Earlier this year, myself, Timothy Lakeman and Brady Black started an online wine retailing business called Wineology. The idea is pretty simple, we all like good Australian wines. So we created a site where we could share them with others. We don’t want to have a collection of wines that is so large that its impossible to choose between them, instead we only put up the ones that we would personally recommend.
Since I haven’t given up my day job you can probably guess that we aren’t among the captains of industry that currently dominate the only liquor sales business. We are fine with that, but we do want the business to be successful. To date, the venture has only sold a few cases of wine but its a respectable start especially given that our overheads are fairly low.
Current Technology Stack
From a technology perspective, Wineology has been kept deliberately simple. We didn’t want to over invest in our backend systems until we started to get a feel for the industry that we were moving into, so the following components make up our current technology stack.
- Domain registration; currently held with Crazy Domains, since you can’t register a .com.au domain on GoDaddy, who is who I normally go for.
- Domain hosting; currently using ZoneEdit. If I was using GoDaddy I’d probably use their domain manager, but ZoneEdit does have some great features like an API for updating records dynamically which may come in useful down the track.
- Web hosting; currently we’re using AppHarbor which is backended onto Amazon EC2. Because I’m using Appharbor, that also implies…
- Git & GitHub; our source code is housed inside a Git repository. I use GitHub as a safe place to store source code offsite, and AppHarbor is just a remote that I push to.
- Web framework; is ASP.NET MVC 3.0 with Autofac as my IoC container. Its a pretty simple site so no rocket science is involved here.
- Design; is currently a hacked version of the BookPage template from ThemeForest.
- PayPal; is what we are using for a payment gateway. It nicely separates us from our customer credit cards.
- Campaign Monitor; is simply one of the best e-mail marketing tools I’ve seen. I’ve used it in the past and we are using it to maintain a list of mailing list subscribers.
- Email Hosting; currently we are using Google Apps.
- Saasu; a web-based accounting package. Selected because it had a public API that we could use in the future.
Overall our technology-based overheads are quite low:
- Domain registration costs about $12 per annum.
- Domain hosting on ZoneEdit cost about $15 per annum.
- Web hosting is currently free with AppHarbor within the free usage tier (thanks guys!).
- GitHub is costing us about $25 per month since we want private repositories.
- Google Apps is costing us about $150 per annum.
Most organisations would love to have such low costs. But it doesn’t tell the full story.
Current Business Processes
Our real costs are in the level of effort required to be the glue that allows us to successfully take an order, and get it dispatched.
- Content updates; when a new wine is posted to the site I open up an XML file, input some key values and then push that update to the Git repository on GitHub, I could use service hooks to make it automatically publish from there but at the moment I also push to AppHarbor manually.
- Purchase processing; when a new order is received via PayPal an e-mail is sent to a generic alias which we then extract key details from and then forward to our suppliers. They pack and send the wine but we would need to manually call them for tracking information if required.
- Digital photography; for me personally this is probably the most involved part of the process. I’m no professional photographer but I have taken most of the wine shots on the site. It takes me about 1-2 hours to take a few decent wine shots (including set up of the light tent etc).
- Back-office accounting; I personally don’t do this. But once we’ve sent an order we need to record that sale in Saasu.
That is pretty much it from a business process perspective, the other guys might see a few more, but these are the ones that I have some exposure to.
Opportunities for Improvement
Overall there are lots of places where technology could be used to improve our business processes and introduce more efficiency. In future blog posts I’m going to explore these specific areas as well as evaluate various options. Here are some of the things that I am considering:
- Improving the site design to better match our requirements (more layouts, and support for promotions etc).
- Creating a membership system and introducing a customer loyalty program.
- Tracking all inbound and outbound e-mail communication with customers and suppliers.
- Listing all products in a product catalogue and using that to drive the site.
- Hosting some content along with the product details in the
- Directly post transactions into Saasu once a sale is complete.
- Build a supplier portal where they can acknowledge orders and provide tracking information.
- Automate segmentation of customers based on products purchased.
- Improve social media integration with the site.
All food for thought.
P.S. If you are in Australia looking for some nice wines, check out our site.