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Why the Founder of HardwareZone invested in The French Cellar – Mini-Interview #2

The French Cellar mini-interview #2


Jackie Lee
Founder, HardwareZone (sold to SPH in 2006)
CEO, clickTRUE Group
Chairman, The French Cellar Asia
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 Jackie, how did you hear about The French Cellar?

I first heard about The French Cellar when I ordered a few bottles of wine from UOB Reserve vouchers in November 2013. My initial thoughts were:

1- While I love drinking wines, I do not know how to choose a good bottle of wine, especially French wines (what they called old world wines).

2- Having a wine expert to choose for me, and delivering the bottles right from the vineyard to my doorstep sounds like great value and convenience.

And since the price point was really affordable, I decided to try it out.

After being pleasantly surprised having tried the first bottle, it wasn’t too long before my entire family realised The French Cellar’s  value proposition. My wife and mum found the wines from The French Cellar tasting much better  than the wines we had from wedding banquets or those I bought from retail shops. In retrospect, the bottles cost significantly less than those I purchased previously.

There was also an additional bonus. All the wines came with tasting notes. On top of savouring the wine, I was learning about which region the wines came from, and how to differentiate the smell of each wine. Learning more about  what wine I drank had never crossed my mind!

From a subscriber to … an investor?

After a few more orders, I decided to find out more about the company. I thought to myself that a wine subscription e-commerce business model was a very interesting idea and it could really solve a few pain points for both consumers as well as businesses.

When I dug more into the company, I found out that the founder is a Ph.D. scientist from the pharmaceutical industry and it’s a very young startup. With that, my business instinct took over and I sent out a Linkedin message to the CEO, Vincent Morello on 28th Jan 2014 for a meeting. With a few more follow-up talks, I invested in The French Cellar in March 2014.

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Why did you invest in The French Cellar?

The French Cellar solves one fundamental problem for many consumers. When you are standing between rows of wines in a retail store, unless you are a wine connoisseur, chances are you will be confused about what is the best wine to buy. With more people enjoying wine in Asia as a way of life, whether it is sipping wine in the comfort of your home or drinking in a restaurant, The French Cellar helps to take away that chore of wine selection from you. Best of all, you know that the selection will always be done by an expert (Sommelier) and all you have to do is relax  and enjoy the wine with your loved ones.

In fact, wine subscription model is not new in UK, France or the US. Over the years, it is gaining popularity very quickly as consumers really enjoy the convenience. Being the first in Asia, The French Cellar has a first mover advantage in pioneering this business model for the wine industry.

In addition, I find their benefits really attractive:

1- A unique french wine discovery: Most wine lovers stick to a few trusted brands after a while. I honestly think that is because there is too much work and risk to try new ones. By signing up as a subscriber, you will really expand your choices without the risk (since they are carefully curated) and enjoy that pleasant surprise when you get charmed by 2 new bottles each month

2- Great Value and Convenience: The pricing for these wine is really affordable! The basic plan starts from S$79 for 2 bottles and they are delivered from the vineyards to the comfort of my doorstep. Easy!

3- Exclusive Curated Access to vineyard gems: You will hardly find their bottles in Singapore and Asia. These bottles are hand picked by a 3 star Michelin Sommelier in France every month. Tapping  into his access and experience and considering the price you pay as a consumer, it is a real steal!

4- Creating a scaleable Lifestyle & Edutainment Brand: The wine loving community is already a sizeable and growing one in Asian cities. The French Cellar platform will be a good place to round up this audience. I believe there is a market of  at least 1 million wine subscribers out there.

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Caption (from left to right): Vincent Morello, Nicolas Rebut, Eric Joubert and Jackie Lee
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Last but not least, the management team is young and passionate – Vincent Morello, Eric Joubert, Nicolas Rebut and Wang Jin (The French Cellar, China). I get excited by their energy and ideas when we talked about how we could grow the business. Their commitment extended to putting up their own savings  to realise  the potential of their ideas.  

Combining the above, The French Cellar can be potentially disruptive, if not enhancing, to the current way wines are appreciated and sold in Asia.

Rising mass affluence in Asia and growing Luxury aspirants in Asia, especially China and South East Asia, present the right indicators that this concept can scale and take off.

I really love the content, commerce and community angle to The French Cellar.

How your perception of French wine has changed?

After 2 years of subscriptions, through enjoying hundreds of different wine from more than 150 winemakers and through 15 regions, The French Cellar has helped me find enjoyable ways to understand and learn about the French regions and their wines.

I am 100% sure that if I have not been through the discovery journey, I will still be clueless about French wines.
In addition, through attending the many The French Cellar  community outreach activities  like public tasting and  corporate tasting events, I got to know and befriend many like-minded people. The subscription has also enriched my weekends with my family through the enjoying of food pairings and tasting with my parents. I would say such sessions helped me in communicating more with my old folks – talking about wine and life in general!

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Thanks a lot Jackie!

The French Cellar Mini-Interviews available HERE

Subscribe to our Vineyard Gems plan here.

Special Jackie Lee discount

Vineyard Gems $79 per month Pay-as-you-go (No commitment) instead of $99 with the coupon code VGjackie

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