Summer 2016 Entrepreneurial Experiences

Author Archive

Entrepreneurial Leadership

Sunday, August 7, 2016 5:33 pm

Through working on EZ Cork, I think we have both learned a lot in terms of how to take initiative with projects, how to see things through, and more generally the basic characteristics of leadership. The concept of management from the perspective of our own venture is very different than what we have experienced previously, and certainly different from what I expected. Since we ourselves are the “management”, our decisions and development process are much more fluid by nature, rather than following the by the book way of doing things. I think that captures the main difference between corporate and entrepreneurial leadership- since it is a novel venture, the so-called “by the book” method is yet to be established. Our own specific styles, however, do at times differ slightly since there are so many possible paths for us to take with our company. We work through our differences by trying to find a balance between a structured, task oriented approach, and a more laid back, goal oriented approach.

The leadership aspect has been unique in the sense that because it is only the two of us currently, we have learned not so much how to lead others, but instead how to lead ourselves. The flexibility in our venture has made it possible for us to focus on the creativity that sparked our idea in the first place, and to not be weighed down by excessive oversight. As we begin to understand ourselves as entrepreneurs, we have been able to grow our passion for innovative thinking, which allows us to easily change our focus in the pursuit of the evolution of our product. One example is our consumer research projects, which we have undertaken in order to understand and to prove what the consumer really wants. For the most part, we have gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback on our concept, but what we really want to know are the potential problems that could be associated with it. In order to take EZ Cork to the next level, we have to be able to address those kinds of concerns and improve on our existing concept, which sometimes means that we will be forced to change our original agenda. That is why the flexibility we have currently is so valuable to us, and we have come to appreciate the uniquely entrepreneurial way of doing things.

A Growing Industry: Moving forward with millennials

Saturday, July 30, 2016 1:51 pm

One of the most common questions we hear regarding our venture is something along the lines of “How did you come up with this idea anyway, as college students?” or, “I didn’t know college kids these days even liked wine!” But they couldn’t be more wrong. We first came up with the idea when watching some of our older peers become frustrated that they couldn’t find a corkscrew, or simply didn’t know how to utilize it properly, and it is because this field has such a potential for improvement that we jumped at the opportunity. People think that this industry is something that doesn’t relate to us, but in fact it does; the millennial generation in recent years has become the largest consumer of wine nationwide, surpassing the baby boomer generation for the first time.

The Wine Market Council, a nonprofit organization consisting mostly of wine producers and distributors, regularly releases new research regarding the industry, and their latest convention held just a few months ago in the spring was entirely devoted to the discussion of growth in millennial consumption. According to the report, millennials have consumed 10% more wine in the past two years alone, as compared to a decrease in other generations. The younger generation also drinks more per occasion, an average of 3.1 glasses per sitting, as compared to 2.4 for generation X and 1.9 for the baby boomers. Because of these trends, the industry has been moving towards using social media to market to their increasingly younger clientele, and many restaurants have been adjusting their availability of mid-range wines sold by the glass. More relevant to us, however, is the fact that this opens up possibilities for innovations in wine packaging, since the younger generation is less set in the traditional corkscrew and more likely to value ease and convenience. As more volume of wine is produced to meet demand, there will be more variation and thus more opportunity for new opening solutions such as ours. The traditional cork has had its day, and all evidence points to the idea that the industry is ripe for a competitor such as EZ Cork.

 

Week Six: Navigating Challenges and Competition

Friday, July 22, 2016 1:48 pm

In terms of our competitors for our company, we have many and none at the same time. This is because our product is so quintessentially unique, and yet the industry is so well established it has at times been daunting for us to navigate. In this way, our biggest competitor could probably be regarded as the current status quo of the wine and cork industry. How do we convince the big players to change what they have learned to do so well and efficiently over the years? Sure, anyone can introduce a new type of cork into the market but the actual mechanics behind its integration into distribution is much more complicated. First, there must be a cork maker who is willing to change their machinery to adjust to our product. Very rarely, however, do these companies ever interact directly with the wine distributors or even wine makers themselves, but rather with middlemen “cork brokers”. Because of this network it can be complicated for new players such as us to insert ourselves into the proper part of the supply chain.

In facing challenges such as these that arise while working on our venture, it is really no different than the manner in which we handle our failures and successes as a team. If you aren’t facing challenges during development and even in everyday administration, then you clearly aren’t running at optimum potential and certainly are not progressing. In some ways, every next step is a challenge, simply because it is unchartered territory for both of us. This also means, however, that we are surrounded by endless opportunities. While we are still too early in the process to have had any truly concrete successes or failures, we have addressed these milestones on a small scale thus far by viewing every “failure” as an integral part of a future success. Why should failure and success be treated as such binary terms? We do not become discouraged by setbacks, nor do we become overly celebratory of an arbitrary success. Rather, we celebrate our opportunities to learn, and our accomplishments which allow new doors to open going forward.

 

Week Five: Building Culture

Sunday, July 17, 2016 1:39 pm

In describing the “culture” of our venture, there is no simple definition, rather, the overall concept of evolution. We are reenergized through speaking to those who have a similar eye for innovation, and we highly value the pursuit of excellence, even when it means realizing we don’t have all of the answers ourselves. To that end, decisions are made based on consultation with our advisors or industry experts. While the power of the “gut feeling” should never be marginalized, we also find it extremely important to make informed decisions based on the best resources we have available. At the end of the day, we are both responsible for the direction of the company, but we make these choices with careful consideration and never without the advice of those we are fortunate enough to have helping us along the way.

