Vincent Kitirattragarn // Ep 31 // Creating Dang, the first Asian-American Snack Brand

Welcome to Episode 31 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have Vincent Kitirattragarn on this week's episode.

We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
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He is a Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree and has won multiple SOFI awards for “Best Snack”. He started the company in 2012 after he told his Thai-Chinese mother about his popup restaurant, and she gave him a recipe for Miang Kum, a Northern Thai dish that requires toasted coconut.

Vincent Kitirattragarn is the founder of Dang Foods, the first and only Asian-American snack company.

Vincent made the dish, tasted the toasted coconut, and then immediately called his family to find more because it tasted so dang good. He then formed a company and named it Dang, after his mother.

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Transcript

Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, My name is Bryan. 

And my name is Maggie 

And we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals.

We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

Maggie: (00:00:23)Hi, Everyone welcome to the Asian Hustle Network Podcast. My name is Maggie

Bryan: (00:00:27) My name is Bryan.

 

Maggie: (00:00:29) and today we have a very special guest. His name is Vincent Kitora, char Gar. He is the founder of dang foods. The first and only Asian American snack company. He is a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree, and has won multiple Sophie awards for best.

Snack. He started the company in 2012 after he told us Thai Chinese mother about his pop-up restaurant. And she gave him a recipe for men come in Northern Thai dish that requires toasted coconut Vincent made the dish, tasted the toasted coconut. And then immediately called his family to find more because it tasted so dang good. He then formed a company and named it dang after his mother then said welcome to

 

Vincent: (00:01:14) thank you, Brian. Thank you, Maggie. Nice to, nice to meet you and thanks for having me on.

 

Bryan: (00:01:18) Yeah, we’re super excited to have you on, we’re gonna dive into who you are, you know, how do you, I mean, we got the idea that you got the idea to start getting foods from your mom’s recipe, but what was that journey like from the very beginning to now? How did that idea go from, Hey, this is a great idea. How do we turn it into a company? It was the process like.

 

Vincent: (00:01:39) Yeah. So to, I think I understand, dang, you gotta go into family, right? So dang is my mom’s name to start off. Um, that’s the first thing I usually tell people. And when I tell, especially women and especially moms, they’re like face lights up.

They’re like, Oh my God, you ended after your mom. Um, But my family has always been really, really tight-knit and also really, really into business and into food. So I’m just kind of combining all those things. Um, going back to, you know, my grandparents, they started off, uh, doing business in Thailand and then my grandma, my parents moved to the us and, uh, did graduate school here, inside the state here.

And they started businesses importing goods from Thailand to the U S. And as I was growing older and kind of, you know, becoming an adult, um, I looked of course to my family and saying, okay, you know, how can I, uh, kind of take what they’ve built and, and build the next, you know, ring on the ladder. So, um, I kind mixed what I was really interested in, which was food with what they’re really good at, which is international business.

Um, and, uh, originally it started out as pop-up. Um, kind of like Boba guys, uh, we started out as pop up in San Francisco and that was really just to make interesting Thai food that you don’t really see in the restaurants here. And, uh, that, you know, the, the one ingredient that, um, really captivated us was this coconut chip idea.

Um, so I called it my brother who happened to be in Thailand and he sent me some samples and we were like, Oh man, this needs to be a thing in the U S like, it was just one of those moments where you’re like, You find something and you’re like, Oh my God, I love this. This needs to be known and you want to be the one to bring it.

So, um, whenever I wrote a business plan, we just kind of jumped in and said, okay, how can we bring this to the U S and start selling it? And, um, just started asking a lot of questions to people in the industry.

 

Bryan: (00:03:27) Yeah, definitely. I really loved that story too. And you know, there is a lot of challenges of being the first in the United States. How do you got to overcome that pioneering challenge to bringing that flavor and making it sense?

 

Maggie: (00:03:38) Yeah, because a lot of people, they’re not familiar with coconut chefs right. Or toasted coconut chips. So it’s also the familiarity and like getting people to actually be comfortable with trying something new. And so how did you get them to feel comfortable with that?

 

Vincent: (00:03:51) I think our challenge as a small company, trying to make something Asian popular in the U S is, is, is, is the same as just about anybody who’s taking something that’s culturally appropriate or culturally relevant to them. Um, and trying to sell it here in the U S whether it’s, you know, Boba or, you know, Korean sauces like go-to John or seaweed or stretch it, like all those things require some sort of, um, Uh, acclimation, I guess, you know, to, to us culture.

So, you know, for me eating type food has always been, uh, you know, second nature. Um, and then, you know, Thai food has gotten real popular in the U S right? So you really have to find an anchor and people’s minds when you’re introducing something new to something they’re familiar with. So for us, the coconut chip anchor was coconut oil because the, at the time we launched eight years ago, Coconut oil was just on fire, you know, um, it started with coconut water and then people are like, Oh, you cook with coconut oil.

And so, you know, especially when talking to folks in our industry who are very health obsessed, um, it was, it was clear that they knew the health benefits of coconut oil. So I can say, Oh, these are coconut chips they’re made from coconut, all the health benefits of coconut oil. You need it as a snack, you can put it on your toast, your oatmeal, your yogurt, your salads, um, You know, it really helped to have that frame of reference for people.

And then when it came to building a brand, we talked to, you know, we, we thought about, okay, what’s the frame of reference for, um, you know, people when they think about Thailand, uh, when it comes down to when I was growing up, it was always food, right. It was always like, Oh, you’re, Oh my God. I loved that. I loved that.

