The problem:
Millennials are not drinking wine

Can we create a solution to help the wine industry on-ramp Millennials?

Experience the Future of Wine with Somm Says

Join the digital revolution and elevate your customer experience. Simply add a QR Code to your bottle to use our free tool designed for wine businesses to attract younger consumers.

Give Your Customers a free Wine Tasting Game

Customers that scan the QR code get access to wine tasting game with an expert. Our game-like features make learning about wine fun and interactive, allowing you to taste and share with friends.

Gather Valuable Tasting Insights

Our tool uses the game data to provides wineries, businesses, and sommeliers with the information they need to better understand and serve the modern wine consumer.

Somm Says is a wine tasting app to help businesses on-ramp Millennials

Somm Says started as a simple idea — to scale and digitize the practice of wine tasting. We wanted to make it easy for people to access a wine tasting with a certified expert. This idea would require two products: one for the “wine taster” and one for the “wine professional,” making it a multi-sided platform.

To make sure we were addressing the right problems, our process was based on regularly testing prototypes in face-to-face sessions with real users.

Research, UI Design, Prototyping, Branding, Built product from zero
Sep 2020 - Oct 2022

I. Research

Identifying the target market

I began by identifying the target market. We specifically targeted the cohort of Millennials that "drink alcohol, but not wine." We believe this cohort is the opportunity for the largest increase in consumption. These are Millennials who decided to stick with other alcoholic options. We used this to recruit people for our alpha test.

Understanding their wine purchasing behavior

The evidence in this dataset indicates that younger consumers have brought back a phenomenon we saw in the 1980s — opening wine only on special occasions or buying it for gifts. This insight provided valuable context for understanding how they might use our product.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research was crucial to the pre-product market fit stage.

Alpha test

After identifying a specific target market, we recruited people in this cohort and conducted an alpha test of an online wine tasting using Google Forms. The objective was to gain qualitative insights and develop provisional personas. This strategy allowed us to simultaneously validate the product concept.

💡 Testers fostered a competitive environment

Based on our observations, we honed in on two main user stories: I want to gain knowledge about wine while drinking it, and I want to compare tasting notes with others.

💡 Instant feedback was well-liked

Many test said they liked finding out if they guessed correctly right away, and as they were tasting it.

💡 Interviewers said that wine is hard to get into

When we asked testers why they choose not to drink wine over other alcohol beverages, they said that wine was too expensive and they didn't understand it. Of those that were interested in getting into wine, all of them didn't know where to begin. Simply going to the store and buying a bottle was difficult.

Insights from the “Wine Professional”

The next challenge was to gather qualitative insights from wine professionals. We conducted interviews and shared wine with sommeliers and other industry professionals to uncover their painpoints. This information was used to develop provisional personas.

I facilitated team workshop exercises to synthesize the insights and key takeaways from the interviews.

💡 Sommeliers struggle with overwhelming amounts of wine tasting journals

During our research, we discovered several challenges faced by sommeliers, including difficulty in tracking customers. However, the main issue was the inability to easily access and reference their wine tasting notes. We leveraged this pain point as motivation to create wine tasting games on our app.

💡 Lack of customer data from one-time sales transactions

This was a noteworthy insight. While e-commerce platforms like Amazon collect vast amounts of data on customer purchasing decisions and browsing history, retail wine businesses and wine consultants have limited access to this information. This is due to the majority of their sales being single-purchase transactions. It would be impractical to gather information from your walk-in customers. We leveraged this pain point as motivation to create wine tasting games on our app.

💡 Walk-in customers prefer to use Vivino than talk to them

The delivery driver can order extra orders of popular items from the restaurant. We can then sell these extra items to users who forgot to pre-order and we can use data to drive sales of limited items using scarcity. This would be a short-term solution that satisfies the user needs while minimizing the business risk created from ordering extra food.

Key Insights to Guide Design

- The "drink alcohol, but not wine" cohort chooses not to drink wine because it's too hard to get into
- This cohort commonly buys wine when going to a party or as a gift
- Sommeliers have piles of wine tasting journals that aren't particularly useful
- Wine businesses do not have a practical way of digitizing their customer base

II. Design

Creating MVP for the wine taster

Armed with insights, we set out to design the first prototypes for the wine taster.

Gamifying the wine tasting experience

Capitalizing on the competitive nature of our alpha testers, we explored ways to make wine tasting more engaging. Through user interviews, we also learned that wine is not easy to get into, so we aimed to add a fun factor to the experience.

Following a series of diagrams, sketches, and wireframes, we arrived at a quiz-style interface that displayed results after each question. This provided users with instant gratification and the opportunity to compare their answers.

We also explored a points, badges, and leaderboard system to test the impact on the competitive atmosphere. However, we decided not to use gamification to encourage excessive drinking.

💡 Prototyping revealed a need for a "Learn More" feature

During our prototyping sessions, we commonly received requests for a "Learn More" feature. Users wanted to learn through hands-on experience but also needed assistance to advance. This supported our insight that wine can be too challenging without education. In response, we created a straightforward "Learn More" button that opens a modal with helpful tips for the users.

Creating MVP for the wine professional

After finalizing the taster MVP, we set out to design the somm MVP. I drew on our insights to guide the design. My process was sketching, wireframing, and prototyping; and I regularly got feedback in each stage to refine our ideas.

Creating a game

Given the overwhelming amount of journals mentioned by sommeliers, we aimed to resolve this issue and provide an added incentive for them to use our app. We created a data visualization of their tasting notes, allowing them to easily reference and utilize their notes. But we also used their notes as the basis for creating our online tasting rooms.

We also focused on digitizing their customer database. Our goal was to provide them with the ability to access their own tasting experiences and those of their clients at any time.

