Brit, welcome to Washington Post Live.
MS. MORIN: Thanks for having me. I’m so glad to be here.
MS. ABRIL: Absolutely. And a quick reminder to our audience that we want to hear from you. Tweet us your questions using the handle @PostLive.
So, Brit, I want to just get into a little bit of your story. You were 25 when you left a job at Google to start Brit + Co, a life‑‑excuse me‑‑a lifestyle and education company that helps women cultivate creativity, and now you’re with Selfmade, and you’re encouraging women to take the entrepreneurial leap themselves. So tell us a little bit about Selfmade and how you pivoted form Google to Brit + Co to now launching this training program.
MS. MORIN: Yeah. And I should add that I’ve gone on to also launch a venture fund and another business, all in the last couple of years, so it’s been a busy pandemic for me.
Yeah. But I was‑‑yeah, I was 25 when I was working at Google, as you mentioned, and, you know, being in your mid‑20s, especially as a woman, I feel like you start to lose a lot of that childhood wonder and creativity. And I was getting married. I was trying to think about, like, creative ideas for my wedding, and Pinterest had just launched. And, you know, there are all these women who are aspiring to do creative things but had no idea how to actually do them, and I realized that, you know, millennials and later Gen Z have grown up in the digital generation, not the homemaking generation. We didn’t grow up learning all of these skills in school and from our parents and grandparents, and I really wanted to help women learn how to be creative. And that meant everything from how to, you know, cook different types of recipes and meals and decorate their homes to how to start companies, how to code. You know, creativity means so many things in today’s world, and that was the essence of Brit + Co back 11 years ago now.
We now reach tens of millions of women around the world every month, and with that, you know, we’ve built such a robust business that one of the segments of that business is this audience of women who have creative skills or have big ideas but don’t know how to turn those into a business and so when the pandemic hit and I saw that 5 million women were either forced out of the workforce or chose to leave the workforce, I freaked out a little bit. And I said, “No. Like, I can help you. I can help you learn how to make money on your own terms, with your own hours, whatever that might mean for you, and build a life and a business that is really impactful.”
MS. ABRIL: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense, and actually, you just touched on the next point I wanted to discuss with you, which is, you know, there’s this term that people are calling the “she‑cession,” right, the recession for women, as women were‑‑represented a majority of the job loss during this time, and I wondered how much of that played into the launch of Selfmade.
MS. MORIN: Oh, exactly. That was like such a catalyst. I mean, it happened in the first couple months of the pandemic. Selfmade‑‑the idea for Selfmade began in May 2020, and one of the things that I thought about was, you know, I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve had to stomach, you know, raising capital for a company, Brit + Co, over 10 years, but because of that and because of my past at places like Google and Apple, I’ve been introduced to some of the most incredible people in Silicon Valley. I’ve been introduced to so many investors, so many other female CEOs, and I thought to myself, you know, I have the network that these women need. I can help them shortcut this. I can teach them all the things that I wish I knew in my first year or two of starting my business, and I think I can do it all within, you know, less than three months, because the reality is, actually, in a recession or in a down market, it’s sometimes the best time to build because those are when some of the biggest companies get created. And I really wanted women in particular to be able to take advantage of that opportunity and not just have to sit on the sidelines, being furloughed or laid off or stuck at home caring for their kids at home school, so that they could, again, find meaning, despite what was going on in the world and, hopefully, a little bit of real income too.
MS. ABRIL: So you mentioned using sort of the experience that you’ve had previously, you know, working at these big tech companies to help others, but I’m curious what lessons did you learn from the pandemic that are sort of playing into the advice that you’re giving other entrepreneurs now.
MS. MORIN: Well, I think the pandemic accelerated everything digital, right? So there are so many, you know, thousands and thousands of women who have come through Selfmade now in the last couple of years who had no idea how to build a website, had no idea how to make a, you know, at‑home mold‑testing company into something digital, how to create audiences on Instagram, how to do paid advertising to reach those audiences in addition to organic marketing, of course.
And so, you know, really the fundamentals of what we’ve taught in Selfmade and what we continue to teach are how to not just build a business but how every business needs to be a digital business at this point.