I love mango sticky rice. And so. And so taking that with the further you’re like, okay, great. You love Thai food, right? Like, have you ever tried the snack or the snack or the snack? And we realize that there’s no real brand representing, you know, Southeast and Eastern Asian, um, healthy snacks. Right. I think that’s, that’s an element that we really care about is like, you know, purity of ingredients, not putting too much sugar in there, like Asian food in Asia tends to be more plant-based tends to be lower sugar tends to be less processed than American food.

And so if you look at like the core. Of the American diet is extremely unhealthy. And then you look at like Eastern diets, they tend to be much healthier and it kind of, you know, it’s not just food, but it’s also this entire approach to health and wellness. You know, Eastern approaches tend to be more about preventative medicine and presenting and preventative practices.

Just eating healthier exercise. Right. Whereas Western tends to be, I mean, second, you go into your hospital, they’re giving you an antibiotic. So it’s like, it’s very reactive to whatever symptoms you create. So, um, we just want to take like our mission as a company is to share, uh, our culture for a healthier, more flavorful world, which to us means taking those.

You know, actions to be preventative about avoiding, you know, obesity, disease, diabetes, like all of these problems. I kind of plagued the Western market.

 

Bryan: (00:06:54) I think that’s amazing too, because essentially you’re bringing an unfamiliar product to a market and the marketing towards the. Towards the ingredients who are there that are familiar to the U S market. You know, you guys know coconut water, you guys know this, the, the part of their items. I think it’s a really, that’s a really creative and smart marketing idea. You know, how you can integrate them to mainstream culture. And I do agree. There is a huge health craze right now. That’s going on is what can I eat? That’s healthy. Even for ourselves. See, when we look at our South UE, it was like, does it have coconut oil? Does it have this protein? Does it have. And it’s really creative, how you’re able to hone into that as a part of your campaign to marketing foods.

 

Maggie: (00:07:35) Well, yeah, I definitely agree with Brian. I think that, you know, back then no one really cared about, you know, what they were intaking into their body.

No one really paid attention to the health concerns and you know, what they were actually consuming. But nowadays, you know, Especially in the Bay area, or even like in California, in general, people are like making sure that everything that they’re eating is like, gluten-free like sugar-free and everything like that.

And making sure that everything that they’re eating is a very healthy and dang foods. You know, coconut onion terms, those are all like extremely healthy. Top choices. And so that’s really amazing. Um, we saw a couple of videos prior to our interview, and we saw that before you were branded as, uh, dang toasted coconut chips.

So it sounds like you went through a rebranding. What was that point in time where you decided, you know, you guys were getting big, you guys wanted to do some rebranding and rebrand yourselves as doing suits.

 

Vincent: (00:08:28) Yeah, that’s a good question. So, you know, we always put dang by front and center on our package because it’s a word that means something in a lot of different languages, but especially in English and Thai. Right? So timing’s bread, also a name, um, my mom’s name and then in the U S it’s a euphemism for damn, right. And people say, dang, when they taste something good or something happens or they stubbed their toe, it’s just like, you know, it’s an easy word and it’s very short and it’s one syllable, which is beautiful.

Like you can do, you know, something short. And easy, um, much more memorable than something. Well, like my last name, um, now, now, now as far as branding goes, let me take you kinda through the, you know, the evolution, because there has been an evolution at the beginning. We were just one product. Literally. We just came out with just coconut chips and I was like, Oh, it’d be like coconut water.

Yeah. Um, we can just sell one, you know, one item, one skew and different sizes. So I tried doing that. Um, and I’m pretty quickly realized if you have one item on a shelf in a grocery store, now there’s 50,000 items in a grocery store. You kind of get lost unless you have many, many, many seasons. So we quickly came up with different flavors, right?

So we have caramel sea salt. We have developed an unsweetened version was actually super popular. People have keto diets, paleo diets, diets. Like they love this because it’s just coconut and salt. And then. Pretty quickly, we, we created this, you know, line of coconut chips and then, um, we branched out and said, okay, what else can we import from Asia?

You know, we looked at onion ships. We did, um, we have sticky rice chips, uh, which come tie chips now. Um, and then we created this like line of different bags, snacks from Asia, and then in, uh, We also looked at, okay, what can we do as far as like how, you know, the American consumers eating and what are they telling us that they want more of?

 

So, as I was saying, the unsweetened coconut chip is super popular with, um, keto, whole 30, you know, low sugar diets. And those consumers are telling us, Hey, we want more of this. We just like, they can’t get enough of it. Um, and at the same time I was doing a keto diet and I was like, Oh my God, this is great.

I can stay mentally focused all day long. Um, Yeah, I can, I still have like a lot of mental acuity, which is really great. So. So we were like, all right, we looked at this bar category and we’re like, Hey, nutrition bar category. Doesn’t really have anyone talking about, um, keto doesn’t have anyone talk about coconut.

It’s really all about protein in that category. And we were like, Hey, well, how could we do it? And put our spin on it. So we created a keynote bar. Used all plant-based product ingredients. And then, you know, we brought in flavors like Masha that hasn’t traditionally been seen in the bar category, typically bar categories, a lot of chocolate and a lot of peanut butter.

Um, but we were like, Hey, we can bring in macho. We brought cinnamon in, we brought chives spaces and that’s the way we put our name on something in the, in the bar category. Um, it was actually the number one selling bar at whole foods last year was dang bar. And so really, really great, you know, launch. Uh, and, and that’s been a really great, you know, kind of going into the business now, as far as the branding goes, You know, we first, we were always actually getting food.

