Marketing,Social Networking in Wine,Wine

Building an Online Community ~ Snooth is Growing by Leaps and Bounds

When Silicon Valley had its first release of brain trust delivered back into the non-Silicon Valley world, about 10 years ago, their proximity to wine country held an immediate allure. (I remember the flood of resumes.) Wineries don’t even begin to compensate their workers as compared to what this group was accustomed, so that  dream bubble burst pretty quickly. It didn’t, however, dissuade people with information technology backgrounds from joining the ranks of us already in the wine business. What it did was cause many in the group to simply (or not so simply) find intuitively innovative ways to actualize their dreams. One very impactful way was by creating Websites that allow consumers to conveniently purchase wine without having to leave the luxury of their own homes, in order to fill their wine racks.

Take the techies and combine them with others who were already in the wine business with an intimate knowledge of its inner workings, and that really spells  s-u-c-c-e-s-s; most especially since now many of the trials and tribulations are out of the way.

Perhaps that’s what has caused… in only a couple of years… for Snooth to quickly rise to the top of who’s doing one of the best jobs.

Philip James founded Snooth in 2006. Formerly, he was Executive Vice President at the Wine Messenger, a leading national online wine retailer, where he focused on general management and operational issues.

Borrowing from the Snooth Website, Phillips’s bio reads the following way:

“Philip’s background includes three years in Technology Investment Banking at Merrill Lynch, as well as time in the Venture Capital industry. He holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and a Masters degree in Computational Chemistry from Oxford University. In 2003 Philip played an instrumental role in the world’s highest altitude rescue, on the North Face of Mount Everest.

“Philip is a self-confessed data fiend who is obsessed over factual correctness. He has put his obsession to work at Snooth, the world’s most comprehensive wine database, which brings together all the disparate sources of information on each and every wine and offers users the tools to make more informed choices.

“The idea for Snooth first came to Philip when he began working in the wine industry and realized just how complex wine was. Even customers who were seasoned wine collectors frequently became confused over whether a particular Bordeaux chateau was right bank or left bank. He realized that the wine industry was hopelessly fragmented — with neither a standardized naming system nor a centralized repository of information. Philip decided to change all that. He founded Snooth with a simple goal: to make wine information freely available.”

When the new wave of on-line wine sales Websites began, most of us in the wine business took a step backwards to watch where it would go. With the combination of their innovative minds, their IT expertise, and an understanding of how to create a social network, the first wave of success has definitely arrived. The proof of that was just delivered to my Email in-box from Gregory Dal Piaz. Gregory is the Community Manager for Snooth, which has become the largest and fastest growing wine site of its kind in the US.

They have a multifaceted site that allows users to research, review, and purchase wines, while simultaneously offering producers the opportunity to create a user-friendly page hosted on Snooth at no charge. Their revenue comes from a combination of advertising and fees generated by referring customers to their retail partners.

Gregory organizes their Blind Panel Tasting Program (PTP), and then generates original content for the site. He’s also been given the task of building the Snooth community.

One of the tools he uses to help foster a sense of community on the site is their Global Tasting initiative (or GTi), which is also a tool they use to schedule out PTP events. By focusing on a specific grape or region over a 2-week period, Snooth allows all of their members to join them in sampling from that focused group of wines.

Q & A with Gregory Dal Piaz:

[Q] When did you start?
[A] Founded in 2006, we went live in June of 2007.

[Q] What are your greatest challenges?
[A] Our greatest challenges have been connecting with wineries and winemakers, and convincing them that a wine related site that is offering them a free page for outreach to their consumers is a good thing. There are also the inevitable issues with the feed supplied by our retailer partners which has proven to be a technical problem. Reconciling what hundreds of humans have written is never an easy thing.

[Q] Who else is in your company?
[A] We remain a small company with a staff of SIX (6). Besides myself there is the Founder and CEO Philip James, our CTO Mark Angelillo, Senior Developer Justin Yao, Software Engineer Chris Carpita, Marketing Manager Adam Levin, and Creative Director Mike Solomon.

[Q] What’s his/her/their core responsibilities?
[A] Being a small company with a unique multidisciplinary staff it’s hard to clearly delineate each person’s responsibility. We all have the same goal, to do what we are able each day to ensure that the user experience at Snooth is constantly improving.

[Q] What variety has had the greatest response from your community (red and white)?
[A] So far we have only focused on red varieties and the biggest response has been to Zinfandel. I am now motivated to focus on Petite Sirah; not only due to my love of the grape, but also because it’s a variety that is frequently reviewed on Snooth and with overwhelmingly positive results.

[Q] What are your stats that would substantiate that you’re the largest US wine site – and it doesn’t have to be proprietary, just a rough estimate (nay-sayers abound).
[A] Quantcast lists us as number based on our Monthly unique visitors, monthly page views, and the overall size of the site which exceeds 2.2 million pages, consisting of over 1.1 million individual wines, with over 2 million reviews and 2 million prices. Those are public figures and anyone can visit Quantcast’s site and compare us to any other wine related website to see for him or herself.

4 Responses to “Building an Online Community ~ Snooth is Growing by Leaps and Bounds”

  1. El Jefe says:

    The Global Tasting initiative is a great idea and I’m looking forward to participating in it!

    One reason why wineries may be reluctant to avail themselves of a free page is that they have dozens of other sites offering them the same thing. Getting on Snooth to me is an obvious choice as one of the biggies, but I suspect many wineries simply don’t want to be bothered. At a certain point keeping your content fresh on your own site plus dozens of other sites turns into a full time job.

    I don’t know what the solution is but I sure hope someone is working on it!

  2. Jo says:

    El Jefe,

    This is a great point that you’ve made…”but I suspect many wineries simply don’t want to be bothered.”

    I can’t tell you how many sites have come to my clients asking them to jump on board. My guys then turn those decisions back over to my company to make for them.

    Honestly, when it all began, I struck a, “Let’s watch and see where this is all going” attitude,, because there were too many chefs in the kitchen. I believed then and know now that I was dead-on, we needed to first evaluate who can crack an egg midair without having to hit it on the side of a bowl. (Something I can’t do, BTW, but love the talent in others.)

    I knew that cream would rise to the top, and then I’d make my recommendations (like this one). I’m an early adopter when it comes to a lot of great ideas, because I’m also an innovator. When you’ve got queries coming at you at least once a week, however, you know you’re not anywhere near the market maturity stage, yet. That means there’s still time to be an early adopter, without being on the experimental edge that’s destined to fail, because someone didn’t yet have a great business model completely thought through.

    There’s something to be said for recognizing innovative, highly skilled performance; but, it’s hard to choose, when it’s a cast of a thousand.

    That’s a “Where’s Waldo” moment, and I love finding Waldo every time.

  3. Jo says:

    This one…”I don’t know what the solution is but I sure hope someone is working on it!”

    My answer is, “Well, Twisted Oak’s got it down, and that’s your IT background coming into the wine business, Jefe.

    Wineries need to hire someone with IT skill; who understands marketing, who has a Facebook page, who Twitters, who can develop a Website, or knows how to work within a Web based database program tat someone else sets up for him or her… Heck, basic HTML is at least a start.

    Wineries should either hire internally or hire externally (consultants). This will put them onto a much faster path to the next big generation of spenders… Millennials.

    Those who get in on it now will be set for the future. Those that dilly-dally, well, good luck. No one has to believe me. Time will prove the prediction.

  4. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

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