How 3 Friends Leveraged the Experience Economy to Create a 7-Figure International Brand

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at Paintvine and how you got started?

My name is Denym Bird, and I, along with Alex Hamilton and Euan Lockie, started Paintvine back in 2017 after we saw a gap in the New Zealand market for creative events, specifically painting and wine classes

Inspired by the growing trend for spending in the experience economy amongst Millennials, we capitalised on the opportunity to create a business focused around hosting micro-events. In particular, we leveraged the virality of its nature to scale it quickly across the nation, and now internationally, with the launch of our UK Painting and wine classes.

What did it take to get up and running? Has that changed since you initially launched?

It took about 2 weeks for us to conceptualise the idea for our painting classes, and another 2 weeks to buy the supplies and organise the venue and artists to host our first event. We put on a bar tab and asked our closest friends and family to join us to experience this new event. 

Our “product” has remained the same fundamentally - a painting and wine class in bars across the nation. What has changed is how we manage those relationships and ensure that the goals of our partners, be it bars, artists or other stakeholders are all aligned with one another.

How did you get your first sale?

With the feedback from our launch event, we had the confidence to set up our Shopify store (took 2 days), put up some events and within a week we had sold them all out exclusively. This was thanks in large part to the word-of-mouth we got from our first event, along with some Facebook ads and a mention in the local ‘What to do This Week’ guide.

What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?

Creating and scaling a brand new business model has a lot of challenges. The nature of our business is many micro-events across many locations. We’re currently running 25 events a week across New Zealand hosting approx 3000+ painters each month - building systems that scale and then measuring each area of the business is a huge challenge. We’ve done this by investing heavily in technology and ensuring we’re using the best tech to measure each part of our business.

What influenced your decision to use Shopify?

The ease of use to get started (as mentioned, it took us only 2 days to officially go live) and the huge ecosystem of apps that have added a tremendous amount of value to our business as we’ve grown. Fomo in particular has doubled our conversion rates by literally creating “fear of missing out” for our events. Privy has blown up our email list to ensure we have a huge captive audience to remarket to each and every week.

What was the process like to get started? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?

Starting a business is no walk in the park, there are hurdles at every step. It was mainly the boring things, like getting trademarks and a good accountant in place before things really took off - because once they do and you don’t have the fundamentals in place - you can be on the hook for some expensive mistakes. For instance, we had to rebrand our business after 1 year into Paintvine because we didn’t trademark our business name prior. That was an expensive lesson!

What Shopify apps do you currently use? Which apps are most important to your business and why? 

Fomo - for creating fomo and driving demand during the engagement 

Privy - for capturing emails that helps us skyrocket our email lists for event remarketing - for easy Shopify accounting, helps us account for the fees automatically in our accounting system saving us hours of admin work each month

MailChimp - for email marketing and automation

What theme did you choose for your site and why?

We got a custom theme built for us as we needed a way to make event discovery super easy for our customers across the nation, and to also make understanding what we do very succinct.

What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow Paintvine?

We’ve been able to distil and define our marketing and growth strategy down into a flywheel that we continue to optimise which aids in speeding up and increasing our growth. 

What is a flywheel (and why does it matter here)? It’s a revolving wheel in a machine that is used to increase a machine’s momentum. After studying HubSpot’s flywheel concept, we were able to apply it using our business as a machine, and the flywheel as the key component to growing it. With the flywheel, we use the momentum of our happy customers to drive referrals and repeat sales for our business.

Our flywheel explained:

It starts with hosting amazing events:

  • We invest in delivering the best events possible that wow our customers. The customer experience is at the core of everything we do. 

  • This manifests itself through investment into hosting the best paint and wine experience possible through thorough artist training, buying high quality materials and getting valuable feedback from our customers on how we can improve each event. 

This then generates word of mouth feedback:

  • When people enjoy themselves, they talk about it with their friends, family members and colleagues. This evangelism is amplified through social media shares on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Even the painting on their wall in itself, regardless of the quality, becomes a talking point. 

  • We measure our event enjoyment and satisfaction through post-event surveys (NPS - Net Promoter Score) to keep on the pulse and actively work to correct issues when we see our NPS decline. We also use positive feedback from our surveys to prompt our users to leave us reviews across Facebook and Google.

The positive reviews and evangelism from our customers generates more awareness for Paintvine:

  • New customers and old start to seek us out and search for us on Google, Facebook and Instagram.

  • We run targeted advertising on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube which is boosted by previous customers tagging friends and family, amplifying our reach throughout their networks. 

  • Press articles of our events from known media outlets and social media influencers with engaged audiences who also attend our events further increase our brand reach

  • This attracts thousands of people to our website every month. We use social proof popups that show real-time purchases on our website to help drive sales, and also use ticket counters on each event showing how many tickets are left to create a sense of urgency for our customers to purchase tickets while they’re still available. 

This feeds into a high demand for ticket sales and our events get sold out each and every week. 

  • With almost all of our events selling out weeks or even months in advance, we’re able to invest our surplus cash into delivering higher quality events each and every week.

At each stage of our flywheel, we optimise it to reduce as much friction as possible. This ensures that it spins as fast as possible. Specifically, we measure:

  • Feedback on an event-by-event level, so we can relay feedback easily, re-train staff or invest in new resources where necessary.

  • Our digital marketing campaigns to ensure they’re encouraging social media shareability and returning a positive ROI on each ad set we run.

  • Our customer experience on-website to maximise our conversion rates from visit to purchase.

What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?

We communicate with our customers on the platforms they live on - Facebook, Instagram and email. We have a strong presence across every platform and have built highly engaging relationships there.

Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?

  • $1,000,000+ in annual revenue

  • 20% return rate

  • Over 400% growth in the past year alone

  • 25+ events a month across 8 cities

  • Now expanding internationally launching Paintvine UK in November.

To what do you attribute those positive metrics?

I don’t believe in luck. Luck to me is the combination of two key things - opportunity and preparedness.

Back in 2017, the opportunity presented itself to create a business that was customer-centric and the experience Alex, Euan and I had in our careers led us to create Paintvine. Our religious focus on crafting a customer experience that wows each and every time in order to drive organic referrals is how we’ve managed to achieve the results above.

What are you working towards now? 

We’re constantly reinventing ourselves and working towards 1) expanding our current fundamental business model of hosting and setting up a network of locations and delivery partners as we have with our UK launch, and 2) inventing new experiences we can deploy through this network, as we have through launching our Glow in the Dark events, and now Watercolour and Wine events.

Are there any blogs or other resources that have been helpful for you?

Seth Godin’s blog is incredible. As is a lot of what Neil Patel, Brian Dean and Larry Lim for technical and non-technical marketing tactics.

Mostly what’s been most helpful to me is the time I’ve spent with our customers to deeply understand why people are buying tickets to our events. That’s helped me define and refine our product to scale well - because if you scale something that’s broken, the cracks will only get bigger as it grows. 

Based on your own success, what advice would you share with others who might be just starting out with Shopify (or with eCommerce in general)? 

Don’t be afraid to fail - it’s the only way to get started most of the time. Hardly anybody hits a home run their first time. What will get you there is a relentless focus on your customers’ needs. You need to understand why they’re buying your product more than they do. Don’t assume the problem you’re solving is something they want solved.

Where can we learn more?

You can find out more about our Paintvine events in NZ here or the UK here, or more about me here.

~ Denym Bird - Co-Founder ~

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