We are all connected. We are all transacting more than ever before from our phones and our computers, and if you are just a brick‑and‑mortar store, if you’re just, you know, a service business in your hometown, you’re going to lose out on a lot of potential income and audience growth opportunity that you could otherwise be getting if you knew how to operate a digital business as well.
MS. ABRIL: So Selfmade has quite a list of supporters; to name a few, Payal Kadakia, Bozoma Saint John, Gwyneth Paltrow. Tell us a little bit about how you got these big supporters behind this project.
MS. MORIN: Yeah. Like I said, you know, I’ve just been really fortunate to be able to have met some of these women myself. I think there’s so few female founders in this world. You know, only 2 percent of venture capital funding goes to female founders, which is one of the reasons, by the way, I decided to launch a venture fund in the last couple of years to help change that ratio, and so because of that, we all tend to stick together. Whether you’re a small business owner or a venture‑backed business owner, there’s just not that many, and I think women naturally gravitate towards communities. We like to hear what‑‑what are you doing with your business right now during the pandemic? Like, how is it going for you?
And so I knew that these women have been my own advisors and I’ve been theirs over the last several years of running our businesses, and I really wanted to take the access that I’ve been so fortunate enough to have and to pay that forward to, you know, these thousands of self-made students and new entrepreneurs who are just starting out.
And the beauty of what we’ve done is that, you know, we’ve now probably had like maybe 60 or 70 of these really high‑profile female CEOs or experts come share their stories in hour‑long chats with me, really revealing it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we now are creating kind of an on‑demand hub for Selfmade where if you sign up, you know, at any time, you can go back and look at all of these different fireside chats and these amazing, incredible leaders to learn their stories and hopefully take a piece of that into what you might build next with your own business.
MS. ABRIL: That makes sense. Sounds like a nice resource there.
I know I asked you about sort of how the pandemic changed the advice you’re giving other leaders, but I’m also curious about how what you’ve learned from the pandemic has changed the other facets of your business acumen. Can you expand a little bit on what you’ve learned and how it’s affecting you?
MS. MORIN: Yeah. You know, I think it’s changed so many different businesses in different ways. Ironically, for Brit + Co, which is, you know, a site that teaches people how‑‑and largely women‑‑how to do it themselves, our traffic went way up during the first initial part of the pandemic, where most media and website traffic went down because people were freaking out and doing other things. But, you know, we had to learn how to survive at home and how to cook for ourselves and how to renovate our houses to be work‑from‑home houses and spaces, and so it was a really cool part of learning for us.
Also, all of our classes, we have over 200 courses teaching people how to do things, basic skills, creative skills, business skills. We saw, you know, hundreds of thousands of redemptions in even the first two weeks of the pandemic of people really seeking education. So, you know, I think the pandemic has been broken up into different phases. That was all, you know, the initial part of the pandemic.
And now, you know, fast forward a couple of years. We’re at a place where it’s just normal for you to, you know, video‑chat with people, and so I’ve been, especially even in my investing career, like, watching as the telehealth and sort of video‑first communities continue to rise. I’ve been thinking about that for some of my businesses. Especially, Selfmade is video first. It’s online courses, live and recorded, that are online education, and so I think there have been a lot of really great wins for people in those types of spaces where connectivity through the internet and teaching and therapy, all these different ways, service businesses, have really thrived over the last two years because now you can do that anywhere you are from around the world, whether you’re working remotely or sticking at home. And I think that that’s a trend that’s here to stay.
MS. ABRIL: So, actually, that leads right again into my next question, and you mentioned this earlier about digital acceleration. But what opportunities do you think have come out of the pandemic to help small businesses succeed?
MS. MORIN: Sure. So, yeah, like I said, some of the laws that changed especially around, like I was saying, telehealth but, even more than that, technologies that have enabled video‑to‑video chat‑‑you know, there’s a company that I actually invested in called Daily.co. That’s an API, that you can put it on your website or your app. So you can instantly create a video‑to‑video chat with anyone in your community.
