With Andre Eikmeier, Cofounder Vinomofo
Written by Rebekah Campbell
Andre and his business partner launched their first business in 2006. Their vision was to unite people like them - passionate about wine but didn’t wear bow-ties. In just a few years, they’d united a community of 5000, who shared wine reviews and stories through social media. But there wasn’t yet a product, or any revenue.
In 2011, the founders trialed selling wine to their community and developed the brand Vinomofo. ‘When we thought about launching a wine retailer, we had to ask ourselves: “How can we compete with Coles and Woolworths?” says Andre. ‘The truth is, they already served the market pretty well. But we had something they didn’t…’
This paper focuses on how Andre approaches building brand and the relationship between brand, tribes and growth. Much has been written about how to develop a brand, and every branding agency has a different formula. But the way founders must approach building a brand has changed. And it’s quite different to how big company marketers and agencies think about this topic. The world is now super competitive. It’s way too expensive to buy growth on Facebook or Google.
A brand isn’t just a good logo and a positioning statement. If developed well, a brand will become the soul of a company. It’ll anchor every strategic decision, it’ll attract team members and investors who have so much choice in whom to back. Ultimately, it’ll become a uniting force for a tribe that’ll advocate for your business and safeguard you from competition.
Vinomofo is one of the best examples of a company who understands that brand, tribes and growth are indistinguishable. Launching from an Adelaide garage seven years ago, the two founders built a $100M + wine retailer in an extremely competitive market.
This paper breaks down some of the key steps Andre took to build Vinomofo - and we’ve used Zambesi as an example to show how his strategies apply to other businesses. Andre’s advice is for company founders by a company founder; it’s also for marketers looking to understand how founders of fast-growing companies think about developing and leveraging their brands.
If you’d like to work though your company’s strategy and brand with Andre, he’s hosting full-day, small-group workshops in Sydney and Melbourne early next year.
What’s in this paper:
- Should you develop your brand with an agency?
- It’s not enough to have purpose. You’ve got to stand for something that’ll ignite a movement.
- How to think about your company’s ‘purpose’ and what you stand for.
- Understanding what builds community.
- Find your tribe.
- Bring your brand to life
- How to interview an agency
- Directory of agencies used by Australian startups
Should you develop your brand with an agency?
I recently engaged an excellent branding agency to help develop the Zambesi brand. We participated in a series of workshops and they presented back some ideas and recommendations. Although their work was creative and exciting, something didn’t feel right.
‘The early work of creating a brand must be done by the founders,’ says Andre. ‘Brand is the mission that you as the founder will evangelize every day, for the life of the business. It has to be yours. Brand is the foundation for growth. It’s core work and can’t be outsourced.
But it does help to have someone guide and challenge your thinking and then help you plan how you’ll bring your brand to life. That’s what I’ll be doing in this workshop.’
When I reflect on my experience working with an agency to develop Zambesi, the problem wasn’t the agency (they were great). It was the process. We’re a startup with a limited budget so we couldn’t afford to spend tens of thousands developing a brand over several months. We were on a tight project plan with an agreed number of workshops and projected output from each session. Every workshop costs in people hours and we were behind schedule by the time we finished our first session.
Designing the soul of a business, our foundation for everything, wasn’t going to come quickly – certainly not on an agency timeline we could afford. And even though they had good ideas, they weren’t our ideas. Our brand had to come from us and it would take lots of late night post-it notes on the fridge, and lots of long walks and brainstorming sessions with my co-founder until we felt certain we had the foundation right.
Andre does suggest it can help to engage an agency to help bring a brand to life, but only once the core work is complete. We’ve included a guide for how to select an agency, what questions to ask, and a list of agencies recommended by other Australian startups at the end of this article.
It’s not enough to have purpose. You’ve got to stand for something that’ll ignite a movement.
‘The first step in developing a brand is to define your purpose. Why do you exist?’ says Andre. This idea of putting ‘purpose’ or ‘why’ at the centre of your brand was made famous by Simon Sinek.
What’s different about Andre’s approach is understanding the relationship between purpose and tribes. ‘It’s not enough just to have any purpose. When I ask most founders to tell me why their company exists, they’ll usually reply with a solution to a customer problem. For example: “Our purpose is to help small business owners save time.” This is not a ‘why’ that will unite a tribe. This is a ‘why’ that may get customers to use your product as a utility. But there’ll be no passion, no advocacy and no loyalty.
For example, Vinomofo could exist to help people find good wine at low prices. Or it could exist so that everyone can have more enjoyable evenings. But neither of these why’s would unite a tribe.
