Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

Asulia’s Anniversary: A Year in a Food Start-up

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year!  I’ve been working on Asulia full time since September 2012. Looking back at the past 12 months, I see that I’ve made a lot of progress as a food start-up, all while being self-funded. No matter what happens, I can be proud of that.

While there’s still more to do, when I write it down, I can see that I’ve gotten a lot done. The life of an entrepreneur is never dull. No wonder I’m tired some times! Some key things I’ve done since September 2012:

  1. Tested, tasted, and developed 3 vegan dumpling recipes: taro root, chickpea and kale.
  2. Changed the hand cut dumpling wrapper from white to wheat.
  3. Became ServSafe certified.
  4. Sourced dumpling ingredients, as locally as possible.
  5. Made nutrition labels.
  6. Purchased bar codes.
  7. Found a food photographer.
  8. Reshot food photography multiple times.
  9. Looked through hundreds of logos.
  10. Reworked various logos multiple times.
  11. Branded and then rebranded – I actually started with a different name.
  12. Went through 3 graphic designers until I found the right fit.
  13. Completed packaging development and design.
  14. Ran a trademark search.
  15. Legally formed the company.
  16. Found a kitchen to make the dumplings. This took months to do!
  17. Found an environmentally-friendly printer to work with, after calling dozens of places and researching for hours on end.
  18. Became a certified YouthTrade company.
  19. Obtained vegan certification for all three fusion dumpling flavors.
  20. Blogged, emailed, tweeted and posted updates on FB.
  21. Launched a website.
  22. Figured out Asulia’s personality. What does she like? What matters to Asulia? What matters to me? This is a key part of our brand.
  23. Started blogging for Huff Post.
  24. Walked through what felt like football fields of food at two Fancy Food Shows in San Francisco (thanks to air miles) and in NYC.
  25. Attended (and will continue to attend) numerous food networking events.
  26. Attended the Stonyfield’s annual entrepreneurship institute and was selected as a case study.
  27. Launched a crowd-funding campaign.

Along the way, I’ve laughed, cried, and met some truly great people. I’ve lost sleep and skipped meals, but I’ve also eaten some great food in the name of research! I’ve made mistakes. I’ve gotten lucky. I’ve learned so much about business and myself.

But most importantly, I never gave up.

dumpling debut

Wednesday, 9/18 was the first official public Asulia dumpling tasting held at MIT’s Innovation Series “From Farm to Tablet”.  That morning, I dropped my mom off at the airport at 5am. I’ve done this many times before, but that day felt different. I was extra concerned about her safety as she leaves for a month overseas. I got choked up because, not only does she mean the world to me, but also because I want her to be able to continue to see that her decision to become my mom was not for nothing.

Then, I was nonstop all day. Kinda of surprising huh? A dumpling tasting that lasted an hour and a half took a full day of prep! I had to pick up fresh veggies, coordinate with my graphic designer, pick up the Indiegogo info cards from the printer, buy napkins and a table cloth, pack, eat something, and, oh, shower! There wasn’t an oven on site, so I found a friend that lived close by and borrowed hers. I couldn’t have pulled it off without my crew of 3 amazing ladies.

It was awesome to sample to the Boston and MIT community. Over 100 people stopped by Asulia’s table to try our our chickpea dumplingskale dumplings, and taro root dumplings. People loved the taste of the fusion dumplings and wanted to hear more about Asulia and my story. They couldn’t believe the average calorie count is only 44 per dumpling. Many can back a 2nd and 3rd time for more dumplings! I loved seeing people’s faces as they bit into the dumplings and hearing their comments. Instant feedback! I can’t wait to do more demos and share my dumplings with more people.
Special thanks to Suzanne Brendle, Sarah Howes, and Taylor Rose for assisting!
Sue Liang, Asulia Foods

Sue Liang of Asulia Foods setting up for the MIT Dumpling Tasting

2 Recent Projects Completed at Asulia

asuliablog-2 recent projects completed at asulia

Asulia Dumpling Packaging

We launched Asulia’s new website! The design process, including packaging design, has been months in the making, and I’m so excited that the design portion is all set now. Two major projects have been completed. Only a million more to go.

