Running a craft brewery right now feels more like software / IT management than anything else, juggling new online stores, taproom POS systems and connecting everything for accounting purposes. This is why WineryConnect (don’t be fooled by the name) and its virtual IT service Grape Squad is intriguing. Investors think so too: The founders set out to raise $400,000 this year, but the coronavirus outbreak highlighted their value – technology that connects controlled-beverage producers with customers – and ended up attracting $1 million.
“I’m excited that we closed a VC round during the pandemic and are hiring for virtual jobs. Grape Squad has a family culture where we train anyone with a good STEM background to support wineries and craft beverage producers. Our expertise can be applied from seed to sale to social to scale,” says Ben Weiner, newly appointed CEO of WineryConnect.
How it works
WineryConnect’s mission is to reduce the distance between producers and consumers, and help their customers discover new business solutions. WineryConnect’s Grape Squad provides producers with their own virtual in-house IT department. Grape Squad helps producers sell their product, fix their software problems and set their servers up. Now wineries, craft beverage producers and eventually CBD producers will be supported through the seasons and across technologies.
“It took us 7 long years to create our niche verticalized integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) for Controlled Commerce. But what excites me most about the future is not just that we’ve built a better mousetrap to capture payment processing revenue, or even that we’ve built a better mousetrap to capture clean, well-structured data which we can build into intelligence – what excites me most is that we have a piece of pure cloud infrastructure which is intimately tied to a requirement for us to create virtual middle-skill jobs supporting producers,” says Sam Weiner, CTO and founder of WineryConnect.
Weiner has spent the last 20 years being what’s called an Enterprise Architect which involves understanding what technology a business is using today (the Architecture of Record), understanding where they want to be in 3-5 years as a business (leading to the Architectural Vision) and then working with them year over year to get there.
“The key thing which makes Enterprise Architecture possible is flexible IT infrastructure and knowledgeable human support,” he tells us.
Currently, this New York-based company works with over 30 beverage producers. Its client roster includes names like Hazlitt Vineyards, Buttonwood Grove Winery and Wagner Valley Brewing. The business employs seven people, including contractors.
At Buttonwood Grove, WineryConnect helped to implement a Revel point-of-sale application, a TrueCommerce Nexternal eCommerce storefront and wine club platform integrated with the QuickBooks online business system. The winery was able to launch direct marketing efforts, print shipping labels quickly, kick off a wine club subscription service, and connect with customers through Revel and e-commerce offerings. The winery gained 93 wine club members in less than four months.
“It took under a week from the time I first met with WineryConnect till we were fully live with three Point of Sale stations. I didn’t want to go through the busy season with our old system, and WineryConnect delivered,” says Dave Pittard, owner of Buttonwood Grove Winery.
Lake Drum Brewing has been a customer since 2015. Started by two artists, they use the Revel POS through WineryConnect, and it’s helped them grow to be a fixture in Geneva, N.Y.
“While we can work with start-ups like Lake Drum, our biggest value is to larger producers who have complicated business processes they’d like to automate,” Weiner says. “We help producers with the technology they have, and we also help them find the best solutions out there to do what they need to do today and to support where they are headed more broadly as a business. We do have a set of strategic partners we work with, which are solutions our customers have chosen over the years. This is an ever-growing list. For instance OrchestratedBeer is on our short list of systems we want to integrate with as we find producers who need us to do that.”