For Zambesi, we initially thought our purpose was to give people access to leaders from high-growth companies. We began designing a brand around ‘access’. But as I mentioned before, it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t imagine myself getting out of bed every day for the next ten years to serve this purpose. I couldn’t imagine myself talking about it at every event, in every interview. And I couldn’t see how ‘access to experts’ would inspire a team, customers and the broader community to advocate on our behalf.
How to find your ‘purpose’
Andre Eikmeier says,‘Your company’s purpose has to resonate with you as a founder. Right at the beginning of your company, search inside yourself. Think about life experiences that have shaped you. What is your purpose as an individual? The best brands always reflect the founder.
When I was growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, I was the nerdy kid who wasn’t into surfing. I didn’t fit in, I didn’t feel like I “belonged”. I went to a pretty rough school and had a hard time with the cool kids. As an adult, my passion was wine, but again I didn’t really fit in. The wine industry seemed quite conservative and a bit elitist, and someone like me, with my t-shirts and sneakers and occasional bad language, but who still loved wine, didn’t really feel included.
With Vinomofo, we first wanted to create a wine community for people like us. We made a social media site to capture the voices of anyone who liked wine, but without all the bowties and BS. We attracted a very engaged community of 5000 people who felt the same way. It was important to us that everyone felt included.
This original product didn’t have a revenue model that worked, but it did have a purpose and it did unite a tribe. Then when we started selling wine in 2011, the community supported us.’
I wrote about finding my purpose and Zambesi’s purpose in an earlier paper. I asked Andre how he’d advise me to think about finding ‘purpose’ if we were earlier in this process. How could I check I have the right purpose, one that resonates with our community and drives customers to become advocates?
His advice: Look into yourself as a person. You need to ask yourself some fundamental questions:
- What experiences have shaped you?
- What’s important to you? What do you most care about?
- What do you do for fun? Why? What are your passions?
- What’s your role in your group of friends? What do they look to you for?
Then look for a thread.
For me, I’ve always been interested in politics, I’ve been a member of a political party since I was 16 years-old. My core political philosophy is that everyone should have equal opportunity to fulfil their potential. This means equal access to quality education as children and equal access to quality ongoing development as adults.
Zambesi’s purpose: ‘The world thrives when everyone does extraordinary work,’ resonates with me personally. I can imagine it’ll drive me in years to come.
Understanding what builds community.
Here’s what’s different about Andre’s ‘founder’s approach’ to building brand. The community should come first. And a purpose that unites a community can’t just be a solution to a customer problem.
A purpose that builds community always serves one of Maslow’s core hierarchy of needs. Usually, basic needs (food, water, warmth, rest) are solved. Some communities form out of the need for safety. Most commonly, online communities form to meet psychological needs (belonging, intimate friendships, prestige and feeling of accomplishment) and self-fulfillment needs (achieving one’s full-potential including creative arts).
Andre says that it’s very hard to build community if you’re not fundamentally addressing one of these core human needs. And if you’re a founder starting out, try building community first, product second.
Another good example of a community first startup is ‘Glossier’. In 2010, founder Emily Weiss launched ‘Into the Gloss’, a blog where women shared their daily skin-care routines. The blog featured an interview each week with pictures of sometimes famous, but usually regular women in their bathrooms talking about what products they use and why. The blog united a community who was looking to belong – to know that other women were just like them. By 2013, the blog had amassed 10M monthly visitors and Emily launched a line of skincare products. Just like Vinomofo, the community she’d built supported the product line and Glossier is now valued at >$400M.
How to find your tribe?
I asked Andre: ‘After defining the purpose of you company, how do you advise founders to find an unserved tribe?’
We started connecting with other younger wine people on Facebook and Twitter, joining conversations, always from the perspective of what we stood for. We posted video content in our language, reviewing wines, and people found us and talked about us, and they came.
You have to decide “Who are we for and who are we not for?” This is how you’ll define your tribe. And a tribe is not a set of demographics. You cannot be for “males aged 25 – 45 who live in urban areas”. It may work out that way, but a tribe is a mind-set, a set of passions, beliefs and a shared core human need. And you can’t be for everyone. You can’t try to stand for everything for everyone, or you’ll end up standing for nothing, for everyone.
We serve two markets: leaders from high-growth technology companies who want to share skills, and ambitious professionals and companies who want to access the best minds and latest insights to enable them to do extraordinary work. The best way we can serve both these industry groups is by connecting them through a structured and fair platform.
Our aim is to build community through sharing deep knowledge and leading edge thinking through papers like this and soon videos and webinars. Our product is workshops, in-house training and consulting.
Understanding what I now know after my session with Andre, if I could start again, I’d have built just the community first and waited to launch product. But we’re still early and, like everyone else, learning every day!