So I got named the business that changed. It’s always been Dan foods. Um, and the brand has always been dead. Right. And then the lines have been different. So there’s coconut chips, rice chips, and day bar. And so the way that we see the hierarchy is like, you know, that hasn’t changed. The packaging has changed, you know, from the very beginning.

We wanted something looking clean and natural, somebody that says, you know, this is clean and natural without literally putting the words clean and natural on it. So it’s always been like, you know, very, I guess, minimalist, um, but always very bright colors that are evocative of what you see in nature. Um, but more recently, just like earlier this year we launched our new packaging, which has Thai writing on it.

 

It has, um, pictures of myself and my brother has more of a story about our mom. It’s got more heritage to Butte into the package. Um, and we invested in that, you know, we’ve got a great brand new agency and actually our lead designers also touch Chinese American. So like she really understood. What we’re trying to do as far as bringing in the cultural component, um, into the packaging should have a really good job.

So, um, yeah, we’re really proud of what we have today. Um, and I would say, you know, for anyone who’s like starting a business, it’s, it’s much easier to get the brand right at the beginning. But a lot of fun to get the name, right? Test it out. You know, the people keep telling you, you know, your brand isn’t resonating or it means something different than you want it to like, get it right at the beginning.

It’s easier to make that pivot earlier. And then rather than do it later on, because that’s when you have, you know, distribution and packaging and it just becomes a more expensive endeavor.

 

Maggie: (00:13:00) Yeah, I love that. I love how you guys incorporated your faces and the story of your mother into the whole branding.

And that’s a part of what Ahn is about, you know, like Ahn with Asian hustle network. We tell people to share their stories and people fall in love with products because they know that. The story behind the product and, you know, for you to actually be explicit about, you know, naming dang after your mother, that’s a conversation starter right there.

You know, like obviously your mother and your family were big parts of your lives, um, and in your business as well. You know, they had a lot of, uh, experience with international business, um, which has contributed to a lot of success to dances. And so I’m very curious, you know, as you were starting out with the popup in San Francisco, it sounds like this was your first pop-up, is that correct?

 

Vincent: (00:13:44) Yeah. So it wasn’t my first time doing food, you know, I, I wanted to test out different parts of the food system. So I worked at a restaurant. I worked at, um, farmer’s markets, you know, I tried catering. So I tried a bunch of things before doing the pop-up.

 

Maggie: (00:14:03) Yeah, that’s amazing. And so did you come across any challenges or struggles along the way while you were building out all of these popups and just scaling down foods to what it is now?

 

Vincent: (00:14:15) Yeah, I mean, the pop-up, I only did two pop-ups, so that was a very short-lived. You know, journey. Um, and the reason for doing that is cause it’s, it’s really hard to like exceed as like a prepared food company.

You know, you have to get together always in greens. I was going to Costco getting all this organic chicken thighs. Right. The first time I did it, I was like the first time I did it, this pop-up the night it was being held at a nightclub. It’s called the San Francisco underground farmer’s market. It was at night market being held at public works, which is a nightclub in San Francisco.

And it just envisioned in the New York times. So I was like, this is going to be packed. And I was making chicken satay burgers. And I was like, all right, I’m going to make twice as many, you know, they said prepare 150 servings. I’m going to prepare twice as many because it was just in the New York times.

Um, and sure enough, there was like a line around the block, the night of the pop-up and unfortunately like. They do. Yeah, there was capacity and they couldn’t let everybody in. Um, so I actually ended up having to throw away like 150 chicken thighs and buns and toss and all this stuff. And I was like, Oh, I didn’t make any money that day because I just threw away all this extra food, you know?

So. Big challenge is actually a big learning from the beginning. I was like, get your forecast, right. You know, you’re ready. You’d rather sell out. And like, you know, make sure you go home early, then have just too much, you know, too much product and inventory. And it’s still something we worry about today.

 

You know, any, any consumer package company has to deal with inventory and inventory. There’s cash, right? That’s like literally cash that you’re just sitting there. Right. So you want to minimize the amount of days that you actually have, um, inventory sitting in your rounds. Um, Now as far as your second credit question, I mean, challenges scaling, dang.

Yeah. I mean, yeah, I mean, you name it, we’ve done it. We’ve had to go through, uh, you know, we’ve had hiring to hire the wrong people. Hiring is very, very important. So starting something out there, you know, spend a lot of time, uh, focusing on hiring the right people. Um, there’s, uh, some books that you can read around.

But we’ve read moon that we follow this system called topgrading and, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s very intrusive, but it’s, it’s meant to be, and you’re, you’re much better off, um, letting go of somebody good than, than hiring somebody bad. So you’re, you’re much, you, you spend a lot of time figuring that out. Um, yeah.

I mean, getting, you know, the retail, the world that I’m in, which is like CPG food retail is like, it’s pretty cutthroat. Like you have to go up against, you know, Hershey’s and Mars and like these really, really. Deep pocketed big, uh, companies and they spend to get product on shelf, you know, and like when you’re a small company and you know, you don’t want to spend the money that like there’s a little more that you have on just getting a product on the shelf.

You know, it kind of, it’s a rough, it’s a rough, uh, to run a business and you just have to battle all day. Um, this year in particular. You know, I would say most of the grocery store items and categories has benefited because people are eating more at home and less at restaurants. That being said that actually nutrition bars is one of the only areas of the grocery store that is not doing well because people aren’t on the go and nutrition bars are really like a solution for on the go.