This journey so far has been more rewarding than I ever thought it would be, and I know it’s only just the beginning. As an entrepreneur, you really hit the highest of the highs and lows I’m thankful to be able to come through. My days are often challenging on all fronts, from bootstrapping everything to learning new things quickly. Time seems to fly by because of all the work that I need to do. I can’t tell you how often I find it’s suddenly the afternoon and I’m still in my pajamas and haven’t eaten anything. My new goal is to create a standing desk so I can get a work out in no matter what. As I write this post, I’m at a makeshift standing ‘desk’, a stack of storage boxes! On the plus side, I did manage to eat brunch today :)

asuliablog-2 recent projects completed at asulia

Next on the list is getting things lined up for Asulia’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign to go live. Dumpling packaging is finalized, Asulia’s video is back in the editing room, and I’m working on rewards. Sourcing custom-made things for rewards without knowing exact quantities has proven to be more difficult than I anticipated. I feel fortunate to have the help and support of my advisors and friends as issues like this come up.

Stay tuned for more on our Kickstarter campaign!

hot business

Two of my all time favorite hot sauces were created by self made entrepreneurs. I love this quote from David Tran, the founder of Sriracha “Hot sauce must be hot. If you don’t like it hot, use less,” he said. “We don’t make mayonnaise here.”  They’ve never paid for advertising but have built a strong following.  In 2007, they ran out of peppers. Instead of running out to buy ingredients from the supermarket, he asked customers to wait and they did.  The peppers are grown in Ventura County. Tran has never compromised his product and it’s one of the many reasons why it’s so popular. The sriracha story is one of example of an entrepreneur with a strong vision who sticks to what he knows best. This is something I try to remind myself of frequently.  Oh, if you ever wonder if Tran notices your creations with his hot sauce, he does! He loves to google and laugh at all the creative uses. How cute is that?

Tao Huaboi, the founder of Laoganma is a woman I deeply admire. What’s remarkable about Huaboi is that she’s illiterate with no formal education let alone any business experience prior to her chill empire. She remembers most of her staff’s birthdays and treats everyone like her own family. I fell in love with her hot sauce a few year back when my mother introduced me to it. I’ve never looked back since and have always had a least one jar in my fridge at all times. If you didn’t know already, it’s not the most natural product, but for the love of the hot sauce and her, I let it slide.  Recently, her story was published in a Chinese newspaper. My mom couldn’t stop talking about it and I couldn’t stop listening. We all have a story and it’s amazing to learn how much has gone into her hot sauce. Huaboi had to support herself and her kids after her husband past away. She started selling noodles out of a tiny stall on the street. On the days she didn’t have any of her hot sauce, she noticed business wasn’t as good. Soon her customers asked to buy her hot sauce and stores started carrying her product. In order to buy all the ingredients she needed, Huaboi carried heavy loads to and from her home on her back. She couldn’t take the bus. The driver wouldn’t let her on since she had too many things with her.  Soon it became so popular that she expanded into a factory. However, back when she was small time, she’d let people run a tab when they didn’t have any money to eat only to erase it completely. She continues to be humble and treats her team with care and integrity. It goes to show that awesome products led by founders who do the right thing do succeed.

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to increase your hot sauce tolerance, there’s a great podcast from NPR on hot sauce, that you should check out.

All this talk of hot sauce brings back memories of being in speech and debate in high school. I gave a speech on Tabasco which was my first foray into the world of capsaicin levels and the Scoville scale.

Anything is possible. Take a risk. Take a chance at yourself. Stacey Ferreira did and raised $1 million straight out of high school.

Lights, camera, crowdsource funding

Crowdsource funding has helped launch a lot of cool projects. With so many options, where and how do you decide which platform to use? A breakdown of the top sites as well as helpful tips will help you determine the best fit for your project.  I was at an event recently about this topic. Some  things I didn’t consider was accounting for taxes as well as the level of support I’m seeking for my upcoming campaign. It was nice to not only learn more about Indiegogo, but I was also able to directly talk with one of their leads. Unlike other platforms, they will give you feedback and offer guidance to help you make your campaign successful. Others are more hands off. It really depends on what type of project you have since it’s best to go where your audience is most likely to be.

