From Chicago to New York, plus a whole lot of wine glasses in between.
While I was badly wishing for a vacation this summer, reality pointed out how necessary it was for me to keep working on my wine start-up regardless of my brain being on fire. With a whole month ahead of me, I decided to create a custom internship that turned out to be better than my sweet vacation (or so I convinced myself). Based on my experience, I gathered some tips to share with other student entrepreneurs who are open to an adventurous form of learning.
Here are 10 ways to maximize your internship as you’re building your startup.
1) Set clear goals
Having clear goals that aligned with what I was trying to accomplish and the specific things that I needed to learn from my internships was essential before contacting anyone. During my internship, having these goals in mind allowed me to funnel all the information into the right sections of what I needed to know for my start-up and allowed me to ask better questions.
2) Make a plan, but be ready for changes
Although I planned and prepared for my first internship in advanced, things quickly changed when I arrived to New York. Being ready for changes allowed me to keep cool under uncertainty and pushed me to move quickly towards an alternative solution.
3) Use your 5 senses to learn about your industry or product
While I was lucky to have plenty of reading materials that taught me about wine, using some of my senses elevated my learning experience ten times. Holding wine grapes in my fingers and feeling their texture, smelling the different wine aromas that gently released in my glass, and taking my time tasting all the different notes and flavors.
4) Remember that starting your business is not a boring relationship but rather an adventurous love affair
Sometimes I skipped my regular routine and visited cool wine shops, signed up for non-traditional wine classes, made friends with sommeliers, winemakers, and wine fanatics. Keeping it adventurous and spontaneous allowed me to fully immerse myself in the industry and recharge my creative battery instead of draining it out.
5) During your internship, know the company’s goals and let them know yours
During my internship, Rohan Duggal, the owner of Columbia Wine Company would include me in staff emails which contained their company’s goals and as a result I was able to curate better ideas. On the flip side, since Rohan and the managers knew my entrepreneurial goals, they were also able to offer me more information and resources that would have otherwise not been presented or offered.
6) Listen and observe
Listening to the needs of customers, employees and managers was crucial. The more I listened the more I began to understand other people and their needs (and everyone’s needs in the organization counts, from your team members to the delivery person). Being a good observer was just as important, allowing me to spot gaps and challenges in the industry.
7) Move quickly, stay hungry
Creating my own internship was like creating my own door into the wine industry and the outcome would be as valuable as I wanted it to be based on how much I was willing to commit to each internship so I made sure that no day went by unproductive, I organized my agenda hour by hour the night before, moved quickly in the morning and made sure I stayed hungry by actively participating and taking every opportunity.
8) Be grateful and show it
Being appreciative of those who took the time to teach me enhanced the whole experience. I could have never learned as much if it wasn’t for Maria Bykova, Columbia Wine Company’s manager and buyer. Not only did she manage to run daily operations while dealing with wine inquiries, but she also took the time to teach me about wine and wine regions, she was a huge inspiration to keep learning about wine so I made it a priority to thank her.
9) Solicit feedback
Asking for feedback at the end of my internship gave me an opportunity to look back and reflect on my own work and see what areas I still need to improve on. Upon asking for feedback, here is what Maria wrote back, “ I was really amazed by Liliana’s enthusiasm, energy and desire to learn. Wine retail is not easy, but she stayed very positive and focused all the time.” Having this amazing response I can now set my next set of goals with these attributes in mind.
10) Don’t hope for an amazing experience, create it
By skipping the traditional internship itinerary, I was able to be creative in creating my own and it also allowed me to create my own experience. Think of your internship experience as a road trip with the stops being the business areas that you would like to explore. Should something fail or go wrong, remind yourself that it’s just an adventure and keep moving on your journey.
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Liliana Leon is the founder of Once Upon a Wine, a wine brand that celebrates the stories behind wine making and wine drinking. She is a student at DePaul University and is part of the Founders Fellowship.
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