Most women entrepreneurs I know are very confident in themselves. We all should be. We are smart, capable, courageous, and so passionate about we do. Confidence can help us stay motivated and upbeat while building our ventures—and positively influence others along the way.
As an Asian female founder and a first-generation immigrant, I have been able to see things through fresh eyes and look at problems with a different frame of reference. When I came to the US at the age of 19, I quickly noticed the need for functional, or highly nutritious, food products.
There were plenty of functional beverages and supplements, like detox smoothies and beauty gummies, but when it came to food, people had to do their own research, shopping, and cooking. There was a clear market for convenient functional food products in the US, but nobody had tapped into it.
I knew wellness-driven food products were already widely available in Asia, so I started looking for ways to localize Asian recipes and customize them to meet the flavor and nutritional needs of American consumers. My unique perspective on wellness in the CPG industry has been key to everything that I have done with Yishi.
When I was a child in China, my mom would make black sesame cereal for me when I got home from school. The smooth, semi-sweet, toasty flavor made it one of my favorite foods. In China, black sesame cereal has been a staple food for hundreds of years because of its flavor and wellness benefits.
As an adult, I began working and found myself reaching for unhealthy snacks often throughout the day. I needed something healthy and convenient that I could eat, and I kept coming back to the black sesame cereal that had been my favorite for so many years.
However, products in Chinese supermarkets were high in sugar and calories. I decided to start making my own recipe from scratch for myself and my American friends. After their first bowl, they couldn’t wait to eat more. I saw this as an opportunity to bring black sesame cereal and the “food as medicine” concept to more people in the world.
I started with hosting taste tests and demos, reaching over 50 events in a year. One summer, I had to get up at 5:00 a.m. every morning to demo in a yoga studio to accommodate a morning class. Pretty soon, people started buying my handmade products, and new customers would find us through their friends. Then I expanded to farmers markets and local grocery stores.
Last year, my products soft-launched, and we’re now available in over 100 retail locations, including such stores as Whole Foods, Central Market, and 99 Ranch Market.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF YOUR INDUSTRY LOOK LIKE?
We talk about self-care a lot nowadays because busy lifestyles, the pandemic, and social issues are all causing us stress and affecting our well-being. But the self-care concept is actually thousands of years old. In China, we call it “Yang Sheng,” which means fostering your personal health and well-being by nurturing the body, mind, and spirit.
Especially since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been growing interest in eating food to improve well-being. Foods in the future will need to be more than just delicious; they will need to be exceedingly healthy. The future of food and beverage will take cues from the supplement market, with companies calling attention to purpose-driven ingredients and how they help improve our health.
Consumers are also more and more appreciative of brands with unique personal stories and companies that are committed to sustainability, inclusiveness, and social responsibility.
Having a team with diverse experience and perspectives can lead to creative solutions and excellent results. Every day at BCG, I would collaborate with multiple teams in addition to working on my independent responsibilities.
I was inspired by the work dynamic at BCG. It resembles the team composition of an early-stage startup—made up of athletes and specialists. Consultants are the best athletes: they can lead and manage projects, be moved around among different parts of a case, learn new subjects, and apply what they have learned quickly. Specialists from specific verticals or industries can quickly dive into a topic and provide incredible insights and expertise. A case project needs people from both teams, and collaboration creates the optimal solution and greatest value for clients.
I am the founder who developed the vision and strategy for Yishi, but I also do a bit of everything and move myself to wherever I need to be. Thanks to BCG, I knew from the very beginning that to complement my jack-of-all-trades skill set and strategic thinking, I needed an e-commerce guru, a salesperson with the right rolodex, and an operational expert to help my company grow and scale. I have built my team using what I learned from BCG, and they have helped Yishi grow in record time.
One of things that helped me tremendously early on was learning to be my own advocate. I told everyone about my business and worked on being confident about my vision. I was my own marketing person. Sharing and discussing my ideas with others allowed me to gain the emotional support I needed, given the very stressful startup environment I was working in.
I found my cofounder by passionately advocating for myself and for Yishi. We received a tremendous amount of advice and expertise from mentors in the CPG industry. This in turn helped us attract early investors, with whom our vision strongly resonated.