In a move that may hit a sweet spot among subscribers in Wisconsin — where 12 of the country’s 20 “drunkest cities in America” are currently located and cheese production topped 3 billion pounds in 2015 — Bright Cellars, a Milwaukee-based startup that sells a subscription monthly wine service targeted toward millennials, is now selling the dairy state’s most famous export.
The Bright Cellars subscription cheese service will work the same way as its wine service. Using members’ answers to a short quiz to form a baseline and a machine-learning algorithm that improves its accuracy regarding users’ preferences as they interact with it over time, Bright Cellars will recommend certain cheeses from around the state to subscribers and send them a personalized cheese box each month.
“We’ve actually been quietly in beta for a few months now,” said Bright Cellars co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Richard Yau. “I think the two biggest things were the wine business has been scaling and growing really quickly and we were thinking, ‘what makes the most sense to pair with wine?’
“Since we relocated from Boston to Milwaukee last year, we were testing other things that go with wine; glasses, corkscrews, things like that. But really, what our members were most interested in was cheese. We expect to do more than $15,000 in cheese sales in November. This is kind of our official roll out.”
Yau, a graduate of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, founded Bright Cellars with classmate Joseph Laurendi in Boston in 2014, but the two moved the company to Milwaukee in 2015 after participating in Milwaukee-based gener8tor‘s Madison accelerator program and receiving funding from CSA Partners, a venture capital fund backed by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.
Bright Cellars raised more than $2 million in seed funding through multiple funding rounds in 2015, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Yau said the company is planning to open another funding round in 2017.
The startup has more than 15,000 subscription members from 46 U.S. states. Its 23 employees are all based in Wisconsin. Of its current employees, 12 attended schools in the University of Wisconsin system, according to the statement.
Bright Cellars had only 1,500 subscribers in May 2015.
“We’re not profitable yet,” Yau said. “Really, the focus on our business is to continue to grow. Wine is still a $35 billion market. Our customer base comes to us through social media and bloggers. We have a very millennial-heavy customer base; the newer wine drinker. that’s where the potential is. It’s kind of this idea that the wine industry is going to go though what the beer industry went through.
“We’re helping millennials learn about wine, try a higher quality product, try wine they wouldn’t otherwise purchase. We’re bullish on growth.”
Two recent UW-Madison graduates, Jared Buckner and Katie Slavin, will lead the implementation of the “Bright Cellars Cheese Experience” service.
“Wisconsin has some of the best cheese in the world — I mean we’re called the Cheeseheads for a reason,” Slavin, manager of cheese operations, said in a statement. “We’re in the perfect place to find the best cheese in the world and deliver it all over the country. We hope to introduce everyone to the world of Wisconsin cheese.”