Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses.
When I first saw that I was set to interview today’s guest, I said, “Dang? Dang Foods, what is this thing? I’ve never heard of it. How did my people even find this guest?” Frankly, Mixergy is all about entrepreneurs who are in tech. I think food and everything else is a little bit hard to get into, and it’s a little outside out focus.
Then I started doing some research, and I glanced away from the text to actually look at the packaging that one of the company’s products comes in and I realized I have it in my house. It’s one of the few things my wife is okay giving my kids for snacks. It’s coconut chips. Dang makes these beautifully packaged coconut chips that you can snack on and not have anyone feel guilty for having it.
They have also have expanded to other products. I’m on their website right now, where I see onion chips and sticky rice chips, but it’s the coconut chips that really got my attention and exist in my house probably right now. So we’ve got the founder of the company right here. I tend to think that software is pretty easy. The infrastructure for getting it out there is set. But anything else is a little bit difficult.
So I’m curious to see what he did to get Dang and this new kind of snack into people’s homes. So that’s what we’re going to find out in this interview. His name is Vincent Kitirattragarn. I practiced it so much with you, but I’m going to be open and say I think I mispronounced it or maybe I overly pronounced it. How do you pronounce it, Vincent?
Vincent: That was great. That was great.
Andrew: How do you say it?
Andrew: Say it one more time because I think the audio just broke up.
Vincent: Oh yeah, Kitirattragarn.
Andrew: All right. That’s a little bit better. Again, he’s the founder of Dang, which launched a few products including this coconut chip. This interview is sponsored by the company that will help you hire your next great developer. It’s called Toptal and the company that will allow you to get more customers on the phone or get more customers by using the phone. It’s called Acuity Scheduling. We used it to schedule this interview.
Vincent, good to have you here.
Vincent: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Andrew: Dude, what kind of revenues are you generating with Dang?
Vincent: So we’re between $10 million and $15 million.
Andrew: $10 million and $15 million?
Vincent: That’s our range right now, yeah.
Andrew: Okay. And the thing was launched in 2011?
Vincent: We launched–2012 was the first time we actually shipped out products, but the idea came about, the company was incorporated in 2011.
Andrew: Wow. We must have gotten it from Whole Foods, because if it doesn’t come from Amazon Fresh in our house. It’s probably Whole Foods. You guys are in there, right?
Vincent: Yeah. We’re in all 11 regions. We got to Whole Foods one by one, basically. They have 11 regions and we got in one by one. Sometimes you get lucky. We didn’t. We had to work hard to get it.
Andrew: I want to know what you did to get into all of them, but let’s go back a little bit and just understand how you got into it. You’re a guy who studied engineering like a lot of people in my audience. Then you joined up in a cooking club in school. What was it about that that helped turn your attention towards food?
Vincent: Yeah. I’d always been interested in food. As the oldest sibling of four, I always helped cook for the family. So, when I went to school, I was like, “All right, what are my strengths? Math and sciences, let’s take some engineering courses.” On the side, I always liked to play with food, and during breaks I would come home and cook with some of my friends.
Andrew: Wait, as a high school kid, you were cooking with your friends?
Vincent: Yeah. We’d cook sometimes on the weekends, during breaks during college especially is when I really got into it.
Andrew: In the U.S., what city were you in that you went to school with kids who would enjoy cooking with their buddy?
Vincent: I grew up in New York City, right in Manhattan.
Andrew: Wow. I grew up in New York too. Maybe it’s that I was in the outer boroughs. All right. So you’re cooking with them. You’re starting to enjoy this thing. The farmers markets are getting your attention. What was it about the farmers market?
Vincent: The farmers market is a great place to connect with people and learn about your ingredients. I started volunteering there for free.
Andrew: I see. You’re thinking, “I could get into this. I could probably get in the food business.” You didn’t want to be a waiter. You didn’t want to be a chef. Why not?
Vincent: In my exploration of food, I worked in a couple kitchens. I washed dishes at a Thai restaurant. I helped some friends out catering stuff. Ultimately I decided–I wrote up a business plan for a food truck back in San Francisco when I first moved here, and then I realized that’s going to take a few years to pay back and it’s not going to be a great business.