You know, I think we’ve seen the rise of all different types of service industries. Like I said, nowadays, you know, whether you want to find an interior designer or a chef to teach you something or, you know, a workout instructor, all of these people that used to be just offering their services locally in their communities are able to offer them over the internet.
I know that I took, like, yoga classes from someone from Hawaii for many months during the pandemic, and so I think that really will continue to help accelerate small businesses forward and then, of course, the continued rise of e‑commerce in general. And I think with e‑commerce comes the idea of subscription, which is something I try to teach a lot of my Selfmade students about. You know, if you have a business that sells something, is it something that people would like on a recurring basis? And if so, there’s so many easy ways to plug in a subscription or a membership feed, and that’s an amazing channel for small businesses to grow because you’re getting recurring revenue month over month or quarter over quarter instead of just, you know, one‑time purchase and then you have to go win that customer back to come back again.
So I think we’re seeing a lot of big wins in those spaces because the tools are just better. There’s easy website creators. There’s app creators. There’s no‑code apps‑‑You don’t even have to know how to code anymore to get your app off the ground‑‑and all these plug‑ins that enable you to create different types of business models for your business with the click of a button.
MS. ABRIL: Got it. I want to pivot a little bit and move to crypto briefly. Brit + Co hosted a summit about crypto several years ago, and it highlighted that at the time, only 4 percent of women were buyers. Can you talk to us a little bit about how women have influenced this space and where women are still behind on representation here?
MS. MORIN: Yes. This is near and dear to my heart. It’s actually one of the newest companies I launched just in January of this year called BFF, largely spurred by that event back in January of 2018 that Brit + Co did when women were only 4 percent of cryptocurrency buyers.
Fast forward to last year. I think we were about 15 to 20 percent. So it certainly has improved but certainly not taking over the crypto industry by any means, and what’s happened with the crypto industry, despite the bear market we’re all in right now on every front, is that it’s continuing to grow and grow and grow. You’ve probably heard about things like Bitcoin and NFTs and maybe even Ethereum, but a lot of people don’t understand it at all, especially women and especially underserved communities. And I really wanted to create the opportunity for women to come and not only learn about what all this means but to apply it to their own lives or their own businesses. I actually really do believe that crypto and Web 3.0 or “Web3,” as we’re calling it here in Silicon Valley a lot, is the future of the internet, and that those who understand it will be able to leverage some of the new tools that are being created to better serve their audiences and their communities and hopefully make, you know, a bigger and bigger business.
And so we started a company called BFF‑‑it’s MyBFF.com, if you want to check it out, with all kinds of resources and guides, but also, we’re actually building things, using crypto and using blockchain technology to help our audience, which are mostly very new people to this world and mostly women and nonbinary people, learn and play and discover what all of this is and why it could be useful for them for years to come.
MS. ABRIL: And why specifically is it important to you that women become more active in this space?
MS. MORIN: I think I genuinely believe that if this is truly the next chapter of the internet, like the third chapter, Web 3.0 as, like I said, many are calling it, you know, this is the first‑‑one of the first times in history that women have had full rights to participate from the start in a new technology and a new financial structure and system, and yet we’re sitting on the sidelines, by and large. We are not at the table, and so not only are we not being able to generate potentially some of the wealth income that’s happening that a lot of the men are creating right now, but we’re not‑‑we’re not being‑‑we’re not sitting at the table and making decisions about where this goes in the future. And how crazy is it that we could see another 10 or 20 years of the internet and a new fundamental shift in the technological ecosystem of the internet without being able to help write the rules.
And so I’m really passionate about women at least understanding this so that they can raise a hand and say, “Why didn’t we think of doing it this way” or “Here’s an idea. Like, what if we tried this?” and, you know, it’s one stat that I can’t believe is that less than 5 percent of the entrepreneurs in Web3 and crypto are women right now. And so, again, we’re just so far behind. We need to be the ones helping to build these tools, build these platforms and these systems of the future if, in fact, it’s going to net out to be the future that many predict it will, which is a multi‑trillion‑dollar industry just in the next five years.
