Seattle-based wine entrepreneur Danni Lin, founder, and CEO of Great Wine, Inc. wants to start a new conversation about wine. More specifically, she wants to know, “What’s your vinotype?”
The former Microsoft data scientist is blending taste with tech and aims to prove it’s the perfect pairing.
Lin launched Great Wine, Inc. in 2015 to produce wine and start unconventional conversations about wine and a person’s wine character or “vinotype.” For many clients, “making a choice among numerous bottles often means finding the pretty label or following what a wine critic says,” Lin told YFS Magazine.
However, “Great Wine inspires clients to discover their unique preferences and perspectives by providing wines that cater to the taste of different “vinotypes.” Her message and approach hold deeply-rooted regard for the uniqueness of individuals and of each wine.
“The former Microsoft data scientist turned winepreneur is blending taste with tech and aims to prove it’s the perfect pairing.”
Lin has successfully promoted the idea of “vinotype.” While seeing enormous potential in China’s wine market, she leveraged an international network of contacts and resources to establish Great Wine, Inc. in Seattle, producing the PERCIPIO brand of wines, made in the U.S. and sold in the U.S. and China.
Moreover, she encourages and supports youths and young entrepreneurs, who are passionate about wine, to delve further into this industry while determined to emphasize women’s roles in business.
Lin, a Managing Partner of eCode.me and myVinotype China, created Great Wines to change the wine conversation. Learn how she’s merging taste with tech, conquering startup challenges and why she says startups shouldn’t be too focused on raising venture capital.
|Company||Great Wine, Inc., PERCIPIO Wines|
|Industry||Food & Beverage|
|Year of Establishment||2015|
|No. of Employees||26 – 50|
Global roots and the road not taken
Born in China, Danni later studied abroad in Canada, and then relocated to the U.S. Before taking on her role as founder and CEO, Lin worked as a data scientist at Microsoft headquarters. Her strong financial and analytical background, alongside a professional knowledge of wine has proven to be the perfect pairing.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.”Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
Lin exhibits a tremendous enthusiasm for wine and the industry. She also demonstrates strong dedication to the education in the discipline of her industry. “I attended the University of Washington in Seattle, where I received my B.S. in Statistics and Mathematics and my M.S. in Computational Finance and Risk Management. Academically in the discipline of wine and spirits, I have passed WSET Level 3 and currently pursuing Level 4. I also hold certificates of the American Wine Expert Study program and the Business of Wine Study program.”
Making wine science more palatable
Like many wine lovers, Danni Lin was frustrated by her wine shopping experiences. “I had supermarket experiences of getting lost in the wine section amidst massive product lists and ads. I thought my knowledge of wine impacted my likes and dislikes – until I had a conversation with Tim Hanni. “He is one of the first resident Americans to gain a master of wine certification and has taught, written about and studied flavor balancing and sensory sciences.”
“Hanni introduced me to the scientific concept of ‘vinotype’ (i.e., wine preferences and their connections to people’s sensory abilities). I then transformed from a wine novice to a wine educator who encouraged consumers to speak their mind – what they really enjoy drinking and experiencing.”
Lin launched Great Wine in 2015 and subsequently opened their first tasting room in the Seattle Metro Area in 2017. Her intent was to offer wine tasting and vinotyping experiences to clients. “I did not want tasting and learning to end in a brick-and-mortar store; so I started a wine club for my clients to enjoy ‘vinotyped’ selections of wines at home.”
Attracting talent in the startup wine industry
During the early stages of her business, Lin conquered one of the most common startup challenges –– hiring great talent. Yet, finding exceptional employees wasn’t without its challenges. “One of my biggest successes is that I successfully attracted talent to join my company. I needed more people to work in my company in my first year of business, but some people had unrealistic expectations of the job or the company. I have encountered people who pretended to love the company, while all they wanted was money.”
“Working for a startup or a small business is about taking a considerable amount of risk without high financial stability. It would have been easier to work with people who all understood the reality that a company took time to grow.”Danni Lin, founder and CEO of Great Wines
Lin admits that getting the hiring piece right from the start can save entrepreneurs from many headaches down the road. “Working for a startup or a small business is about taking a considerable amount of risk without high financial stability. It would have been easier to work with people who all understood the reality that a company took time to grow.”
Creating culture and global expectations
While Lin successfully attracted the right talent for her wine startup over time, she was well aware of the costs of hiring decisions and what it takes to create a strong company culture.
