PUCRS faculty founded Vivino, the world's most popular wine app
Heini Zachariassen, founder of Vivino, the world’s most downloaded wine app, came to PUCRS on Aug 1st. The Danish entrepreneur is one of California’s leading Silicon Valley visionaries, whose app has been downloaded over 36 million times all over the world. Zachariassen attended the Gramado Summit, a special partnership involving the University, the Science and Technological Park (Tecnopuc) and UOL EdTech.
The visionary’s lecture at PUCRS marked the first class of the course on Digital Mindset and Lean Canvas, offered in the online Certificate program in Digital Transformation and Future of Business. For the first time in Brazil, Zachariassen considers Brazilians to be wine enthusiasts and sees in the country a lot of growth potential. Without ready-made recipes for success, the entrepreneur is assertive: if you want to be successful, you have to be ready to work hard and not give up when times get hard. Check out other pieces of advice he gave in an exclusive interview to PUCRS.
How did you come up with the idea of developing Vivino?
I have never been a wine connoisseur. I’m more technical, maybe I should have pursued a business career, but I’ve always been seen more as an engineer because of my background. My problem was that when I went to the supermarket, there was always a multitude of types of wine on the shelf and I didn’t know what to buy. And I wanted to solve this problem. If I wanted to watch a movie, for example, I could easily check the reviews online, but there were no wine reviews. So, I came with the idea of putting together a database containing evaluations of all types of wine. At first, it was a website. However, as we worked on it, we realized that the idea could be successful and we started designing the app. That is, it all started from a personal problem that I wanted to address.
“We had to build everything from scratch, manually. But, of course, that’s also the reason why no one has done it before.”
What were the biggest challenges you faced while building up your business?
The biggest challenge was undoubtedly having absolutely no data to start with. If you look at our app today, it has a database of over 10 million wines, produced by over 200,000 producers. Until then there was no information about it available online. “We had to build everything from scratch, manually. But of course that’s also the reason why no one has done it before.”
There are more than 36 million users. Why do you think Vivino has become so popular with wine lovers?
I think we got to realize what people wanted quickly. It’s really not that complicated, but it’s difficult to do. When you are in the grocery store you want to know: is this wine good or bad? That is the only thing that matters. So we put in all of our energy to describe it.
“I think we got to realize what people wanted quickly.”
Any advice would you like to have heard when you were starting?
I think one of the most important things for a founder, and which is very true for us, is persistence, because when I’m here, giving this interview or lecturing at a conference, it may seem like our company just worked and it was a super easy thing to do. But the truth of the matter is that did nothing in the first 18 months. You just work hard but not much happens. So, it is essential that you continue trying hard and believe in your business. Go on. Don’t give up.
At Gramado Summit, you talked about the transformation of something traditional into a digital habit. What are your perceptions about the offline becoming online?
We always think that everything goes online automatically and I don’t believe that this is what actually happens. I believe things only become popular online when they are better online. For example, people start buying books online when it is better than buying at bookstores. And it’s not all automatic. So for this transformation to happen, your online product has to be better than the in-store product. We had to learn to sell wines more assertively and attractively than in stores or supermarkets.
“I believe things only become popular online when they are better online.”
What advice would you give our students planning to work with technology and innovation, especially those who draw inspiration in Silicon Valley business?
Many people think that the only way to build a career is by working for a large company, either here in Brazil or abroad. But especially when you are young, when you are about to finish your degree, why not try to run your own business? Try to have something for yourself. I personally find it one of the most rewarding things. Although you never know if its going to work, it will surely be quite a learning experience.
“Try to have something for yourself. “I personally find it one of the most rewarding things. Although you never know if its going to work, it will surely be quite a learning experience”
Do you see an attractive market in Brazil? What do you know about the country’s wine production?
There is a huge niche market here in Brazil. Brazilians still consume more Chilean, Argentinean and Uruguayan wines. However, although the wine industry is not huge in the country, consumption is very high. And the way i see it, it’s getting big. Brazil ranks #2 in the list of countries that download our app the most, with 3.1 million users. The reason for this, in our view, is that besides being a big country, Brazilians are interested in learning more about the subject, and this makes our app very useful. In September, we will launch the online wine purchasing service in Brazil. We are very excited with this huge large audience using Vivino here.
“We want to go beyond ratings and really deliver to our users what’s good for them”
What are the plans for Vivino?
Today, the online shopping service is available in 50 countries and we are getting bigger and bigger. Also, one of the great news is that our app is enjoying great popularity in terms of people’s ratings. “We want to go beyond ratings and really deliver to our users what’s good for them” We want to present the taste of each product and understand each user’s preference and combine them. This has never been done before and we believe we have the data to do this.