July 3, 2022

Thrive Insider

Exclusive stories of successful entrepreneurs

Mei Yong is the Founder, CEO, Food Creator and Innovator of Turban Chopsticks

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I used to be in mining and whenever I came back from FIFO in the mine sites, I would immediately crave and seek comfort authentic home foods. I wanted dishes like curry, briyani, flavoursome homestyle foods that didn’t take hours to make and reminded me of home. I would create shortcuts by preparing batch curry pastes and freezing them when I wanted these authentic home foods that I grew up with and knew was good for me – body and soul so to speak. When I would bring some of my prepared meal kits to site, others would ask about it, and asked if they could buy them from me. At that point, I realised that there was a huge gap in the market for traditional foods to be cooked not only quickly but also nutritiously, with fresh, local ingredients that make you feel good afterwards because it is not filled with additives or nasties. It was meal kits and curry pastes made with clean Australian ingredients that consumers were chasing. This was the start of Turban Chopsticks.

Describe the process of launching the business.

When I first started to get Turban Chopsticks off the ground over 15 years ago, there were not as many resources as we have today for small business support. So it was all about taking risks, working hard and good old hustling. I left my job and used my savings to firstly create a batch of curry pastes in my parents’ commercial kitchen – they themselves are foodies – and sold them to friends, family, extended family and community at markets. That grass roots movement helped create a local brand in Western Australia for my products, and demand came from loyal customers who then became your food ambassadors, requesting them at local IGAs and grocers. That, along with more good old hustling of emailing, calling, dropping by and then finding a distributor when I was ready, helped get our products out to more supermarket shelves and national grocers. Along the way of course, I innovated with new products to keep customers excited and curious, and took more risks including expanding my production line. It all eventuated – with so, so many business, personal and family challenges along the way – to get Turban Chopsticks into over 500 retailers nationwide.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Consistency, quality ingredients, open communication and a great product line have been key to Turban Chopsticks continued growth. I always focus on the product, this is the most important phase. When you get the basics right, make the product uncompromisingly good and test it to as many people as you can get a hold of then refine and be happy when you launch it, you know that you have created a consistent product that people will love. That way, you can pilot something, before you invest into production, packaging and marketing of your product or service. Once you have a great product you need to understand your consumers, this is very important. Walk in their shoes and ask how you’d like to receive info, what type, when. Also engage with your customers to gain an idea of trends, or gaps in the market – talk to your customers, know them and surprise them with great new product lines that will excite, delight and continue the brand experience they’ve had with you.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The future for Turban Chopsticks is exciting! I have been working with and gathering people who have ideas and are as passionate about good quality, convenient and fresh foods as I am so we are always creating and using the Turban Chopsticks brand to really live out our philosophies – support local, make local, community focused. We apply that with our recent Gourmet Fruit and Veg Chutney range where we partner with local farmers to use their “second grade” produce to artisan chutneys, supporting our producers and sustainability. We are now currently looking at getting Turban Chopsticks into the chilled category lines of the supermarket, creating more ease and convenience for our customers, without compromising on quality. Innovation, creativity and pushing the boundaries is key to growing today and into tomorrow.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

1. There is no right way: There is no rule book that tells you how to juggle and manage everything at once. You can only try your best and find what works for you, your team and family.
2. Learn to pivot: The ability to be dynamic will give you room in the business to innovate and pivot your business to the current climate, making it more profitable and sustainable.
3. Surround yourself with good people
Build a strong team, so the business continues to run and operate without your constant guidance and leadership 24/7. Delegate work where your strengths don’t lie, and focus on what you are good at.
4. Align your values
Ensure that your corporate ethos is aligned with your personal values. When there is strong alignment, you will live, breathe the same philosophy between home and work.
5. Create a space for you.
Between all your commitments to your team, family and friends, it is paramount that you create a healthy positive space for you, so you always have a top up to face challenges and stress because there will be a lot of those!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use a variety of platform and tools across various aspects of our business. We use Xero for bookkeeping and accounting purposes, then Campaign Monitor for our email communications with our loyal customers aka our Spice Tribe, along with the full bevy of social media platforms – FB, Instagram, YouTube. From a project management perspective for new product developments through to retail orders we use Monday.com and tailor made excel sheets.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I love podcasts, I listen to How I Built it, Mammamia, Jay Shetty, The Psychology Podcast – these are great ways to connect to those who have made it and also those who practice building a life you want, a more balanced approach to work and the everyday important things in your life.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Just get started……. Find a product or service that you are passionate about, or poses a problem to others. Create a solution and just start and give it a go. Then when the doing does get a bit tough, remember why you started your own business – was it to break from the 9-5 cycle? To create something out of nothing and create more flexibility in your lifestyle? It is important to go back on the reasons why you do what you do. To reflect and check in, that you still see strong alignment with what you started it for and tweak as you journey along. Enjoy this exciting path ahead, it is an opportunity to be able to work for yourself and have the responsibility to raise a family, just the way you wish to do so.

Where can we go to learn more?

I have mentors that guide me now, that has been very helpful. Continuously learn off other businesses, network, talk to others, reach out for help and be open to change in your business. Be adaptive and morph with the times.