Pix Wasn’t the Only Wine Tech Failure I’ve Seen Up-Close

If you’re lucky, you’ve been blissfully unaware of the hullabaloo (mostly on Twitter) surrounding my recent column for Jancis Robinson about the wine start-up Pix, and its failure to secure funding.

I’ve come in for all sorts of criticism about the article, ranging from the inane (‘shame on you for linking to a paywalled article’) to the defensive (‘you’ve mischaracterized how Wine Searcher works’) to the downright accusatory (‘you’re just trying to make the CEO of this start-up look better.’)

A number of people have specifically suggested that my implication that Pix’s failure says something negative about the wine industry is some combination of sour grapes and the deflection of blame for the company’s failure away from those who are responsible, namely the executives of the company.

Let’s be clear, when a start-up fails to get funding, it’s 100% the fault of the executive team. Their jobs, in addition to everything they do on a daily basis to keep the business running, is to sell the idea behind the business to investors. When investors don’t invest, it means the story wasn’t compelling enough.

But that doesn’t mean Pix’s failure to fund doesn’t also say something about the wine industry.

You see, Pix is not the first innovative wine tech start-up I’ve seen fail to fund. It’s the second.

Right Idea, Right Time

The first wine tech startup I saw fail was an incredibly innovative wine e-commerce business that a major wine industry player hired my design agency to help them bring to life.

Specifically, my agency was hired to help name and brand the new company. Then we conducted consumer and trade research that drove our design of a remarkable website and mobile experience providing a set of incredibly flexible and helpful tools for those who shop for fine wine with regularity.

We showed the designs to wineries and they said the site would fundamentally change the game for them and their customers.

We showed the designs to wine lovers who purchased wines weekly from both retailers and wineries, and many said some version of ‘this is the kind of thing I’ve needed for a long time.’

At that point our client went to the very same investors and board of directors who had pushed them to innovate in the first place, requesting the money to launch the business in full.

The board said no. They ‘just weren’t sure it was the right time.’

What these industry executives and venture capitalists ultimately failed to fund would have been one of the largest and most unique wine e-commerce sites on the internet.

It would have launched just in time to support the pandemic-fueled online wine shopping frenzy. You know, when we were all in lockdown in April of 2020 and online wine sales jumped 300-500% for some online retailers almost overnight?

Had it been built, I believe this website would have changed the fortunes of that particular company forever in addition to fundamentally setting a new standard for wine e-commerce.

You’ll have to take my word for that, however. But that’s not really the point.

When Will the Wine Industry Wake-up Come?

Just as with Pix, here we had an excellent idea, with a well-defended and interrogated business case and a great user experience that both the industry and consumers said would be great.

But the industry people with the money decided not to invest.

Hence my claim that the industry lacks the imagination and inclination to participate in the kinds of digital transformations that most other industries have found essential over the past few decades.

Make no mistake, it’s essential for the wine industry too. The question is whether they’ll get to it before they’ve lost the game, and all their digitally-native customers are entrenched customers of other types of beverage alcohol.

Image at top of cracked wine glass created with the AI software MidJourney.