What I ended up doing was a pop-up restaurant in San Francisco and invited a couple hundred people to this event. It was about Public Works, a San Francisco club. They basically opened it up to become a big night market. It was very low overhead. You didn’t even need to cook in a commercial kitchen. So they actually got around these commercial kitchen laws.
Andrew: How did they get around the commercial kitchen laws?
Vincent: They called it a private club. When you call something a private club all the time and you have people sign waivers at the front door, you can get cooking in a commercial kitchen. So I just cooked it in my barbeque in my house.
Andrew: I see. You’re barbequing in the house. Is that where you ended up as one of the ingredients creating this coconut flake thing?
Vincent: Yeah. Toasted coconut was an ingredient in a lettuce wrap recipe my mother gave me. The actual recipe is behind me on the wall. We couldn’t find toasted coconut in the store. She was like, “Okay, we can buy shredded coconut, put it in a pan, put it on low heat and keep stirring it until it turns golden brown.” I did this with a few pounds of coconut, and my entire house started smelling like amazing, sweet toasted coconuts.
I had seven roommates at the time, and they came out of their room and started snacking on this. I was like, “Interesting. They’re snacking on the toasted coconut. Maybe we could sell it as a snack.” If we don’t open a restaurant, maybe we can create a snack company. That’s what ended up happening.
Andrew: I get it. By the way, your internet connection is a little bit bad. Do you happen to have anything running in the background? Are you guys uploading, downloading videos, nothing like that?
Vincent: No. I turned everything off.
Andrew: All right. We’ll just keep going with this. When you were actually making the full lettuce wrap, did you actually sell it? Did people buy it?
Vincent: Yeah. We made 200 servings of them. It was just one night, made probably like $600 to $700 in revenue.
Vincent: But yeah, people–
Andrew: All right. People love it, but you’re still seeing this coconut thing and you’re saying, “You know what? My friends are snacking on it. This can be an easier thing to sell. Maybe I can actually sell it.” Then you go to your brother who was in Thailand. Why go to your brother? Why not say, “I’m making this at home. There are commercial kitchens everywhere. I’ll just go make it in a commercial kitchen if I need to make it bigger,” but keep in the country in the city. Why go to Thailand?
Vincent: I knew that Thailand had great coconuts. The coconut water craze had been in full swing at this point. Looking at all these cans, they said, “Product of Thailand.” So I figured why not just go to the source and see if somebody is already making this stuff. There are two types of product development. You can make something from scratch, or you can do plug and play where somebody is already making something.
So, [inaudible 00:07:51] with saying, “Can we find if somebody’s making something like this already, retool it a little bit and put in a package and bring it to the U.S.?” So he sent me some samples. We got in touch with those manufacturers, and that’s how we got our first suppliers.
Andrew: I was going to ask you how you even figured out the packaging. I wonder if it goes back to your dad. Your dad was an entrepreneur, right?
Andrew: He actually sold–what was it that he sold at the Pottery Barn?
Vincent: So he started his career selling wicker baskets, these wooden woven baskets, and then he started selling silk flowers. Now he’s got a candle company, and he sells to Pottery Barn. So he’s actually coming to visit me next week and going to visit his buyers at Pottery Barn.
Andrew: I see. He’s in New York too?
Vincent: Right outside. He’s in New Jersey.
Andrew: I see. All right. Did that help you at all when it came to packaging?
Vincent: Maybe a little bit. I think he has a creative bent. I like to think I have some of that as well. So, when it came to designing our first packaging, instead of going to these big designers that are expensive, it was just me and a friend who’s an architect, and he helped create a design and then I filled it in with colors and photography. It was very much a do it yourself packaging, but it got us five years. We’re refreshing the packaging now, but I’m really happy with how far it’s gotten us.
Andrew: Yeah. The packaging looks really nice. I feel like you must spend a ton of money on the packaging, maybe more than the actual product inside, no?
Vincent: There’s the look and feel of the material and then there’s the visuals piece of it. So the feel of the material, we wanted to make sure it felt tactile. It was smooth and not crinkly. As far as the visuals, we wanted people to see this is a coconut chip from a coconut so you know where it’s coming from. Coconuts are like $0.30 or something like that, the ones that are in the photo.