MS. ABRIL: Got it. So we’ve got a couple minutes left, and I definitely want to get this question in before we run out of time. You know, today’s economic landscape might be kind of intimidating for a lot of small business owners or potential small business owners, and, you know, a recent report showed that 57 percent of small business owners actually expect the conditions in the U.S. to worsen. So I would love for you to kind of give us a little bit of hope. What are you encouraged by in today’s economic landscape for new business ventures?
MS. MORIN: Yeah. Well, like I said, I’m doing a lot of seed investing right now, so very early stage. You know, I’m helping the people get their company started and off the ground, and I am the most excited I’ve been in the time I’ve ever been doing this because a recession and a down market is an incredible time to build a business. Not only are a lot of markets shifting and so there are a lot of new opportunities and white spaces to go after, but, you know, those that can start scrappy and start building and accumulating kind of product market fit, user research, you know, initial customer traction will likely get ahead of those that have been kind of on a rise for the last few years and have now had to do layoffs and have now had to sort of reconstruct their business. So those that are starting now are at such an advantage for so many different reasons, and if you look back in history, some of the greatest companies of the last 10 year were built in 2009‑‑Uber and Airbnb and so many more. If you look at the prior recession before that, some of the best companies were built right after the dot‑com bust in 2001.
And so it might not be until, like, later this year or next year, but I think in the next 12 months, we will see the birth of some of the biggest companies that we’ve ever seen before over the next, you know, 10 years’ time, and maybe that could be you. Maybe it’s time to get started.
MS. ABRIL: It’s a great note to end it on, Brit. Thank you so much for joining us and giving us your insights. We really appreciate it.
MS. MORIN: Thanks for having me. Good luck, everyone.
MS. ABRIL: Of course. I will be just‑‑I will be back in just a minute with my next guests, Minnie Luong and Shiza Shahid. Please stay with us.
MS. KELLY: Hello and welcome. I’m Suzanne Kelly, CEO and publisher of The Cipher Brief, a national security‑focused publication.
You know, it’s always fun as a small business owner to be able to talk to other small business owners about growth and scale and these things we obsess about.
Right now, I’d like to welcome Purnima Kochikar, who is vice president of Play Partnerships at Google Play to talk about some of the opportunities that exist for businesses to grow in this new app economy.
MS. KOCHIKAR: Thank you, Suzanne. Thanks for having me.
MS. KELLY: I thought we might start by defining what is an app economy.
MS. KOCHIKAR: To me, the app economy is the total economic impact that apps have, and it is also the collective creativity of entrepreneurs but mostly small businesses around the world to make a difference in the world.
To give you a stat, in 2021, two million jobs were created in the United States alone because of the android and play app economy.
MS. KELLY: That’s an impressive number.
We’re just coming out of the pandemic that was obviously devastating for many businesses. I’m very interested to know if you were seeing trends that came out of this pandemic.
MS. KOCHIKAR: Yes, of course. The pandemic, while devastating, was also transformational for small businesses. As you know, over the last two years, we had to make some really tough choices about life and livelihood. Those of us who could stay home, work in digital businesses, get paid, didn’t have to make that tough choice. That was not true for a lot of small businesses who relied on people to come to their storefronts for the business to survive. Apps bridged the gap. They enabled businesses to stay live. They allowed for people to stay safe, and they created jobs.
Businesses that were like the grocery delivery, you know, food delivery apps, et cetera, reached 10‑year KPIs over the last two years. Similarly, we also found that apps help people connect with loved ones, transform education, health care, et cetera. We believe those trends are here to stay, and we’re excited to play a small part in it.
MS. KELLY: What is one of the big things that you and your team are anticipating as these small businesses continue to sort of adapt and then grow?
MS. KOCHIKAR: I think one of the big messages for me, which has come through this pandemic, is that digital transformation is here to stay.
My big message to small business owners is that your users will not only come to you, but they’ll also expect you to meet them where they are. And Google Play is here to support you. We are here to help you build great apps. We have tools like the Play Academy that will teach you how to build apps. We have programs like the Indie Games Accelerator and Start on Android that will discover and find you and help you build audiences. We have 2.5 billion people who come to Google Play monthly to‑‑you know, to look for your apps and games, and we are here to support you, to put the right app in front of the right people at the right time.
