It may be hard to believe now, but Dimmi was a hard sell back in 2009. A hard sell to investors, with 37 rejections before Premutico finally got some seed money, and a hard sell to restaurants. Tony Zeiser may not know it but he made history when he booked a table for seven at Bistro Lilly in the Rocks, marking Dimmi and Australia’s first online reservation. Since then Dimmi has clocked up more than 40 million reservations, with 43 per cent of reservations at Dimmi restaurants now made online.
“Those early days were such a tough slog,” says Premutico. “Me with a suitcase that had some PowerPoint drawings in there going out to restaurants and saying ‘if we did this would you give us a go?’. That’s how it started.
“We always knew the consumers were there and we just had to get the restaurants to the table. That’s been hard because 10 years ago restaurants were anti-technology. They hated social media. They just had their traditional ways of running a restaurant. Nobody wanted to change. There was a tipping point two or three years ago and restaurants knew at that point to go online. They had to connect with consumers in the way they wanted to engage with their business. Now we are where we are today with 40 million bookings, doing a million bookings a month.”
‘Dimmi’ means ‘tell me’ in Italian, and Premutico’s passion has always been focused on asking restaurants what he can do to help them make the most of their businesses.
“We knew that if we could get them to the other side we could help them save on labour costs, reduce no-shows, help build a data base that could connect them with their customer, and give them verified feedback from customers to help them improve their business,” he says.
As is the case of many start-ups, early success attracts the big guns, and in 2014 Dimmi secured a milestone partnership deal with Qantas, which would go on to become the fourth biggest provider of restaurant reservations in Australia. This was quickly followed by partnerships with Google, Good Food, TripAdvisor and AMEX to create the Dimmi Booking Network. In 2015, TripAdvisor acquired Dimmi giving the company the capital and support it needed to continue growing.
“I was scared shitless when I sold to them on that fear they would get their claws in and start to take control,” he says. “There are far too many stories of corporations snapping up start-ups and killing their culture, innovation and mojo that made then great in the first place.
“I must say that TripAdvisor to their credit has been a remarkable partner and allowed Dimmi to be what it always was.”
It also gave Premutico something he hadn’t had in eight years – a holiday.
“I drove up to the Central Coast and locked myself away for a few days and wrote about the journey,” he says. “I remember very clearly the first thing I wrote was that I would never do this again. It’s at that point I was close to collapse. The journey had taken a significant toll on me. I had given it everything I had. I wasn’t very healthy, working 18 hour days seven days a week. I thought I could never do a start-up again.”
Now that he has “done what I came to do”, he says he is ready to pass Dimmi on to someone who can take the business to the next level – that being current general manager Jared Chapman, who steps into the CEO role on July 1. So what of the future?
“The one thing I know is I fucking love this industry, it runs deep in my blood,” he says. “I know that technology can be the saviour. These guys [restaurateurs] run in a crazy business and no-one is in it for money, it’s about passion.
“I’d love to come back and do something in this space, but who knows, time will tell. Things have to change and Dimmi was a part of that, but I think there is a bigger something out there that will truly revolutionise the industry.”
Watch this space.