Andrew: Sorry, the connection is really bad. The connection is really bad. Let me finish this and then we’ll hang up and try again. You’re saying the coconut is $0.30.
Vincent: Yeah. On the bag itself, you see three coconuts, and we kind of split them open and had the coconut chips spilling out of them. We just brought them on the street in Thailand and brought them back to the studio and took photos of them.
Andrew: At this point, did you get into business with your brother, or was he just helping out by shipping you some coconut flakes?
Vincent: No. He was just helping out. He was traveling at the time. He was working as a CPA, an accountant at KPMG. He was very focused on that part of his career. He didn’t join us at that point. He joined me actually in 2013, so after we started getting these large orders from Safeway, I was like, “Oh crap, I need help. I don’t know what I’m doing for accounting.” I called him up. He helped clean up our books and then joined full-time.
Andrew: Was he a 50-50 partner at that point?
Vincent: No. I can’t disclose much about that.
Andrew: Okay. But are you the older brother?
Vincent: I am. Yeah.
Andrew: The older brother, you were there first, my sense is it’s more you than him, weighted more towards you.
Vincent: I’m the majority, yeah. I’m still the majority shareholder.
Andrew: Did you raise any money?
Vincent: Yeah. So last year we did a series A. We raised $3.5 million exactly a year ago.
Andrew: So then going back to your story, your brother helps out with the initial product. You get it over here. You start creating the packaging for it, which I said looks great. Then you go to the Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C., which I’ve never heard of. How did you know that was a thing that was actually like where you’re supposed to be?
Vincent: That’s a good question. I don’t remember. But I must have spoken to somebody in the industry and gotten tips of, “Okay, this is where the trade goes. This is where buyers go.” There are really only two events that people go to that everyone goes to. One of them is the Fancy Food Show, and the other one is the Natural Products Expo. So finding out that okay, it was there, I could bring some samples with me and get some feedback, I thought it was a great opportunity to do some really live iteration.
Andrew: All right. Did you buy a booth at the show?
Vincent: No, couldn’t afford my booth. I had my brother send me more samples from Thailand. He just bought retail coconut chips and bought these little soufflé cups with lids on them, these little plastic cups and got some stickers printed to put on the plastic cups to make it a little bit more legit. I had a bunch of my friends come to D.C., and we filled these cups and put them in these backpacks and walked around looking for anyone with a badge that said Whole Foods or Safeway or any supermarket we recognized.
Andrew: And when you saw them, you just walk up to them and say, “Here, we made this. I’d love for you to try it?”
Vincent: Yeah, pretty much.
Andrew: And they would just put it in their mouths? Sorry, the connection is a little bit wobbly, that’s why.
Vincent: Not all of them.
Andrew: I don’t know that I would eat something that came from a stranger out of his backpack. Someone at Whole Foods would go and try it?
Vincent: The very first person we actually saw coming off the escalator when I first entered the show had this Whole Foods badge, I sampled him on it, he took the tiniest little bite, but he said, “Hey, this tastes pretty good, but I need to see packaging. I need to see pricing, all this.” But that helped me validate that this could happen. He actually happens to be my Whole Foods buyer today in the New York region. Every time I see him I tell him that story again. But we’ve become good friends.
Andrew: That was the very first person, Vincent?
Vincent: Literally the first person I met in the entire industry.
Andrew: Oh my god. All right. I’ve heard that Whole Foods is kind of generous that way, that they actually will allocate space for local entrepreneurs, for new products just to give people a shot like they gave you. Is that right?
Vincent: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s just to give people a shot, but I will say they are much more receptive to new innovation products than any other retailer.
Andrew: All right. So then you had to go back and create the packaging. Was he the first customer?
Vincent: He was not the first customer. At the time, he wasn’t making the buying decisions. Now he does. Our first customers came after we exhibited at another trade show, the Natural Products Expo. That was in Anaheim in March, 2012. We bought a two-foot table and stuck two or three people like right in front of this table. We were really shoulder to shoulder in the aisles sampling anyone who walked by saying, “Here, try some coconut chips.”