MS. KELLY: I’m curious to know, what were some of the lessons that you learned leading this Google Play app ecosystem?
MS. KOCHIKAR: One of the most important things we learned is how much apps mattered to the lives of people. Through the pandemic, we saw people use their phones for 4.8 hours a day, and that is 30 percent more than 2019. We also found that the app economy is driven by entrepreneurs, that they’re the same. They are a connected world, and these entrepreneurs are truly committed to making the world better.
Let’s look at two stories. Look at GoNoodle out of Nashville, Tennessee. This company is focused on bringing joy and health to kids and those who care for them, and this app now is being used by 95 percent of elementary schools in the United States. That wouldn’t have been possible without Google Play.
Similarly, there are entrepreneurs like the one who created GiftAMeal out of St. Louis, Missouri, who are looking for app for good or technology for good. A person eating a meal in a local restaurant and thereby supporting a small business can take a picture and upload it to GiftAMeal, and a meal will be given to somebody who needs it. And you know how important it is in an economy like this. 300 restaurants have participated. 850,000 meals have been donated, and they’re just getting started. They aspire to expand nationally and beyond.
Play is here to take those ideas, celebrate them, and let these small entrepreneurs reach the scale and the scope that they deserve.
We are celebrating those stories through WeArePlay campaign. Take a look, and you’ll see that entrepreneurship and innovation is alive and well around the country and not just limited to San Francisco and New York, London, and the big tech hubs.
MS. KELLY: Yeah. I like that. It’s certainly very inspirational.
I’m curious. What forms of support do you actually provide for small businesses?
MS. KOCHIKAR: Me‑‑my team and I provide business and technical consulting to small businesses to help them build great apps and make better business decisions. Through the Play Academy, we provide abilities to understand how to build a great app as well as how to keep users safe and secure, how to make better technology choices to things like the STK Index. We also have programs like Start on Android and Indie Games Accelerator to help‑‑to amplify some of these amazing new creators.
And, finally, we provide business and, you know, insights through the Google Play Console, which small businesses can use to understand what kinds of devices their users use, where are they growing, how can they make the decision, the way to expand and way to invest.
MS. KELLY: I have learned a lot I didn’t know, which means this is a great conversation. Purnima Kochikar, vice president of Play Partnerships at Google Play, thank you so much for your time today.
MS. KOCHIKAR: Thank you for having me, Suzanne.
MS. KELLY: Now back to my colleagues at The Washington Post.
MS. ABRIL: Welcome back. For those of you just joining us, I’m Danielle Abril, technology reporter here at The Post.
My next guests today have several things in common, one of which is that food is at the centerpiece of their small businesses. Minnie Luong, owner of Chi Kitchen, and Shiza Shahid, founder of Our Place, welcome to Washington Post Live.
MS. ABRIL: Hi. Apologies. We’ll get this all figured out once we get rolling here.
As a reminder to our audience, we want to hear from you. Tweet us your questions using the handle @PostLive.
I want to start off by asking you both what prompted you guys to start your businesses, and we’ll just go one at a time. So, Minnie, can you first tell us a little bit about your path to founding Chi Kitchen?
MS. LUONG: Yeah. So, to start off, I’m founder of Chi Kitchen. We are makers and manufacturers of healthy, fermented, probiotic, Asian flavor, profile vegetables based in Rhode Island, and really my love of food‑‑and I worked previously as a chef. I worked as a private chef in Los Angeles and as a chef for a tech company, and when I was growing up in New England, there weren’t a lot of‑‑it wasn’t easy to access the foods of my culture from Southeast Asia. So I grew up in a very food‑centric family where we grew and preserved and made our own foods. So that was really why I wanted to start a food business.
MS. ABRIL: That makes sense. Totally understand that.
And, Shiza, you pivoted from co‑founding the Malala Fund to starting Our Place. Talk to us a little bit about that transition and what skills you took from the fund to start this new company.
