed clear that being able to buy a wine that you are drinking in that moment also solved a real pain point for consumers.
I came back intent on researching the wine market, and found it to be truly huge, and surprisingly lacking in technology innovation. At the time, I had just left Where—sold to eBay. At Where, I had launched the Where app for iOS, which we launched with the launch of the App Store and which saw about four million downloads. At that point, I saw clearly the potential of apps and the Apple platform.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Rosen: Quite honestly, I had just enjoyed great success with my company Zync, having sold it to Where, so when thinking of a name for my new company, ‘Drync’ just felt natural.
SUB: You recently closed a $900,000 Angel funding round—your first. Why was this a particularly good time to raise outside funding?
Rosen: In total, we have secured $900,000 in Angel funding. We also won the 2011 MassChallenge competition and received a cash prize of $50,000. Our Beta launch provided us with great metrics that illustrated we were solving a real need in the marketplace. It makes it a lot easier to raise funding when investors see that you are on to something big.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds? What are your goals for Drync over the next year or so?
The opportunity is not just to enable people to buy instantly, but to build the trusted brand in wine that people rely on when they think wine. Drync will become a platform capable of generating great recommendations based on your wine profile, social graph, and trusted sources—not dissimilar to what Spotify is doing for music now. Life is too short to drink wine you don’t like.
SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?
Rosen: We will be looking to raise another round in the next year.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Rosen: The wine industry is fraught with complicated laws that vary state-to-state, many of which date back to prohibition. Compliance can be tricky, but with seasoned wine professionals on our team and top legal advisors specialized in beverage alcohol law, we cracked that nut. We uncovered a way to work within the various parameters, and enable most of the country to purchase through the app. That said, there are still some states beyond our reach. Our partners currently ship to 41 states.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Rosen: In the cases where we have direct relationships with wineries, we get paid a marketing fee similar to the fee we would get from a retailer. The winery keeps all the proceeds and simply pays us our marketing fee.
SUB: What else do you think is important for readers to know?
Rosen: The business folks out there might be interested in the market. It’s roughly $300 billion worldwide and $34 billion in the U.S., and expected to grow at nearly four percent CAGR [compound annual growth rate] through 2016. The U.S. has 100 million wine drinkers.
Drync – www.drync.com