We honed our pitch because we had to say it about 1,000 times over the course of a couple days. From that, we got a couple of other Whole Foods regions interested. We got HEB down in Texas. That’s a big retail chain. We got some really nice interest from retailers.
Andrew: I see. All right. We’ll get back into manufacturing in a moment, how you expanded beyond it. First, I’ve got to talk about my sponsor. I’ve got to say whatever Wi-Fi you connected to, it looks great. Now I can actually see you.
Andrew: All right. Here’s my sponsor. It’s a company called Acuity Scheduling. Have you ever heard of Acuity?
Vincent: I have not. No.
Andrew: I’m going to introduce you to them. Actually, the reason that I’m so excited about it is a few years ago I got an email from someone in my audience, a guy named James Kennedy, goes by Jamie. He said, “Listen, Andrew, you’re screwing up in these interviews. You keep talking about landing pages and conversion. You keep talking about selling via email. But the truth is, a lot of business happens on the phone and you’re ignoring all of that stuff.”
I said, “All right, Jamie, tell me more,” and he started opening my eyes to the fact that a lot of times, yes, people will discover you online, but you’ll actually get the sale over the phone, over voice. So, if that’s the truth, how do you get more of your customers on the phone, more of your potential customers on the phone, more the people who want to demo your software to get them on a phone or a screen share?
Well, you need software that will make it easy for them to see your availability and then pick the time that they want to talk to you. That’s where Acuity Scheduling comes in. We use it to book interviews, but you can use it to talk to potential guests, to potential customers, existing customers, to talk to anyone and really make it easy for them to schedule with you.
The idea behind Acuity Scheduling is–Vincent, if you ever need to use this, you’ll see it’s brilliantly simple. You log in. You see a calendar. Actually, you log in, you connect your calendar to it. At that point, it knows when you’re busy, when you’re free. Then you say, “Here are the times that I’m willing to talk to my customers. I’m available in a quiet place.” Just kind of paint it on the calendar.
From there, you get a link you can give to your prospects and say, “Here, use this whenever you want to schedule with me.” If you happen to put Mondays between 9:00 and 5:00 as available time but then you schedule a call at noon, that’s automatically taken off the calendar. You can do so much. You can ask them for their name, their phone number, their email address. You can ask for a few more details. It all pops up on your calendar and their calendar and they get a reminder, you get a reminder. It’s beautiful.
I’ve talked about this for years long before they sponsored, but now they are a sponsor and so I’m especially glad to tell you about them because we ask all of our sponsors to give free time to our users so that we give them something actually meaningful. So, here’s what Acuity is doing. If you’re listening to me, then you’re a Mixergy fan and they’re going to give you 45 days to try Acuity Scheduling fully unrestricted, Acuity Scheduling for 45 days.
All you have to do is go to this special URL. It is AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy. I’m still like–my voice is shot because I’m up at night with the kids. So, I’ll say it again–AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy, 45 days free. I’m telling you guys, try it, you’ll get more sales. Your customers will love you for using it–Acuity Scheduling.
All right, Vincent, back to your story, you told our producer you tried six manufacturers in Thailand. How’d you even find the manufacturers in Thailand, and what was wrong with the five that you rejected?
Vincent: We took samples of coconut chips from everyone we could find. You literally go to a grocery store and you can just grab one here, grab one here, grab one here, track down the address and do a little sleuthing. At the time, I guess Alibaba wasn’t big, but now you can go on Alibaba and find anything anywhere. We just did a little sleuthing and looked them up in the phone books.
The first five, I would say we had a vigorous taste test challenge where we blind tasted all these between me and some other people in the family. Overwhelming there was one that shined greater than the others. So we ended up going with that supplier.
Andrew: Because of the flavor?
Vincent: Yeah. For our company, flavor is first. That doesn’t really get–a lot of food companies end up pushing it to the back as far as what’s important when they come out with a food product, but for us, it’s the first and foremost thing.
Andrew: You know? I actually did a search on Alibaba just like you suggested. Look at this. Not only can I find coconut chips available organic in bulk for $3 per kilogram, but I’m also seeing zip lock bags like the kind I like that you guys have. It’s almost like they’re giving me all the ingredients to copy your business.
