Startup Stories, Alyssa Rapp founder of Bottlenotes

December 1, 2008 - Get free updates of new posts here

If you want to meet a woman who can change the world, then Alyssa Rapp is definitely a top candidate. She has more energy than many women combined and it’s exciting to see her passion for whatever she touches. Okay, this was cheesy enough. I interviewed about her startup Bottlenotes where she talks about the challenges and story of creating an online wine business. Also, read to bottom for great discount code;)

1- How did you get the idea for Bottlenotes?

As a serious wine enthusiast by hobby, I ended up being asked to co-preside over the Stanford Business School wine club. As we tasted more and more wine, I was struck by a few key things: 1) That my extremely well-educated, often well-traveled peers were intimated by wine. I didn’t portend to have all of the answers, but I felt empowered to find them.

[à inspiration behind first launching as a “personalized sommelier service,” one where we continue to serve as a “wine guide” for our clients, as I did as the steward of the wine club. The additional innovation of using proprietary matching technology to make these matches was suggested/inspired by my Stanford GSB colleague/former VC/fellow entrepreneur, Eve Phillips.]

2) How “thirsty” domestic wineries and importers were to market their brands to this “dream target customer” of 20 & 30 something consumers.

[à Bottlenotes today serves as an online wine marketing firm for the brands in our portfolio- where we help these suppliers build out their direct-to-consumer distribution channel by marketing their wines to our wine club members, corporate clients, wine registrants, event attendees, etc]

3) How painful it was to taste more and more wine and try to keep track of what you’d tried on

[-à This inspired the Web 1.0 version of our “My Wine Cellar” technology, which later inspired our Facebook application (now with our 60K users), and has ultimately incarnated into the “My Bottlenotes” platform of the Web “3.0” version of that launches on 11/10.]

2- There is a lot of competition in this space, how do you stand out?

-we are the anti-Costo/the anti-Amazon. Bottlenotes

1) Solely sources wine from boutique & estate suppliers from around the world

2) Serves as the “wine guide” for our clients by becoming their “trusted source” for wine recommendations…and putting users in touch with their friends from whom they can get further “trusted recommendations”

3) We are technically the largest online wine community in America already, and unequivocally the largest online wine community of “Millennail” generation consumers (20’s & 30’s) who on average buy more wine at higher average price points, in higher average quantities, than even the Baby Boomers; and for whom 75% of the time what influences them to buy is what a peer recommends

3- What’s been your market strategy? What’s been the most effective?
Most effective drivers of our growth have been universally online PR. Dedicated emails by Daily Candy, ThrillList, OkDork ;), etc are the largest drivers of growth. Second largest drivers of growth have been strategic partnerships/business development relationships, aka: we integrated our wine registry with, which now drives 25% of our registry traffic.

4- How did you strategize / execute to build out a team and your product?
For the first two years, we had a domestic yet outsourced development team managing our technology development, with me at the helm pinch hitting as the product manager. As of March 2008, we entirely overhauled our technology strategy: I finally hired a phenomenal Technology Director, Kurt Hurtado, to serve as a our lead engineer; he brought in an awesome team of outsourced engineers that we affectionately refer to as the “Men in Minsk” (; Roman Medev is the founder of VRP and he is a phenomenal outsourced technology partner, if any of your readers are in need of recommendations). We also engaged Sequence in San Francisco to lead the charge on a major branding exercise, flushing out the prototypical use cases/target customer profiles, and ultimately, conduct the front-end redesign of the system. While I’ve served as the defacto Product Manager on the redesign initiatives, it has really been a team effort with my business partner, Kim Donaldson, pinch hitting a great deal on the design site, Andy Anderson & Bayard Collins on my operations team shoring up the bench on the operations side in terms of data clean up, transfer, etc, Katherine Mathis pinch hitting on product manging the corporate microsite’s redesign, etc. We’ve had a ball and learned a ton, though the 18 hour days are not a sustainable model for anyone.

(Note to self: next company, raise enough $$ so you can hire a bonafide Product Manager from the get-go. :))

5- What’s the revenue and business model that you can share?
Business Model
• Current Revenue Sources:
• Direct Sales
• Wine Clubs
• Wine Retail
• Indirect Sales (Software Licensing Model)
• Wine Platforms “Powered by Bottlenotes”
• Monetization Strategy for Bottlenotes Community:
• Direct Sales
• Indirect Sales (Software Licensing Model)
• Advertising Revenue via:
• Newsletters
• Tasting Notes
• Before/after Podcasts, Video, etc.

Enter code “okdork” for a discount at Bottlenotes.

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7 responses to “Startup Stories, Alyssa Rapp founder of Bottlenotes

  1. Patrick Jarrett Reply

    It’s interesting to me that Wine has such an online presence. It’s something I personally know very little about, but I am able to see the draw it has online with BottleNotes, Gary V’s podcast, etc.

    I think this is due to several variables, the greatest of which being that it’s a culture. I do my video podcast about a collectible card game, and the competitive players of it treat it like a sport, they train for it and play it endlessly, it’s a culture and not a hobby. Sure some are hobbyists, but the audience which really exists for the online content are more than that. And it’s the same way with wine.

    The internet makes it much easier to let it become more than a hobby and to take part in the culture online. Of which this is a great tool for those people, thus a major key to its success.

    If you can build a business / tool which reaches a rabid fan base, then you’ve already got half the battle in the bag, or bottle as it were.

  2. Small Business Marketing Reply

    Interesting how coming out of a Stanford setting, Alyssa zeroed in on the millenial generation and used the web and some nifty applications to grab there attention and take away some of their “pain”.

    Nice marketing strategy to a market niche that was waiting to be taken advantage of.

  3. Site O Rific Reply

    This is a bit odd. You cannot taste the wine or smell the bouquet. I would still buy the vino from someone loca shopl that I can develop a relationship with. I think these brick and mortar mainstays are inevitable online, but they lack the exciting novelty that fresh online ideas bring. Still, the under 30’s will go for it.

  4. James Reply

    I guess at the end of the way, do something that you have passion in and you can sustain. I believe money itself won’t be doing you good. If you can earn a lot in a business that you don’t have passion in, I believe you’ll for sure close that business down and do something you like.

    Kudos to Alyssa for chasing her passion instead of wealth