In this edition of Notable People, we delve into the dynamic world of Jennifer Tremblay, the innovative CEO of DINR and founder of Somm. Tremblay is a visionary who has seamlessly blended culinary delight, hospitality, and technology to redefine the dining experience.
Her journey began with a simple idea during the pandemic – to elevate in-home dining experiences. This idea blossomed into Somm, a ‘sommelier in your pocket,’ and later led to the acquisition of DINR, a platform that unlocks same-day reservations at top restaurants. Now, she’s on a mission to create the most trusted platform for culinary and hospitality experiences, and her story is as inspiring as it is delicious. Join us as we explore her journey, her insights into the intersection of technology and hospitality, and her vision for the future of dining.
The Idea Behind Somm and DINR: Can you share the story behind the creation of Somm and the acquisition of DINR and what inspired you to start this journey?
It all started as a passion project in the midst of the pandemic. Somm began as a sommelier in your pocket’ because I thought it’d be fun to elevate people’s in-home experiences with a more intuitive food and wine pairing tool. During covid, we all were all cooking and ordering-in way more than we ever imagined, so I wanted to create something useful that would allow in-home experiences to feel a bit more elevated… and certainly more delicious.
As we continued to speak with various players in the hospitality industry – restaurateurs, hoteliers, wineries, and lifestyle brands, it became increasingly clear that post-covid, the guest experience was going to matter more than ever before. So, we started to build a roadmap around experiences and getting appreciative guests into our partners’ incredible establishments.
This is what also led to the acquisition of DINR – a Montreal-based app that unlocks same-day reservations at the country’s best restaurants. We have the biggest footprint in Toronto and Montreal, but we’re now quickly expanding across Canada before tackling the world 🙂
Now, we’re bringing the two platforms (Somm and DINR) together to create ‘A Concierge in Your Pocket’ – where top-tier dining, hotels, events, and experiences are all highly curated and readily accessible in a single platform. Nothing like this currently exists on the market.
I like to say that now, we’re on a mission to create the most trusted platform in the world for incredible culinary and hospitality experiences, keeping curation and user trust as two of our core pillars.
The Intersection of Culinary, Hospitality, and Technology: You’ve brought innovative technology to the culinary and hospitality industry. Can you elaborate on how technology is transforming these sectors?
We’re bringing innovation in three immediately tangible ways for consumers and the hospitality sector alike:
First, there is no single platform on the market today that is highly curated and actually enjoyable to discover and search. Most of the booking and reservation platforms on the market are mass-market plays, and consumers are ultimately overwhelmed with choices. With us and our platform-agnostic stance, we can pull together the best of the culinary and hospitality market into one app that users actually enjoy engaging with, discovering and using.
Secondly, hospitality partners have a very flexible offering with us. From the design to imagery, the easy ability to post events and experiences that are highly marketed to a targeted audience and cross-sell into Somm, we’ve created more of an ecosystem than the traditional players.
The last one I’ll mention is about consumer behaviour. The vast majority of people don’t have the time, interest or ability to book experiences and reservations months and weeks in advance – it’s not realistic or desirable for most people. In most hospitality verticals, generally speaking, the consumer is penalized by booking closer to their desired date or last minute. Think about it… flight prices go up, hotel prices go up, scalpers buy all the tickets… and the consumer suffers. It goes against the definition of great hospitality, and it doesn’t make sense. In an age where people have to come to expect to do what they want when they want (think about on-demand services like Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime, etc.), hospitality is void of a higher-end solution that suits how people actually behave. So, we’re filling that gap too.
The Future of Somm and DINR: Where do you see Somm and DINR in the next five years? Are there any new features or expansions planned?
Within five years, we plan to be in the best culinary and hospitality cities globally! We have a long list of new features in the works, and we’re also planning to make the app experience more personalized as we grow.
Advice for Entrepreneurs: As a successful entrepreneur yourself, what advice would you give to others who are just starting out on their entrepreneurial journey?
Be ready for a roller coaster and be willing to pivot your thinking towards the path of least resistance. It’s one thing to have a vision and plan, but it’s important to remain flexible, as new opportunities will surface all the time if you keep an open mind.
I’d also say that listening to all feedback is very important but don’t feel compelled to execute it. People love to give opinions, and it’s your job, as a leader, to decide which ones you want to actually follow.
