Startup Spotlight: Wine geeks toast success of Corkz app

Matt Kowalczyk, left, and Brooks Talley of Corkz hard at work.

On a trip to China two weeks ago, Matt Kowalczyk ordered a top-notch bottle of wine from a fancy restaurant. But when the sommelier arrived with a different 2007 variety, the co-creator of the mobile wine application Corkz sprung into action.

“I laughed, opened Corkz on my phone and showed to him that both wines were indeed good and were for sale in China – however, the price between the years differed in China by $150 wholesale,” recalled Kowalczyk, who ended up receiving a 50 percent discount as a result of the confusion.

That’s the power of Corkz, a mobile app which the upstart says is “like having a sommelier in your pocket.” The $3.99 app — developed three years ago by Kowalczyk, Brooks Talley and Jim Goodman – is getting even better. A new version includes integration with FourSquare, so users can mark where they’ve tasted their favorite wines or see what other friends have liked at that location.

We chatted with Kowalczyk to learn about the company’s key partnership with CellarTracker and their very unique business model.

Explain what you do so our moms can understand it: Our mobile app provides instant access to information about 1,000,000+ wines from over 70,000 producers to help the average consumer become better educated about the wine they are about to enjoy.  Over the last three years our app has become one of the best selling wine apps on iPhone, Android and soon to be Samsung (bada) platforms. Besides simply providing access to information, we also enable users to create and manage their own wine cellar too.

Inspiration hit us when: All three of us are friends and fellow wine geeks. We all have wine cellars and we each utilized Eric LeVine’s web service, CellarTracker, to track and learn about our wine. When the iPhone first came out, we saw a need to consume that information via a mobile device and voila, Corkz was born.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: This has been completely bootstrapped, as we developed this app to fill a void in our own mobile experience. To that extent we haven’t needed funding because Apple has provided us with a lot of love (free marketing) by including us in a television commercial, running a three month advertising campaign in The New York Times and pushing our app in every Apple retail outlet.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Partnering with (Seattle’s) Eric LeVine and CellarTracker. He has been a fantastic partner for us. We’ve also engineered our application so that we can manipulate the user interface without having to redistribute a new version of the app via the app store – that has saved us more than once.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Waiting too long to update and promote the Android version of Corkz

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: None of those guys, really. OK, maybe Jobs — maybe he already is and we don’t know it. But for us, we’ve all been around the block a few times. We just want a slick app that helps us with our wine habit, and to that extent if it helps others too, that’s great.

Our world domination strategy starts when: We won’t dominate the world, we develop wine software. That’s good enough for us and helps us feed our wine addiction problem.

We are truly unique because: We are the only consumer wine app that provides total access to the biggest wine database available – CellarTracker.  We are also probably the only company that trades promotional space for wine. We promote wineries and wine events in exchange for wine, not money. This is truly a labor of love.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Work on what you are passionate about. Solve a problem that is near and dear to your own heart.

Startup Spotlight is an occasional look at a Seattle area statup company. Have an interesting new venture you want spotlighted in GeekWire? Fill out the questions above, send a couple photos of the founder(s) and company logo to tips@geekwire.com. Past profiles can be found here.

  • http://www.mynorthwest.com/category/wine/ Jessica Gottesman

    Love the paper plates.

  • Brian Ratzliff

    I’d lost track of Matt….great to see him doing something that is so much fun.  I’m on the way to the app now, Matt!

  • Wine passion northwest

    I already have cellar tracker on my computer. How do I interface it with Corkz