Vincent: You can copy my business now in like a month.
Andrew: Is that true?
Vincent: It’s totally true.
Andrew: So what do you to protect yourself?
Vincent: You would be the third dozen person to do coconut chips, though. What do you to protect yourself?
Vincent: That’s where brand equity comes into play. That’s where building a brand comes into play. That’s where being in front of consumers, educating them about your brand and what you stand for comes into play. So we have a five-year head start at this point. It would be very tough if you tried to get into coconut chips to catch up with us. We have seen major players come in to the space within the first few years, and we’re still the majority–we still have the majority market share. We’ve done a pretty decent job of playing defense while the pie is growing for coconut chips.
Andrew: And the way you’re doing it is by establishing your brand, but you’re saying they also have big brands. I see them now, Bear Natural Coconut Chips is now available on Amazon Fresh. What do you do with some of these bigger brands? How do you compete with them?
Vincent: There are ways you can go against them. We want to keep telling our story. Our story now was we were the first one to come out with this and they still sell the best. When you’re talking to a retailer, their language is what’s in it for me? How can I improve my revenue and my margins? So, we’ve become a lot more data rich by category data, so you can–
Andrew: Sorry, the connection just broke off again.
Vincent: We know exactly what the category looks like.
Andrew: You’re saying because you’ve been there longer, you understand the category better and you can give them better data than somebody who just came in recently.
Andrew: They really need data from you? I’m actually looking, you guys are on Amazon Fresh. I had no idea I could have ordered you guys directly. Amazon really needs your data? They don’t know themselves?
Vincent: Yeah. They might know what’s going on in their universe, but they don’t know what’s going on outside their universe. So Whole Foods, for example, might see this is how Dang sells at Whole Foods but doesn’t know how we do at Kroger or in Target or other retailers out there.
Andrew: Okay. Where did the name Dang come from?
Vincent: Dang is actually my mom’s name. She’s the one that inspired the company with her recipe, and we decided to pay homage to her by naming it after her.
Andrew: What does the name Dang mean?
Vincent: It means red in Thai. It’s also a popular women’s name.
Andrew: All right. Does your dad feel at all left out? You’ve got your mom’s recipe over your shoulder, your mom’s name on the packaging.
Vincent: I don’t think so. He’s pretty actively involved with helping us like ideate and come up with new products. He has this idea to start shipping rice to the U.S. and start selling rice to the U.S. I think he likes that it’s something that he’s interested in and something that taps into our family strength, which is importing goods from Thailand to the U.S.
Andrew: The connection is breaking off again. It’s really bad. Let’s continue the interview via phone. Just text me your phone number. I’ll call you on the phone.
Vincent: All right.
Andrew: I mean put it in the Skype chat. I’ll call you right back. While we wait for Vincent to reconnect, I’ve got to tell you about Eric Brown. He’s a listener of my interviews just like you are. A few weeks ago, he stopped by the office and brought me this really nice generous box with two Macallan scotches in it and glasses, really beautiful set and I can’t wait to drink it. He said, “Thank you.” I said, “For what?” He said, “Andrew, I’ve been listening to the interviews and I also signed up with Toptal.”
It turns out Eric had an idea for a business and even though he’s an IT professional, he wanted somebody really good–maybe in fact because he’s an IT professional he wanted someone especially good–to develop the app for him. He had this idea for an app that would allow businesses like Mixergy to organize themselves better so everyone on the team knew what they needed to get done and what the overall mission was and how they were contributing to the mission and so on.
So he heard me talk about–my voice was better then, I’m sure–he heard me talk about Toptal and said, “I’m going to call them up.” He called them up and actually got to do what you’d get to do if you ever were to call them up, tell Toptal about his issues, what he wanted to build what kind of person he was looking to hire and what his vision was for the product. Toptal then introduced him to a developer. He got to work with that developer.
If you do this, you’ll often get to start within a day or two. Then they built out this app for him, which he took me through. It works beautifully. I love the way that he thought about it and I’m proud to say that it was built by a Mixergy listener using a Mixergy sponsor, Toptal.