A utility to digitize and scale outreach

To address the issue of limited customer data, we placed a QR code on wine bottles, providing a means for users to download the app and for businesses to expand their reach.

Given that our target market often purchases wine for social gatherings, we believed this to be a valuable opportunity to increase off-premise sales for businesses.

Establishing visual identity

With a need to quickly establish our brand, I approached the task with a focus on balancing modernity and tradition. I conducted research, gathered internal feedback, and explored various ideas to arrive at our final design.

Our interviews with wine tasters and sommeliers revealed instances of discrimination and misuse of power in the industry. I used these insights to drive our brand strategy. As someone with prior experience in the wine industry, I made a conscious effort to keep my personal biases in check.

Using insights to create the logo

Our icon features half-pixelated grapes as a nod to technology. The diverse sizes of the grapes symbolize diversity and we utilized purple and green to represent the colors of red and white grapes.

The circular progress symbol represents our commitment to making the wine tasting experience fun. The goal was to create a unique, non-traditional brand that appeals to the next generation of wine consumers.

Creating key features

During the next 18 months, I worked on a range of features, each of which followed a consistent design process and  user acceptance testing (UAT) for implementation. The end results are reflected below.

It's worth noting that I did not perform extensive testing. With limited capital, stakeholders decided this was a better route than optimizing our current features. We constantly tested prototypes in front of users, used their feedback to iterate and improve the product.

Wine detail pages

Based on feedback from experienced wine tasters, we decided to include more information about the optimal temperature for serving, the recommended decanting time, and the origin of the wine. Sommeliers requested greater visibility and the ability to provide a food pairing recipe with their wine recommendations.

We also incorporated social attributes that appeal to Millennials, such as “sustainable” and “female-winemaker.” Lastly, we added social recommendations from friends.

Business Profile

The introduction of business profile pages allowed users to follow and stay updated on their favorite wine businesses using Somm Says. They could receive notifications when these businesses have new wine offerings available for purchase on the platform.


Studies show that personal recommendations are the number one factor that influences wine purchasing decisions. With this in mind, I aimed to encourage users to connect with friends on the platform in order to increase their access to personalized recommendations. The idea was to create a network effect and enhance the overall user experience.


We made this feature to drive engagement. The aim was to provide valuable information to the users and empower them to make informed decisions about their wine preferences. I put significant effort into designing the discovery process, enabling users to uncover insights using the available data and form their own conclusions on what to try next and what they like.

Guess the price

The Guess the Price feature provided valuable insights into consumer perspectives on value and price. We used the average retail value as a reference and compared it to the consensus guess of the users to generate fascinating data. The downside was the taster would know the actual price of the wine if they purchased it.

Personal recommendations

The Personal Recommendations feature was designed to establish a virtuous cycle of engagement between sommeliers and wine tasters. With this feature, sommeliers have the ability to drive sales and gain insights into a person's wine preferences, while users can receive professional suggestions, just as they would at a traditional wine store. This feature was implemented to enhance the overall user experience and increase the app's value to both groups.

Wine tech sheets

The Wine Tech Sheet feature was introduced to incentivize wine producers to list their products on our platform. It allowed sommeliers to access information about a wine quickly and easily, without the need for googling.

Automated emails

This was a way for us to become revenue positive.

III. Results

Post launch results

Here are results after 12 months post launch.

In the wild

This is how the QR codes are deployed.

Optimizing scan rate

A simple design change had a big impact on scan rates.

A good story

One company in Denver has used our app to create over 1000 games. They were able to generate a 267 unique customers, 90% of them new.

Discovering more data usage

We constantly find new value in our data. We have made a practical way to collect data that is impractical to collect.

Overview of success

Here are the best metrics.


Working in a startup is risky and unpredictable. I loved building something from zero and I hope to get another opportunity to do it again. Here are my learnings after 2 years.

Riskiest Assumption Test

During our testing phase, we received positive feedback from users. However, at a certain point, I began to question the authenticity of these responses. I suspected that the testers were being overly positive because they were receiving free wine. To validate this assumption, we should have conducted a Riskiest Assumption Test (RAT) to determine if people would actually pay for a wine that came with a free tasting experience through our app.

Design System Considerations

In the early stages of the project, I opted to prioritize finding the right product-market fit rather than implementing a design system. This approach allowed for maximum creative freedom, but as the project progressed and new features were added, I became overwhelmed with the backlog of design tasks. Establishing a design system earlier would have set clear constraints, but also limited creativity in the initial stages. I often ponder when I would implement the design system if I could go back in time.

Business vs User Strategy

Initially, our goal was to create a tool for businesses in the wine industry, but many of the businesses we approached were not interested in adopting our solution. This may have been due to their focus on day-to-day operations and a lack of awareness of the challenges facing their industry. In hindsight, I believe that a better approach would have been to prioritize enhancing the consumer experience with wine. By doing so, we could have created a product that businesses would have felt compelled to adopt, similar to how many restaurants are now using delivery platforms like Uber Eats.

Feature Overload

The decision to prioritize the development of multiple features rather than testing and refining existing ones was not mine to make. However, with limited funding, stakeholders prioritized adding new features over refining existing ones. This resulted in a tradeoff in the quality of design in order to meet unrealistic deadlines.

Alcohol Gamification

We chose not to over-gamify the experience of using our app as a means to drive engagement. While this type of design can increase daily active users (DAU), it would have been unethical to encourage excessive wine consumption.

Working in a small team

It's impossible for the human language to describe how much I loved working with my team and founder. The most important takeaway I have is that being a team player is critical to success. Even though we had disagreements, we always supported each other on the journey.

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