Justin Dry has experienced the highs and lows of business – from hiring (and firing) his first employee at age 10 to owning 43 properties to losing everything at 30. At a Hort Connections 2022 breakfast session sponsored by Perfection Fresh Australia, the CEO and co-founder of Vinomofo shared some lessons with Hort Connections delegates. Sophia Auld reports.

Justin Dry says wine is in his DNA: “My ancestors farmed some of the first vines in the Barossa Valley.” He was tasting wine at 16, studying it at 18, and by 23 “was completely in love, but I wasn’t sure if wine would be a passion or a profession”.

Thus followed a stint in stockbroking and property investing. Justin’s prospects looked great, until a decision made “with my heart and not my head” (going guarantor for a family member’s business) saw him lose everything.

“At 30 I was starting again,” he said. “These were the hardest years of my life. I hit rock bottom.”

But rock bottom led him back to his first love and launched his next entrepreneurial steps. While backpacking overseas, Justin sensed the potential of a “Facebook for wine” to build community around the thing he loved. He started social wine review site Qwoff, which “did quite well in terms of community but the business model sucked.”

His next business, Road to Vino, involved “travelling the country, surfing and drinking wine,” which “didn’t pay much, although it paid enough.” Then came The Great Australian Wine Adventure – an app which presented offers (such as a cheese platter) to people on winery check in.

“You can see the evolution of the business,” Justin said. “Qwoff was about community. Road to Vino was about expanding our network and storytelling. The third was making offers around wine.”

This took him to 2010, when the fastest growing company in the world was Groupon, Justin said. “I thought what if we do a Groupon for wine?

Vinomofo, an online wine retailer offering daily deals, was launched in 2011. It now has 500,000 members, $50 million in revenue, and over 100 staff.

Justin shared five lessons to help people in the horticulture industry build businesses that will thrive into the future.

  1. Disruption is inevitable and continuous

“Think about industries that have been disrupted,” Justin said. “Blockbuster went bankrupt in 2010. Uber overtook taxis within seven years. You can bury your head in the sand, or you can face it.”

He said business owners must think about how blockchain and Web 3.0 could change the industry. “Trust me, they’re coming, and it’s going to be as big as the internet, if not bigger.”

  1. Go early

Justin uses a surfing analogy to explain how his team approaches new ideas. Don’t start paddling too early because you’ll still have to wait for the wave. Don’t delay to the point where competition has increased or the wave has passed altogether either. Rather, aim for the stage where “you just paddle a couple of times and you’re first and early onto the wave.”

  1. Get inspiration from outside your industry

Justin said Vinomofo “didn’t recreate the wheel” but drew on existing ideas like Facebook and Groupon. “Just elevate above what you’re doing and see if there’s opportunities or inspiration from other places.”

  1. Focus

He also suggested getting good at a few things. “You can’t be all things to everyone. Tim Ferris said ‘one gun, six bullets’. Make sure you’re targeting the right things.”

  1. Always be learning

Finally, Justin suggests being curious. “Epictetus said, ‘Man cannot learn something he thinks he already knows’. The best companies and the best people in any industry are constantly questioning and open to learning.”

Hort Connections 2023 will be held from 5-7 June at the Adelaide Convention Centre.