Queen’s alum listed in ‘Forbes 30 under 30’

David Kong talks Somm.ai and his passion for entrepreneurship

Kong’s wine glass company saw million of sales in 2020 despite pandemic.
Credit: 
Supplied by David Kong

“Wine was not one of my interests,” David Kong, Comm ’14, said in an interview with The Journal.

Kong got his start in entrepreneurship during his undergrad. This year, he’s being named one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in the food and drinks industry.

Kong had just turned 19 when he first tried wine at Aqua Terra in Kingston.

“I had half a glass of wine, and I don’t remember if it was good or not.”

In 2020, he quit his position at a hedge fund and founded Somm.ai, as well as a premium hand-blown wine glass company. Kong’s idea was spurred when he was living in New York and saw the fast and endless opportunities to access different kinds of wine.

“In that period of time, I started having business idea—I always had business ideas—but I specifically had business ideas for the wine world.”

Somm.ai is a large database of wine lists that improve on-premises sales. His second idea was creating hand-blown glassware, which sparked when Kong noticed the high prices of an average quality wine glass.

“I was at a New York restaurant with these very nice wine glasses, and I tried to buy them, but they were like $65 each—that’s too expensive.”

Kong started producing affordable and quality wine glasses to provide an alternative.

“I started getting revenue around early 2020. We launched the [wine] glasses around February and March when the pandemic hit.”

While the pandemic brought uncertainty for many businesses, Kong said it boosted his sales more than he anticipated. Somm.ai brought in over a million in sales in 2020.

“What happened in hindsight is that the pandemic helped with home goods as a category,” he said. “Everyone reallocated all their dining-out budget to making their house look nicer and having nice stuff when they eat at home.”

For students interested in entrepreneurship, Kong said dipping toes in the field as early as in university allows students to have space to fail and try again.

“It’s easy to completely screw yourself in entrepreneurship if you don’t do it properly […] that’s why students at Queen’s should think about doing it while at Queen’s.”

During his time at Queen’s, Kong started a calculator business that garnered $10,000 in revenue. In 2014, he then started an exam tutorial business that reached $100,000 in revenue in under a year.

“I think the key with entrepreneurship is to always keep as little on the table as possible and make sure nothing is fatal.”

Kong doesn’t have any regrets about his undergrad years.

“I’m pretty happy and lucky with how things have gone,” he said. “I think I took the right career path. I think I made the right switch.”

Kong concluded the interview by adding that he’s always looking for Queen’s students as interns and offers opportunities to work in technology or the marketing side of his business.

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