CellWine: Two Taiwanese entrepreneurs use IoT & Blockchain Technology to build the first “Personal Wine Assistant App” for wine lovers

When it comes to wine, this can mean lots of different things: learn more about wine, help you choose better wine, record your tasting experiences, get a better deal for your plonk, find expert ratings, or pick the best vintage.
CellWine is a taiwan-based startup that develops wine management software and provides wine storage and marketplace services. Since the App was launched in June 2017, it has attracted over 100K downloads, with over 10K MAU. 
In a recent interview, Mario and Eric from CellWine shared their 3-year founding journey and how IoT and Blockchain are helping their company offer a complete wine experience for all the wine lovers, collectors, enthusiasts, and explorers.
Tell us about CellWine founding journey and how did you guys get started?
I was running a PR & Marketing agency for about 20 years, serving clients such as P&G, SONY and the like. In 2016, my agency was acquired by an advertising company. Then I started to think about my next step. My passion for wine lasts over 15 years. It all started with a comic book named “The Drops of God”, a Japanese manga series about wine. For the past 15 years, I collected 500+ bottles of wine, as my collection grew faster, I had been wondering “Why there’s no solution for such wine lover like me to organize my collection?”
Then CellWine came up – I partnered with Eric and built up the CellWine platform, which enables wine lovers to recognize, track, manage, share, exchange and even trade their wine with each other.
Eric:  Before CellWine, I had been working on software solutions and digital marketing. I met Mario when I was looking for a new career path. I was not used to be a professional drinker, yet I believe wine is a good “language” for Taiwan to disrupt the international market. The market is truly huge – as the number of bottles are produced faster than we consume, wine is indeed in need of being well arranged and managed, but there’s no solution to resolve this pain point. Therefore, the “management system” especially for “wine” came to our mind.
Among other popular wine apps such as Vivino, Decanter, VinoCell, etc, what makes CellWine stand out from other competitors?
“We are not making A Google for wine, but an End-to-End Wine Management System.”
1200,000 Wine Database & 7 available languages
Eric: It took us half a year to build a solid wine database and collect wine price on the market, because you know now, there is no central database for wine valuation. So far, we already have 1200,000 kinds of wine in our database ; Meanwhile, we’re also the top 5 wine management app in the world with 120,000 active users in Taiwan, Korea, followed by France, Italy and Canada.
O2O Mini Wine Cellar Service
Mario: In June, we launched an exclusive “on-demand cellar service” for members. You may have a space exclusively for your beloved wine by spending only NTD$12/bottle for a month. 
The amount of collection of CellWine users is about 50 bottles on average, and most of the users are at the age between 30-40. In the past, there’s no ideal solution for this kind of wine collectors. You can only buy a wine fridge at home or rent a wine cellar outside with other people. (Each wine cellar may accommodate up to 120 bottles at a time.) Being an amateur wine collector is too costly, that’s the main motivation of how mini wine cellar idea came up.
We have already received more than 500 bottles since June while the service first launched, and the market price for those wines now hits more than NTD$5M!
Rethinking IoT-enabled Wine Cellar as a “Wine Bank”
Mario: With this O2O service, we aim to build a “Wine bank”. Wine is not only a consumer goods, in contrast, it might be an investment that you may collect, exchange and trade. We provide a well-organized platform and high-quality control process powerd by IoT device, to keep track of wine’s maturity, humidity and overall status, as to make sure they’re all “taken good care of.” In the future, we hope to offer C2C solution, which allows users to not only manage their own collection, but also buy and sell wine on CellWine.
“Generally, we regard wine as an investment, instead of consumer goods.”
Use Blockchain to track wine valuation and storage status
Eric: One of the biggest steps of technology is that we started to incorporate Blockchain to optimize our marketplace service. Storage of wine is an important consideration for wine which is being kept for long-term aging. While wines come into CellWine Cellar, each of them would have a unique QR Code.The storage environment will be well-tracked in the blockchain as to provide a credible database. So in the future, when there is a transaction/exchange between two parties, they will know the light, temperature and humidity status during this period. We also divided storage environment into A grade (professional wine cellar), B grade (At-home based wine cellar) & C grade (not sure of the past storage environment) for user’s reference.
