If you’ve always found it hard to keep track of your favourite reds and whites, or have always been curious about what fellow connoisseurs are into, Clément Hochart’s got the ideal solution for you. Armed with an immense passion for wine (enough to create a dedicated app for it), the Frenchman has launched Epicurio, a social wine and spirits marketplace.
Clément may have started his career as an engineer, but always felt his calling was in entrepreneurship. As a wine lover, his foray into the industry was only natural and in 2012, he started on an app to help wine lovers on their tasting journey. Today, Clément shows no signs of slowing down — Epicurio now boasts wine news and tasting notes by bloggers and journalists, and even an online wine store. Impressively, it is the only place online where you can find superlative names such as Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet Premiere Cru Embazées, Mongeard-Mugneret, Vougeot Premiere Cru Les Cras and Domaine Henri Boillot Batard-Montrachet. We speak to him about Epicurio, why he chose Singapore and some of his favourite wines.
It took two years for the app to go from an idea to reality. What were the challenges you faced and lessons you’ve learnt in the process?
I was previously an engineer in the steel industry, so Epicurio is not only my first company, but also my first time in the wine or mobile business. It took one year to build the beta version of the app and I realised that it was hard for the business to take off if I’m doing it part-time.
I saw a big growth after Nikhil Gupta joined (Epicurio’s CTO and co-founder) and we launched the app developed by our own team, which he manages. We could adapt to what the market wanted faster than if we worked with external developers. Honestly, Nikhil’s role is key and I feel like Epicurio as it is today would not be possible without his input. He is the architect of our innovations, both on the back-end with systems and the UX (user experience) for anyone using our app.
Actually, it isn’t really about learning lessons but realizing that developing the app is a continuous process and that’s what’s exciting. We keep learning and we keep moving.
We understand you chose to create this app because of your love for wine, what is it about wine that you enjoy so much? Also, why did you choose Singapore to launch this app?
When I was in France about 5 years ago, I used an app called Evernote but it was not very convenient. I really love wine and I used to help friends select wine. Once I even helped a friend select the wine for his big gala dinner. The mystery of wine is something we cannot clearly decipher — there are thousands of factors that go into making a wine tasty. We cannot control these factors so we always learn by experience, and that’s what Epicurio was created to help with.
I’ve always wanted to start a company and wine has always been my passion. The Singapore aspect came later. For Nikhil, he was more of a beer person at the start but now he’s definitely a wine man!
Anyway, from our experience, we realized that Singapore’s industry structure was one that would allow us to test and learn about the app. This would be easier given that the market is not only small, but also has more boutique wines because the tax structure encourages importers to choose quality over quantity. Singapore is also a market onto itself, which is different from Hong Kong because she has a large China market for re-export.
Is there a large local community that is interested in this market? How responsive have people been to using this app?
People have really welcomed the app as a useful innovation because it helps them keep track of their favorite wines, plus they can choose from up to 2,000 boutique wines to purchase from at the best price in the market. However, it was still new and innovative when we introduced it as we were the one and only social marketplace for wine and spirits in Asia. It has always been our plan to have an international presence, and we have since expanded from Singapore to Malaysia, Philippines, Hong Kong and France.
What is the advantage of using this app over going to a physical store, apart from the delivery service provided?
Most of the physical stores in Asia don’t provide the quality of advice that you would perhaps get in France. The app can not only be used as an online delivery service, but also to deliver quality advice that is consistent no matter where you are. The best way to learn about wine is not only to drink it but also to consider what you are drinking. By making notes and uploading a picture of the label, the app is also a good tool to recall what you’ve tasted, and you will realize the commonalities between the wines you consume.
With the app, you also get honest opinions and notes from the rest of the community. They are all actual consumers who provide genuine opinions and are aware of the price they pay for the product. You might even find like-minded wine drinkers that share similar taste profiles.
We’re sure you have a long list of favorites when it comes to wine, but if you could only choose one, which would it be?
I enjoy Rhone Valley, Hermitage, Languedoc, New Zealand pinot noir, Californian Sonoma County, Italian Barolo, New Zealand and Australian riesling…I’ve never asked myself what my favorite wine is – I enjoy diversity!
While Epicurio started out with wine, Champagne and branched out to offer a delivery service, we heard that we can now purchase Whiskies and Spirits as well. Could you tell us more about the selection available?
After discovering more and more whiskies and old spirits I wanted to add a dimension in Epicurio for aged spirits like whisky, brandy, rum and boutique gin. We then got a whisky expert in and started to source for amazing whiskies and aged spirits both locally and from abroad. That was how we started to bring in rare and premium whiskies in Singapore, Hong-Kong and Malaysia.
What is the 1-hour delivery service about and is it available throughout the island?
Thanks to developments from our team and strong partnership with importers we have setup a One Hour Delivery Service Island wise for 300 labels. From 10am to 10pm Monday to Saturdays and on Sunday until 9pm you can get wine to your door within an hour. We have recently reduced our delivery fee so you can get this service now for $15, no matter how many bottles you order.
You were a part of the inaugural SINGAPORE RENDEZVOUS last year. Could you tell us more about your role at the event and what you enjoyed from being a part of the event?
What does Epicurio have in store for us in 2017?
2017 will be the year of growth. We will start having events in Hong-Kong and Malaysia and stronger digital presence. Accelerating growth with 500 Startups VC from US we will get the Industry Experts to help us boost this growth to the exponential level with a big focus on the customer experience, which is our strength today. I want to take this opportunity to thank our customers who sent me congratulatory messages for the accomplishment, services and features of our app.
Are there any plans to expand the business into other parts of the region?
Yes, we have initiated expansions into Hong-Kong, Malaysia and Philippines and we will be boosting those countries by having a dedicated team in each of them starting from the middle of 2017.
Is there a wine trend that sticks out in Singapore? Do Singaporeans have a preference when it comes to the wine that they enjoy?
I would say the most significant observation I made which amuses me is expats drink Champagne while Singaporeans drink Red Wine. Fabulous, probably because expats party and Singaporeans love food for which reds go well with.