So how does it relate back to you? Well, if you’re looking for a developer, maybe somebody to build a project from scratch, maybe somebody to help round out your team, maybe you need a team of developers to help grow your current team, that’s where Toptal comes in–top as in top of the mountain, tal as in talent.
You go their website or you email me and I’ll introduce you to them, but the first step you’ll take after connecting with them is you’ll get on a phone with them, you’ll actually tell them what you’re looking for, how you work, what you have in mind and they, a real human being will talk to you and match you up with the right developer or developers to take on your project.
All right. If you’re listening to me right now, it means you’re a Mixergy fan, so they’re giving you something they’re not giving anyone else. That is 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours and that’s in addition to a guarantee that you’re going to be happy. All you have to do is check out this URL, where they’re going to give you more details on the software and where you can get started right now. Here it is–Toptal.com/Mixergy. I’m grateful to them for sponsoring. All right. Let’s go reconnect with him.
Vincent: Hello. This is Vincent.
Andrew: Hey, all right. I’ll go with this.
Andrew: We were talking about the development of the product and your dad’s part in it. I wonder if maybe his influence helped shape the way you talk about it, that it started out being coconut flakes and now it’s coconut chips, right?
Vincent: Yeah. I would say he has a lot more influence on the way that we think about like the ethos of the company, how we want to use only natural ingredients, how we talk about the company. I think that particular decision on what to call it is more of us as Thai Americans, we’re a little bit more in tune with what Americans snack on. They don’t snack on flakes. They snack on chips.
That was an early decision we made, let’s call it a chip because we wanted to be a snack product. It also turns much faster in the retailer when it’s in the snack area versus a place like the baking area where you see typical coconut flakes. So we wanted to get out of the boring areas like baking and get into the more exciting areas like snacks.
Andrew: That’s something that my researchers told me to make sure to include in this interview, which is at first, you were put into the salad section and you were kind of excited. You said, “Look, we’re in the supermarket.” But you didn’t realize that being in the salad section was actually not as good. Talk about that.
Vincent: Sure. So one of the first retailers, HEB, they took us in to salad toppings, because they’re like coconut chips, you can put in on a salad. Let’s put it next to croutons. You also put those on salad. We realized pretty soon after that it was a rookie mistake, basically. That product, the people that go and buy products there don’t shop there as often. You don’t go to salad toppings every single time you got to the supermarket, but you do go by snacks. So, in terms of what the potential volume of that account could yield us, it was much more limited because we made that placement mistake early on.
Andrew: So how much impact do you have when it comes to placement in a supermarket?
Vincent: I’d say you have a lot up until they place you. After they place you, you don’t have as much. So you can educate them and say, “This is where we should be placed in the supermarket, this is why,” but you also really have to really know intimately why you want to be there. Ultimately your survival will depend on how well you sell next to the products next to it.
So a new product, if you’re rice chips, for example, we want to aim for the salty snack aisle, that’s where you find potato chips and popcorn, but because it’s a new product, we don’t think we’re going to turn as fast, so we have to sell retailers, “Okay, you’re going to put us in this aisle, but put us at the end next to your rice chips and seaweed chips and kale chips where you have the more alternative salty snacks rather than your main line set.”
Andrew: If you go up against Lay’s potato chips, someone who’s about to buy one of those is not going to be swayed to try something so new, but in the other section, I see. What about Safeway? How did you get in there?
Vincent: So Safeway called us about six months after we started and said, “We saw your products somewhere in the marketplace. We want to create this healthy snacking destination in produce.” So they brought me in, had me present to a bunch of their VPs in produce. The more we thought about it, the more we thought produce is a great area of the store for us, especially in these conventional markets like Safeway.
Everybody walks through produce. We’d get tons and tons of eyeballs. If they create a nice little snacking destination there, we have the illusion of being more of a fresh product that tends to be higher price points there. So it ended up being a really nice launching partnership for us.
Andrew: Costco, you guys are there too. How’d you get in there?
Vincent: Yeah. Costco is a longer term project. We just got in there only seven months ago. That was a result of figuring out what they wanted and making sure it was the right time for the brand. Costco, you can’t really jump into them until later on because they can only be a certain percent of your sales. For a while, we were like, “All right, we’re not big enough, we’re not big enough.”