As a Taiwan-based startup, what are the strengths & obstacles by starting in Taiwan and compete on a global scale in your vertical?
Mario:  There is no doubt that Taiwan is famous for competitive engineering & computer science talents. In the past, Taiwan was famous for OEM & ODM service. And now, we have a robust innovative industry to leverage tons of bold ideas, creating a perfect environment for entrepreneurs who have a desire to start up their businesses.
Eric: I would say Taiwan is a good testbed to explore Asian market. First of all, we have a mature startup ecosystem which allows entrepreneurs to testify any idea. In addition, Taiwan is the heart of Asia. Geographically, you can easily go to every market nearby such as Japan, Korea or South East Asia market. One of the biggest challenges that we face is that the investment environment is not that active. The fund size in Taiwan is relatively small compared to China, Korea and Thailand. It might be the largest pitfall for some startups wanting to expand to global market but lack of funds in the meantime.
Just out of curiosity, could you tell us more about your global expansion plan?
Mario: We notice that there’s growing need for wine management solution in some countries such as Korea, Japan and Thailand.
In some big cities like Seoul and Tokyo, they encounter common difficulty due to limited storage space. Among 120,000 users on CellWine, more than 15% of them are from Korea.
We have nearly 20,000 Korean users second only to Taiwan. That’s why they become our target market now.
While looking back, what advice would you give to younger yourself 3 years ago while first starting up?
Eric: I would have told myself: “Before get hands-on, go understand the field that you gonna dive into.” I’d spend 3-6 months getting to know the wine instead of just prototyping it. With comprehensive knowledge, you will know more about the pain points and user’s map. On the contrary, when you don’t understand the field, you would only see the superficial things. However, every field has a deep know-how and insights. That’s why domain-knowledge is essential.
I feel like the whole founding journey starting from 2016 is like a bottle of Bourgundy. It tastes sour in the beginning, but as time goes by, the flavor will get bitter-sweet.
Before starting up a business, I think it’s important to ask yourself: “Are you passionate enough for what you’re going to do?” Taking myself as an example, my passion for the industry and the pain points I’d like to solve drives me to go further. Thus, I believe before asking yourself “How to do it?”, try to think about “Why I’m doing this.”
CellWine’s next step?
If wine cellars (more than 1,000 bottles) want to upgrade their services, we’re happy to work with them and also explore more B2B solution with all the stakeholders.
We aim to build more solid and credible wine database and to acquire more app users. As the first and only SaaS company with informative and complete wine management, we are proud to have high retention rate: more than 50% of users buy our cellar service more than three times. By word of mouth, we gradually build trust among wine collectors and keep attracting new users. Hope we can expand to other Asian markets based on this achievement in the near future!
CellWine is part of Starting Lineup X, a free membership program empowering startups to reach their full potential and get access to a great variety of resources here at Taiwan Startup Stadium. We currently serve 150+ startup members, ranging from bootstrapping to Series B, from AR/VR, SaaS, AI, to Fintech, IoT and more. We work with 100+ mentors and 500+ investors globally, as well as 20+ accelerators such as TechStars, SparkLabs Taipei and AppWorks and 30+ corporates including Google, KPMG and the like.
Visit HERE to learn more!
About the Author
Taiwan Startup Stadium is a leading startup ecosystem builder in Taiwan. With our comprehensive global resources, we aim to build a “one alliance, one platform, one academy” mindset to serve startups, investors, and corporations throughout Asia. Aside from leveraging a broad network of ecosystem players, we also provide solid coaching programs through extensive bootcamps and workshops designed to empower entrepreneurs to grow and succeed in their startup journey.
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