Today marks Stevan Premutico’s last day at Dimmi, the restaurant-booking platform he built and served as founder and CEO of, from its scribbled inception on a napkin, to fully-fledged startup success, and during its acquisition by TripAdvisor in 2015. “I feel like I have achieved what I ‘came here to do’, and the time is right for me to go to my next thing.” That next thing is not yet clearly defined, though the eternal entrepreneur admits he has a number of ideas on the brew. As expected, walking confidently away from something you love and created wasn’t decided lightly. “Dimmi is my baby, and it always will be, but it’s time to pass it over to someone who can take it to the next level,” says Stevan. “The feeling of leaving it behind is pretty surreal, as I always thought the startup would be part of my life.”
Stevan leaves the business proud of the legacy he’s built and what his team has achieved in a short five years. His most notable achievements include securing more than 4,000 restaurant partnerships across Australia, partner deals with blue-chip brands, such as Google, Qantas and AMEX, and without doubt, the AU$32 million sale to TripAdvisor. “I’m leaving the business in a really good place, and I’ve found the right guy, Jared Chapman, to take it somewhere further. That was the most important bit for me.”
Here, Stevan offers up the key decisions that continued to catapult Dimmi to ever-increasing heights and milestones.
1. Crystallise your “why?”
One of the most important things I learnt along the way was the importance of standing for something bigger than just your idea. It’s so easy for us to get bogged down by the small stuff, the technical stuff, the fire-fighting, but I found that once you crystallise your purpose, it will parachute you to a new level. For example, at Dimmi, it was never about online bookings or reviews or reservations systems – we were here to make the restaurant industry better. We were here to inspire moments in dining rooms across the country that changed lives. From that platform, you can inspire an industry, and, most importantly, you can inspire your team to fight, to believe for something much bigger. We were never here to sell shit, we were here to have an impact on the world – that’s a critical distinction.
2. Creating a great board
I was lucky that I was able to form an amazing board of directors over the years – probably one of the best in the country. I had Cliff Rosenberg (MD of LinkedIn), William Easton (MD of Facebook), Ian Dresner (founder of Rebel Sports), Glen Butler (Macquarie Bank), Chris Chard (Village Roadshow), and Deena Shiff (Telstra). As a sole founder and a founder without track history, I felt like I needed a board to add credibility, trust and experience to Dimmi. Once a month, we would catch up for a board meeting and it was in that two hours that I would get some pearls of wisdom and the perspective that everything was going to be OK. It was so reassuring to know that these guys had my back; that they were on my side. It helped me when I was trying to do affiliate deals with big corporate like Qantas, Google, and Fairfax, and it helped me in the early days when restaurateurs would ask, “Who are you?”
3. Your idea is 1 per cent; the team 99 per cent of the magic
Without doubt, the most important ingredient in our success was the team. Too many of us think that it’s all about the idea – bollocks. I wasn’t the first in Australia with this idea, but perhaps I was the first to find the right team to take it from a napkin to reality. See, Dimmi should never have made it through, the odds against us were too great. The only thing that got us through was a deep conviction from the team that never died – a conviction to make the industry better. Without doubt, it’s the most critical part of the puzzle. Recruiting exceptional talent in the first place and then inspiring them, day in and day out. The thing that scared me the most and, still to this day, the thing that keeps me up at night is complacency. If complacency starts to creep in to your biz, into your team, you’ve gotta kill it. It’s contagious. It’s deadly.
4. Do something you truly believe in
There is this false reality about startups – people think “idea, work my hours, don’t have a boss, exit, make crap loads of money and fortune”. Sorry, that’s not how it goes. Between that idea to exit is a journey that very few of us will be able to bare. It’s a crazy ride. A roller coaster of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. There is no doubt in my mind that you can only make it through that journey if you are doing something that you truly believe in, if you are doing something that has a purpose much bigger than money and fortune. If that’s why you are in it, I just don’t think you will make it to the other side.
5. Find someone that you can call
Throughout the journey, you need someone you can call, someone that you can rely on, someone you can trust. When times get tough, when you run out of money, when you think your business is about to collapse, when you think a competitor is about to squash you, when you lose your best employee, when you just want to throw it all in. Sometimes you need someone to call. I was lucky that my brother Leo was two years ahead of me on the startup journey (he started one of the world’s leading ad agencies – Johannes Leonardo), he was that person for me. When times got tough, when I was about to throw in the towel (every other day), he was that guy. I could call Leo. His advice to me, every time, was go another day. Had it not been for him, I would have thrown in it many years ago.
6. Speed wins, the copycats will come
At Dimmi, we have a catch-cry: “let’s go.” We always knew that the moment we launched, the competitors would copy us. So we knew we had to be the best and we had to go fast. Over the years, they came thick and fast. They were big, so much bigger than us. I will never forget when the first international competitor came and Sam in my team started to cry – “they are big, we are small, they will crush us.” But we had three things on our side that mattered – we had first-mover advantage, we had a team that truly believed in what we did (it wasn’t about the money or the sale), and we were fast and nimble. Despite the fact that the big international guys threw everything at us, they couldn’t touch us. You can’t buy care and you can’t buy relationships. Speed wins. Let’s go.
7. Sticking to our name, dimmi
It took me over a year to crack our name. I just couldn’t find a name that I loved. One day I was sitting in Leichhardt with my sister, and the waiter walked over. My sister said, “Dimmi.” Huh? What does that mean? “It’s ‘tell me’ in Italian,” she said. That was it. That was the vision for Dimmi. I wanted to inspire people and help them find the right restaurant. I loved it. When I took it to the board, they hated it. They wanted something more simple, Book a Table or something that said on the tin what we did. I didn’t concede. I knew that Dimmi needed to become a brand that people connected with, a personality that had character. Dimmi stuck and today I am so grateful that we never gave in. The brand has been a big part of our success.