A Curiosity for Wine and a Fintech Background Helped Power Jennifer Tremblay’s Excellent App
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A Curiosity for Wine and a Fintech Background Helped Power Jennifer Tremblay’s Excellent App

I met Jennifer Tremblay in the depths of a wine cellar in Toronto, at a curated dinner party where boutique Italian wines (like the under-the-radar Timorasso) were paired with a multi-course, chef-prepared meal. As far as nights out go, this one could best be described as tasteful, which is fitting, considering that Tremblay would like her app, Somm, to be “the Spotify of taste.”

Somm is more than just “a wine app” (although, it is that, too). The full suite of features is only available in Canada (for now), but select features (like recommendations and digital cellar management—a.k.a. a fun way to keep track of the wines you have and like, cellar or no cellar) are available to US users. 

Somm will recommend great bottles (from importers and liquor stores alike) and food to enjoy them with. But it will also unlock membership perks (there are two paid tiers) that will get you anything from a free wine tasting at a local winery or a free glass of bubbly at a restaurant to upgrades at hotel stays across North America. 

Still, it all comes back to wine. Tremblay started her career in algorithmic trading at TD Bank before jumping into the world of fintech startups, “there has always been a lot of wine-ing and dining in my work,” she explains. Tremblay didn’t know enough about wine to confidently order from the intimidating leather-bound wine bibles that made frequent appearances at dinner.  “I thought it would be a fun idea to take the Court of Masters sommelier program, not because I wanted to become a sommelier, but to sound a bit more educated when ordering wine and that decision process. There’s so much nuance to it.”

Somm started as a food-and-wine pairing app. “We definitely don’t identify as a wine app today,” says Tremblay, who also acquired DINR, the last-minute reservation app operating in major North American cities.

It’s also a food app that works with hospitality services rather than against them. “The pandemic made restaurants reconsider what their relationship with technology actually is,” says Tremblay, hinting at punitive food delivery tech giants who hurt restaurants as much as they help them get customers. “The app is digital, but the experiences are all physical.” You aren’t meant to spend time with the Somm app, but rather, use it to plan adventures out in the world—from a dinner out to a road trip focused around wine tastings. And in a quasi-post-pandemic world where we’re all yearning to play and experience things again, the appeal should be obvious enough. 

“Hey, this will be a fun, delicious company. Do you want to come help me out with it? And everyone just said yes.”

Somm’s evolution from wine app to full-on hospitality and experiential tool is not one Tremblay says she can even map. “That’s important for startups, your North Star may stay the same, or your grand vision, but as a founder you have to go with the path of least resistance and follow what the market wants. And yet a lot of early-stage teams get that wrong,” she says.

When it came to getting Somm off the ground, Tremblay says her background in finance helped. “From a business perspective, building a pitch deck, creating a financial model, knowing how to speak to investors, ruthlessly prioritize. Those things have all been very helpful." Tremblay’s first funding raise was a friends-and-family round. “It’s what everyone does once their personal capital is tapped out.” Tremblay used a structure from Y Combinator, arguably the number one incubator in the world, the gold standard for how family-and-friend rounds are done. “All your documentation is templated, so it’s easy to go and collect funds.”

After that round, Tremblay went to VC funds for a pre-seed round. “You collect a lot of feedback, it’s not all equal and it’s always personal. In my seat, it’s really hard not to take things personally and have thick enough skin to keep talking to people.” The hardest thing for Tremblay was the fact that being a female tech founder adds a layer of difficulty. “We’ve all seen the baffling figures of how little funding female founders get. It’s really pathetic.” Funding went down in 2021 to just under two percent, but what Tremblay found interesting was that most VCs that say they fund female founders tend to back traditionally woman-centric fields like fertility or jewelry. “It’s almost its own joke,” she adds. 

When it came to addressing Tremblay’s lack of experience in the hospitality or tech space, she filled the gaps with the best names in the biz, from GMs of award-winning restaurants to a designer from Wealthsimple. “There’s a bit of a romanticism around something as simple as, ‘Hey, this will be a fun, delicious company. Do you want to come help me out with it? And everyone just said yes.” 

Earlier this summer, Somm signed a three-year strategic partnership with American Express in Canada, as a loyalty perk to cardholders. “They recognized that we’re a succinct, intuitive app. It’s a great demographic alignment.” Another loyalty company announcement is on the horizon. But the next big thing is to get into select markets in the U.S. by the end of the year. “We have five cities picked out for our first cohort: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, LA and Miami.”

Somm will also release its first private reserve in partnership with a winery in Spain later this summer. “They’re seventh generation winemakers that haven’t left their hamlet outside of Barcelona and the wine is phenomenal.” Plus, the app will continue to get more and more personalized to the user. But matter which way it evolves, the wine reccos aren’t going anywhere—great news for anyone who’s ever stared slack-jawed at a shelf of Côtes du Rhônes with no clue what to grab on their way to a dinner party (what, just me?).

What do you look for in an employee?

“It changes depending on the role of course. But the biggest thing is a willingness to wear whatever hat is necessary and roll with the evolution. The job description you might be hired for may not be the one you have in six months.”

How many unread emails do you have right now?

“Zero. I really try to manage my inbox.” 

How do you unwind after work?

“Un-wine-d, you mean? I make a lot of dad jokes. I have two dogs and the best husband. So we like to go to the beach, get some fresh air, and go for a long walk. I play a lot of tennis. I find it pretty cathartic, because you can’t think about anything else. I play piano as much as I can. And yeah, most of the time we have a glass of wine at the end of the day. Normal things.” 

Who inspires you?

“One tech founder, Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce. He was one of the first people to take action against the gender pay gap. It reminds me to stay cognizant of pay gaps in organizations, which are actually really easy to eliminate. I get really frustrated when I hear a lot of lip service about how ‘it’s a process.’ Just fix it. Also, The female figures in my family, my grandmothers, my mother, my mother-in-law. Very strong, independent women.” 

Best piece of advice?

“You have to ruthlessly prioritize who you spend your time with. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but when you’re working constantly and you have so much pressure and you have to deliver for your team, you need to make sure that you’re surrounding yourself with people in your personal life who are nourishing you. You need to feel like you nourished someone or like someone nourished you.” 

Worst piece of advice?

“When I was working in banks, I was pretty ambitious and I definitely had roles that were ahead of where most people my age were. I remember someone senior to me told me to ‘slow down and wait.’ That never landed with me. Maybe that’s why I ended up in startup land.”

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