5 Questions With Ivan Ng, Co-Founder of Wine Subscription Startup: VinOnly

VinOnly Wine Box

As ‘Asia’s World City,’ Hong Kong has its share of international bragging rights which includes consuming the most wine in 2012.

Still, wine consumption and knowledge are two completely different animals and Hong Kong startup VinOnly wants to change all that. We had a chat with co-founder Ivan Ng, who is a computer engineer by trade, repeat entrepreneur and wine enthusiast, to learn more about his wine subscription service.

What is your startup?

VinOnly is an online subscription service that focuses on wine appreciation and wine education. By subscribing online, our members receive two bottles of red wine from boutique wineries around the world each month. These wineries are family-owned wineries with limited production that offer good “value-for-money” wines. Each wine is selected through blind-tasting by award-winning sommeliers of the Hong Kong Sommelier Association Greater China ensuring it is handpicked for its quality, instead of its brand, region or vintage.

Our motto is “learn as you drink”. We believe that one can learn to appreciate wine only when he/she has the opportunity to taste a variety of wines. Our monthly package comes with a wine card setting out basic wine information and an online video prepared by award-winning sommeliers (such as Mr. Nelson Chow, a leading sommelier and respected wining and dining influence in Asia) detailing background information, tasting notes and food-pairing recommendations. Our members also have access to series of online tutorial videos on wine tasting, wine regions, grape variety and more. They are encouraged to rate and jot down notes of each wine online, so they can better understand their own palate preferences. This also allows us to make a more bespoke recommendation for our members in the future.

The entire process is hassle-free as we deliver the wines directly to members’ homes where they can learn at their own pace – this specifically caters for people in Hong Kong who are always busy with work and social engagements.

How did you come up with this idea?

Carol and I used to be casual wine drinkers who blindly selected our wines based solely on region, price and sometimes the label design. Needless to say, we were often disappointed by our own “selections”. We have also tried relying on the sale’s recommendation, but sales often pointed us to the mediocre bottles on promotion. Simply put, we could never seem to pick the right wine for the right occasion. We thought about taking wine classes to brush up on our wine knowledge but soon rejected the idea because we were already having a hard enough time juggling work and personal life.

With that, we founded VinOnly, a hassle free subscription platform that allows beginners to learn more about wine, and for wine connoisseur to discover gems from boutique vineyards around the world!

VinOnly Cover Photo

Who are you targeting and how big is the market in HK/Asia?

We are targeting wine enthusiasts who are adventurous and particular about wine, in Hong Kong and in China.

Hong Kong is the most mature wine market in Asia with an average annual per capita wine consumption of 5.4 litres in 2012. To put it in perspective, drinkers in Hong Kong consume on average almost twice as much wine as Japanese enthusiasts, who average 3 litres per person per year. This is just the beginning as wine consumption in Hong Kong is projected to exceed 50 million bottles per year by 2017! So long as Hong Kong remains a tax-free market for wine, we are confident that this market will continue to grow steadily. That said, we do not expect a 76% increase in wine import volumes, which is the growth percentage from 2008 (the elimination of import duty on wine) to 2012!

Meanwhile, China is without the doubt the up-and-coming market. The China wine market is by and large undeveloped (or developing at best), but its potential is limitless. Just look at some of the recent trends/data:
China has recently over-taken France as the largest consumer of red wine, consuming almost 1.9 billion bottles in 2013 while the French drank 1.8 billion bottles. Red wine consumption in China tripled in six years from 2007!

The Chinese are drinking very little on a per capita basis – the French are drinking more than 30 times as much wine as the Chinese. This shows that there remains a significant untapped population!

Tariffs of 14 to 20 per cent will be eliminated within four years on Australian wine as per the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement signed on 17 November 2014. Similarly, China will reduce its import duty on Chilean wine from 43% by value to zero starting 2015.

We are encouraged by the above and see great potential in Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen as well as some “second-tier” cities such as Chongqing and Hangzhou. Each of these cities has large residential populations influenced by foreign cultures, with high penetration rates for internet/mobile subscription and a growing drinking culture on imported wines.

We are confident that the VinOnly platform can be replicated in these cities, of course with minor modification to fit the local market.

What are your future plans for your startup?

VinOnly has been up and running for a couple months now and is gaining traction with a growing customer-base in Hong Kong. We will start working on our platform in China, which has more than 20 million imported wine drinkers. Shanghai is our first target city.

1 Benefit and 1 Challenge in the HK startup scene?

Hong Kong is a very mature and resourceful market. It is easy to incorporate a company and get a business started; this allows us to test out a concept before replicating it in other Asian markets.

Hong Kong has recently produced some very successful startups – namely 9Gag and GoGoVan, but we still lack an ecosystem you see in western startup scenes. That said, we are encourage by the growing startup population in Hong Kong and would love to contribute to the community by sharing some shortcuts and challenges we learned in the past year.

VinOnly on Startbase.HK: VinOnly

Ivan Ng on Startbase.HK: Ivan Ng

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