Napa wine tech startup Pix, founder Paul Mabray sued by former exec over severance pay

A Napa startup that aims to be consumers’ “wine discovery platform” has been sued along with its founder by a former employee over severance pay around the time the company contracted during funding troubles last summer.

Erica Duecy is alleging breach of contract and fraud on how she was let go from Pix last August, according to the complaint filed in Napa County Superior Court on May 30. Duecy claims to be owed $80,000 in back pay.

Paul Mabray started Pix in late 2020 and launched it the following year. The company cut most all its writers and editors in August 2022 after a round of funding didn’t materialize, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Duecy claims that four months of severance compensation “if the venture was unsuccessful” was part of her terms for joining Pix and that Mabray agreed to it, according to the sparse five-page filing. She was “unsure whether she wanted to give up her life and career, in order to accept a position with PIX,” wrote her attorney, Joel Siegal of Oakland-based personal injury law firm Siegal & Richardson, in the complaint.

Duecy took the job at Pix in late 2020 as chief content officer after similar roles at online wine publications VinePair and SevenFifty Daily.

She alleges she hasn’t been paid the severance money and claims she was told Pix was dissolving.

Earlier this year, Duecy co-founded the Business of Drinks consultancy and podcast based in New York.

Mabray declined to comment on the lawsuit, which has a tentative first hearing date of Nov. 9. But he said the company has hardly folded.

“We worked our asses off to get back to where we are,” Mabray told the Business Journal. “My team has been contributing time, money because we believe in Pix so much. Otherwise, we would’ve just let it die when we lost our funding.”

Pix’s unspecified “very small crew” has spent the past eight months honing the business model to be something valuable to the venture’s customers — vintners, winery trade groups and retailers, Mabray said. The customer base now represents about 7,000 wine sellers, up from 4,000 last August, and is growing by 200–300 monthly.

“I think that the market wanted us to be something that we weren't — a customer-delivery tool,” Mabray said. “But we always saw ourselves not only as a utility to the consumer but a utility to the winery and associations, to help them guide their consumers to buy the wine.”

Because of tied-house beverage alcohol law, licensed vintners can’t direct consumers to buy wine at specific retailers, but wineries can direct shoppers to a service like Pix that points them to where they can buy the wine. And wineries can get reporting from Pix on what consumers find on that site and what results from social media advertising.

So since September of last year, Pix’s rebuilding has focused on short- and long-term fixes for the consumer experience on the website (, so visitors can find and discover wines quickly. That’s included using artificial intelligence to consolidate duplicates in Pix’s database of 2.4 million items arising from slight name variations for the same wine (for example, “Martha Stewart chardonnay” for 19 Crimes Martha’s Chard).

The harvest of this work, a customer-focused website portal for vintners and retailers called Pix Business, is set for rollout next week, Mabray said. It is envisioned to provide more robust reporting on consumer behavior.

“This is why retailers love us,” Mabray said, drawing a distinction between brick-and-mortar stores with e-commerce and online-only marketplaces that carry wine. “Marketplaces eat markets. They take your inventory. They present it to the consumer, but they make a percent of the margin and keep the customer ― so you're really not winning. And then someday, they make their own wine.”

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Reach him at or 707-521-4256.

Correction, June 8, 2023: Erica Duecy’s name was misspelled.

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