The Role of Somm and DINR in the Culinary and Hospitality Industry: Can you tell us more about how Somm and DINR are enhancing the culinary and hospitality experience for users?
For one thing, we’re bringing an element of trust, curation and design simplicity that isn’t currently on the market. If you didn’t know where to begin in Toronto, Calgary or Montreal, you can easily open up DINR and be confident that every experience is going to be great. No other platform can boast this.
We’re also fun to use. Most of the booking platforms feel like a chore. Our users really enjoy using our platform.
Additionally, we like to make people feel special – like they are getting a bit ‘extra.’ Many of our partners welcome our guests with bubbly or a secret menu, a visit from Chef, or something else that’s unique to the location. Our events are also super fun and engaging – lots of private dining series and opportunities to do things that, as a member of the general public, would be harder to access or just not possible.
We’re also enhancing the culinary experience since our relationship with our partners allows us to post reservations that are often exclusive to us. Landing a table without being trigger-happy three months in advance is often the best perk of all.
Challenges in the Startup Environment: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your journey with Somm and DINR, and how have you overcome them?
Starting a hospitality tech company during the pandemic as a female solo founder was not, and is not, without its challenges. From navigating totally remote work environments – which can be really challenging in a quickly evolving company, to raising money virtually to simply navigating the factual inequities between male and female founders in the investment landscape, there have certainly been plenty of hurdles for us, and me personally, to overcome. As a heads up, ~2-3% of venture financing goes to women, so that’s something that also needs to be faced very head-on and ruthlessly as well. How have I overcome all this? A super lean and high-performance team, a focus on execution and partnerships, and a really close but small network of people I can rely on and get personal support from. There’s a lot of pressure building a business, so surrounding yourself solely with people that are in your corner is really key.
The Personal Cost of Entrepreneurship: Running a startup comes at a personal cost. Can you share more about this aspect of your work?
Well, there’s a financial cost, a time cost and a relationship cost. You need to invest endless hours, weekends, and evenings. You need to recognize that other people really won’t understand why you’re investing so much of your time into something – most people just aren’t wired to work all the time or work that hard. You need to invest as much of your personal capital as possible and recognize this will be a lifestyle tradeoff. You also need to be willing to see your relationships shift too. Your friendships will change as you see who is there for you, believes in you and can be your cheerleader… versus who is skeptical or doesn’t ‘get it.’
You ultimately have to really love what you’re building, and you have to believe in yourself above all else. I approach everything ‘all in,’ and my team, my husband (I am so thankful for his support), my investors and my family will be the first to attest to the personal cost that I’ve committed.
Ultimately though, I am driven to create a tech company that becomes globally recognized and that Canada and Canadians can be really proud of and love personally engaging with. To me, this is worth the cost.
The Recognition from the Industry: You’ve received significant recognition for your work with Somm and DINR. How does this recognition impact your work, and what does it mean to you?
It just makes me want to lean in more and more. It’s an honour, often a bit emotional and usually surreal whenever a new award or list comes out, but the ‘fun’ of the recognition lasts about 5 minutes. Then, it’s back to work.
Lessons Learned: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your journey as the CEO of Somm and DINR?
There are a whole bunch of lessons in the realm of team building… ensuring you have the right people at the right time with the right mindset, attitude and skill set. Knowing what your knowledge gaps are and finding people who share your vision to complement the team. On the product side, I definitely learned the importance of iterating – ‘don’t let perfection stand in the way of good’ – and just getting to market, getting feedback, seeing what sticks and making continual improvements once you’ve launched. This is one area that a lot of tech leaders fail at doing well – holding a new feature or component back because it’s not 100%. The reality is that products and platforms are ever-evolving, so getting comfortable with simply getting to market was something that I enjoyed learning in my role. You have to be more than a little courageous.
Recent Developments: Can you share more about the recent partnership with Softcrush and how it will impact the future of Somm and DINR?
We just launched Canada’s first Non-Alcoholic Beverage Club – “Grand Cru Zero” – a monthly or quarterly subscription that you can sign up for in the app (check it out!). Softcrush manages our procurement and logistics.
As we think about leaning into this lifestyle vertical more and more, it was important that we had a presence in the non-alc space, which is just booming. As for how this impacts the future of our brand, you can expect to see a more diverse product offering so that we are truly inclusive to everyone. This is just one example of that.