From Kickstarter’s stats, those with a video have higher rate of success than those without 50% vs. 30%. Make a video! It doesn’t have to be fancy.  People need to be able to hear what you’re saying. This is why home video cameras are not that great. If you already have some type of gear to film with, figure out if you can attach a mic to it.  Music is nice, but not necessary. It was fun to pick out some jams for Asulia on Soundcloud that we might use in the video though!

Besides being obsessed with getting people to eat their veggies, I’m also obsessed with how things look. Luckily Morning Fog Film set me up with a lighting plan.  I rented all my equipment from Rule Boston Camera and had friends help me shoot the footage.  Andrew at Rule was awesome!  He was extremely patient as I asked tons of questions. We spent hours preparing for the shoot. I never thought a short video would entail so much time or that I would be learning about film!  Scouting veggies once again, renting equipment, picking up an emergency hot roller kit, and more. On the day of, I was frantically spraying hairspray but it wasn’t working. I kept spraying anyway. When I unpacked the next day, I found out it was dry shampoo! No wonder it wasn’t holding. Hopefully, my hair doesn’t look white in the footage.

In the evening, I made a gluten free kimchi quesadilla.
two brown rice tortillas
1 cup charred romaine lettuce
1 cup kimchi
1/3 cup of aged white cheddar
2 tbs sriracha

On high heat, charr romaine lettuce on a grill or skillet.  Adjust to low heat, place 1 tortilla in a pan with half the cheese. Layer romaine, kimchi, sriracha, and remaining cheese. Flip the tortilla over until the cheese has melted and both sides have browned.

Happy 2013

Hello 2013!  I’ve been moving things from a friend’s apartment into a friend’s basement for storage. I went to a local supermarket  today to pick up boxes. They were gracious to not only let me pick my boxes but during the time I was there at least 2-3 of the employees came over to help me.

I’ve been spending the evening doing more research. Still left to do, pick a name, get the green light from a formal trademark search, pick and file a legal entity for the company. If I’m going to raise funds investors prefer corporations since LLC’s and sole proprietors entities do not have shares or stock certificates to offer.

I ended up editing an NDA that got help from a lawyer friend, literally a step-by-step guide on how to change the language to suit what I need for trade secret protection for my recipes. My previous experience of reading legal jargon in partnership agreements, dissolutions is coming to a full circle today.

Tomorrow I’ll be prepping for my friend’s Christmas party. I’ll be making my dumplings as appetizers.

New Years Eve

New years eve afternoon and I’m at a Starbucks writing emails, vetting out different packaging design ideas, and ways to get the look I’m thinking of. I want it to show personality, with a focus on the ingredients while being a bit whimsical, clean, and modern.

I canceled my $40 YMCA gym membership last month to save money. Ever since, it’s been home workouts with the occasional splurge on a $5 vinyaysa or hip hop yoga class at Back Bay Yoga. This morning I busted out an oldie but a goodie of a workout DVD, tae bo kickboxing! It takes a bit more self-discipline to gym it at home. The same goes for entrepreneurship.  Ultimately, the buck stops right here cuz it’s just me at this point. There’s no one to point the finger at. I focus on finding a work-around to my problems.

I’m happy that the samples I received from a potential printer last week are up to par! Plus they run on 100% wind power which is why I hope this relationship with this printer works out. I found them reading Packaging Digest that mentioned their work with a food company.

Things take time. Actually, more time than I thought it would. I’m still waiting for a lawyer friend to draft up a non-disclosure agreement that I need. Life events and the holidays have been making things move at a snail’s pace. I’ve also reached out to friends who could possibly help out with illustrations and photography. Although, I’m still undecided on which medium to use. It’s good to be different, but it’s also important to study why other companies have chosen to stick with traditional food photography.