“After the first year, I successfully got more talented people on board as the company grew, but I also kept an eye on those who were not the right fit. Now, I have gained enough trust from experienced people, who in turn share their experiences with me.”
A culture of innovation starts with a founder’s readiness and willingness to share ideas. To that aim, Lin finds that collective ideas are helpful to set a company’s direction and pace. “I incorporate different ideas when setting the right direction for the company to grow, getting the right market to focus, and keeping the momentum. In this process, people who hold different perspectives are invaluable.”
“I think the key to success lies in the willingness to change, both as a person or as a business. The market will tell you what it needs, and the key to success is to be ready to change – after all, taste does change over time!”Danni Lin, founder and CEO of Great Wines
“I think the key to success lies in the willingness to change, both as a person or as a business. The market will tell you what it needs, and the key to success is to be ready to change – after all, taste does change over time!”
And innovation is essential for Lin who plans to introduce Great Wine to a global market. When the company was founded in 2015 in both the USA and China, it was one of the few companies in the industry that successfully caught the changing tides of the Chinese market.
“Chinese young professionals now prefer affordable wines with traceable origins and have stopped chasing after high price tags,” Lin said. “By introducing the possibility of comparing wines flavors with tea flavors from pu-erh and jasmine, Great Wine carries the mission of introducing the traditions and innovations behind Californian labels to the global market.”
Global ambition and tackling taste with tech
Wine entrepreneurs like Lin know that global ambition is not without colossal challenges. “The United States produced over 800 million gallons of wine in 2016, nearly 12 percent of the global wine production volume,” according to Statistia. Wines & Vines, estimates “there were about 9,654 wineries in the United States as of 2018.” Meanwhile, retail aisles are filled with table wine brands. The market is ripe, and the competition is intense.
“Great Wine is in fierce competition with other well-established wine brands. We’re under the challenge of promoting a new idea about wine in relation to people’s palate, not necessarily food,” Lin added. “Although vinotype theories are supported by scientific research, there are clients who are not convinced that technology can help people understand their taste profiles.”
A personalized approach to wine marketing
To tackle the challenges ahead, the former Microsoft data scientist turned winepreneur is using her technical background and business acumen. Lin sees value in reaching her ideal customers with the right messages at the right places.
The business reality is that brands need to provide a seamless experience, regardless of channel or device. Customers can now engage with a brand in a physical store, on a website or mobile app, through a catalog, or in social media. Marketers that leverage an omni-channel, multi-device perspective win big.
“First, we see omni-channel marketing as a tool to communicate with customers. This method provides a seamless, consistent, and convenient communicating channel between the company and customers. Omni-channel marketing creates 1:1 experience between the company and customers. Our wine specialists are just few clicks away from clients. As a result, Great Wine, Inc. successfully builds brand awareness and connects personally with customers.”
Lin also takes a thoughtful community approach to social media. “We make use to social media marketing methods: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. The marketing team applies cross-media promotion to achieve high number of audience reach in order to increase brand awareness. Our goal is to build a community where we can share wine knowledge, offer promotions, and communicate with everyone. Through social media, the company hopes to build personal relationship with its customers and people who are interested in the company.”
“Lastly, realizing the importance of different groups of audience, Great Wine creates different key messages for each group within its target audience. For millennials, the company emphasizes on ‘affordable everyday wine,’ with additional classes on ‘vinotype.’ For generation X and Baby Boomers, they highlight the concept of ‘vinotype,’ wine tasting, and wine lessons.”
In this way, Great Wines leverages fundamental customer segmentation and matched messaging. Our “messages present a product in such a way as to get the attention of and be understood by, the specific people or groups they want to reach, and we tailor the message to each audience. Therefore, as a company, we value personalization, highlighting the uniqueness of each audience group.”
Prove your value
When asked her essential advice for entrepreneurs, she cautions entrepreneurs who are overzealous to raise venture capital or attract initial investors.
“This might surprise you––don’t over-focus on getting VC or investors. Investors are looking for returns, either short-term or long-term – they are not just buying high-sounding ideas! If you can prove your company has value and can make money, investors will invest,” Lin said.
“Always remember that investment could help speed up the growth of a business, but it cannot change the nature of a company if it is not profitable. Yes, it is very easy for startups to run into a situation where the bank balance is almost zero. Instead of panicking about when money will run out, be careful with every penny the company spends. This practically strikes a balance between dreams and reality, especially at a time when not everything is perfect yet.”
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