MS. SHAHID: Yeah. I’m thrilled to be here. You know, I‑‑for me, a lot of my life has been very similar to Minnie about food and gathering. I grew up in Pakistan. I was there till I was 18. I moved to the U.S. when I was 18 on a scholarship to Stanford University. That’s the first time I was ever exposed to startups. Growing up, I’d never even considered the possibility of building a business, but now at Stanford, everyone around me was building businesses. And having worked primarily through the nonprofit model as a volunteer, as a grassroots activist all my life, I began to realize sometimes if you build a mission‑driven business, you can have as much, if not a greater impact as in through other models. And that’s really where my interest in this idea of impact and storytelling and business and finance began.
I ended up co‑founding the Malala Fund with my friend, Malala Yousafzai, her father, Ziauddin, when I was 22 years old to help girls in countries like my own access an education but was always drawn to this idea of building a business that scaled but at the same time held very close to its values, held very close to its mission.
And I’m an immigrant. My partner is also an immigrant, and for both of us, we literally found Our Place in America by cooking and sharing food, having people come over to our homes, cooking a meal, sharing our stories. And so we’ve always believed that home cooking is at the heart of culture, of identity, of belonging, of so many of the things that we’re passionate about. And we just saw this huge need in the market to build a brand rooted in representation, where we felt seen, and then to also design products that were both easy to sue but also sustainably and thoughtfully designed and sourced.
MS. ABRIL: So I want to pivot to how the pandemic impacted the ways you both built your business plans. Minnie, let’s start with you. Tell me a little bit about how the pandemic altered your plans for scaling the business.
MS. LUONG: Yeah. So, first of all, as a food manufacturer, we are an essential business. So we were open and manufacturing throughout the pandemic and currently today.
So part of one‑‑some of the things that we did to pivot was we started‑‑we did a website and offered our products for mail order across the country, which we didn’t previously have before that, and then we launched two new products, pretty innovative products, award‑winning products during the pandemic.
MS. ABRIL: Got it. And, Shiza, you also have an approach to e‑commerce. Tell me a little bit about how the pandemic played into that.
MS. SHAHID: Yeah. I mean, the pandemic was a curveball. We started out business in every sense of the word, right, for everyone. We started out business six months before the pandemic, and we were conceived as a gathering brand, a brand that was all about being together, cooking together, hosting together, celebrating our home‑cooking traditions, and of course, we could no longer do that. And we had to understand how to best support our community at this time, and what we realized was at times of deep isolation and uncertainty, people were actually finding comfort and connection to home cooking.
And so, if you recall April, when the lockdown‑‑the first full month of the lockdown here in the United States, that was the month of Passover. It was the month of Ramadan. It was the month of Easter, right? Three of the biggest home‑cooking traditions celebrated by most of the world, and we‑‑or by many people in the world. I don’t know by most of the world, but, you know, one of‑‑one of the largest sort of months in terms of the number of people gathering together.
And so we went to our community, and we asked them how they were finding hope at the time, and over and again, what we found was, you know, people were calling up their moms and, you know, writing down those recipes that they always meant to write down and preserve. They were, you know, zooming with grandma and learning to cook, you know, that thing they’d always meant to get down to learning how to cook.
And even for me, I couldn’t‑‑you know, my parents are in Pakistan. My sister is in London. I couldn’t see them, but just cooking those flavors from home gave a sense of grounding, and so we leaned into that. And I think a lot of people learned to cook in the pandemic, who will continue to cook, who realized, you know, there is this beauty and magic and feeling and nourishment of making something with their hands, and with the right tools, it doesn’t have to be so hard.
And, of course, from a business standpoint, there were many challenges to navigate. We couldn’t visit our factories. We had to understand how to keep our amazing teams at our warehouses safe. There were challenges. There were also arbitrage opportunities. As advertising costs lowered in that period, businesses were able to, in some cases, advertise more effectively, and so there were a lot of shifts that happened. And I think for a young business, you know, overcoming the challenges, taking advantage of the opportunities, investing in people, team culture, most of all, making sure that you’re supporting your team through this difficult time, but then also realizing that what you experience in the pandemic is an anomaly. And you can’t entirely trust that data. So, as you start to emerge from those times, not to say the pandemic is anywhere close to over, but as things shift, you need to then question the data that you’ve gotten over these last two years as you build future plans.
