This month ‘Branch Out’ interviews Heini Zachariassen, CEO and Founder of Vivino.com, the world’s largest wine community and most downloaded mobile wine app. An operating entrepreneur who loves building international businesses, he shares his thoughts on the key to buildings a successful business, and what it means to be the leader on that journey.
How was the idea for Vivino born?
When crowd-sourced reviews and the five-star rating system started to gain popularity across industries, I couldn’t understand why the same didn’t exist in the wine industry. Wine critics couldn’t possibly review every wine on the market and even if they could, I wasn’t convinced that consumers who are used to 5 star ratings on everything from books to music to movies to restaurants would relate to the 100-point wine rating system that wasn’t as widely recognized. So in 2010, two years after Apple created the App Store, we built the Vivino App. Simply put, our technology allows users to view crowd-sourced ratings and reviews and input their own ratings for every wine in the world. The Vivino Rating is the first and only wine rating system based on the opinions of wine lovers at every level of expertise.
What were the biggest challenges you faced early on in setting up the business?
People told me the idea of Vivino was too ambitious – especially coming from a country where wine isn’t embedded in our culture the way it is in France or Italy and especially since I do not have previous wine industry experience. People suggested I focus on one region, one wine style or partner exclusively with one wine distributor. However, I wanted to fill a void that was so much greater than that. What I found was that sometimes being naive is a great thing. We didn’t listen to the naysayers or wine region experts and in just six years have built the world’s most popular platform for discovering and purchasing wine.
What are the key elements necessary for taking an idea and turning it into a successful business?
When it comes to building a business, I’ve learned firsthand that a little naiveté goes a long way. Remember that the smartest people aren’t necessarily the most successful in business. In fact, it’s the people who are willing to take chances that move forward. I know plenty of extremely smart people, but it’s the risks that I’ve taken that have enabled Vivino to take off around the world. So go ahead and be bold.
Any good business needs a leader. What type of leader are you?
I think leadership is about creating the right culture and giving people responsibility and letting them make decisions on their own. And of course tracking the hell out of performance. I hope to inspire my team by reinforcing that we cannot be afraid to fail, and that taking risks is necessary in business and in life. I encourage, but don’t micromanage as I surround myself with talented people who I trust to do their jobs, and to do them well.
Describe the perfect Vivino user.
I would say the ideal Vivino user has an inherent curiosity about what they are drinking. Whether it’s in a restaurant, supermarket or their own home, they want to feel confident that they are selecting the best wine for the occasion. They are open-minded to trying new things and new experiences. They are passionate about food and drink and enjoy wine as one of life’s great pleasures. Whether they are experienced wine drinkers and buyers or complete novices, the Vivino audience is looking for advice, education and inspiration about which wine to try next.
20 million users in 6 years. Why do you think Vivino has seen such an incredible up-take amongst wine lovers?
Vivino combats the opaqueness of an often confusing, pretentious and exclusive industry. Whether users are seasoned and knowledgeable wine drinkers or novices, Vivino makes a complex world very simple. That resonates with people and we started Vivino by focusing on the consumer first.
Define your marketing strategy, in a nutshell.
We’re focusing our marketing efforts on being as intuitive as possible based on what we know about our users and potential users to keep them armed with relevant and useful information when and where they need it. In a nutshell, our strategy is to attract new users by showcasing how useful Vivino can be in their everyday wine needs. For our existing 20 million users we add value by delivering timely and relevant reasons to open up and use Vivino. Some examples include: curated wine offers, fun wine content, push notifications, top lists, premier wines based on regions, style, or price, etc.
Do you ever sit back and think: “Wow, I’ve created all of this”?
Every day. We dreamed up the idea for Vivino and built the app from a basement in Copenhagen and we now have 20 million users – that’s big. It’s so humbling today to see and hear how people around the globe are using Vivino to find their next wine.
Your view on South African wines?
It’s exciting to see wine drinkers, especially those here in the United States, taking more of an interest in South African wines. The price to quality ratio of Chenin Blanc coming from South Africa is impressive and with the increasing quality of wines due to the revamping of vineyards and wineries, South African wines are great value today and incredibly accessible for consumers.
Can we expect to see Vivino setting up offices here any time soon?
Right now, we have our largest offices in San Francisco and Copenhagen with regional resources in markets around the world. No plans to build a team in South Africa at the moment, but perhaps down the road!
To download the Vivino app:
Appstore : https://www.vivino.com/redirect/appstore
Playstore : https://www.vivino.com/redirect/play