With hundreds of bottles to choose from, and often little more than a label to go on, liquor stories can be overwhelming for many wine drinkers.
To help people pick out a better vintage, Matthew Protti (’01 BA, Economics) and his high school friend David Gluzman — both wine aficionados — decided to create an online magazine focused on wine and culture. It was meant to be a passion project, not a money-maker, but when readers began asking for wine selections, Protti saw an opportunity. Why not partner with a retailer and ship wine selections to readers? So, about five years ago, they began WineCollective.
The business was ahead of the curve — monthly subscription services hadn’t become popular just yet. Working with a Calgary-based retailer, they began shipping their wine choices within Calgary, then the rest of Alberta, and finally, across Canada. The venture was a success story in itself — it’s now Canada’s most popular monthly wine club — but it was the start of something even bigger.
As the company’s number cruncher, Protti used detailed Excel spreadsheets to keep the financial information in order; there was no off-the-shelf software program to streamline online sales with the company’s bookkeeping. What was available was “old-fashioned and didn’t work for us,” says Protti, “so, we thought we’d raise the money from friends and family and build our own.”
The system they built worked great — so great, in fact, that they decided to bring it to the rest of the wine industry. “Generic e-commerce solutions don’t work in the wine industry because of all the regulations,” Protti explains.
Three years later, their cloud-based e-commerce platform, Blackboxx, is used by customers across Canada, Australia, Asia and Europe. “It’s a huge market,” he says. In a short time, his company has grown to 21 employees and has two Canadian offices (Calgary and Vancouver), as well as one in Australia (Sydney). Currently, WineCollective has six employees in its Calgary office.
In addition to his wine-related ventures, Protti is a partner in Rubicon Analytics, a Calgary-based investment and consultancy serving the energy and IT sectors. He’s also a big supporter of the arts and supports different community organizations (including Calgary’s Pecha Kucha night and the 24-Hour Film Race) by donating wine to silent auctions and hosting wine tastings. “I think it’s important for people in business to consider more than the absolute dollars and cents,” he says. “Arts is a key component.”
Protti says his appreciation for the arts stems from his education at the U of A. Rather than earning a business degree, he opted for an Arts degree (majoring in economics), in the hopes of getting a broader education. “I think it’s made me a more well-rounded thinker, and more lateral in how I think about problems.”
Now, he tries to contribute to arts organizations whenever he can. It’s a perfect pairing, says Protti: “Arts and wine go hand in hand.”