From coming up with the idea on a restaurant napkin 10 years ago, Stevan Premutico has decided to step down as CEO of restaurant reservation site Dimmi
Introduction: Founder of Dimmi to step down after 10 years
Ross Greenwood: Welcome back to work, life, money, right around the country. Now, I’ll tell you on this program, we take you on that journey through life with different people, to show you, say for example a sports person, when they retire, how do you know when to retire from sport? Then what do you do afterwards? We’ve done the same thing say with actors, who sometimes try and work right throughout their lives.
We’ve done it with people who say for example might be musicians or dancers, who have similar issues as well. What about if you’ve, at a relatively young age come up with a really good idea? And then as you’re going through your life you discover that well you don’t have that business anymore, maybe you’ve had a great opportunity. My own thing is, if you get an offer for a business big or small, it’s always a good offer.
You never know when to come back because you never know when the next one is going to come. Well let me tell you about Stevan Premutico, who is the founder and chief executive of Dimmi, which is Australia’s leading restaurant reservation website. If you’ve ever gone to a restaurant you go online, more than likely you have used Dimmi services. What happened was he came up with just basically a bit of an idea, but then in 2015, two years ago, TripAdvisor bought this business.
Stevan had set this thing up, as a young boy being there 10 years, guys what do I do now? Let’s find out, he’s on the line. Stevan we appreciate your time.
Interview: Stevan Premutico, founder and chief executive of Dimmi
Stevan Premutico: Ross, good to be here.
Ross Greenwood: Go back to the very start, Dimmi, when you started out, when you first did it, how did you come up with the idea?
Stevan Premutico: Sitting in the UK, in London, sitting in a restaurant was me, a napkin, a glass of wine, and I was writing some thoughts down. I was always passionate about the restaurant industry, and I knew it needed to be changed and disrupted. The idea of Dimmi came about. Its simple goal was to allow Australians to make restaurant reservations online, and to help restaurants run a better business.
Ross Greenwood: Right the time, you’re doodling there on the napkin with a glass of wine in London, what are you doing for job at that time?
Stevan Premutico: I’d just quit, I was working regional director of marketing for Hilton hotels. In London, great job, great career, earning good bit of coin, but I knew there was something bigger and greater out there for me.
Ross Greenwood: Okay, so as you come up with this idea, and you’re looking around the place to see whether there is anything similar emerging in the UK, because often you can bring this stuff to businesses back to Australia from overseas, when you’ve been living there.
Stevan Premutico: The funny thing was, I walked into my boss a guy named Mike Ashton, and I had a chat with him. I said, “Mike, I think Hilton should do this, this and this.” he said, “Steve, you’re right, but this is Hilton and things take time.” It was at that moment I looked at him and I said, “You know what? I don’t want to work in this corporate world. I don’t want to be a number doing nothing.”
I set myself a goal, I quit, even though I didn’t know what I was going to do, I knew I wanted to do a startup. I knew I wanted to do something that was going to have an impact someway.
Ross Greenwood: Have you still got the napkin?
Stevan Premutico: I still got the napkin. [laughs]
Ross Greenwood: You still got the napkin, of course, you still got the napkin. All right, so the business takes off, the brilliance of the business in many ways is it doesn’t require a whole bunch of capital, does it? You could set it up with your own resources to start off with, when it gets bigger it becomes more capital hungry, but is not massive amounts of capital is it?
Stevan Premutico: This is a misconception about tech businesses. People think it’s easy and rosy, and is a big lot of cash at the end. That’s not how startups happen. Its only been the toughest slog of my life the last 10 years. Yes, we raised $15 million over five years.
Ross Greenwood: Where did you get the 15 million from, because lots of other people listening to this will go, “I wouldn’t mind starting up a business.” You’ve had to go literally capping hand, business planning hand, and convince somebody of the [?] merit, you rather selective, haven’t you?
Stevan Premutico: May to 37 knock backs one after the other. I just couldn’t get anybody to give me a dollar. I was in the UK the time the JFC just hit, and going cap, I was just desperate for money. I couldn’t find an investor. I came back to Australia and I gave myself four weeks. I said I’ve to get some money, get it off the ground, otherwise I’ll go and get a job. I was lucky enough to have caught up with a friend. She introduced me to her father and he gave me $300,000, and that was enough for Dimmi to be born.
Ross Greenwood: That’s amazing, so Dimmi takes off, explain the growth of Dimmi to people, just so they get some idea of the skyline obviously, because that goes off the chance.