MS. ABRIL: Got it. And, Minnie, I’m going to jump back to you real quickly. In hindsight, do you think the pandemic forced you to think more creatively about how to survive it?
MS. LUONG: Oh, most definitely. I think in terms of, you know, marketing our product, one of our biggest marketing things is to sample it. So once people taste it, they’re more‑‑you know, they like it and they want to buy it. So we weren’t able to do that, and that was a huge part of our marketing.
So, you know, we’ve gotten very creative. One of the things we do now is that for our food service accounts, we shipped them our product, and then we actually do online Zoom tastings, and they taste it right in front of us. And that’s been very helpful.
And just every day, I mean, not just as an entrepreneur but as a mom of two young kids, you know, we just have to get really creative, and I think, you know, the uncertainty of what we’ve been through and what, you know, is‑‑you know, what we’re facing now too with the economy, that’s just a real‑‑you know, it’s a part of life and particularly a part of being a small business owner.
MS. ABRIL: And, Shiza, what lessons are you taking away from this pandemic as a small business owner?
MS. SHAHID: Yeah. I mean, togetherness, whatever form that takes, is so important, right? And I think we’ve always believed at Our Place, the most important thing we can do as a business is bring together amazing people in our team and our community and build a culture that enables them to thrive.
And, initially, a lot of that was in person. You know, we would work together. Everyone was in Los Angeles. We had a kitchen in our office, and you’d show up in the morning, and someone would be making eggs for breakfast, and you’d sit down and eat together. And we lost a lot of that overnight.
And finding new ways to bring that back during a pandemic to support one another, to feel that sense of connectedness, and in this new world, you know, where remote work is more common, where our team has started to become more distributed, still really focusing on connections, moments of being together, moments of spending time and supporting and uplifting one another, to me that was the greatest takeaway from the pandemic.
MS. ABRIL: So I want to quickly shift to the current economic situation we’re in. Everybody knows small businesses often feel the impact of these economic changes quicker and maybe more harshly than the rest of the country. Minnie, can you talk to us a little bit about how current supply chain shortages and prices for materials have affected your business?
MS. LUONG: Certainly. We have had price increases across the board, materials, raw ingredients, packaging, and we are also facing supply chain shortages of glass and labels for our kimchi jars. It’s definitely affecting us, and we’re monitoring things very closely and, you know, constantly, talking to our partners.
One of the nice things is that we do have these great relationships as small businesses, you know, with people that we’ve been working with for years and years, but it’s definitely something that we’re paying attention to and monitoring as we go on a daily basis.
MS. ABRIL: And, Shiza, you know, a lot of small businesses initially expected to see some significant revenue growth this year. Now they’re a little unsure of that. Some are pulling back those forecasts. Are you guys prepared to respond to a lower consumer spend than anticipated, or how are you preparing for that?
MS. SHAHID: Yeah. You know, I caught the end of, I think, the previous segment with my dear friend, Brit Morin, and I think she was talking about how, you know, history shows some of the best businesses are built in difficult times, and I do really believe, you know, a lot of what Minnie was sharing as well is obstacles breed creativity. They breed excellence. They breed, you know, just a higher focus, and so the market has shifted, of course.
We‑‑you know, we go back to our core every single time which is we exist to bring people together around the power of home cooking. Whether you’re in a pandemic, whether you’re in a recession, cooking is good for you, being connected to those around you. Whatever form or shape that might take safely is important and good for you. Cooking is a lifeline to your health, to your food systems, to your heritage, your culture, your identity, and so, you know, we tap into something that I think is very core to all of us, is very nourishing and appealing to all of us, and so making great products, helping our customers understand why they do cost what they cost as supply chain challenges increase and really communicating with them the process of, you know, handmaking a tagine in Morocco, why that does cost so much more than, you know, a tagine, you know, made in a factory, you know, sold on Amazon, right? It’s helping your community see that.
