“Mentorship is important. However, it is important to have different mentors in different areas as we cannot truly understand an area without learning and working with the person who has expertise in that field. When establishing our wine brand, I met two knowledgeable persons. One was a legal lead in a big wine group. He excels in getting trademarks, getting proper licenses, and getting wind about market trends. Another was an entrepreneur in the wine industry and has done many consulting project to help famous Napa wineries establish new product lines. He is an incredible help in wine packaging and wine marketing campaigns. I also have mentors in the field of financial investment.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Danni Lin, Founder and CEO of GREAT WINE, Inc. A former Data Scientist at Microsoft, Lin has accomplished a lot since she founded her own business. She is also included in Medium’s “Best Businessmen of 2017” List and Huffington Post’s “Limit Breaking Female Founders” List. Her story can also be found in Forbes. GREAT WINE, Inc. is the world’s first company to produce wine based on people’s wine personality or “vinotype.” Its goal is to give respect to the uniqueness of individuals and uniqueness of each wine. is a huge success in promoting the new drinking trend in both the USA and Asia. The company receives national recognition as an American Small Business Champion by SCORE. It has also received The Stevies American Business Award — Startup of the Year.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My love for wine ignited during my years at University of Washington. I was a wine novice, and I thought about how my knowledge about wine and critics’ opinions affected my likes and dislikes. Moreover, as a consumer, I am also getting lost in massive selections of products and ads. Then, I was introduced to the scientific concept of “vinotype” by Tim Hanni, Master of Wine. This concept of wine preferences and sensory abilities of people had transformed me from a wine novice to a wine educator who encouraged consumers to speak their mind about their wine preferences and experiences. It is the beginning of my journey of founding GREAT WINE, Inc. I hope that GREAT WINE, Inc. will become a place that inspires individuals to find the great wine for their taste.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I began leading the company, I host a lot of wine tasting sections. There was this group in which two people had totally opposite preferences, one liked intense flavors and one liked sweet flavors. So, I began joking by saying, “in this group, I believe that you guys understand each other the most.” They looked at me in confusion. Then, I continued, “people tend to prefer not to drink with both of you, because you’re the ‘hard-to-please’ drinkers and you’re the ‘child-like’ drinkers.” Everyone started nodding because it was so true for their group. I told them that, “everyone was so unique and in wine tasting, there was no right or wrong, you just need a few more bottles on your table.” And, they all laughed. It is the story that I tell people every time to let them know that knowing others’ personal preferences is the key to create a wonderful wine time for everyone.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
GREAT WINE, Inc.’s mission is “let customers define what great wine is.” Keeping this in mind, we built our tasting room as “a destination for people to freely express their personal preferences of wine.” I can say that our company’s standout point is that we work to restate the uniqueness of individuals and uniqueness of each wine.
Besides adopting groundbreaking technology in winemaking, GREAT WINE, Inc. also collaborates with myVinotype — a smart wine recommendation platform for wine-related businesses and connoisseurs to learn more about clients’ “vinotype.” Most of our clients are very surprised when they found out that they had been tricking their taste bud, training themselves to like the wine that did not taste good to them.
We are very happy that our company recently receives national recognition as an American Small Business Champion by SCORE, and The Stevie® Winner in Startup of the Year in The 16th Annual American Business Awards®.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes. We are now entering the final stage of preparing our tasting room in China to open. It will be the first international satellite tasting room of ours.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
To me, personality is the most important criteria. The job nature of many positions in my company is customer facing. I do not have a strong preference on how experience a person should be in a particular position, but I have high expectations on professionalism and friendly personality traits. I see this as the most important in connecting with clients. On the same train of thought, I don’t think lack of experience hurts a job candidate that much. When I interview them, I would like to learn more about their personality to see whether they fit the company culture, where their true passion lies, and what their goals are. Very often, fresh graduates are energetic. This may be a big plus to startups like us, and they will grow together with us.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I cannot say enough how important it is to have mentors. I have been very fortunate to have mentors whom all have very different experiences and expertise. My business partner Tim Hanni has been my great mentor. He was one of the first Masters of Wine in the USA, and he brought with him into the 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. We are also working with three awesome SCORE mentors who all have very different expertise and personality traits. Our long-term goal is to introduce a franchising model for GREAT WINE, Inc.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We still see many women living under gender stereotyping and gender inequality. The biggest social assumption is that family should always be a woman’s top and only priority in life, not her career or passion. I have never stopped being amazed by how women shine their beauty in life and in their professional fields. I see myself as an active member of the business world. I frequently attend entrepreneurial and tech discussions, panels or conference for women to learn from other women and to support more women to remain confident of their life choices. For example. GREAT WINE, Inc. has been working with Prime Opt, a local career coaching center, to offer talks to students and professionals.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- 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.
- Recruiting employees who were solely after financial stability in the first year of business is a challenge: Working for a startup or a small business is about taking considerable amount of risk without high financial stability. I am lucky enough to have people, who are willing work through the hardships with the company, join GREAT WINE team. I believe that having passionate individuals on the team drives the company forward. GREAT WINE, Inc. is learning and growing, so I hope, in the first year, our employees can improve together with us.
- Mentorship is important: I have mentioned Tim Hanni. However, it is important to have different mentors in different areas as we cannot truly understand an area without learning and working with the person who has expertise in that field. When establishing our wine brand, I met two knowledgeable persons. One was a legal lead in a big wine group. He excels in getting trademarks, getting proper licenses, and getting wind about market trends. Another was an entrepreneur in the wine industry and has done many consulting project to help famous Napa wineries establish new product lines. He is an incredible help in wine packaging and wine marketing campaigns. I also have mentors in the field of financial investment.
- Keep motivated. “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. 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!”
- Willingness to change: I believe that 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! There will be a time when the changes make you cast doubt on your decisions, especially your business path. However, it is important to be flexible with the environment, but always keep the core values.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I hope to start a movement to revolutionize how young girls at school learn math and coding. Many research has already stated that we see many engineers being men, but not because of the incapability of women. Very often, it is our elementary school curriculum design which did not give girls enough encouragement to challenge themselves with difficult math problems. As a female in the tech world, I would like to see in future more women joining us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” — Wayne Gretzky
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
Personally, I would love to have a private meal with Jeannie Cho Lee. She is the first ethnic Asian to achieve Master of Wine. In addition, Lee is also wine critic, author, journalist, consultant, wine educator. She has brought a fresh Asian perspective to the wine industry. So, as an Asian, a woman in wine and an innovator, who are applying the concept of “vinotype” to the wine business, I want to have a conversation with Lee to learn how to make an impact in this industry.
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.