Finally we were at the point where we’re saying we have some markets we know we’re strong in, like LA, for example. So let’s try it out there. We did a test in August and it did so well that we got six regions on board for this year.
Andrew: You mean they won’t let you work with them unless they’re a small percentage of your sales?
Vincent: Yes. They don’t want to be a big percentage of your sales because if they stop buying from you, which they can at any moment, they don’t want to put you out of business.
Andrew: Really? That’s being a good company, is that what it is?
Vincent: That’s exactly what it is.
Andrew: Interesting. Speaking of good companies, why are you a B Corp? Why’d you decide to do that, and what’s the impact on your company for being a B Corp?
Vincent: So, before we started Dang, I was in green purchasing and I helped large organizations like the City of New York buy greener products like recycled paper and hybrid cars. I learned in that process that certifications are very important. They add credibility and they really communicate this is what your heart and soul is of the company.
When we started the company, we were like, “Okay, what certifications can we get that would be credible that we could also stand by?” B Corp was one where we were like alright, we’re already doing most of the stuff anyway. We rent the place and we have solar panels up on the roof. We drive hybrid cars. Our products are non-GMO verified. So, we’re already doing all this stuff. Let’s get credit for it. We talked with B Corps and looked at their criteria. It turned out that we met enough criteria to get the certification.
Andrew: What was the hardest part of their criteria?
Vincent: That’s a good question. I would have to take another look at it. They do require you to change some of your governance documents. They require you to try to working with your suppliers and your landlord to change things in the building that you’re in. So I don’t remember off the top of my head what was exactly hard.
Andrew: There was nothing you guys wrestled with internally.
Andrew: I thought a B Corp was just an empty certification. I didn’t realize that it’s a legal structure, isn’t it? Thirty states and D.C. officially recognize B Corp, and the goal of a B Corp is to recognize companies that have a positive impact on society, workers and the community in addition to the environment and that is, in addition to profits, needs to be one of your legally defined goals.
Vincent: Yeah. It’s a whole new company structure of not just putting profits before everything.
Andrew: Right. So then you did that. There’s no way to know whether it lifted your sales, is there?
Vincent: Unfortunately I don’t have that data, no.
Andrew: All right. But you got that, you’re in the stores. You’re continuing to grow. What kind of marketing do you do?
Vincent: Yeah. So, from the very beginning, we still do this today, we realize the only way to get people to understand what a coconut chip is and what it tastes like and how to use it is to get it in their mouth. Coconut chips are still very new to the U.S. We’re only a five-year old company and yet we’ve launched a category. We have a long way to go as far as educating people. We do a lot of in store demos, a lot of sampling events. We’ve done marathons and sampling boxes and pretty much any way we can get it in your mouth, we will.
Andrew: When you say sampling box, those are the services where someone pays a monthly subscription to get different food, right?
Vincent: Correct. Yeah.
Andrew: Is there any way for you to figure out how effective they are for you to be a part of them?
Vincent: So some of them pay for products, some of them you have to donate products. Quite a few of them give you a report at the end saying this is the feedback we get. I actually get nice consumer feedback. The one question they ask is, “Do you plan to buy it in store?” We get an idea of how many consumers we turn on.
Andrew: Got it. Let’s go back to your brother. I love that we have a producer here who has a call with you who feels out what would be helpful for the audience to hear. What we were surprised that you were willing to talk about is that you and your brother went into therapy, into counseling. You guys were working together and you had some issues. What were the issues?
Vincent: Yeah. My brother and I are very different. People actually mistake us for twins a lot of the time because we look the same. But our strengths are totally different. I think understanding that we are very different was part of the source of conflict, understanding that I have certain strengths in more marketing-related activities like ideation and he has more strengths in things like detail orientation, things that are great for finance and operations.
That can be a source of frustration when you have to work together all the time. I’m constantly trying to come up with ideas and then he’s trying to shoot them down. So that became frustrating after a while and we went to talk to a counselor about it. Since then, I think our relationship has improved vastly.
