After a long and successful career in finance and investments, Danielle has worked her way up to being CEO of the global marketplace Sommsation. With her team, they are on a mission to expand minds and palates, by connecting wine enthusiasts directly with wineries and sommeliers for exclusive tastings.
We had the opportunity to sit with her to talk about what it means to provide a great customer experience, how to be an efficient leader, and how to be a composable business that’s willing to take risks in order to evolve with the latest technology innovations and stay best-of-breed.
Let’s start with your career journey: tell us how you came to be where you are today?
I started my career as an auditor and tax consultant with Deloitte. Along the way, I worked for KPMG US and also served as the Chief Technology Officer at St. James, a health and Wellness brand out of the Washington DC area. Before being on the team that founded Sommsation, I worked on the strategy team for Eldridge, a private holding and investment company, with a focus on technology-first companies. I've also been a professor over the years, but overall, I spent most of my career in financial services with a focus on investments and technology. Over time, my interest in technology led me to consistently work with entrepreneurs, and startup investors, and I picked up a real interest in the field. I'm currently the CEO of Sommsation. And because I've done a lot of transformations in my life, I got really interested in the MACH Alliance, for which I’m an ambassador and on the Advisory Board.
How did you find the transition from a BIG 4 environment to a startup?
Investments and financial services are a really fast-paced environment already, so it’s always been the nature of my career, which made the transition fairly easy. I think the biggest learning curve was focusing on a digital-first company, and really thinking about how to serve different types of customers of off a single interface. There’s always that balance of trying to make the consumer’s journey as frictionless as possible, but also trying to share as much about your business as possible.
Evolving with the latest technologies in a business
Tell us more about Sommsation and how you leverage technology in your business
Sommsation is a tech-first business. Our goal is to make it easy for wine lovers to access great limited-production wines from independent wineries. We have winemakers from all over the world, and because we have a direct-to-consumer approach, we had to create our own technology to fulfil customer demand. We’re really focusing on partnering with sommeliers to put their products on our marketplace and then we share that information with customers through a digital storefront. And when customers want to either book experiences or order wine, they do it through our website interface, it’s all automated. And this creates that reach and that access to make it highly scalable.
I have a very holistic view of the business. Sommsation is a marketplace and a prominent wine experience company. But it’s also a place to share the origin of the grape, the story of the winemakers, and of the wine, to bring all of that to wine enthusiasts.
How do you stay current with the latest innovations?
Technology is a function of time, right? It's really easy to not stay current. But that is the basis of our business model, and when we formed the business in 2020, we made it a priority to build the best-in-class technology and make it very modular. So that way, if we are using a technology that becomes outdated, we can change it easily. Our platform is designed to really stay best in class.
What is the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?
Sommsation is a modern take on a really traditional industry, and it takes a long time to get people's attention when you have a sophisticated business model. For example, at Sommsation, we offer different services to multiple constituents, whether that's winemakers, vineyard owners, or farmers. We’re creating a new modern channel. So, I think the biggest challenge is really educating people on all of the value that the business brings in a very concise way.
Being an efficient leader
Let’s talk about being a CEO. How do you define your leadership style?
“We deploy is a “fail fast” mentality.”
My leadership style is really focused on the people process. It's always important for me to put my team members and my people first because, without a strong team, it's really hard to provide a good product. I'm a really hands-on leader. I spend a lot of time talking to my team, looking at analytics and reports and I ask “why” a lot. “Why are we doing this?”, “What was the reason behind this?” etc. I think a big focus of the team right now is on communication and collaboration, and making sure that everyone is set up for success in their own right. I also think that in an early-stage company, one of the main things we deploy is a “fail fast” mentality. It's OK to make mistakes, and it's OK to learn by trying, but it's also important to recognise when things aren't working and fix them fast.
How do you encourage your employees to take risks?
I always talk about calculated risks. There are always risks: the risk of the unknown, the risk of making one decision and being wrong, the risk of customers not liking a new product that you launch… but it’s important to take calculated, and incremental risks. You don’t have to get it all right on the first go, but you should focus on moving the ball forward incrementally. Certain risks can be intimidating, but if you consider carefully the pros and cons and break the process into actionable chunks, you can increase the probability of doing things right. I always talk about “crawl, walk, run”. I think that's a way to help team members get comfortable with taking realistic risks while making sure we don’t waste a lot of our budget for example. Especially when your company is technology-related, there are bound to be risks because you sometimes do things that have never done before.
What do you see in the future of eCommerce and retail?
It moves faster than ever, and consumers really are in the driver’s seat with high expectations. People want convenience, and the best products at their fingertips. There are so many ways that consumers like to shop, but they expect all of it: from a great digital experience to being able to browse the aisles in person. Retail and commerce professionals must be able to read their audience and then deliver in as many ways as the customer wants because if they’re not doing that, someone else likely will.
Danielle’s conference at eCommerce Expo 2023
Tell us more about your eCommerce Expo 2023 speaking session
"Reimagining Customer Experience: How MACH Technology is Taking Digital Customer Engagement to New Levels in the Wine Industry."
When you think about the customer experience, and you think about businesses providing customer experiences, no two businesses, and no two customers are alike. Investing in technology is a big decision for a lot of businesses. But customers’ expectations are so high these days and there are so companies that already provide great digital experiences that it’s crucial to reimagine customer experience. One of the things that MACH focuses on is helping businesses have a composable nature, and making sure they can find the best vendors and partners to help service their organizations, which in turn services their customers. You need great technology for that. MACH pushes you to be agile and nimble, and really gives you all the tools to action changes and stay “best-of-breed.” Sommsation is built completely on MACH principles, and under two years, we have a global reach company that is highly automated. Without the MACH solutions in place, we would have had to build everything in-house which would have taken a lot longer. During the session, we’ll explore solutions to not only provide a great customer experience but to evolve it based on your business decisions.
Don’t miss your chance to see Danielle Diliberti live! Join us at eCommerce Expo 2023!
Your biggest pet peeve as a customer?
Not knowing if or when you can return something.
Your favourite social media platform?
What are your thoughts on AI?
I think it’s still early, but I do think that it's here to stay. I think when used correctly it's a really efficient business tool. But I don't think AI can work on its own, I think it's as good as the humans managing it.
What is your wine of choice?
Teams Meeting or Google Meet?
What is your proudest moment in your career so far?
Launching Sommsation. It really went from a single idea to now a global business.
Where do you find inspiration?
From helping others, quite frankly. Being able to empower someone to get the job done is for me the most interesting thing. And I think now with Sommsation, that part is really interesting because I'm empowering my employees to build things. I'm empowering wine makers to grow their business and I'm empowering sommeliers to have a different way of doing business.
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