This week’s Misfit Entrepreneur is Heini Zachariassen. Heini is the creator and founder of the widely popular app, Vivino, which provides users with any wine's rating, review and average price. It is also the world’s largest wine community, claiming more than 31 million users.
Vivino’s been featured, well, just about everywhere and in every publication from Entrepreneur to Forbes to INC and on and on.
The interesting thing is that Heini started Vivino with no experience at all in the wine business. He has a varied background in software development and mobile innovation and as an entrepreneur, had had success in a few other ventures, but as he says he was a total outsider.
And that is one of the major topics I want to discuss with him today – how being an outsider can actually be the best thing for your business and success.
Heini was born in the Farrow Islands in the North Atlantic. Basically in the middle of nowhere. He grew up there and moved to Denmark when it was time for college. Heini says that he was always entrepreneurial, and his father was a “super-nerd,” so the whole family was into technology.
When he left college, he wanted to start a business. He found success after a few small enterprises with a software security company. The company did well and still exists, but he wanted to create something more fun. So, about 10 years ago, he noticed that there was no way to judge wine. There was no rating, no information, etc. He started building something really for himself and the idea was to create a web-database for wine.
One thing Heini notes is timing. They hit it right on for timing with smart phones coming online and giving people the ability to take a picture of a label and get instant info and a rating. A few years earlier and that would not have been possible, so timing was huge in the success of Vivino.
Talk to us about how being an outsider can help you in succeeding as a business…
- Heini was definitely an outsider.
- The priority was building the solution for the average wine drinker.
- He found that when he talked to people in the industry, they thought alike and were kind of a “herd mentality.”
- He found that what made the product win was creating a product more for the masses and not the connoisseurs.
Talk about launching the product…
- When they launched, there were 600 other wine apps, but more geared to the wine expert.
- Most people are more casual around wine.
- They wanted something that was easy, could help them quickly, and know they are getting a good deal.
- They wanted to find a way to empower people in their ability to choose
Over 30 million users, what can you teach us about how to grow and build an online community?
- There are no silver bullets.
- The Vivino group has been extremely product focused.
- Early on, they released the product quickly, but then really listened to the feedback and actioned it.
- The continuously improved for 2 years.
- Make sure to have your priorities right. Your only priority is getting people to absolutely love your product.
- You must know your core user. You can’t please everyone. So, focus on the core and make them raving fans.
- Keep things simple for people to use and engage your product. You can always add to it, so don’t give too much to start.
What ways did you market and gain visibility as you began to grow?
- One thing that has helped was building the app around something that people are sociable and enjoy – win. It makes it relatable.
- Be careful with spending too much time promoting the product early in the beginning. Pour that energy into the product. Your users will be your best marketers
Are there any mediums that you promote through that work better than others?
- Be humble. Targeting smaller blogs with loyal followers was very helpful for them.
- This works well when you are in niche and can be a big fish in a small pond.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about growing and scaling a business?
- Things change a lot.
- Your role as a founder changes a lot.
- See it as a layer cake
- When you start out, you do everything
- Then you begin to take slices out and give them to others to take one
- Slowly you get to where you are focused on what you are best for in the business
- You will have to hand duties off.
Talk about replacing yourself in the business….
- First you start as a manager as the company grows
- Then you become a leader of leaders
- At some point, you will grow to a point where someone out there will be a better CEO for the future growth of the company.
- You must be willing to let go.
At the 24 min mark, Heini talks about what he looked for when he wanted to replace himself and find a CEO to take the company into the future.
What have you learned from raising capital?
- If you have a free, community-based product, it is very hard to succeed without raising funding vs. a product you may sell business to business.
- Raising money is hard, but the hardest part is building something that millions of people can use.
- There is plenty of money out there, but you must build something that can have a huge footprint and has a path to profitability
- Investors don’t invest in ideas – they care about what you’ve built.
- Many times, your first round will come from your network and people you know.
- Check out Heini’s YouTube channel Raw Startup to hear him talk more about this topic.
Do you have any critical habits that you practice and contribute to your success?
- Sleep and a good rest routine is important.
- Commuting to work on a bike giving exercise, but also shutting out the noise and allows you to think and come up with ideas.
- A lot of successful entrepreneurs that do well have a little bit of insecurity about how they are performing which spurs them to keep over-performing and making sure they are winning. Don’t rest on your achievements.
- Always believe in your luck.
Best Quote: "Always believe in your luck."
Heini's Misfit 3:
- Always build something. When we are building something in our lives – a business, a garden, a relationship, we find purpose and meaning.
- Think big, but start small. Little steps lead to the big picture.
- There are no naysayers unless you choose to hear them and believe them.