Paul Mabray’s mantra for the wine industry has consistently been “in a world with infinite wine choices, the only differentiator is service.”
That mantra, which led to the creation of VinTank, a social media management platform that has revolutionized the way wineries interact with their customers, will now be applied to companies and industries far outside the relatively narrow bandwidth of wine.
W2O Group, an independent network of marketing, communications, research and development firms, announced that it has acquired VinTank to “to enable and enhance its technology-enabled client service offerings,” according to a press release made public Monday. W2O Group’s network includes WCG, Twist, BrewLife and W2O Ventures. The company has 11 offices in the United States and Europe.
For Mabray, the acquisition of the enterprise he co-founded with colleague James Jory is beyond exciting; it’s an extension of his self-made, dream come true.
“This is the first time in wine technology history that software has been recognized to transcend the industry,” Mabray declares. “It’s a testament to years of work and the times we struggled … when people would say to us ‘what is a Tweet?’”
Mabray isn’t exaggerating. He’s spent 23 years in the wine and spirits industry and launched or helped to launch an impressive array of companies that have shifted traditional customer relations management (CRM) practices into contemporary, digital paradigms.
Mabray began his epic journey at Napa Ale Works, where he quickly rose to be the VP of Sales and Marketing. He moved through a number of high-level positions at Francis Ford Coppola’s Niebaum-Coppola winery and in the 1990’s became a “dot-commer,” working for WineShopper.com, which later evolved into Wine.com.
“I came out of my shell,” Mabray jokes. “I spoke geek fluently.”
In 2002, Mabray founded Inertia, a company he calls “the father of winery e-commerce.” He says when he first proposed the idea of a venture focused exclusively on wine sold through the Internet, few people took him seriously. They stopped laughing when Mabray’s company raised $15.6 million dollars to become the first VC backed B2B wine software company.
The creation of VinTank came about in 2009 when Mabray and Jory began to explore ways to add context to Internet business interactions through effective customer profiling.
“It was a social listening platform at first,” Mabray says. “We found we were listening to millions of conversations (about wine) every day … we’ve had to learn how to redefine all of this data in meaningful ways.”
As Mabray and Jory convinced their wine industry clients that what they were hearing was cutting-edge in an increasingly digital universe, VinTank grew exponentially. The software company reportedly monitors over one billion wine conversations, has profiled an estimated 30 million social wine consumers, and provides the service to more than 1,000 different wine brands.
“The wine industry isn’t necessarily known for its innovation in technology,” Mabray says wryly. “You don’t choose where your customers talk to you – they do. It’s (VinTank) redefining how brands understand their customers, so they can do a better job of servicing them.”
VinTank’s unique ability to collect and deliver mentions and web posts to affected wine industry businesses – and to predict sales based on social media mentions – did not go unnoticed. Mabray says a number of different people were “sniffing around” considering a purchase, but W2O proved to be the most compelling. He and his partners were impressed by the diversity of companies in W2O’s profile as well as their data analytics capabilities.
“We knew we were never going to continue this level of acceleration and expansion with just the wine industry,” Mabray said. “We loved the culture of the company; we knew the team … You always hope you can grow and expand more … This partnership allows us to continue to keep ahead of the curve.”
Mabray says he will stay active under the acquisition agreement. He still plans to run the software division around W20’s social/customer engagement platform, especially as it relates to the company’s alignment with the wine industry, which he remains passionate about.
“The three most successful businesses offering technical solutions to the wine industry right now are WineDirect, ShipCompliant, and VinTank,” Mabray opines. “I’ve been fortunate to have my fingerprints on two of them … It’s been an amazing journey. We’ve actually set the bar for how wine sales are done today.”