 

You know, nutrition. So, um, that part of the business hasn’t been doing as well, but the rest of our business has been good. So that’s kind of, as you saw effect, you know, the coconut chips and the ratio of good, um, bars not doing too good this year. Um, so, you know, we’ve had to raise money, uh, you know, the first three years, my brother and I were running.

Yeah, basically, they’re running it just with the two of us and we didn’t pay herself a salary. So I wouldn’t recommend this to everybody yet, but, um, yeah, we managed to raise some money, give ourselves some back pay. Um, you know, we, we, we were trying to do whatever we can to grow the business and keep things clean.

Um, and we were able to grow to a pretty significant size before we raised money, which preserved our equity in the business. So we still own more than half the business today. Um, even though we raised millions of dollars in capital.

 

Bryan: (00:18:15) Well, I mean, listen to your story too, is one thing that I really. It really caught my interest is your sense of awareness.

So you knew how to market, you know, coconut oil to a new market, and you knew that diet was going to be in the next big thing. And you knew a lot of things that, you know, to help your marketing. You have to incorporate some of your cultural stories into your marketing. How’d you how’d you develop a sense of awareness. Why is it through experience because, or is it through, uh, because you’re curious and you read about a lot of different things. How did you develop, develop your awareness to pivot and essentially penetrate into these new items?

 

Vincent: (00:18:54) Um, what’s that saying? Like, uh, you know, good artists create great artists or something like that. I will say that there’s not a ton of like original ideas out there, but I think what we do well is, um, Is, I think what we do kind of identify, we say no a lot. So like, I think the key is strategy is saying, no, right. And we say no to like, people want to buy our coconut chips and put on in their yogurt and people want to buy, you know, rice chips and like sprinkle it and like, you know, use it as an ingredient.

We just didn’t know to all that stuff because we’re like, okay, you know, you really have to focus like any business that’s focused on what’s your niche. And, um, and really just do that and do that really well. I think, I honestly think most business. You know, if you say yes to everything you’re just taking on too much.

And you know, you have limited amount of time. You have a limited amount of money. Um, you gotta really spend focus on that. Um, Now as far as like the products we create, I mean, you know, I think there’s America, so American food culture is relatively young, you know? Um, we we’re still figuring it out here in the U S partially because you know, we’re a young country.

Partially because we have so many influences from all over and America is not a single entity, right? There’s, there’s, there’s different regions. And so, you know, you go South, you go to the Northeast, like the way that you just totally different than the way you do in the Midwest or the West. So. Um, in a lot of ways you have to kind of segment in the same way as segmenting consumers and decide, okay, who do I want to hit and who do I know, not, not hit with my product.

Um, and for us, we always said at the beginning, like, we want to hit the, you know, we, we call them like yoga moms. Um, someone who’s like very, you know, health-conscious, um, probably has a small family and shops with their family. Um, you know, they tend to be female, like for some reason, guys have an aversion to coconut.

Maybe it’s all those commercials with like women like shampooing their hair, coconut and, um, Yeah, we just, I kind of knew like that was our consumer and, you know, the, the Instagram following reflected that, and, you know, Mo later on, we were like, Oh, we were missing out on this entire storytelling element, uh, talking about Asian heritage as well.

So we started doing that. Um, and so, you know, I think the closer you get to. Cool. You are trying to hit your consumer target. The more insights you’ll get on what maybe they are lacking and what shoes you can fill. Um, I like to think of products as doing jobs. So. You know, if you wake up in the morning and like, you know, you want, uh, say you want a cup of coffee and you want it and instant, right?

Like the product that does a job for that as a K-cup, you know, it gives you like instant coffee right away. Um, or say you’re order, like right after a workout, you’re going to use like just worked out and you want something with some protein, you know, um, protein bars are X-bar is really good at that. So for us, we have like, you know, coconut chips, rice chips, and dang bar each serve different.

 

Uh, purposes throughout the day. Um, and that’s very much an important piece of, I guess, a food product is like asking you if yourself and your customers, how are you using in your life? Like what’s the eating occasion, um, and try to learn as much as possible about how a product is being used. Like, what problem is it solving?

So it isn’t selling a product. Yeah, sure. It could just taste good, but I don’t think in my world that’s enough to really get you to stay relevant.  

Bryan: (00:22:24) Yeah, absolutely agree. And kind of curious too, like how long into the process until you started having, uh, the fine image of what this customer looks like?

You know, a lot of people started a company. They don’t know who they are. Exactly what the niche is, who they’re going to market to. Like how long into your process until you guys are like, okay, this is the target audience that we want. Now that we hear this question a lot too, with other, our other interview host is like when he started, he just had a really big cast and didn’t know where to niche was.

How did you define that niche as you were building your company?

 

Vincent: (00:22:58) Yeah, I think it’s, I mean, I think it’s good to start or you want to have a hypothesis. I think when you develop any product, it’s like an experiment you want to buy pockets. It’s like, alright, I’m developing this like, you know, calendar for, you know, for g-mail and, uh, hypothesize that people can use it.

Or people use like email for business, right? Just like have a hypothesis. I think most founders will have a hypothesis, but then gut checking that against who’s actually like. Buying your product. Um, that’s really interesting. So, you know, uh, and, and I will say with social media, you can very quickly get demographic information, um, on who’s following, you know, social media tends to, at least Instagram tends to be more female heavy, but you know, you can get like age, you can get location, you can get like a lot of information on like, who’s following you.

Who’s clicking through your stuff. Um, you know, one thing we’ve benefited from early on was like influencer marketing, uh, back in like 2013, according to Kardashians, put a post of dang, um, you know, on our Instagram, which like, you know, got way more traffic than the New York times when they, when they, when they featured us.

