DRINKS is the most innovative online wine platform, redefining wine purchasing for the twenty-first century. DRINKS’ Wine as a Service (WaaS) platform and Direct to Consumer (DTC) properties allow thousands of award-winning wines to be delivered safely and conveniently to millions of people across the United States in 1-2 days.
The COVID-19 crisis left many people in a state of fear and desperation. DRINKS saw this as an opportunity to be the alcohol company that America relied on, so they ramped up their operations in order to meet demand. Without the ability to socialize during lockdowns, DRINKS knew people would turn to enjoy wine at home, and wanted to make sure their service was there for them in these times.
DRINKS is the only alcohol company that truly understands how to deliver quality and service, DRINKS has built a reputation for offering exceptional customer care and we believe DRINKS will continue to grow as the leading online alcohol platform!
Meet Josiah Gordon, Co-Founder at DRINKS, an online alcohol delivery service
Let’s get to know the people behind DRINKS a little better. I had an opportunity to speak with one of the company’s founders, Josiah Gordon, for this interview.
Josiah is in charge of the brand’s marketing and merchandise development across DRINKS’ online properties. He has 15 years of experience in brand building, direct marketing, customer acquisition, and business development, and has led creative teams that have won numerous awards throughout the sector.
LA Startups (LAS): What is DRINKS, and how did you come up with the idea?
Josiah Gordon (JG): DRINKS was founded in 2013 with one goal in mind: make wine more accessible. Wine is a unique and very interesting product category: there are millions of wines available for purchase, customers consistently seek out new brands, and the sale of alcohol is heavily regulated at the state level. On top of that, it’s a vertical that has until recently been largely unaffected by technology. In some states, it’s easier to buy a Tesla online than a bottle of wine.
My co-founders and I were frustrated by the lack of reasonably priced e-commerce options in the alcohol vertical and created our own brand that paired simple e-commerce (no wine club requirements) with a manageable portfolio of around 350 expertly curated wines. Over the years we’ve continued to make wine buying easier by partnering with lifestyle expert Martha Stewart, Michelin-starred chefs, and expert sommeliers to help consumers find their perfect bottle.
Today, DRINKS connects retailers such as Sam’s Club, Instacart, Kroger, Macy’s, and Thrive Market to the $250 billion alcohol market, enabling its clients to navigate the complex regulatory system and offers consumers access to an international selection of wines in a manner that’s convenient, affordable, and personalized.
LAS: What problem are you trying to solve?
JG: Alcohol is a highly regulated and extremely complex product category. Consumer demand has changed over the years, particularly with the need for e-commerce options, but the industry has not. Alcohol sales remain largely untouched by the internet and mobile commerce, with only 3% of alcohol being sold online. DRINKS’ mission is to make alcohol easier to buy. From personalized curation at scale to the convenience and safety of home delivery to the unparalleled value provided by direct-to-consumer e-commerce, DRINKS aims to bring the wine buying experience into the 21st century.
DRINKS is unique in the beverage alcohol industry: it is a marketing technology company with more PhDs on staff than sommeliers. As we expand our team, our hiring efforts will focus on software developers and data scientists to continue to leverage the latest technology to help consumers find the right wine at the right time.
Our patented Predictive AI Retailing (PAIR) engine is a data-driven digital engine powering an analog industry. The platform analyzes wines based on how 82% of consumers actually buy — with their eyes. Like Netflix, PAIR not only predicts which wines to recommend to each customer but helps our platform partners develop new winning brands from scratch. PAIR links regional trends, purchase behavior, wine attributes, and label features, enhanced by search or product preferences, to generate personalized wine “shelves” and deliver relevant product discovery, drive purchases, and reduce friction. The technology is advanced, but the goal remains simple: simplify wine buying and create better customer experiences.
LAS: What is DRINKS providing that is unique to the market and to new businesses?
JG: DRINKS is the only company that provides an end-to-end solution that enables retailers, brands, and marketplaces to market alcohol online. We coordinate everything from product sourcing, logistics, merchandising, regulatory compliance, order management, predictive AI retailing, and data-driven brand development. With so much red tape around marketing wine online, we are driving the broader accessibility to online alcohol.
Further, we’re offering customers a more personalized wine experience through our DRINKS IQ technology. Our company’s patented PAIR technology reintroduces personalization and discoverability into the wine purchasing process through unique insights into consumer preferences and purchasing trends. At a high level, PAIR collects and analyzes customer data and product attributes, such as varietal or branding, to map out consumer preferences and uncover patterns, which are then used to inform product mixes, label design, marketing, and customized e-storefronts. By personalizing customers’ digital journeys with wines that are most relevant to their preferences, PAIR eliminates the struggle traditionally felt when looking at a “wall of wine” at a brick & mortar retail store.
In addition, technology helps marry art and science to create new wine brands from scratch based on data and artificial intelligence rather than intuition and emotion. We are currently developing our first AI-powered brand, timed for Wine Insiders’ 40th anniversary in March 2022, that leverages the billion-plus customer engagements in our first-party database.
LAS: Are your products/services designed with a specific target audience and positioning in mind? Who are they and why?