Who are we for:
At Zambesi, we’ve developed three customer personas as filters for our marketing, content and programs. We’ve had the startup founder, the ambitious digital marketer in a large corporate and the COO of a scale-up. These have been our three prototype customers.
But through working with Andre, I can see a bigger opportunity, for the common thread in each persona is a mind-set.
Participants and companies: We’re for the doers, changers, innovative thinkers; people ambitious for their companies and for their own careers; people who value authenticity, collaboration, deep expertise, cutting-edge skills, and who’ll contribute to a group conversation. We’re not for coasters, spongers or those resistant to change.
Experts: We’re for leaders who are doing what they’re teaching, constantly curious and developing new tactics and skills, who are recognized by their peers as among the best and who value building community with Zambesi. We’re not for consultants, professional trainers or individualists.
The opportunity for Zambesi, is to unite this tribe.
How to bring your brand to life
Once you’ve nailed your core idea, ask how you want people to feel when they interact with your business. Your purpose, your tribe and the feeling you seek to create should permeate every aspect of your business. Map out how to represent your brand across your product, design, voice, customer experience, content and marketing material. Your brand and your tribe must filter every decision you make in your business.’
For Zambesi, I’ve been clear about purpose from day one, but only through working with Andre have we identified our tribe and begun to define how people should feel as they interact with us. I’ve found it difficult to implement our brand ideas coherently across the business – even though we’re still small.
Below are screenshots from Vinomofo’s onboarding and content channel. The photo presents who the tribe is; the copy is explicit about the company’s purpose: ‘More than just a wine store, we’re a tribe. No bow-ties, no bullshit. Just good wine, good people. The makers and the drinkers, united by wine.’ The tone is consistent with the brand: ‘Yep, I’m a grown up.’
I’ve often questioned how explicit we should be about presenting our purpose on the website. Andre’s response: ‘Don’t be afraid to be explicit. When anyone comes across you—on social, on your homepage, in an ad, face-to-face – you should carve your space. State what needs to change in the world and how you’re going to do it. Tell stories about what you stand for.’
When it’s time to engage an agency, how should you choose?
‘Most agencies will produce work that’s acceptable. But if you want them to come up with moving work then they need to have their heart in it. You need to work out if they want your business because they want / need business or if they’re genuinely passionate about your mission and want to create magic for you.
Questions to ask:
- Why did you start this agency?
- What do you stand for? What do you believe in?
- Why do your team want to work with you?
- Why do they want to work with you and on your project?
Your intention should be to get a read on their integrity and their values. Look for what excites them. You want to work with people who live for what they do. Their passion will come through in their work. I also suggest you negotiate rates based on output of work and not on input of time. I’m always clear that if they come up with a belting idea in the first five minutes then that’s fine. But if it takes longer then you shouldn’t be pressured to accept work that you’re not excited about.
I’ve wrestled with how and when to focus on brand in every business I’ve built. I’ve spent big with agencies only to discard work when the business needed to pivot. I’ve learnt a massive amount though a series of conversations with Andre and have begun planning how to evolve the Zambesi brand and unite our tribe in the coming months.
If you’d like to spend a day in a small group with Andre and to workshop your brand strategy, plan how to find and unite your tribe and plan how to bring your brand to life then register for his workshop early in the new year. Spots are strictly limited so Andre can spend time with each participant. This workshop is also suitable for marketers looking to understand how the best company founders think about brand, tribes, growth and safeguarding their businesses from competition.
If you’re interested in this topic then check out the related workshops. Use the code MOFO for a considerable discount on these programs until 5pm Tuesday 18 December.
- Brand like a MOFO, with Andre Eikmeier Cofounder VINOMOFO
- Digital disruptive leadership, with Stephen Scheeler Former CEO Facebook
- Ruthless performance marketing, with Tim Doyle Head of Marketing & Strategy Koala Mattress
- People & Culture Masterclass with Mahesh Muralidhar Head of People Operations Airtasker
Brand and design agencies recommended by Australian startups
We have compiled a list of brand and design agencies that have been recommended to us by other Australian startups including the agencies we used for Zambesi and Hey You. For clarity, the agency ‘Collaborateur’ listed below created the Zambesi visual identity (logo, fonts, core design elements), tone of voice, key messages, tone of voice and promo video. We were thrilled with their work. The Hallway (also listed) created ‘Hey You’ from scratch including the name, logo, messaging, key interactive design elements, UX, point of sale and other marketing material. Again, I couldn’t recommend any more highly.
If you’ve used an agency not included on our list and you’d like to share a recommendation with other startups, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment and we’ll add them.