So, um, Just knowing that Oh, you know, like when you could actually, and she’s a healthy mom, right. And she’s known for being one of the healthier, um, members of that family and okay. The people that are following her now know about dang, like we should dig deeper into that. So, um, just kind of seeing, who’s talking about your product and like, You know, and, and literally going out there and like talking to those people and saying, okay, you know, like you can do interviews and asked to like go in their homes or you can just send them surveys and be like, Hey, what time of day you’re meeting us?

Or how are you using us? Do you like bias and bulk or give it to your kids? Like just figuring out all that stuff is really. It’s important, I think from marketing perspective. Um, no. Yeah. So I guess one thing about your consumer segment, like, have I bought this, this, test it out and like validated, um, and be very open to like listening to, you know, your consumer about what they, you could do better or, uh, or what else you could do for them.

 

Maggie: (00:25:05) That’s amazing. Wow. Yeah. Social media is a very powerful tool and we can see your hat in this case right here. Um, I, I’m very curious. How do you, how would you differentiate, differentiate yourself from other snack brands? Um, especially if right now I feel like a lot of Asian. Inspired brands are coming out, whether that be drinks and snacks and snack bars.

I feel like a lot of people are going back to their culture and really being proud of it. And so looking back into their culture, seeing like what kind of food their parents have made for them back in the past, and really integrating that into snacks, a lot of people are starting to do. You know, create these Asian snack brands. Right. And so I know like back then there’ll be very limited number of coconut chip brands. Right. But I would say, you know, like now that there’s so many other different Asian snack brands, how would you say you differentiate yourself from those?

 

Vincent: (00:26:01) I would actually ask your guys what your opinion is. Like, how do you think we do it differently? Because you guys seem less than that. Like, I’ve been thinking about this for eight years, but you know, you as consumers or potential consumers, like how do you see it?

 

Maggie: (00:26:16) I would say honestly, like going back to the storytelling, like that storytelling piece is so important and, you know, for you to like talk about your family and the inspiration behind. What dang foods is. And for you to like, say that you named this company after your mother, that already pulls on my heartstrings

Bryan: (00:26:34) a lot also like your bright colors.

 

Maggie: (00:26:37) Yeah. And the big dang letters. It’s um, it’s really noticeable. Yeah.

Vincent: (00:26:42) Yeah. Okay. Good. So storytelling, branding, packaging, magazines are important.

Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, I think in order to get your business off the ground, you gotta get like all those core pieces of marketing, right. Price, packaging, promotion, um, all those things are really important right now. I think what we do at this point, what we do is different than. When we started, when we started, we were like, we were very scrappy.

We were like, I showed up at a trade show. I couldn’t afford a 10 by 10 booth, like a hundred foot booth. So I got a two foot table and a bigger booth where, you know, it was like shared. And so I would just like stand in my, like two feet space in front of the aisle. And like every person walked by, but like, Hey Simon, coconut chips, time I go, it could be that your coconut chips.

I like it must have handled that like thousands of people and, um, Yeah, my family come and help me cause they were free. It was free labor. Um, so like we were very scrappy, uh, especially at the beginning, but I think Stan Simpson, we sign him kind of maintain this, um, the spirit of like, Hey, you know, like we’re still like this kind of upstart.

Um, We, we, we, we try to make sure we were, I think I’d say we’re very resourceful. Like there’s a lot of ways. I think there’s a lot of ways you can lose a lot of money in our industry. Um, but we really try to like, you know, make sure that we, uh, go through and like being counted. Um, now as far as like consumer facing the, I think the difference, I mean, at this point, you know, we’ve been out there for quite a while and I would hope that people have seen us in a number of times and that they remember at least like the name or the packaging.

And, you know, sometimes will remember the name of that, the product, but like, you know, after a certain point. Yeah. Hopefully our brand becomes, uh, is recognizable. You know, people are like, Oh, I’ve seen that before. And then it becomes easier to, you know, launch novation, so line extensions and new products out there.

Um, so, you know, at this point I think we, we actually, you know, we’re, we’re not, we’re not one of the new guys on the block anymore, you know, we we’ve been around and, uh, We we, no, we, we don’t know exactly. I think we know more than when we started, but we don’t know everything. Um, and I would say the world is changing very drastically as far as how people get their food.

Um, last year online grocery sales are 4% and this year they’re 11% and they haven’t gone down at all since COVID and they don’t, I don’t have to say. Yeah that’s ever happened. Um, and like business is going to change completely. No, like people are not going to be traveling as much. So, you know, in this new world that we’re living in, it’s really like an opportunity for the people that are good at solving new problems.

 

You know, we, we like to hire people that solved get good at solving new problems. It’s not people that like take the same hammer and like buy the same hammer to different problems. So, you know, the people that are like very forward thinking at this point saying, okay, how are like, You know, with all this new wave of online grocery, you know, you see new grocers, like drive.com and we, which those Asian groceries, um, and like there’s a lot of niches now, you know, that are being explored through online grocery.

And so I think from a brand perspective, that’s very similar, you know, like nobody’s really created a know a Boba brand for like that you can ship to people very easily, you know, like there’s, there’s definitely, um, or that you store on a shelf and are in a. Supermarket for very long time. So it definitely like opportunities for people, um, that are out there looking for it.

.

