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Heini Zachariassen of Vivino: “Just do it”

We think the 338B dollars global wine industry is ripe for disruption. Unlike books, music, and movies, and similar to food and grocery, the online wine market is unconquered. Vivino is a game-changer and at the forefront of this space with our marketplace model. Online wine sales equal 10 billion dollars today but online penetration […]

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We think the 338B dollars global wine industry is ripe for disruption. Unlike books, music, and movies, and similar to food and grocery, the online wine market is unconquered. Vivino is a game-changer and at the forefront of this space with our marketplace model. Online wine sales equal 10 billion dollars today but online penetration is still small at only 3%. Vivino is taking advantage of this growth opportunity by connecting people with wine they really want to buy and making it easy to do so in a few taps.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heini Zachariassen, the founder and CEO of Vivino, the world’s most popular wine app. With 46 million global users, Vivino is on a mission to democratize wine. Vivino is 100 times bigger than its nearest competitor, has a monthly active user base on par with some of the largest food delivery platforms like DoorDash, GrubHub and Postmates and is transforming a 328B dollars industry by building what NBA star Kevin Love and many others have called, “The Netflix of Wine.” With over 131 million dollars in wine sales in 2019 and a 100% average annual growth rate over the last six years, Heini continues to drive Vivino’s global expansion. Having co-founded several startups, including antivirus software company BullGuard, Heini has a varied background in software development and mobile innovation and a track record for building successful global businesses.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have always been obsessed with building things, and, if I’m honest, disrupting things. And that is exactly what we’re doing here and this is an industry that is ready for disruption. As for me, personally, it started when I was young with Legos and I tend to see challenges and then opportunities in many places. When I realized many years ago that there was no easy way to figure out which wine was good to buy and which to leave on the shelf, I had this idea for an app that was like an IBMD for wines that I started to get really excited about. The wine industry is old and complex and was ripe for disruption and democratization — I loved that. However, we were outsiders to the wine industry — and being outsiders is truly why I believe Vivino is such a success. A guy that is really into wine doesn’t understand why other people aren’t. We saw a lot of products out there built by people who are super passionate and knowledgeable about wine — but most people aren’t. I wanted to build a product for the “everyday” wine drinker. I understood that feeling of facing the wall of wine in a supermarket, I could understand that anxiety, and we wanted to help solve that problem.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

We think the 338B dollars global wine industry is ripe for disruption. Unlike books, music, and movies, and similar to food and grocery, the online wine market is unconquered. Vivino is a game-changer and at the forefront of this space with our marketplace model. Online wine sales equal 10 billion dollars today but online penetration is still small at only 3%. Vivino is taking advantage of this growth opportunity by connecting people with wine they really want to buy and making it easy to do so in a few taps.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I have a good one for you but hear it in the context of the simple promise we make to our users to provide them with good information to choose better wine. Okay, in the early days, we used the slogan, “Never Drink Another Bad Wine.” The slogan was used everywhere including boxes that wine was shipped in. We loved the slogan until one day we got an e-mail from a user with a picture of a box of wine bought through Vivino. The shipping company had put a label on top of half the slogan so it said: “Another Bad Wine” with a beautiful Vivino logo right under it. We changed our slogan that day.

Here is the picture:

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

This may not be the popular thing to say, but I have never really had just one mentor. There have been so many people that I’ve learned so many things from along this journey of life. One of my lessons is that if someone is exceptionally good at something they’re usually pretty flawed at something else and so I’ve always felt that the best thing is to learn many different things from many different people.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I think it is very important that the overall objective is good; that a disruptor must want to make things better, to make the world a better place in some small or even big way. It’s about solving problems. In our case, it is all about helping people drink better wine. Not everyone is aligned with that (maybe you make a lot of money selling cheap wine at a high price), but we want to change that, disrupt it so that people can see that this is a low-quality wine. I do think that makes the world a better place in its own small way. Don’t just break something because of ego, make sure there is a product-market fit for it.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Just do it.

When I was younger, I was extremely careful and it took me a long time to figure out what that age-old Nike slogan actually meant. Don’t overthink things. My father is a statistician and obviously you can take a calculated risk after having looked carefully at the data. But that is just not how you do things in a Startup — you have to take chances with limited data.

In my experience, a lot of very smart people can sometimes overanalyze, to the point where it holds them back. It’s easy to keep thinking, “There are so many reasons this can fail.”

There are always going to be a thousand reasons for things to fail, but sometimes you just have to ignore them and go for it. I like to think to myself, if not now, when?

If you think about Vivino, there were 600 wine apps out there when we launched, and the most likely outcome was that we were going to fail. So don’t overthink it, just do it.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

95% of user growth has been organic, without paid marketing. We rely mainly on building a great product that users are excited to tell their friends, or whoever they’re splitting a bottle with about. We constantly update the product based on what our users want and need from us.

We are also a leader in wine SEO. We just have a lot of content that is hard to find anywhere else. Through performance channels — both paid social and affiliate partnerships, we work to inform the users, who love Vivino as a discovery product, that buying and receiving wine right to their door is simple. We also partner with eCommerce partners, leading wine bloggers, and writers.

We are also increasingly focused on better user segmentation — putting the right wines in front of audiences that will resonate with them. No one can do this the way we can in the wine space. That’s our secret sauce, it’s all about the data we get from the community.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

By getting more and more personal. I will explain what that means. Soon, we will introduce a “match percentage” feature, which we are really excited about. Instead of just using the Vivino Rating, now each user will see a customized match percentage per wine that is unique to them. This is how we are taking data to the next level. Wine is subjective and the more we know about your taste, the more we can help you find one you will really enjoy. But it is not only about the tech because we need community data, too. It’s the perfect marriage of technology and human behavior in my eyes. There is some other stuff in the works, but of course, I can’t tell you about that yet. (I am smiling!)

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I love Richard Branson’s book, “Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way.” It really comes back to the just do it mentality. Branson talks about a lot of mistakes he has made in that book, and some decisions that in hindsight look like poor decisions. That is when I realized that you have to take risks and make mistakes.

Sometimes they will turn out to be bad decisions, but rather make some mistakes than do nothing. I came to the realization reading that book that there were no perfect decisions it was more a question of doing something with what you have — just do it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’m not sure there is a specific quote, but there is this thing called the regret minimization framework. Jeff Bezos has been a proponent of it. It means I don’t want to have regrets about things I didn’t do. I’m not going to sit there with my grandkids on my lap and tell them about all the chances I had that I did not take. I want to minimize regret and make hard decisions to see and experience more in life.

It was a very hard decision to move the family to the US from Copenhagen to grow Vivino, a life-changing decision for my whole family as an example. The easy decision would have been not to do it, but that would have been a regret later in life, I would always have been wondering what could have been…

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think it would have to be some type of truth movement — to use truth in all matters of life. An example of this is to do more to make the information we share more data and science-based. I think human nature can lead us to make poor choices with our resources because of what we are afraid of, rather than the things that actually hurt us. Start with the truth based on data and then let’s talk about what really matters and impacts lives.

How can our readers follow you online?

I have a YouTube Series called Raw Startup and am also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and would love to hear from folks there. I also just had a documentary released that tells the story about mine and Vivino’s journey that is on Amazon, called Disrupting Wine — The Life of an Entrepreneur for anyone who may want to check that out.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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