Name: Danni Lin
Social Media: Facebook: www.facebook.com/greatwineusa
Tell us a bit about yourself …..
I am the CEO of GREAT WINE, Inc. and a Seattle-based entrepreneur. I have successfully promoted the idea of “vinotype” and my wines PERCIPIO in the American and Asian markets.
Before taking this role, 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 spirit, I have passed WSET Level 3 and is currently pursuing Level 4. I also hold certificates of the American Wine Expert Study program and the Business of Wine Study program.
With a strong financial background, analytical expertise, knowledge of advanced technology, and professional knowledge of wine, I am taking my business to the next level of growth and expansion worldwide through my extensive international experiences and connections. It is my hope to introduce the traditions and innovations of Californian winemaking to more clients around the world.
What is the biggest obstacle you have faced in life & how did it impact you?
I would not say this is an obstacle, but it was a challenging moment in my life: when I decided to found GREAT WINE, I was still working at Microsoft as a Data Scientist. I was at the crossroads of either to stay with a well-paid, full-time job in a large corporation, or take the risk to found a startup with no pay – if I chose the latter, I would be spending my own savings to work on something which had no guarantee of success. It was a tough decision to make, especially when it involved giving up things that I already had in hand, such as a stable income and a comfortable life in a well-catered city.
I eventually started GREAT WINE. The production, labor, and facility costs of running a winery are very high. There was a short of fund, so I got my lesson: it is very easy to run into a situation that the bank balance is almost zero for startups. Although I had big plans for my company, I have to accept that there were times I could not be a perfectionist.
Having said so, sacrificing wine quality because of the high cost will never be our choice. Instead, we seek the best possible wine sources to create delicious, healthy wines at a great price. To GREAT WINE, clients are not paying for our products; they are casting a vote of trust on the quality of our wine in exchange of knowledge and great experience.
What would you say are your greatest achievements in life thus far?
One of my biggest successes is that I successfully attract talents 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 over the job or over the company. I have encountered people who pretended to love the company, while all they wanted was only money. Working for a startup or a small business is about taking 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. 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 are not the right fit. Now, I have gained enough trust from experienced people, who in turn share their experiences with me. I incorporate different ideas when setting the right direction for company to grow, getting the right market to focus, and keeping the momentum to go. In this process, people who hold different perspectives are invaluable.
How did you work through your struggles to achieve the success you have today?
I think the key 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! For example, when GREAT WINE is 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 stop chasing after high price tags. By introducing the possibility of infusing tea flavors from pu-erh and jasmine in wines, GREAT WINE carries the mission of introducing the traditions and innovations behind Californian labels to the global market.
What is one tip you have for keeping motivated?
I keep a notebook and handwrite great quote whenever I see one. When I feel tired, I will read the quotes and rethink my business directions. Then, I will come back to work with a clear mind and loads of energy.
There will be ups and downs in the progress of setting up a business. At the up times, you may want to ride on the tides and go faster. At down times, remain confident and work hard to achieve your goals. Successful entrepreneurs are people who do not give up.
Who is someone that helped you on your journey from struggle to success?
Tim Hanni, one of the first Americans to have obtained the title Master of Wine. I have been very fortunate to have mentors whom all have very different experiences and expertise, and Hanni is one of them. Also as my business partner, Hanni brought with him into my business over 35 years of experience working in the wine industry. We worked together to determine the wine styles, targeted consumer group, and finding the best deals to make wines.
What qualities do you think are essential in a person in order to be successful?
To think like a CEO and not like a CEO. It is very important to always think and learn, and keep an eye for new opportunities. I enjoy speaking with people whose background is very different from mine, because this will enable me to see things from different perspectives. From time to time, I also organize wine tasting events for my entrepreneurial-minded friends so we can exchange ideas about wine and marketing. There will be times you will learn something that does not answer an urgent need of the business at that particular moment. However, always keep your mind open and unrelated dots will join someday. The most fatal mistake a CEO can make is to think there are low jobs or low positions within a company that a CEO should not be involved.
Do you think there are benefits to going through hardships before achieving your goals?
Yes, they are important lessons. For example, when GREAT WINE was first in China, it is in fierce competition with other well-established wine brands. Some clients are unwilling to place an order for our wines because they think they do not know enough about our brand. This incident got me think further the importance of branding and market positioning.
Our marketing team has built the brand and has successfully created a loyal client-base by managing multiple channels dynamically to communicate with clients. I see the marketing team as the face of the company to draw potential clients’ attention to the brand. GREAT WINE’s Director of Brand Marketing Michella Chiu has extensive experiences in PR and Marketing in multiple industries. As a Princeton- and Columbia-educated professional, she knows how to pitch journalists. We in turn saved much money on hard advertising for effective branding campaigns. Now, our wine specialists and even our CEO are just few clicks away from clients. We believe that this is hugely different from reading a book, because people come together and participate in knowledge making together.
What are some plans and goals you have for the future?
GREAT WINE is ready to accept future challenges it may encounter during the expansion phase. Our CEO Danni Lin is devoted to inspire more clients to engage in the global cultural exchanges of wine, with the opening of the first international satellite tasting room in China in September 2017.
Particularly in China, clients strongly prefer Australian and Chilean wines among New World productions. It is GREAT WINE’s hope to inspire clients to courageously voice out what they really like by helping them identify their vinotypes, and then promote high-quality Californian wines as an option. The GREAT WINE team hopes that unveiling the traditions and innovations of Californian winemaking will contribute to active business and cultural exchanges between the U.S. and other countries. This is perhaps most eloquently stated in the fact that our wines are embedded with delicate flavors of teas such as pu-erh and jasmine, long-time favorites of Asian connoisseurs.
Lastly, what is one piece of advice you have for others to overcome difficulty and achieve success?
Do not 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. Always remember that investment could help speed up the growth of a business, but cannot change the nature of a company if it is not profitable. Yes, it is very easy to run into a situation that the bank balance is almost zero for startups. Instead of panicking about when money will be running 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.
So there you have it - hopefully you are inspired by Danni’s story and can work through the difficult road that is presented at the beginning, in order to achieve greatness ultimately.