Maggie: (00:30:12) That’s awesome. Um, so we saw a video about four years ago, and this was when you were already getting, getting into a bunch of, um, Grocery stores like whole foods, um, and, and Cougar. Yeah. And so, you know, you mentioned that you were going to be working on, um, this was four years ago, by the way. And you, you mentioned that you were going to be working on getting into a bunch of C-stores. And so how do you determine, like what type of grocery stores and C-stores that you would like to partner up with?

 

Vincent: (00:30:41) Yeah, that’s a good question. So, um, we call it channel strategy. So what channel do you want to be in? Do you want me to e-commerce do you want be in the natural channel? That’s like a whole foods you want to be in the conventional channel.

That’s a good Kroger and each channel requires a different approach. Um, H and also different economics of like how you shift, who you ship to, you know, all that stuff. Um, You know, we started with the consumer and like, where are they shopping? And we were like, okay, our consumer shops at whole foods, our consumer shops at sprouts, like they’re a very much more progressive, you know, educated, um, you know, higher income than like your average C-store or conventional, uh, shopper.

So when you start with the consumer and say, okay, where are they shopping then? It’s and it should tell you, okay, this is where you should start. Um, and then as e-commerce started to get popular, like back in 2014, we were like, Oh, people are buying groceries on Amazon, you know, It’s really becoming a thing we need to like do more here.

So we invested in hire people and in our e-commerce businesses about 20% of our total business. Um, and you know, just two years ago we launched a direct to consumer website. Um, and so that’s growing as well. So I guess the short. Answer is start where your consumer is. Don’t try to do everything because it’s going to be very, very hard to try to do everything once that, right.

Um, that month, um, and start with just one at a time, you know, versus trying to hit you.

 

Maggie: (00:32:03) Yeah. Yeah. It’s not really great advice.

 

Bryan: (00:32:04) Kind of curious too, throughout your entire journey so far. What has been the biggest lesson you learned as a founder

 

Vincent: (00:32:12) biggest lesson I’ve learned? I mean, the whole journey is a big lesson. Um, so I’m constantly trying to learn new things. I would say like one piece of advice that, uh, you know, stuck and really. Um, I tried to look by more is, uh, do only what only you could do here, or another way to say is like only do it only you can do so, um, I think that that can be applied to both your company, but also personally as well.

So your company, you know, you should only be doing what you’re like. You have to have a competitive advantage. Our competitive advantage was like our family in Thailand. You know, they know the suppliers, they can get out there, they can test the product, they can take their quality before it gets shipped over there.

Um, Like they knew the landscape. So that was our competitive advantage. That was something that was unique to us. Cause we had family there. Um, you know, as we were like, you know, we would get uniquely qualified for bringing in, you know, food products from Thailand. Now, as far as personally, it’s, it’s the same thing.

Like what are you personally good at? You know, if you’re good at sales and you’re good with people, right? Then you should probably focus on the sales aspect. It’s really good at like innovation and creating products. You should focus on that. If you’re great at operations or finance focused on that, outsource everything else, like get somebody else to do the rest of the stuff, you know, all this stuff that you’re not good at, get someone else to do it.

Um, you’re wasting your time and your energy by focusing on the things that you’re not as good at. So, you know, I’m a big fan of. Yeah, delegating. Um, and it’s not like bossing is different than bossing people, but delegating saying like, Hey, you know, we can, we, we, at our company, we don’t have traditional org chart.

We have an accountability charts. Everybody actually has multiple jobs, you know, like we’re like, okay, somebody needs to do like accounting. Somebody else needs to do, um, shipments. And that could be the same person. So it’s not like, you know, we have Mo not many people have many responsibilities, um, but we have to make sure that everything gets done and people are accountable for, um, for the tasks to get done here.

 

Maggie: (00:34:15) Yeah. Yeah. It sounds like the highlight of this. Focus, you know, like I think, I think a lot of people have that shiny object syndrome where they want to do everything. And this goes back to our original question and, you know, a lot of people want to do every single thing and they think they can’t do every single thing because they don’t want to delegate. And they think there’ll be a faster to do it themselves. But it’s really refreshing to hear you say, you know, like it’s important to delegate and just focus on the thing that you are comfortable with doing and outsourcing the rest.

 

Vincent: (00:34:45) One thing I will add to that one thing I will add to that. Um, something I didn’t know early on that I think is relevant for all the hustlers out there is.

Um, you know, one question we get asked a lot, especially by investors is what’s the category size. So what’s your addressable size of your market. You know, if you’re a graphic designer, right? Like you kind of want and have an idea of what your adjustable market is like. Is it tech companies? I want to develop a new app, you know, for us it’s like, okay, how big is the eye, the entire market for coconut chips or rice chips, or, you know, keto friendly bars.

Like that is an element that actually doesn’t get enough. And typically first timers trying to launch a food product. Don’t understand because if you like a natural thing that I hear a lot is always like, okay, I want to like, bring a sauce. You know, like my mom’s hot sauce was really good or barbecue sauce is really good.

Um, but how often do you actually buy. Barbecue sauce or outside. It’s pretty crew. Not that often. Right? It’s maybe like once every four or five months, right? Yeah. So like, think about how often those turns getting. So you’re, you’re like, okay, make a product. And you’re like, great. I got this product on shelf, but then you’re like, Oh my God, I’m only selling like one unit every month.

No, that’s different than. Beverages. Like how often do you buy pop water? Or how often do you buy snack bars? Like those things get consumed much quicker. So no, like just, I, I put it out there as a wash out because it’s something that I kind of lucked into. Like I didn’t, I was like, okay, healthy snacks, like be good.

