Having a glass of wine is a common ritual, especially in Western countries. However, not everyone who drinks wine knows how to catalogue all the bottles they might mass in their cellars.
Now a Taipei-based startup is mixing wine and mobile software with app called CellWine to help collectors sort out their stash with the possibility of making friends in the process.
The app that helps people keep track of their reds, whites and roses has been downloaded more than 40,000 times since its launch in June 2017. France is the top download destination followed by Italy. CellWine app ranks among France’s top 100 apps.
CellWine has received a patent for its work in Taiwan and United States as well.
Mario Fang and Eric Tang founded CellWine. The two Taiwanese entrepreneurs talked to Business Next about how they started it.
A work interlude followed by comics and a thing for wine
Fang first founded a public relations firm at age 28 and later sold it to a French company. He pondered his next move until last year.
“I wanted to do something different, and the other reason I want to keep working is that as a father, I want to set a good example for my kid that you have to do something creative for fulfilling your life,” he said.
He eventually read the Japanese comic book series Drops of God, which mentions red wine. Fang from there onward become a loyal fan of the drink and began to collect bottles of it from other countries.
“There is a common problem for wine lovers,” he said. “The more (bottles of wine) you buy, the more you would easily forget where they are.”
Wine collectors usually sort bottles in some order to remember what’s in them or rent a cellar away from home, Fang said.
“But, could we invent a solution to make it easier?” he recalls thinking. So he shared his ideas with Tang, a software engineer who has made more than 20 apps.
“At the very first, Mario just wanted to design this app for himself to manage those bottles of wine,” Tang said. “But I sensed there is a big chance that we could do it for reaching global market.” It was that discussion that birthed the idea of CellWine together as business.
CellWine is intended to help wine drinkers manage the detail of every bottle they buy. It records the date of purchase and location of storage, for example. Some wines become more valuable as they age. These data points help collectors to know how valuable each bottle is.
The app’s label identification system requires that users aim their phone camera at a bottle without taking a photo. This function lets users take down information such as the wine’s origin, price and grape variety. Users can also see through the app who else has bought the same type of wine, offering them potential social connections.
“We have gotten much feedback from French users, and actually we are very surprised this app has been widely used in France since we did only little advertising on Google keywords on this giant search engine,” Fang said.
The founders now plan to expand into the U.S. and Japanese markets this year and work toward an initial public offering.
“Now we have registered an office in United State since the USA actually is the top one wine consumption country, and we are planning to cooperate with local partners to launch a whole new thing for our users,” Tang said. One idea is to add e-commerce to the app, he said.
The founders did not give financial data for their app, which has competitors offshore.
Trust in the face of discouragement
CellWine worked as a business largely because the two founders trusted each other through mutual friends, Tang said. They have worked on the app for two years.
“There are plenty of problems we encountered when we started to run a startup,” he said. “But Mario and I trust each other. Once there is a problem that shows up, we just sit down and talk since our goal is the same – to make CellWine better and better.”
Among the barriers to starting up was discouraging feedback.
“I am a person who loves to share things with people I’ve met,” Fang said. “I remembered that sometimes I had told people about my idea of making the CellWine app and its function. Some people would encourage me, but indeed there were a few people said there is no need to use for this app since they prefer to take notes to remind themselves (about wine) or some people might ask their own secretaries to remember where the expensive bottles of wine are.
“I do feel frustrated when I’ve hear this negative feedbacks, but I would tell myself that I trust what I am doing now with my partner Eric,” he said.
The duo is now exploring chances to go overseas for exhibitions to learn more about markets and startup ecosystems outside Taiwan.
“Startups always need sources to support, and the culture of the startup ecosystem in Taiwan is still in its development,” Tang said. “Therefore, we spent our own budget to join different exhibitions…and did gain some chances to meet potential partners and investors. I think this is a good investment for us, too.”
To promote CellWine overseas, the founders attended RISE Hong Kong 2017 and WebSummit 2017.This year it will join Collision in the United States in the final week of April with Taiwan Startup Stadium, a government-supported organization to help Taiwanese startups expand overseas.