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Wine gurus Bruce Tyrrell and Lisa McGuigan are advising this hot new Sydney start-up


Wine industry heavyweights Bruce Tyrrell and Lisa McGuigan have joined the Board of Advisors of Sydney wine start-up, WithWine.

Launched in January, WithWine is a mobile app through which wineries can sell wine directly to their customers.

WithWine founder and CEO, Richard Owens, said he is thrilled to have such a respected and knowledgeable duo guiding his business as it grows nationally.

The start-up has seen quick success, signing a third of the Hunter Valley’s wineries in its first two months of operation and making more than 500 products available for sale, many of which are not in bottle shops.

Why is WithWine growing so quickly?

“We’re popular because we keep things dead simple,” said Owens, who was Macquarie Bank’s Innovation Manager before the GFC pushed him into founding the business.

“We bring the vineyards to your fingertips, making wines easy to find and buy when you are most likely to want to find and buy them,” the 34-year-old stated.

One of WithWine’s key points of difference from its many competitors is that it shows users the wines their friends like rather than ratings and reviews from the masses.

“We don’t ask strangers in the street for their opinions before we walk into a bottle shop to buy wine… so why do it online?” Owens asked.

“When I’m drinking wine it’s with my friends so they are the best people to guide me toward a wine that I am most likely to enjoy.”

That reasoning is what won over Lisa McGuigan when Owens asked if she’d be willing to guide his start-up.

“I like it because it gets back to what wine is all about,” she said.

Richard Owens with Lisa McGuigan
Richard Owens with Lisa McGuigan

With WithWine, you simply scan the barcode on the back of a wine to retrieve its profile. Then you can ‘Like’ it to save it to your favourites list, but that also sends a push notification to your friends saying something like, “Kylie likes the Stevens Shiraz from Tyrrell’s Wine”. It’s basically word of mouth on steroids.

Helping wineries cut the middleman out

The service has also been resonating with wineries that are looking to increase the size of their direct-to-consumer business in order to provide a better experience for customers, a priority Owens picked up from his time working at Apple.

“You can’t get a better experience than you would at a winery’s cellar door so we wanted to build an extension of that experience for everyone by making it available through their smartphones,” he explained.

“When you place an order through WithWine, it goes to the person who deserves it… the person who slaved over the vines to ensure you have a wonderful product to enjoy – not some faceless middle man who really, doesn’t care,” he added.

Owens wants the service to become a ubiquitous tool that allows people to find and buy any wine from any winery quickly and painlessly. He sees his unique approach as a winning formula for reaching his goal.

“We’re not the first to come out with a wine app,” he admits, “but we’re very deliberately doing things differently from the others – not only in the way the app works but also who we work with to make life easier for customer.”

Being a fourth generation winemaker and having a name that’s synonymous with the Australian wine industry, Bruce Tyrrell’s endorsement also throws a lot of credibility behind Owens’ approach.

When asked why his winery was the first to sign up to WithWine his response was telling. “Nothing hits the nail on the head the way WithWine does.”

Richard Owens with Bruce Tyrrell
Richard Owens with Bruce Tyrrell

What is the story behind WithWine?

Owens revealed to Anthill that WithWine was a result of a several “Aha!” moments.

The first was four years ago. Owens, 30 at the time, didn’t drink wine. In fact, he hated it.

That was until one night when his dad’s mate called David told him, “That’s because you drink bad wine.” He poured Owens a glass of something out of his cellar… he loved it!

That’s when his life with wine started. “Twelve years of legal drinking age and probably more than $50,000 spent on alcohol in the last decade and Australian wineries got none of it. All it took to change that was one person who I knew personally… who I trusted.”

A week later, Owens entered a bottle shop looking to buy himself some wine, his newfound love, but was simply overwhelmed by the vast number of choices available.

He had no idea what to get. Owens thought to himself, “David would surely know what to get. I wish there was a way I could see the wines he likes then I would know what to try.”

Another week later, Owens was with his dad at a restaurant. Two glasses in, his dad picked up the bottle, reviewed its label and said, “That’s a nice drop; I’m going to buy some more.”

Owens was quick to point out that he would forget it the minute they walked out the door. His dad agreed that was actually what always happened.

“I want to buy wine but I don’t know what to buy. Dad wants to buy wine but he can’t remember what to buy,” he thought to himself once again.

He asked David what wineries do about these problems. David put him in touch with Bruce Tyrrell. Bruce told him that unfortunately there wasn’t much they could do for customers in those moments.

That’s when Owens decided to do something about it… WithWine.