A Year of Reflection for the Passport Apps

It is hard to believe that more than two years ago I walked into a New Jersey winery (Villa Milagro Vineyards, to be exact) without my paper winery passport book. Had my wife not set up the tasting (I’m smart enough to not blame her for the rouge passport book) who knows if Winery Passport would have been born.

I began reflecting on 2015 earlier this month and felt compelled to put some of these thoughts to screen. It’s not for any reason other than perspective. I know how far the passport apps have come since July 2013 (I cringe looking at the first home screen), not just for our amazing users but the wineries and breweries who partner with us. Winery Passport and Brewery Passport have helped improve some of the excitement around those respective industries and I’m proud of that.

Here are a couple of thoughts that come to mind about what happened last year:

1. Mobile is still relatively new to the beer and wine industries. From conversations I’ve had, mobile is eerily similar to how social media was first received. Wineries and breweries had to be educated on the value, and even then and still today, would rather put a dollar into a product some people may never hear of because of a resistance to embrace social media (and now mobile).

Yet, about 60% of digital time spent is on a mobile device, a number that will grow significantly each year. Of that portion, about 90% of the time spent is in apps. The audience is on their smartphones. While the winery or brewery industries may not be the biggest in comparison to others, they’re extremely competitive.

Take a look at this video of the Winery Passport map search near Napa. How do you even begin to decide where to go?

Brand awareness is one of the values of Winery Passport and Brewery Passport. It’s actually the one we started with — helping users navigate the crowded landscape to help them decide where to go. But that was only one dimensional…

2. A lot of the work we did in 2015 had to do with improving pain points for the winery and brewery industries. Two of them were communication and customer relationships. With only about 23% of customers ever leaving an email address during a tasting, that leaves little room for building brand equity post-visit.

In April, knowing that we have 100% of the contact info, we added the ability for wineries to directly message any user who stamped at their winery, or has it on their wishlist. The user would receive a push notification, in-app message (in their Passport Message Center) and (later added) an email. This has been fun to see wineries and breweries use to promote charity events, tasting offers and more.

Then, in July, we unveiled leads, where our users could request to buy wine/beer, book tastings or join a wine/beer club directly from the app. Originally, all of our partners would receive leads for free and those who didn’t partner would have to pay $5/lead. We’ve since made everything free for all wineries and breweries, in an effort to create the best experience for our users and value for the wineries/breweries. There’s still some work, and changes to be made, here though, all of which will take place this year.

3. A lot of the new features, including leads and messaging, came from conversations with wine/beer industry experts who have a ton more knowledge and expertise than I likely ever will. I value these relationships and friendships very highly. These conversations were some of the highlights of my year.

4. Heading into 2015, Winery Passport and Brewery Passport were both separate code bases, which meant updating one and then the other for what amounted to the same changes each time. This wasn’t effeicient by any means. Beginning in January, both apps were completely re-written from the ground up. This made them much faster and stable. There was a lot of behind the scenes work (enough to bore you) that kept me busy through Q1 and continued throughout the year.

What I’m getting at here is a great app is what matters first. Are the apps perfect today? Not even close. But they’re in a much better place than ever before. Every time I go into the code and make an update, whether it’s changing a table or removing a line of code, I get excited to release it to the public. That feeling is derived of knowing this version is better than the last. It’s what our users deserve.

5. What does this all mean for 2016? In my book, I’m already off to a great start. I’ve done more API work than ever before to speed things up. The second version (7.0) of the apps will hit the App Store in late January/early February and I couldn’t be more excited. This upcoming release features one of our most requested features: multi-stamp. Now you’ll be able to stamp your passport at each winery or brewery multiple times. You’ll also be able to assign tasting notes, a rating and photo to each of these visits. While I’ve been impressed with the stamp numbers we’ve garnered over the years, I’ve realized we’ve been capping ourselves since it’s been only one stamp per person per business.

I’ve also been working on an exciting partnership (more coming in the next couple weeks) that should help grow not only the number of wineries we partner, but the amount of brand recognition for Winery Passport in the wine industry.

These were just some top-of-mind thoughts over the last couple weeks. I look forward to all the new relationships these apps help me build this year, the wineries who have supported us and will do so in 2016 and, of course, our users. They’re the most passionate group of individuals I’ve ever met. Their feedback, and helping keep me honest on all listings, is what helps make the apps the best they can be. I’m extremely grateful for every single one of them that takes the time to download, sign up and use the apps. Thank you!

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