Stevan Premutico: Very, very slowly.
Ross Greenwood: Slowly?
Stevan Premutico: The past four years have been an amazing ride. The first six years were tough slog, so restaurants are known to be small businesses, computer illiterate and really time and take poll. We were trying to get restaurant operators and owners to change the way they did business, and that was hard. Restaurant by restaurant, owner by owner, so we visited every restaurant owner in the country and we tried to educate them of this thing called online, and this thing called the internet.
Bit by bit we got them, and we got them to see that there was a better way and a smarter way. The first couple of years were really tough, but then something happened, and the online momentum in the restaurant industry happened. We’ve now seated 40 million dinners across the country, and we’re doing a million a month, so yes it happen.
Ross Greenwood: TripAdvisor, which is one of the great travel sites of the world, comes to you in 2015, and ultimately a deal is done. It’s a big deal, $32 million we’re talking about at that stage. It’s a big deal. How did you know how to sell at that time? How did you know there was no bigger and better days ahead of you?
Stevan Premutico: Better, its always hard. We, when I say we, myself and the board, we had, had a number of approaches over the years. The interesting thing at this point was we had three knocks on the door all at the same time. I had to chat with Steve Kaufer the CEO of TripAdvisor, and I just knew what was right. I knew that Dimmi could go and become something bigger and greater in the hands of TripAdvisor, and I knew that honestly, I was exhausted.
I needed to take a slight step up and a slight step back. TripAdvisor was going to give us some capital to grow the business, better than I could ever do on a shoe string that I was trying to man the business.
Ross Greenwood: How old are you now?
Stevan Premutico: 37.
Ross Greenwood: 37, all right. The problem is you’re one day going to be 77, that’s 40 year’s time. How do you know when you’ve got something successful such as this, that you should step away and try something quite different? It’s a bit like the sport’s person retiring, a professional ballet dancer retiring, because you’ve got to know think, hang on, what do I do next with my life? Was that a big thing or not?
Stevan Premutico: That’s a fascinating question. If I think back to the reason why I quit Hilton in the first place, I knew I never wanted to be the guy at 84, sitting on my bed and looking back at my life and saying “I had an idea, I should have done this, or I could have done that.” I knew at that point and at one point when I was unemployed and looking to get Dimmi off the ground, I got offered an opportunity to work for Branson. Branson had always been a mentor, a hero of mine.
I declined that and it was probably the severest decision of my life, but something inside me told me I didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t want to be 84 looking back and saying, I had an idea and I didn’t do it.
Ross Greenwood: Okay, but you went for it with Dimmi, but when you are in Dimmi you must have thought at some stage that was going to be you for the rest of your life.
Stevan Premutico: I thought Dimmi was going to be my life, I always did. I think what’s happened now is I realized over the past year or two years that what I came here to do, my ambition with Dimmi is done.
Ross Greenwood: Okay, so what do you do now?
Stevan Premutico: I’ve made the industry better, so I feel like I’ve accomplished that.
Ross Greenwood: What about you, what do you do?
Stevan Premutico: Honestly I’m about to go and do a three months of body core, and go in to the Camino walk across Spain, because when you do a startup as you know, when you do small business, you go all in. You put your life on hold and you — its not sustainable, its exhausting. I honestly think I was a few months from collapse. I’ll take three months off, I’ll go and live in a desert, go to the Camino and just do nothing for a while.
What’s next? Any entrepreneur and any startup guy, the crazy thing about this people is they only ever think ideas. In the back of my head right now, there is 10, 15, 20 ideas, and to be honest I don’t know what’s next, but what I do know is I want to do a startup. I want to do something that’s going to make an industry, a country, a city, a world slightly better. That’s all I know. Whether it’s in hospitality, whether it’s in travel and leisure, whether it’s in media, I don’t know, but I know it’s going to be tech. I know it’s going to be a tech company. I know it’s going to be something that could be a big purpose. I’m going to take three months off. I’m going to marinate on some of the ideas that are in my head and come back and do something else.
Ross Greenwood: I tell you, it’s a lovely story, there is no doubt but it actually says plenty about the journey. A person who sets up their own business, trying to set up their future as well go through. Even that notion of when to retire comes in to this one as well. Stevan Premutico is the founder and chief executive of Dimmi but not for long because I’m going to say is I think it’s fine. The company is not a bad thing either. Stevan we appreciate your time.
Stevan Premutico: Thank you mate.
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