We always work as a team, but we also admit that we have unique skill sets and as such it would be trivial to insist that we always both contribute to every task. Since we share a similar vision, it’s easy to work independently to some extent without straying from our agreed objectives. The fact that we don’t share a physical workspace, or even live in the same state, makes some of our more collaborative tasks challenging and we have to work to make sure it isn’t an obstacle in getting things done the way we want them. We also make sure to review our progress as a team, so that we can decide how we need to adjust our respective tasks and determine who would be best suited for new ones. This affects the work environment because it places a great deal of responsibility on each of us- we certainly don’t want to let one another down and always strive to deliver more than expected.

Week Four: Evaluating Progress

Sunday, July 3, 2016 12:27 pm

When looking back on how far we have come with our venture up to this point, it’s clear to me that we have learned so much not only about our specific industry, but also about the principles that drive business as well. Networking has been one of the most important and applicable skills we have learned thus far. Forming connections has been central in our ability to drive our company forward. At this early stage, it is simply impossible to do things entirely on our own. Because of this, we have learned just how important it is to build relationships with experienced people that are willing to offer advice or introduce you to others who might have the connection necessary to bring us to the next stage of the process. So far, the Wake alumni network alone has been invaluable and I think we have certainly come to appreciate the abundance of resources available to us as Wake Forest students. If nothing else, it has become apparent to me taking advantage of the opportunities presented to you through your network can have exciting rewards.

Though many projects have challenged us, we have been proud of our ability to adapt and adjust our goals to fit new objectives. Since we don’t always know the best approach in order to see our ideas through, we have learned how important it is to be constantly evolving and evaluating our current progress. For example, while we were very pleased to be able to finally launch our website, we realized that just because the site is now up and live doesn’t mean we can completely check it off our list; we must also keep an eye towards improvements and additions in the near future. We believe the evolution of our company and our goals is vital in order to solve problems and improve, and as such we’ve learned to try to always keep moving forward.

Week three: Finding our path

Friday, June 24, 2016 11:04 pm

Thus far, the process of executing our plans for EZ Cork has not always been a list of clear objectives, but rather, as with any uncharted territory, of finding our path. The greatest “growing pain”, so to speak, has often been in determining what our next steps should be. Just because we have an end goal in mind of our idea of a successful company, doesn’t mean we necessarily know the best avenue by which to achieve it. While the abundance of advice we have received from various friends and mentors has been invaluable, to say the least, at the end of the day it is still our company and the tough decisions aren’t going to make themselves.

In many ways, we must do things differently from more established firms or companies, simply because we are still in the early stages of development. One of our objectives this summer, to continue with consumer research, provides a prime example. In order to catch the eye of wine distribution companies whom we ultimately want to do business with, we must not only be able to demonstrate the enthusiasm of the everyday consumer for our product- we must also be able to quantify it. Put simply, we know that people like our solution, but how do we prove it? I think one of the greatest surprises for us up to this point is the complexity of it all. We’ve learned to navigate the legality of protecting our venture- through patenting, trademarking, and the like, and yet the more we learn, the more complex it becomes. Learning more about our industry has been a very enlightening experience, one which makes us realize just how much there is to know.

Week two: What we do

Friday, June 17, 2016 6:56 pm

Overwhelmingly, when asked about our venture, we are first asked, “How did you come up with the idea of EZ Cork?” The answer is simple. Have you ever been in a situation where you couldn’t find a corkscrew? And even if you did have one, can you honestly say it isn’t a hassle to use? We saw this problem and sought out to address the idea of “there must be an easier way”! What if we could create a wine cork that required no external tools to remove? After many iterations of our initial concept, we arrived at the present version of EZ Cork, which has an integrated, all natural loop in the cork itself, allowing for frustration free removal.

The inspiration for the product was therefore the idea that even something as well established as the cork industry is not off limits for groundbreaking innovation, so long as it is something the consumer wants. The idea of going into a space where there are already so many important players is no doubt intimidating, and yet our product is so utterly unique that everyone we have spoken to thus far can’t help but be intrigued. The US patent database is filled with dozens of abandoned innovations to the corkscrew, and yet we are the first to modify the same cork itself to allow for integrated removal. The fact that this is our startup, and our own creation provides us with the motivation to see it through until the end, whereas it’s easier to lose the passion in a project in which you lack emotional investment. We are inspired by the endless opportunities for innovation in the world around us- just because it has always been a certain way, doesn’t mean it has to be.

 

Week One: Starting from the ground up

Friday, June 3, 2016 12:39 pm

Before attending Wake Forest, I never would’ve guessed that I would be spending the summer after my freshman year launching a startup. This summer, along with my co-founder, we will be working to take our company, EZ Cork, to the next level. Our venture provides an alternative to the traditional wine cork, a widely dynamic and growing industry, in which billions of bottles of wine are sold annually in the United States alone. In fact, in recent years the US has surpassed France and Italy as the top wine consuming nation in the world, with increasing popularity and volume of consumption particularly among the younger generations. Thus, we have great potential for our product in the current market and we believe the nature of our venture very much captures the entrepreneurial spirit.

Through our work and development of our venture this summer, we hope to learn more about consumer behavior and satisfaction within our specific industry, as well as the distribution channels between the cork makers, wine makers, and ultimately the bottlers. More generally, however, we hope that our work contributes to our basic understanding of the question, “What does it actually take to start a company?” We believe that the best way to learn is by doing, and the best way to understand the principles and strategies of entrepreneurship and business taught in a traditional classroom setting is to actually execute them yourself. This project provides us with an amazing opportunity to explore what it means to turn an idea into a tangible reality, and experience first-hand the trials and tribulations associated with pursuing such ideas. We expect to learn not only how to navigate the specific challenges we face, but also how to apply our experience to future ventures as well.

 

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