Marija Antanaitytė is a fan of art and fashion, a professional sommelier and the country manager of the extremely popular beauty bookings platform Treatwell. We talked to Marija about her studies across several countries, wine culture in Lithuania, life in Vilnius and the surprising reason why Lithuania is the fastest growing market for Treatwell in Europe.
You have chosen a non-traditional, but an extremely interesting professional path. Could you tell us more?
To be honest, my study plan was pretty simple – I wanted to get the broadest business education possible during my undergrad, after which I wanted to get my Master’s abroad. At that time, fashion, as well as food and beverage culture, fascinated me the most. I applied to the Erasmus Mundus program, which allows studying the Master’s programme of one’s choice in several universities in different countries. One of the programmes was related to wine. I had already had an interest in wine culture, so this program turned out to be a compelling choice.
Erasmus Mundus students change universities and, at the same time, their country of study every six months, so during my studies, I stayed in three – Spain, France and Italy. Of these countries, Spain, especially the city of Valencia, impressed me the most; I even considered staying there. However, at the end of my studies, when I had to choose a place to do an internship, I realized that I would like to return to Lithuania.
Was it challenging to find an internship in Lithuania? After all, Lithuania and wine are rarely used in the same sentence.
It really wasn’t that difficult! In Lithuania, I did an internship at Vyno Klubas, a club which not only sells wine, but also promotes wine culture, which intrigued me the most. After the internship, I stayed to work there. I was responsible for marketing, but also contributed to other projects – Wine Days, Lithuania’s Wine Championship, visits of famous winemakers, tastings. I also helped edit and publish a magazine dedicated to wine.
While working there, I also attended sommelier school. People who hear that I have a Master’s degree in a wine-related field often think that after studying, I automatically became a sommelier. Actually, my studies were more technical, with a strong focus on marketing. Meanwhile, the sommelier school provides other knowledge on wine-growing regions, types of wine and production methods.
And what followed then?
The time came when I realized that I would like to change jobs. It is no secret that the Lithuanian wine market is not very large. The activities offered by other companies in the wine sector, which often do not require specific knowledge of wine, were not particularly interesting to me. The sommelier path, where work takes place in restaurants and takes up your evenings, weekends and holidays, wasn’t attractive either. I didn’t want to change my lifestyle so drastically, so I started looking for opportunities in other fields – that’s how I came to Treatwell.
When choosing an employer, the product or service I will need to work with was always important to me. The benefits offered by Treatwell were evident to me – it is really convenient to book a beauty treatment anywhere and anytime without having to call the salon. I believed in the product, and that belief helped me overcome the challenges, which, especially at the beginning, were not lacking at work. I started working just after the company decided to start providing service in Lithuania, when few people knew what Treatwell was, and only a handful of salons were available.
Today, Treatwell is growing extremely fast in Lithuania. Why is that?
Lithuanians are open to innovation and happily use the opportunity to avoid the hassle of having to call the salon and book an appointment. This, as it turns out, is especially relevant for men – barbershops, which are the most popular service on the platform in Lithuania, are one of the reasons for our rapid growth.
How would you rate Vilnius after living in several European cultural centres? Aren’t you missing anything here?
There is really enough culture in Vilnius, and although I’d sometimes like to see more world-class groups or exhibitions of famous artists, there is no shortage of exciting events, concerts and shows – often you don’t even know which event to choose!
A friend who lives in London mentioned to me that once she had told her London friends how, when in Vilnius, she goes to dinner after work and visits an exhibition, and then she has time and something else to do. They ask – in a week’s time? And she told them it only takes an evening! It is strange for them, but our distances are really shorter – you can do much more when you don’t have to travel far from point A to point B. It is easy always to be where the action is in Vilnius; I even gave up my car – I don’t see a point in having it when I usually go everywhere on foot.
If there’s anyone out there studying or working abroad with thoughts of returning to Lithuania, I encourage them not to be afraid. I have followed one in life: if there is a thought to accept an offer, it is better to do so, because that is the only way to avoid “what if” kind of regrets. In addition, the rapidly improving Vilnius has grown to become a real Western European city offering a high quality of life, which is a pleasure to show to friends from abroad.