From the Cellr door – there’s no accounting for taste

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Chris Braine of Cellr - photo supplied

As you blissfully swill your West Australian Cab Sav, spare a thought for the restauranteur who has to account for the stuff. A WA startup looks to solve this problem…

Cellr cofounder Chris Braine was pondering one day how high net worths organise their wine cellars. As problems worth solving go, it’s a nice one to have.

“It sat in the back of my mind for about a year and a half until I started to think about automation and commercial wine programs.” Chris told Startup News, “The two of us (he and cofounder Mick Mickel) instantly gelled on the idea and our passion for solving this problem took over.”

Inventory management for restaurants, hotels and wine bars is a problem that causes a lot of headaches, and wastes a lot of time and money. At the moment, every bottle has to accounted for in the end of month stock taking somehow, and the process takes hours and hours of pain staking manual work.

As the Head Sommelier from the State Buildings (in Perth) told Chris once: ‘If you can stop me and my staff pulling our hair out at the end of the month, we’d all be very appreciative.’

The Cellr solution uses RFID – radio frequency identification – technologies (basically a small sticker placed on each bottle) so that any bottle take out of the cellar can be tracked. If it’s sold, this can be tallied with accounts. If one wine is running out, the system knows and orders can be placed. At any moment, the client knows where their wine is, and how much they have of each. End of month reporting becomes far simply as the stock taking is done in real time.

Considering restaurants and hotels have so much money invested in wine, it is incredible that such a system has not been in place before. While point of sale (POS) systems have been around for ages, no one seems to have turned their mind to the wine stock problem.

Global problem

“Globally, we believe there are about 4.8 million target customers (about 30% of all establishments).” Chris told Startup News, “Being a B2B SaaS style solution, our route to market is driven by a modern outbound marketing strategy. We build a list and start calling and emailing the owner, or sommelier. We have a large network in this industry to start our journey in.”

Cellr also works with key wine distributors as a channel to market.

Founder Institute

As the top graduate of Perth’s fifth annual Founder Institute program in 2017, Chris and his team had the Cellr concept put through the mill.

“FI was great for me.” said Chris, “Mick and I set some clear goals before entering the pit and we monitored them throughout to ensure we achieved what we set out to do.

“I can say we achieved them … and some. Topping the class for the 2017 cohort was a real blast for me and I can’t wait to head off to FounderX later this year.

“FI is a good platform for anyone looking to start something. You get good mentoring and the ability to access people that traditionally are very hard to lock down.

“If you are not prepared to put in the actual work, or have a half-baked idea… you will struggle. We had 50(ish) starters in the program and 11 graduates. So be ready!”

While Chris is focussed on the technical side of things as well as sales and marketing, cofounder Mick does operations and finances. They also have a lead developer and a few contractors they can call on when needed.

“We worked directly with a Perth UX Designer to prototype the solution for testing on the market.” said Chris, “Once validated, we moved into a series of agile development sprints. Again, this was all done locally in Australia. Our team is spread between Western Australia and Victoria right now. We’re working with a tech stack made up of an Angular5/Bootstrap/HTML5 front-end, and C# ASP.NET, Web APIs and MS SQL Server back-end. This should keep us relevant and ensure hiring isn’t too much of a mission.”

Cellr dashboards for clients – soon to be used in the field (photo: Cellr.wine)

Coming soon to a restaurant near you

The business is self-funded to date, and is looking to open up a seed round soon. At the moment, the system is in beta testing, with 2 commercial establishments about to push the button on a 3-month trial. Between these two venues, Cellr will be tagging 8,500 bottles of wine.

The business is on the cusp of finding out if the problem they have identified is real, and if their solution solves it. After this, they will find out if users will actually pay them to have this problem solved, and if they have a business. It’s an exciting, if nerve-wracking, time.

What advice does Chris have for people thinking of diving into a startup?

“Validate the #$%^ out of your idea AND business model,” Chris told Startup News, “Not with friends, but the actual market. The quicker you can speak to real customers, the faster you’ll know if they will be prepared to pay you for your product/services.

“This may seem a little scary without an actual product to sell, but trust me, if it is a real problem they want solved … they will pretty quickly build your initial product strategy for you if you listen.”

“Also. Always. Don’t lie to yourself. It is easy to say I’m working on a startup, but if it’s only motion and not progress then you’re dead. Enjoy!”

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For more, go to Cellr.wine