We used a tool called strength finder for everyone on our team. What it does, it’s a 30-minute test and tells you, “Okay, these are your top five strengths.” It really helps you understand, “Okay, this is why this person is the way they are.” You no longer see it as a source of frustration, but as a strength. So the fact that I like to come up with ideas, he totally gives me license to do that now, understanding that’s one of my strengths.
Andrew: I see. How’d you find a therapist who could actually do this, who could do partner therapy?
Vincent: There are quite a few. A lot of therapists work in occupational therapy, counseling, couples counselors, they do very similar things. There are plenty out there.
Andrew: How are you liking being an entrepreneur and running a business that keeps growing like this?
Vincent: Like they say, it’s a rollercoaster ride. There are ups and there are downs. I’m happy to say there have been a lot more ups than downs in our company. I would say also the challenge of being an entrepreneur, it’s never over. The middle of the night, you’ll wake up and have an idea and stay up thinking about it and you’ve got to write it down and then you get excited about it and you go to work the next day and you want to work on it. It’s really hard to turn off.
But that being said, I do think it’s important to find time step away and refresh and just make sure you keep everything in perspective. My brother was in a car accident just last week and I think that really helped give us a different perspective on how we run things, how much we put into the company and basically what’s important.
Andrew: So how are you going to be different now with that realization?
Vincent: I think we just appreciate more what we have.
Andrew: Are you going to continue to work as much?
Vincent: Yeah, definitely. We’re both still very motivated. But being appreciative for what you have and not taking it for granted I think is something that you can lose sight of when you’re working day in and day out.
Andrew: I heard you’re not someone who likes conflict. How does that impact your leadership style?
Vincent: That’s a great question. How does it impact my leadership style? I would say I can embrace it when it needs to happen. I’ve learned to embrace it. It’s not something that I seek out. I think as a company, you need to embrace it to a certain extent. So when a company needs me to step up or we defend ourselves or our brand, I’m happy to do so.
Andrew: Like when? When is one time you had to really stand up and do that?
Vincent: Yeah. We’ve had times where talking with investors, for example, if an investor isn’t happy with how you perform in a certain quarter, bringing them the evidence and data that says, “Hey, this is how it went. These are the reasons why.” I’ve had to learn that rule of okay, this is defensible. Everything we do is defensible. Now that we have investors, we have to get used to managing up and that comes with set of expectations. That comes with different kinds of work tools to be able to manage up. That’s something we’ve had to learn in the past year.
Andrew: You told me before we started that you kind of rode the wave of this whole coconut craze, that coconut water is big, coconut oil now is being used in more things, coconut everywhere, it feels like. Then you go to rice. What’s the new product, the sticky rice product? Original recipe sticky rice chips–I thought people were staying away from carbs in rice. How did you know that was the next thing that you guys should get into?
Vincent: Good question. I agree that coconut is big and is still growing as a category. It’s one of the top Whole Foods trends for 2017. The sticky rice chips we found in the Bangkok Airport. The more we looked at it, we thought this could be a product that fills a need here in the US. It’s not just in the U.S. that there’s a need, but also worldwide. Rice is one of the biggest grains in the world.
The Bangkok Airport sells–we found a similar product there and they sell 10,000 units a day at the single airport location alone. That told me there’s a huge consumer need for it, at least in Asia, at least in people that are going through the Bangkok Airport. What we’re trying to do as a company is really transport people and curate the best snack products that we can from Thailand, bring them over, make them approachable here in the U.S. So we saw this item as okay, this could fit into our core competency there.
Andrew: Got it. All right. Well, congratulations on everything you’ve built up and on putting up with the internet connection on this interview. I’m going to congratulate myself on that too.
Vincent: Thank you and thanks for the questions. I really enjoyed it.
Andrew: You bet. It’s good meeting you and thank you all for being a part of it. The website for anyone who wants to go check it out is DangFoods.com and the two sponsors are the company that helps me get on a call with people like Vincent and we help you get more customer calls, it’s called Acuity Scheduling. Check them out at AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy. And if you want to hire a great developer, go to Toptal.com/Mixergy.
Thanks, Vincent and thanks, everyone. Bye.