JG: Wine appeals to consumers across every spectrum, and the market can be very overwhelming, with over 300,000 brands available at any given time. Our approach is to offer an expertly curated selection of roughly 350 wines where everyone will be able to find at least a few dozen brands that they love. We accomplish this task by using our patented AI technology that can personalize our marketing messages across the customer lifecycle, seasonality, market trends, region, demographics, and more.
We also act as a backend service to enterprise platforms, our partners— Sam’s Club and Kroger for example— control their merchandising and marketing. This means that any retailer pursuing online wine through our platform can position themselves however they wish. We step in to help them accomplish a fully branded ship-to-home solution.
LAS: What do you think is the most exciting marketing trend at the moment? How can we use it to increase brand awareness?
JG: I am closely watching TikTok and the cyclical rise of live shopping. TikTok has created magic with its recommendation engine. Users are able to find content that appeals specifically to them with nearly no input. We hope to one day be able to recommend wines with a similar level of precision. The authenticity and engagement of consumer-created video, layered with the ability to shop a live video feed from your phone, feels like it has the potential to be an effective marketing channel. If I were starting a consumer brand today, I would build it on TikTok and harness the incredible virality currently possible on the platform.
LAS: What is your approach to making big-picture decisions?
JG: The executive team at DRINKS is very collaborative. We meet weekly to discuss broad ideas, industry trends, and company strategy. Big picture decisions are discussed, and occasionally passionately debated, by a team with a diverse set of skill sets and backgrounds to help us see challenges and opportunities from a range of perspectives.
LAS: How do you choose the priorities that will guide a corporation?
JG: We have had to make some tough choices on priorities over the years. We founded DRINKS as a Direct Consumer wine marketer, however, within a couple of years, we concluded that no one brand would win in online alcohol, and raising $100 million or more would be fruitless, so we chose to turn our business upside down before a competitor did it for us. When we invented the concept of Wine as a Service, we came in knowing that our partners would directly compete with our only income stream. Yet, we were confident that it was absolutely the right choice. The future winners in alcohol will be online. And, as in the California gold rush, there’s a tremendous business to be had by providing the “picks and shovels” that enables the growth of a new industry.
LAS: How is this pandemic affecting the way your organization operates?
JG: At a macro level, the pandemic compressed a decade of e-commerce adoption into just three months. Ensuing lockdowns made millions of households aware that they could order groceries online, including alcohol, and have them delivered or shipped to their home. That awareness has been critical to our company’s continued growth.
Zooming in, at DRINKS — like many other organizations— we’ve shifted to a remote-first culture. Our headquarters in Westwood is open to all staff, but we do not expect our employees to come in on a regular basis at this time. Additionally, we’ve embraced employees who move across the country and have yet to see productivity levels fall, and we’re still able to operate a growing business efficiently.
As our team continues to grow, we are focused as an organization on keeping our culture strong. I must admit it has been challenging at times to maintain a sense of connectedness, but our team is continuously exploring new ways to engage our employees. Some of the things we do to stay virtually together include an employee wine club with bi-monthly sommelier-led wine tastings, coffee and tea huddles, trivia nights, and “DRINKSiversaries” where we recognize and celebrate individuals’ company anniversaries with a spinning prize wheel and a round of applause. And this summer— as you likely know LA’s warm summer weather lasts at least thru October— we’ve shifted our monthly all-hands meetings to in-person events (plus video conferencing for everyone outside of LA-proper) complete with catered taco trucks, ice cream, and party games.
LAS: How do you see DRINKS changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
JG: We are still in the early days of alcohol e-commerce. In two years, widespread adoption will begin to take hold. There are four ways to buy alcohol today: in-store, curbside pickup, local delivery, and e-commerce. DRINKS created, leads and is poised to dominate the e-commerce channel for alcohol fully. E-commerce has distinct advantages over traditional retail: higher margins for retailers and safe, convenient home delivery for consumers without high delivery fees or tipping. In the long run, we’re confident that e-commerce will transform alcohol purchasing as it has for nearly every other retail category.
LAS: What personality traits make a good leader? Especially in times of crisis.
JG: I am of the philosophy that the best leaders work for their team, not vice versa. Leadership is enabling your staff to do their best work, getting out of the way, and clearing any roadblocks that come up along the way.
LAS: What Big Piece of Advice would you give to new entrepreneurs who are looking to start a startup?
JG: For starters, it is important to understand that getting everything right is rare; it is even rarer than winning the lottery. So, it would be my advice to embrace failure and create a culture that encourages measured risk-taking. It is expected that your business will have its series of failures behind its success stories. The sooner you can harness the inherent power in knowing what doesn’t work, the faster you can hone in on what does– in everything from your core value proposition, product-market fit, marketing strategies, and company organization. It’s impossible to get everything right, so don’t try. Figure out how to make quick, informed decisions with measurable goals and constantly evolve your approach.
LAS: Finally, what’s next for you?
JG: My focus is on technology disruption in the alcohol category. There’s still much more work that needs to be done to make it easy to buy the best bottle of wine for every meal and celebration. In the physical world, we have sommeliers that devote their careers to expertly helping customers pair beverages, but they can only talk to one group at a time. The digital realm has no such limit and will eventually democratize expert recommendations so more consumers can confidently explore the category. Blockchains are another emerging technology that could have many applications in beverage alcohol across the logistics chain and are something that we have begun to explore.