Meet the Connoisseurs Behind Vivino’s $221 Million Wine App

Sarah HallamMeet the Team
Vivino App

Scan a picture of a bottle of wine, and it will pop up on the Vivino app with reviews. Courtesy of Vivino.

If you thought you were the only one staring down the bottom of a bottle of wine during quarantine, rest assured, you aren’t alone.

Online wine marketplace Vivino saw a huge uptick in growth this year. The startup nearly doubled its user base, from 29M in 2018 to 50M today. It hit $265M in sales in 2020 and just closed a $155M Series D round led by Swedish-based investment firm Kinnevik, and new investor Sprints Capital. For perspective, this new funding round brought in two times the amount of cash than all its fundraising in the past, bringing its total funding to date to $221 million.

The company hopes to use this major cash infusion to hire more staff, expand its core technology, and build a “Netflix-style” recommendation experience for users.

“Our technology, which is powered by our data, has made users more comfortable buying wine online,” said Courtney Quattrini, Head of Global Communications at Vivino. “So, strengthening our artificial intelligence and building on this technology that has helped more people buy the right wine - that’s first,”

Leading the charge of this multimillion-dollar initiative are co-founders Heini Zachariassen and Theis Søndergaard. Zachariassen oversees commercial operations out of the U.S. office as CEO, and Søndergaard runs all things design, engineering, and tech as Chief Product Officer in Denmark.

Vivino's org chart on The Org

From Brainstorms to Boardrooms

Back when Vivino was started in 2010 by Zachariassen and Søndergaard, there were more than 600 wine apps in the App Store to choose from. Despite never working in the beverage industry before, Zachariassen said that he was intrigued by the idea of starting an online marketplace for wine that was backed by an impressive database. He wanted to help solve an everyday challenge he found himself in when staring at the shelves at the supermarket: which bottle of wine should I buy?

Heini Zachariassen

CEO and co-founder Heini Zachariassen. Courtesy of Vivino.

The two men had just left BullGuard, a cybersecurity company that Søndergaard co-founded, and went all-in on starting their own pocket-sommelier company. The premise behind Vivino is remarkably simple. Scan a bottle of wine with a phone, and it immediately pops up in the app with 1-5 star reviews from other users, a flavor profile, and price information. Users can also buy a bottle of wine straight through the app and have it delivered to your door.

Theis Søndergaard

Chief Product Officer and co-founder Theis Søndergaard. Courtesy of Vivino.

It took about eight years of building up their database until Vivino hit its stride. By 2018, the app had over 20 million reviewed wines and had grown to 33 million users — 20,000 new users every day. That year, Zachariassen made the decision to step down as CEO and hand over the reins to an outside hire. Chris Tsakalakis, the former CEO of Stubhub, was brought in with an impressive resume of growing the largest online ticket marketplace in the world and generating over a billion dollars in sales.

Tsakalakis’ tenure was short, as he left in October 2019 and Zachariassen took back over. In the year and a half he worked as CEO, he was able to nearly double Vivino’s wine sales and raise $9 million in new funding.

Back in the boardroom, Zachariassen’s new goal is to use new investor money to heavily invest in Vivino’s core-technology and recommendation engine. Instead of going off of Vivino’s standard wine rating, he envisions giving users a personalized percent match to how well they would like a wine based on past purchases, flavor profiles, and reviews.

The Village Behind Vivino

Vivino’s hybrid model as a crowdsource reviewing site and eCommerce marketplace feels almost like a Yelp that also lets you buy wine. So it’s no surprise that a lot of top executives at the company have a background working in crowdsourcing apps and e-commerce apps.

Deena Byrne, Senior Director of Global Sponsorships, focuses on Vivino’s sales strategy. The company currently operates in 17 different countries and is continuing to expand. She brings six years of experience working at Yelp where she helped grow sales in European markets and build out its sales team.

Leading the customer relationship management team at Vivino is Jim Connolly. Connolly oversaw CRM Marketing at goPuff — an online snack and alcohol delivery service — for two years before joining Vivino in February 2020. One of the company’s newest hires is Chief Growth Officer Benoit Valle, who joined the team in 2021. Valle previously served as the CEO of WineAccess.com, an online marketplace where customers can choose from a curated list of wines.

Hiring and retaining top talent is a priority for the company moving forward, Quattrini said. Last year, Vivino hired Signe Linneboe as Head of People and Culture to do just that. So far, she’s built out her own People and Culture team in Copenhagen that is working on creating a new organizational structure and recruiting for talent virtually everywhere across the company. Zacharaissen said he hopes to use some of the new investor money to double their staff to 300 people.

Vivino is one of the lucky industries hit by the “right place, right time” aftershocks of the pandemic. E-commerce alcohol sales are only going up, and the industry is estimated to reach $40 billion by 2024. With nearly 13 million wines and over 200,000 winery partners, it’s now one of the largest e-commerce alcohol marketplaces in the world. After shaking up a nearly 6000-year-old industry into a multimillion-dollar online marketplace, if anyone is to get the cliched “disruptive” label as a startup, it’s the team at Vivino.

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