Grape Marketplace is the first smart wine marketplace of its kind. Using Grape’s proprietary quiz and matching algorithm, it serves up wine recommendations tailored specifically for each individual customer.
The bottom line is that shopping for wine online is confusing, and Grape’s mission is to change that. By merging first-class wine knowledge with technology, Grape is able to provide wine drinkers with accurate recommendations based on their unique preferences and buying patterns, making the experience both personal and easy.
Behind the platform are sisters Jenny Nicole Smith and Lindsey Mungall. Together they have joined heads to create a service that leverages Jenny’s extensive wine knowledge and Lindsey’s pain points when choosing wine online. The aim is to make wine shopping as easy as choosing a show on Netflix – and, through a feedback loop, Grape will continue to grow with their customers – fine tuning recommendations the more they interact with it.
Lindsey, Where Does Your Love of Wine Come From?
We grew up in a family that loves their wine. Our parents live in the Niagara-on-the-lake in Ontario, which is our wine producing mecca in Canada. They also spend a lot of time in Southern France in a tiny town in the heart of Provence – so wine is something we have grown up around.
I always loved drinking wine but never took it too seriously. When Jenny started studying and getting into wine professionally, it began to rub off on me and I got a taste of the wine bug. A little knowledge goes a long way in enjoying wine, and this continued to snowball. It was a trip to Burgundy with Jenny to visit wine suppliers that sealed the deal and gave me a newfound appreciation for wine.
Jenny, You’re Studying Towards the Master of Wine Qualification, How Does it Give Grape an Edge Over Other Wine Sellers?
The Master of Wine qualification is certainly a huge undertaking and I have a huge amount of respect for the 416 people in the world who have achieved this qualification. I have passed Stage 1 and the Theory portion of Stage 2 and in the coming weeks will be writing the tasting exam which was cancelled last year due to COVID.
The Master of Wine program really does require you to know the wine trade from an international perspective, inside and out, and to understand and identify all wines from around the globe in an exam setting.
But like any academic qualification I don’t think it’s just about having the MW. Yes this is the epitome of wine qualification, but I think what sets Grape apart is how this wine knowledge is leveraged and made accessible to the customer.
Lindsey: Grape has always been about approaching wine from the customers’ point of view rather than requiring them to have a certain level of knowledge to participate. We are using Jenn’s vast wine knowledge in Grapes’ algorithm, to provide a truly personalised experience and awesome wine recommendation to each customer.
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What Sparked the Idea for Grape? Was There a Specific Moment?
Jenny: I found that even as I climbed the ranks in my own profession and gained high qualifications – including passing part of the MW – that the ‘wine trade’ could be a bit of a stuffy and intimidating place. If I thought this when I was seven years in and well-established, then I was certain most wine drinkers felt the same.
I also knew from my time in the trade and my own friends that wine seemed extremely confusing. Even if they wanted to branch out and try new wines, staring at a wine wall was like trying to select a dish off a menu in a foreign language.
The answer to this was often big shiny price promos, however, what customers didn’t know was that this usually meant inflating prices beyond the wine’s value and then dropping them to where they should be. The point was that more than any other industry, the wine trade still expected way too much from the customer to be able to actively participate – the goal was to create a platform that bridged this gap.
Lindsey: COVID hit and we went for long walks every day around the common. We decided to take Jenny’s wine knowledge and my pain points as a customer to create something totally unique – that took the onus off the customer and made it the responsibility of the retailer to make wine shopping a whole lot more fun, and much easier!
How Would You Say Being Twin Founders Gives You an Edge Over Other Startups?
We are super close, but we are definitely not the ‘same’. We have always been very different and I think that is what gives us an edge. On the one hand, we have a unique synchronicity in the sense that we just get each other and are very usually on the same page, but at the same time we have no problem being totally blunt and upfront with our opinions.
What Was it Like Getting Grape Off the Ground?
Lindsey: The idea for Grape was big – we needed to create code and a platform from scratch, something we had no idea how to do or where to begin.
The first few months were spent researching, and having meetings and interviews with different developers to get an idea of a world that we knew little about. It took a few months to put together a game plan for how to go about developing Grape. The process of building a platform from scratch wasn’t easy and took time, but it was the only way to achieve what we wanted to.
The next few months were all about taking Jenn’s wine knowledge and putting it into a massive excel sheet – this would form the basis for the development team to start programming.
We did a soft launch and tested the site but we decided that this was a platform for the customer and so we needed to gather as much feedback as possible. We thought we were ready to go at this point, but our customers had some valuable feedback that we decided to take onboard, which meant another delay (start-ups are all about delays). We just finished implementing these changes last week but we could not be happier with the features, and the additional investment was well worth it.
How Would You Say Grape Differs From Existing Recommendation Software?
‘Recommender systems’ exist on many websites; the problem is most utilise past behaviour or similar-user behaviour. The issue with this is that if ‘Kate’ visits a wine website with hundreds of products but doesn’t recognise or have enough knowledge of what 90% of the products are, then her buying decision will be based on less relevant factors and more on other triggers (i.e. price promotion or familiar brand/style).
When she defaults to the Barefoot Pinot Grigio on offer for 50% off, this creates a ‘back-end profile’ of Kate that is limited by her lack of knowledge, wrongfully assuming she loves American Pinot Grigio, when the more likely explanation is that she was overwhelmed by choice and recognised the brand to make her decision. This impacts Kate’s next recommendation keeping her experience confined to a narrow range in a continuous loop.
‘Collaborative systems’ look at the user-base as one big collective; if ‘Kate’ has a similar profile to ‘Lindsey’ then they are recommended similar wines. The problem is ‘Lindsey’ is also likely to have trouble deciphering wine, and again, narrows both of their potential ranges based on inaccurate interpretation of their preference for each subsequent transaction.
How Do You See Grape in the Future?
We have big plans for Grape in the future but like any start up you must walk before you run. Our goal from the outset has been to create a platform made FOR the customer and we will continue to solicit feedback and implement changes that make our customers’ wine shopping experience a better and easier one.
Grape is a platform that is unique to each customer, and we encourage feedback so that each customer’s unique marketplace can continue to grow with them. As we grow, we’ll continue to build on this function and make more and more accurate recommendations on a personal level – growing with each customer through their wine journey.