We’re fortunate to have a community that does care a lot about sustainability, about nontoxic materials, about how products are sourced, designed, and made, and so just continuing to tell that story and going back to the basics of why we exist. I think when you have markets that are incredibly bullish, you can actually make a lot of bad decisions, right? And we’ve seen this in e‑commerce over and over again with, you know, companies raising very large valuations, you know, being told to be crazier by their investors and care less about burn. We’ve always been a business that focuses on making sure that we are fundamentally healthy in a business model, and that enables us to then go out into the world and do everything else, support our team, provide good benefits, give back to the causes we care about. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do in this moment.
MS. ABRIL: And, Minnie, you participated in a roundtable with Vice President Kamala Harris last year, and it was focused on female business owners. What kinds of support does your company need in order to brave the economic storm, and how has this shifted in this last year since that conversation?
MS. LUONG: I mean, I think from that conversation, just overall, we were talking about child care as part of infrastructure, as they were touting that bill, and that was, you know, something near and dear to me, having two young kids, wanting to start a business. I actually had to‑‑you know, when I got to the point where I was like, okay, this business is really happening and I want to focus on this full‑time, that was the‑‑it wasn’t the decision to quit my job. It was the decision, okay, am I going to invest in myself in the business by putting my daughter at the time into child care and paying for that while I’m not collecting a paycheck and building this business? And so, you know, I think that is still an important part, not just for small business owners but for, you know, working parents today to have that early education piece and help with very, you know, costly child care.
All of the costs are going up, you know, for everybody across the board, but that’s just one piece that we can’t overlook.
MS. ABRIL: Got it. And so I want to go over some final thoughts. I’d like them to be brief, but I’d like them to be rich. You know, I think that, you know, unfortunately, small business optimism is at a really low point. A survey recently said its lowest point in 48 years.
Minnie, I want to start with you. In spite of these headlines, what are you optimistic about for the future of your company?
MS. LUONG: I am optimistic‑‑I mean, with Shiza, like, people still need to eat. They want to east healthy foods. They want to eat foods that connect with their culture, that make them feel good and bring people together, and that’s just not going to go away. So, I mean, as far as our business is concerned, that’s something I’m optimistic about.
I think that there’s a lot of innovation and growth that can come out of uncertainty, and we didn’t go to start businesses because we knew we were going to, you know, hit it out of the park. Hopefully, that is the goal, but, you know, that rub of that uncertainty and not knowing is part of‑‑part of it and part of the enjoyment and part of the fun you know, and so when the outcome is good, it’s always so exciting. It’s just‑‑it’s similar to, you know, fermentation and what we do. When it’s awesome, we’re just like hooray and it’s great and, you know, to be able to have that consistency.
So I think, you know, we will have to be more savvy, try to not listen to all the headlines constantly. I know that there’s a lot of challenges, and it’s not just us. Everybody that, you know, is running a small business is always going to have challenges. And I think, you know, really my motto is “It doesn’t get easier. We get stronger.” So that’s what I would like to leave you with.
MS. ABRIL: Good motto. Shiza, what is keeping you optimistic about the future for your small business?
MS. SHAHID: Honestly, all of it. You know, I think that, you know, as Minnie said, nobody starts a business to do something easy. You start it because you’re deeply passionate and you go into it knowing it’s going to be hard.
We love what we do. We believe so deeply in the brand that we are building and the stories that we tell and the partnerships we have with cultures and communities to share their traditions and the products that we design with our amazing factory partners and artisans. We spend, you know, two years prototyping and testing and industrial designing our products from scratch to make sure that they make cooking easier and more joyful.
And we’ve always taken the hard way, right? We’ve always chosen to do the extra work, to go the extra mile, to build something with deep substance. Ultimately, I think we have a community that is nuanced, that is thoughtful, that wants to buy items with story, that are better for them, that are better for the planet, that are infused with meaning, and so that is a harder path to take. However, I think it’s the right one, and I think it is what gives a business longevity and allows a business to thrive in the long term, even if in the short term, it’s a little bit harder to get there.
MS. ABRIL: Well, Minnie and Shiza, this was incredibly insightful. Thank you so much for spending some time with us here today.
MS. LUONG: Thank you so much, Danielle.
And thanks to all of you for watching. To check out what interviews we have coming up, please head to WashingtonPostLive.com to register and find more information about our upcoming programs.
I’m Danielle Abril. Thanks again for joining us today.