“We probably first had conversations about SevenFifty around 2007 or 2008,” said Aaron Sherman, one of SevenFifty’s co-founding members alongside Gianfranco Verga and Neal Parikh. “When the idea first sprouted up, we kept waiting for somebody else to do it. It seemed so obvious. It seemed so clear that somebody else would do this. I was working as a sommelier and Gianfranco was working in bars. We had no ambition of getting into technology.” Until they met Neal, who had spent time in Silicon Valley, completing his PhD in Computer Science while the company was just getting off the ground.
Coming from different facets of the industry, Gianfranco on the distribution side at Domaine Select, and Aaron in restaurants, including WD-50, they knew what the market was missing. “We were getting frustrated. It seemed so absurd that there just wasn’t a resource that was comprehensive. The point obviously began feeling stranger and stranger as things like Facebook became more mainstream,” said Aaron. “Having a resource that had all the information available was the first key for us. We knew we wanted something that encompassed the whole market. As we looked at more of the applications for technology in the industry it became really exciting because there’s this massively regulated supply chain, three tiers, that had all these communication issues revolving around data, and around the products themselves. So,” he continued, “not only could we pull together the market, with market-level information about products that were available, but also all the richer content around them. We [then] realized it would be something really valuable to all three tiers if we could find a way to centralize that. That’s when the project took on new meaning for all of us.”
When SevenFifty first launched in January 2012, it quickly became the tool that the industry couldn’t live without. As more and more small distributors started populating the city, our access to wine and to knowledge of once obscure regions and varietals was at its peak. From a buyer’s perspective, the centralization of data became a time saving tool. Where else could one craft a list or line the shelves via one-stop comparative shopping? How else could one become instantly aware of all the different wines and spirits that she can access? A sales rep can only carry so much wine in the bag. And because SevenFifty opened their doors to feedback from buyers, sales reps and distributors, the end result is constantly evolving.
“What’s interesting now is how our experience is almost outdated because of what we’ve introduced,” said Aaron. “So, getting feedback from people now that they’re accustomed to using Seven Fifty, [to learn] what the next steps are, and how their processes have changed using SevenFifty and how we can build on top of that.”
Currently active in 30 states, with over 50,000 individual users, SevenFifty had 80-90 portfolios in New York that were up and running within the first eight months. Now they have over 500 listed, each submitting their data in different formats, including labels, tech sheets, pricing, inventory, producers’ stories, and more.
“We knew it would be difficult to pull all of the information together, just the raw end information,” said Aaron, “but we didn’t realize how vastly different each company’s internal data would be. And that’s really the core of what we’ve done. If I have to point to one key attribute of our technology that we’ve built, and the processes that we’ve put into place for being able to do this, it really all evolved around data management and processing because we’re getting 600 different feeds of data, sometimes on a daily basis.”
Amazingly, all of this development was done in house. With a small team of engineers, SevenFifty created its own incredibly complex operating systems for data management and quality control. From this year’s cast of 15 employees, the team expects to double in size as they rise to meet the demands of the market. “We’re looking to bring on more engineers and more people. I think there’s a lot of things that people want and that we should be building, but we just haven’t had the bandwidth to work on, so that’s important to us. And we hate saying no,” he added and laughed.
With customized books now an option, a sales rep can create a list of his French and California Cabernets only, just as a new buyer can access her credit applications on the site. The latest development includes ordering online, a tool that SevenFifty recently released to a few test buyers, that will be available to everyone by the end of this year. “The first handful of people are using it now for feedback,” he said. “We had to design things, so now we need to put it out there to see if we got it right. It’s just a buyer tool to start, and it’s just generating purchase orders. Some of your reps have gotten emails from the system. They’ll just get one of these clean emails that they can submit to the order board. It doesn’t really change your work flow at all.” It’s just faster with fewer errors, allowing both sides more face time. Buyers can spend more time on tasting and educating their staff, while reps can spend more time on the street, developing new relationships and conducting tastings.
On the distributor’s side, as Aaron also added, smaller portfolios get more exposure while the larger books become easier for a buyer to navigate. “It goes back to one of our core values,” he added, “that we want to give people more time to focus on the things that really drive the business.” Which also includes allowing a customer to keep track of the samples that she has tasted with each rep over the last three months.
“It’s actually meaningful to us, because we come from this industry and it’s an amazing thing to think that we’re affecting positive changes for everybody,” said Aaron. “It’s one of those weird things where a third party is really able to add some value. It’s important for us to continue thinking about what we built and how we built things to keep that at our core. I think at least we’ve shown ourselves to be the innovators. That’s the most important thing for us.”