But then I see how other people kind of get in with all this excitement. Then they realize, Oh my God, You know, I don’t know how often my product actually comes off the shelf. So it’s something to really, really try to understand before you launch something, it’s like, how often does it get purchased?

Cause that that metric is quick to call it. We call it velocity is, um, super important for. Not just the addressable size of the business, but also how fast your inventory is turning, you know, what your shelf science needs to be like, there’s it kind of plays into the rest of your business if you will.

 

Maggie: (00:36:51) Yeah. That’s amazing.

 

Bryan: (00:36:52) That’s crazy. Yeah. Yeah. And did you learn all this throughout your journey? Or did you know this before? Did you read books about it? Yes. By mentors, or like, how do you acquire these type of knowledge? Um, do like the full philosophy thing and the category size, like how’d you, how’d you learn about this?

 

Vincent: (00:37:09) Yeah. You know anything about this stuff? When I started my education was in engineering and then I was in Greek purchasing. So I was like, Oh, I want to help the world through sustainability and sustainable products. So I helped like the city of New York. Um, Uh, by greener products. So hybrid cars, there was a thesis on hybrid cars and adverts axes, and that were like, Oh, it isn’t cool.

Come, come out. This, do that. So, um, my interest has always been like consumer products, but also like the healthier greener side of things. Um, but I never was like, uh, I guess my parents kind of. Expose me to like business, but I didn’t really know anything about this food, TBG industry about supermarkets and how to sell to them and shelf space and how competitive it is and all that stuff.

So that was just like, uh, yeah, just doing my trial, like learning by fire and getting, you know, finding mentors. We’ve got advisory. Groups together and, um, yeah, at the time too, there’s there weren’t many Asians in our industry and there still are not like it’s a very, um, I guess there’s, there’s not a, I’m actually part of the group called SETA collaborative.

That’s looking to increase the amount of diversity on boards and on leadership level at the leadership level. Um, So, but, you know, I will say that it’s been a very welcoming industry and people have been very, um, very kind and willing to share everything. So now, like, you know, you can’t talk to competitors.

Like I always can take, it’s actually best to be friends with your competitors so that you can talk about how to grow the rising tide lifts, all boats, like grow the category together. So, um, Because then if you, if you’re starting out, you can work together to go category. Then you actually have a great story to tell the retailer, Hey, I deserve more shelf space or I serve more, you know, more.

 

Maggie: (00:38:52) Yeah, yeah, absolutely agree. Yeah, definitely. I agree. You know, being friends with your competitors and maybe there’s something that they’re doing that you’re missing or vice versa, right. Or, you know, there’s also for collaborations on that end. Um, and yeah, definitely. Yeah. And so like while you were growing, dang, um, you know, you talked about hiring the right people.

I think a lot of people who are starting their own businesses, they have trouble figuring out what type of people they want to bring onto their team. And what are the right people to bring onto their teams? What would you say would be the things that you typically look for when you’re bringing on people to your team for dang.

 

Vincent: (00:48:16) That’s a great question. Um, you know, I can say it’s the ultimate thing that I’m looking for that is really hard to test out. And my interview process is a level of ownership because as an owner, you know, you have that, you care about your business and your company so much, right. You live and die and you, you sleep, you know, thinking about it, you dream about it. Right. And. Um, the best thing you can have is somebody else who does the same thing. And you know, someone who, you’re not just telling what to do, but somebody who’s proactively being like, okay, I know what we’re trying to do as a business. So let me go out there and help you do it. And I’ll bring you solutions.

I’m not going to bring you all the problems. So like, um, We, I would say, you know, our, our hiring process and I can go through the whole hiring process if you have time. But I would say one of the most under rated parts of the hiring process is the reference check because not just the references that they give you, but the referee, like we ask it for every single person who supervised you at like, All of your jobs and we try and we try to talk to all of them.

Yeah. Because I want a whole picture. I don’t want it. I don’t want the person that you tell me that you go out and get drinks with after work. I wanted the person who didn’t like working with you. You know, you do your work. I love it. Yeah, it’s an intense process, but it gives you a better picture. Like I’m trying, I’m not trying to get the rosiest picture of who you are, but I want to know how you work and the best people to talk to other people that you’ve worked with in the past.

Right. And the people that if people, every single person you’ve worked with, it tells me, Oh my God, I would hire them in an instant again. Then, then that tells me something really good. You know, but if they’re like, yeah. You know, like she was like a six out of 10 or seven out of 10, like, you know, that tells me like, Oh, okay.

Might not be the right person. Like I want, I want every single person I hired to be like, Oh fuck. Yeah. Like I need to hire this person. So, um, yeah, because if they’re not, we’ll pass, like I’m okay with that. But I want to be excited about every single person, because again, small team people do a lot of things.

You gotta be accountable for a lot of stuff. And we want you to act like an owner.

 

Maggie: (00:41:38) Yeah, but no lie, like that’s the most effective method, you know, to actually reach out to the people who they’ve actually worked with. No, you know, like some companies don’t even do reference checks. It’s like, how do you know what type of person they are, but here’s to all the listeners out there who are trying to apply for dang foods, getting

Awesome. Oh, well, what’d you say would be like your five to 10 year plan in the future for dang foods. And what do you have in store?

Vincent: (00:42:09) Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, you know, we just launched, um, nutrition bars. And so those, you know, this year has been a challenging speed bumps for them because people aren’t buying as much, um, nutrition bars in general, but, uh, our future is bright for nutrition bars.

