Published on April 3rd, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Vivino Founder Heini Zachariassen On Developing The #1 Wine App & The NBA’s “Secret Wine Society”
Launched in 2011 by San Francisco-via-Denmark resident Heini Zachariassen, many people have referred to the Vivino app as “Shazam for wine.” Aiming to help non-wine experts understand wine, Vivino scans wine menus and labels and immediately gives tasting notes, food pairings, and average retail prices. The world’s largest wine community, Vivino also allows users to purchase wine.
While on-site for the VinExpo at the Javits Center in New York, I had the pleasure of meeting Zachariassen, who gave a talk with the founder of Minibar. Zachiarassen did some Q&A for The Hype Magazine about Vivino’s past, present and future, also explaining how celebrity investor (and NBA legend) Carmelo Anthony came into the fold. More on Vivino can be found at www.vivino.com.
Where did the idea for Vivino come from?
Heini Zachariassen: It happened really organically, to tell you the truth. I was standing in a grocery store staring at a wall of wine one day feeling intimidated and a little clueless and thought to myself, “There has got to be a better way to know which wine is worth buying and perhaps more importantly, which isn’t.” In that moment, I knew we could do something about it, so I got to work in a basement in Copenhagen and eight years ago, Vivino was born.
I understand that Vivino is not the first app you have had success with. How did you wind up in the app development world?
Heini Zachariassen: Vivino was my first app — we launched it just two years after “the app store” was invented — but I have always been entrepreneurial and interested in the tech sector. Prior to starting Vivino, I co-founded several startups, most recently including a global internet and mobile security company called BullGuard. Security is boring though, wine is a lot more fun!
What was your gateway to appreciating wine?
Heini Zachariassen: There wasn’t one defining moment for me, it’s been a build over several years. I didn’t grow up with a lot of wine around me. It slowly grew on me in my twenties and I just got more and more into enjoying a fantastic bottle.
I have heard people describe Vivino as “Shazam for wine.” Do you like that description?
Heini Zachariassen: Sure! I think that’s a good way of looking at it and makes it really easy for people to understand what Vivino is. When you think about it, there are quite a few similarities, Shazam has gone from a tool that let you identify music to one where music can be explored. That’s pretty much the same journey that we’ve taken, as we went from only identifying wine to helping people find and buy their next wine on our marketplace.
Have you ever heard from Jimmy Vivino with regards to your app?
Heini Zachariassen: (laughs) Good one. Not personally, but he must be a big star as we see him a lot on Twitter and Google when we look for stories about Vivino. I look forward to hearing and seeing him someday!
Speaking of notable people, Vivino has some celebrity investors from the NBA. Is that something you can talk about?
Heini Zachariassen: Absolutely. Carmelo Anthony, like a lot of athletes, has gotten into wine and so it wasn’t all that surprising that he wanted to be part of our investor team. These guys really care about and appreciate wine. Carmelo also co-founded a company called Melo7 Tech Partners, which invests in early-stage digital media, consumer internet and technology ventures.
Is it true that there’s a “Secret Wine Society” within the NBA?
Heini Zachariassen: Apparently! We knew that Carmelo and some of his NBA colleagues had been using Vivino, but until an amazing ESPN story by Baxter Holmes ran a few weeks back, we didn’t know how deep it ran and that it was such a big thing with the guys. It was pretty cool to see and we were honored that they mentioned us. We really love making wine fun and easy to learn about. It doesn’t have to be such a serious thing. Just like they love wine I’m a passionate basketball lover, never played myself, but my kids do.
What is coming up for Vivino in the coming months? Any interesting partnerships?
Heini Zachariassen: No partnerships to speak of for the moment, but we are launching our marketplace in Asia for the first time. Hong Kong has become an enormous market for wine and as we continue to build our global marketplace, it’s very much somewhere we want to be.
When not busy with Vivino, how do you like to spend your free time?
Heini Zachariassen: I live in San Francisco with my wife and our three children and I really am a family guy. I love spending time with them exploring the Bay Area. I am also an avid cyclist and ride to work almost daily. The San Francisco hills though, they keep me challenged!
What was the last concert you went to for fun?
Heini Zachariassen: Every time I go to a concert, I enjoy it very much but I sadly haven’t gone to many in the past few years. I’ll tell you about a concert a couple of years ago. One day I received a message that a band from my native Faroe Islands was coming to San Francisco — the metal band Týr was to perform at the Fillmore in San Francisco. I like hard rock, so this music is normally a little bit too much metal for me, but the experience of seeing a band from the Faroe Islands on tour in California was fantastic and they delivered an amazing show, now I am certainly a fan. I also learned a lot that night including that I probably shouldn’t stand in the empty spot in the middle of the floor. A lot can happen if you stand in the middle of the pit!
Finally, Heini, any last words for the kids?
Heini Zachariassen: Regardless of if you want to be an entrepreneur or not, my advice is that you make sure you get experience building something from the ground up. It could be a garden or a book club or a blog, but make sure you build something. Being so vested in a project is very rewarding and I can’t wait to see what companies the youth of today come up with next!