The Shout Magazine (New Zealand)

Rob Fyfe and Trilogy sisters partner with WineFriend

rsz_1winefriend161128groupportraitsmallExperienced business trio Rob Fyfe, Sarah Wickens (formerly Gibbs) and Catherine de Groot have taken a significant 25% stake in WineFriend, New Zealand’s only personalised online wine retailer.

The move gives WineFriend co-founders Yvonne Lorkin and Debbie Sutton access to some of the country’s most experienced business leaders as well as the capital and expertise to accelerate their growth plans for the company.

Fyfe, former Air New Zealand CEO and current Icebreaker CEO, says he is constantly searching for companies that are based on customer insight and have the opportunity to scale quickly. “Add into the mix four women who I have great respect for and the investment thesis was the most compelling start-up opportunity I have seen in the last few years,” he says.

Gibbs and de Groot are best known for creating Trilogy, the award-winning natural products company, and taking it to a $20m sale to Ecoya in the space of just eight years.

“We were drawn to the WineFriend business model which ignores established conventions in wine retail and looks at it with a fresh perspective,” says Catherine. “The result is a new path to market which inserts real innovation to a tired and tradition-entrenched model.”

WineFriend, a finalist in the 2016 New Zealand Innovation Awards, was launched in October 2015 and is the brainchild of wine expert and Thirsty Work presenter Yvonne Lorkin and wine industry veteran Debbie Sutton.

According to Sutton, the pair quickly realised that access to ‘smart money’ would be key to expanding their loyal customer base which boasts an enviably low churn tracking at around just 2% a month.

“At the end of the day most investment decisions come down to people. With Sarah, Cath and Rob we felt that we had a shared vision for WineFriend but we knew that they would challenge us to think differently,” she says. “As a group they have a similar down-to-earth, pragmatic approach, but they all bring different and complementary skill sets which we can draw on as our business grows.”
“Rob has a proven track record as an innovator in the corporate world and knows how to nurture a company culture based on authenticity and integrity. Sarah and Cath understand the requirements of starting a business from scratch and leveraging a unique proposition to bring it to scale. Together they make a pretty impressive investor team,” says Sutton.

Gibbs says Yvonne and Debbie are expert industry insiders who have cleverly unpicked and re-styled one of New Zealand’s favourite consumer products. “We are thrilled to join them in their drive to invigorate this category. We’ve all been on the WineFriend monthly delivery schedule for some time now and we challenge anyone who signs up not to fall instantly in love, just as we have.”