Cork'd Has Been Acquired

It’s been over a year since Dan Cederholm and I launched Cork’d, and we have some great news to share: Cork’d has been acquired.

The Short Story

Cork’d has been acquired by a newly formed company, helmed by Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV fame. We’re psyched, and this means only great things for Cork’d members. Cork’d will remain a free, member-driven community. Its wine database will increase in a big way, the data will become more accurate, and tons of new features are already being added. In other words, just like before, only better.Here’s Dan Cederholm’s take.

The Long Story

Over the last year, we’ve had a number of offers from companies wanting to either heavily invest in or purchase Cork’d. We got to spend time talking with a few bigger media companies on both coasts. And although we came pretty close a few times, for one reason or another, it just wasn’t the right fit. As it turns out, the perfect place for Cork’d was right there all along, hidden in plain sight.But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Building a Community

Dan and I didn’t build Cork’d with the intention of one day selling it – the idea of making any money from it at all was only ever hinted at, maybe in a best-case scenario. Our hope was that we’d be able to offset hosting costs by selling an ad or two, but actually profiting from the website wasn’t something we’d ever planned on.After all, Cork’d was a niche site, a place for wine lovers who aren’t wine masters to meet and share their wine experiences. Cork’d is a site that an average person can visit to learn a bit about wine, get a recommendation or two, and type up some tasting notes without feeling overwhelmed, out of their depth, or talked-down to.We’d built the site over a few months, working in our spare time during evenings and weekends. We were trying out new techniques, pulling out the stops, seeing what it would be like to create a site that wasn’t driven by client deadlines, statements of work, or contractual obligations. We were building it for fun.Of course we had no idea if Cork’d would ever become something people would actually use. I remember right after launch we agreed that if we had a total of 500 user sign-ups in the next 30 days, the site would be a huge success. As it turned out, we had that many members within the next few hours. Within the week, we had over 5,000 new members. We were amazed as the user base climbed to over 20,000. Our traffic continued to grow. We outgrew our dedicated server. And when Cork’d started appearing at the top of many wine searches on Google, we knew we’d hit on something with a real potential.Sure, I wrote some decent code behind the scenes, but a very big part of the site’s success was due to Dan Cederholm’s amazing branding and design skills. Working with him is always enjoyable, and our two disciplines overlap in a really complimentary way. We share the same thoughts on interactivity and spent a lot of time working together on the usability, the site’s flow, and its overall process. It was really a 50/50 effort, and a whole lot of fun.Because we were building Cork’d for people like us, and because we didn’t have any limitations on what we could and couldn’t do, we could experiment, challenge our notions about convention, and have a good time. If it’s not fun, we used to say, then we won’t do it.People really liked Cork’d, and to our amazement, a community of truly interested and dedicated people had been born. People were adding wines at an incredible rate, over 20,000 wines have been created by members so far. And people were really using the site, keeping track of the wines they had in their cellar, journaling and adding tasting tags. Some people were even having Cork’d parties, using the site as a hub for their tasting notes and recommendations.

With Great Power …

Supporting an audience like this requires a certain level of responsibility. But at the end of a long work day, we didn’t always have the energy or time to roll out the new Cork’d features our members were asking for. We both loved how the community was growing, but keeping up with it was getting tougher all the time.For example, do you know how many separate wine regions there are in Burgundy, let alone France as a whole? Well, neither do we. What had started as a community for average wine enthusiasts had grown into something more, and that was the problem: neither Dan C. nor I are wine experts. As the the community grew, so did the experience level of the audience and with it, their expectations.Dan C. and I were starting to realize that an investment or purchase might be the only way that Cork’d could continue to grow in time with its community.We were approached by a couple of big media companies, a few direct-sale companies out of Napa, and a couple of independents in the Bay Area. What was most important to us was the future of the website. We were concerned about what might become of Cork’d after it was sold. Did they really want to preserve the community, or just transform the website into a giant, gleaming advertisement? That was our biggest worry: we didn’t want Cork’d to become just a marketing vehicle for another site, a giant billboard with no soul and 20,000 disenchanted users. We wanted the opposite of this. We wanted to find a place where Cork’d would continue to grow, where it would become bigger and better than it could with our limited time and knowledge.

Meanwhile, In New Jersey

We sold ads on Cork’d to help offset hosting costs, and later to make a little return on our time investment (we were still putting in a bunch of time, fixing bugs, managing content, and adding features as we could). One of our longest running advertisers was Wine Library TV, Gary Vaynerchuk’s excellent wine videocast. Each month, Gary would call us and buy out the top-spot in the Cork’d sidebar. Behind the scenes, he was always talking about partnering with us, coming up with ways we could enhance Cork’d, tie us in to his huge database of wines and wine labels – he really wanted to see Cork’d succeed.We started to think that maybe Cork’d might fit into the Gary’s family of wine websites. Gary’s enthusiasm for wine is contagious and his experience and knowledge about wine and the wine industry is immense. But he knows how to make it entertaining and fun … the same goals we’d always had for Cork’d.Gary was obviously a huge Cork’d fan and it was clear that he “got” good design. Even better, he was already using Rails to build his newer sites so there wouldn’t be a huge transition … it all seemed to fit so perfectly.

Meet the New Boss, Same As … Well, You Know

So this time, when Gary’s monthly advertising call came in, we started a dialogue about a possible acquisition – would Cork’d fit with his long-range vision for wine online? Would he want to keep it alive, invest his resources into making it better than ever, keep the community alive, never make it into a big billboard, and never sell out our users?His answer was a resounding yes, and so, a few weeks and a few hundred lines of code later (adding some most-requested features was part of the deal), we are incredibly happy to make this announcement.Cork’d couldn’t have found a better home.

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