I’m actually going to launch a couple new items next year around that. So stay tuned for that. Um, In this in five to 10 years. So what I would love to do, right? Like my dream is to create an Asian American tech company that I can, you know, get known for being healthy, delicious, simple ingredients, and then take it to Asia.

You know, I want to take started here and then take it to Asia because there’s just the same need for snacks. Healthy fact in Asia, huge markets, right? China, Japan, like we were talking about like addressable market size, like one and a half billion people in China. Um, diabetes is a growing concern in Asian and Asian American communities.

And like, that’s something that, um, some of our products to help with all the keto, like no low carb items, they all help with that. So I’d love to be able to address, you know, metabolic diseases over there as well. Um, So, yeah, I mean, I think that’s, that’s the dream it’s like, you know, create the first Asian American snack brand that’s internationally known and then, you know, be able to take it overseas, um, so that we can actually, you know, impact more people.

 

Maggie: (00:43:30) Yeah. Love it. Bringing it full circle. Inspiration came from Asia, you know, it started here in America and you bring it back to Asia. What’s that strategy.

 

Vincent: (00:43:38) Yeah. Yeah. I think, yeah, it’s funny. I actually went to visit. This town in China, my grandparents are from, uh, South China Caucho, which is outside of Guangzhou.

Um, and I never actually gone there because my family now is in Thailand. Right. But, um, when I met my now wife, she was like, Oh, actually my grandparents are from Tokyo also. So we had here in the U S. But, uh, we actually met at burning man, but we did not. And then we connected. We were like, Oh, we’re so similar.

Oh, you’re from New York. I’m from New York. Oh, your grandparents are from Chacho. So, um, and now we have a, we have a new baby or mental baby at home, but, um, yeah, she invited me to like go visit her grandmother and her like uncles live in childcare. Right. And so I’m like, Driving around getting a tour of Caucho, which is the old city.

Um, and I was like, Oh, I’m gonna say, well, what are like the big industries here? And one of the uncles was like, Oh, we’re really good at ceramics. And we’re actually very rationally known for our snacks here. Oh shit. So like, I, my grandparents were born in this like snack. Actually like really good food area in China.

And I’d say becoming known, especially nationally with China becoming known as like a foodie destination. It’s got really good seafood. It’s got like, it’s just amazing produce. Um, and so it’s kind of like the food capital, one of the food capital in China. Yeah. And then when I went to visit her, I was like, Oh my God.

Like I had no idea that like, I, you know, I just ended up doing stacks here in the U S but like, I came from an area in China that’s like known for their snacks. Um, even though I didn’t, I didn’t know that, you know, somehow that, that career path. Um, so I dunno.

 

Bryan: (00:45:17) Is destined to happen,

 

Vincent: (00:45:19) serendipitous.

 

Maggie: (00:45:21) Definitely. What would you be? Um, what, what, what, what would you say would be your one advice to aspiring entrepreneur starting out in their business?

 

Vincent: (00:45:33) Yeah. Yeah. I think especially these days when it comes to like marketing and branding, I think it, you have some people. So my advice would to be bold, um, you know, don’t be afraid of like telling people who you are.

Right. I think at the beginning we were like, Oh, we don’t want to kind of want to just like sell a product as a healthy, natural product, but we don’t really talk to people who we are. Um, but you know, I think, especially today, we all create connection. And if some, if you tell some people your story, they’ll, they’ll, you know, even if they’re not like an Asian immigrant, like bill find something in there that way, sometime whether it’s like, okay, you know, you you’ve worked at a restaurant, yours would pop up or like, you know, you wanted to make food that like recipe that your mom made you like.

Everyone like there’s human universal elements to every story I think. Um, and don’t be afraid to tell people that and like, you know, there’s a lot of static and a lot of noise, I would say, particularly, you know, with, um, influencer marketing, social media. So like you just gotta find a way to make a splash.

And, uh, being quiet is not the way to do that.

 

Maggie: (00:45:21) Absolutely or creating. Yeah. Yeah. I get that from just seeing the word dang on your, on your snacks, just so bold. And right.

 

Bryan: (00:46:47) Sometimes I walk by your

 

Vincent: (00:46:58) you know, the very first day, I think I would say the best. Isn’t it. Then I made this name and the company day. And then, and then our tagline is dang. That’s good. Because naturally people were just saying that, you know, when they tasted the product, um, and that hasn’t changed since beginning. So that’s our approach to like trying to get it in your mind, like you’re really trying to buy it. So, um, yeah, that’s how we do.

 

Maggie: (00:47:22) Awesome. All right. Well, how can our listeners learn more about you online? That’s it.

 

Vincent: (00:47:29) Yeah. So, uh, do you want them, or about saying check, uh, kind of Dan foods.com. Um, you can learn about a story. You can order a product. You can actually order swag juice and got like bomber jackets. We have auntie visors, it’s like a dang red and like, yeah, they have to like advisors for you to do your accounting. Um, We sell like utensil stuff. So just fun stuff. Matches, matches food on their website.

 

Maggie: (00:47:22) Awesome. And, um, just wanted to give a quick shout out. You know, we, um, also have dang foods on our age and market age and marketplace.So if you guys want to head over to Asian hustle, network.com. Um, and head over to our marketplace. You can find dang food products on there as well with a discount. So go ahead and check that.

 

Vincent: (00:48:20) Yeah, it gets yourself a referral fee.

 

Maggie: (00:48:25) Well, thank you so much for sharing your story then said it was amazing hearing from you

 

Bryan: (00:48:28) should be in the podcast today.

 

Vincent: (00:48:31) Yeah. Anytime. Thank you guys. And have a dang good day.

 

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