Grace Han

Converting China to a Plant Based Vegan Diet | Grace Han, Plant Based News

If you are wondering why, and why the growth rates are likely to only continue to grow, then you should want my recent interview of Grace Han where we speak about her own transition to veganism, her work as an advocate for veganism, and why she thinks firms like Beyond and Memphis Meats are game changers.

Based in London, Grace regularly travels to China as part of her passion to support the vegan movement, and the organizations that are advocating for it.

A former meat eater herself, she provides a lot of interesting insights into the motivations for why the vegan lifestyle, and in this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, we talk through our shared belief that the new generation of plant based proteins are going to prove to bring a massive shift in the adoption of veganism.

About #EntrepreneursForGood Series:
Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market

About: Grace
Grace Han is a Senior UX Designer, she is also the co-founder and Managing Director of UK charity Towards a Compassionate Nation (TACN.ORG). She has been helping Animal Equality, Veganuary, Viva!, Mercy for Animals and many other non-profit organisations promote their campaigns in China. Throughout the years Grace has built a wide network of contacts in Beijing, including local NGOs, vegan businesses, vegan individuals and skilled volunteers, along with the team at TACN they have organised many vegan outreach and educational social events in Beijing.

Follow :
Plant Based News:

About Rich:
Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Christoph Langwallner

Aspire, Discover, Translate, and Scale Innovation | Christoph Langwallner, NAMZ

Since meeting Christoph Langwallner nearly three years ago, I have come to understand that he is one that sees the biggest challenges that we face as opportunities to disrupt markets, and I wanted to find out about his process.

Already in a position to reach more than a billion consumers, he has built an organization where aspirations lead to discoveries which translated into products, that can then be brought to the market. It is a process that is codified throughout the organization, their exploration processes, and is a driving force for his 20+ team.

It is a quick, and highly tactical 15 minutes, and I recommend it for anyone that is still in the ideation phase... or may be stuck between a couple of great ideas, but only have the resources to execute on one.

Turnover is vanity. Profit is sanity. Cash is the only reality.

About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About Christoph

Chris is a serial entrepreneur with a solid track record in Austria, the UK, Russia, India, China, Singapore and the ASEAN region.

In 2014, Chris co-founded NamZ – a bio-science based, consumer minded incubator who, in in less than 5 years, enabled the establishment of three differentiated subsidiaries each equipped with an IP portfolio and its own set of competitive strategies.

  • The first, is about to profoundly change the way 2.6 billion instant noodle portions are being made through a three-stranded technology which will make the additional deforestation of about 130,000 basketball courts worth of primary forests redundant.
  • The second, will replace coconut sugar through the novel use of the tall perennial true grass of the genus Saccharum.
  • The third, is the 28cubed direct-to-consumer skin care brand that makes use of molecules commonly used in foods and beverages instead of syntethic ingredients, and delivers their products in a 100% recycled plastic dispenser..

Through these three technologies, and their products, the NamZ Group is on its way to be experienced a billion times!

Follow Christoph

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Full Interview Transcript

RICH: So welcome back everyone. I'm here with my good from Chris from Namz. Just had an amazing interview with this...I'll call him a serial entrepreneur. What he's doing here back here, future of food, also outside the body looking at resources and how to better allocate them. We just had a great discussion about how you approach a business, how do you get you build your team and how you try and scale to where you become the real market and market disrupter and everyone follows your standard.


RICH: Thank you very much for your time. Do me a favor and give me a little bit of your background as a personal introduction.

CHRIS: MY name is Christopher Langwallner. I am the co-founder of a company called Namz. We are a science/bioscience based organization that looks into disruptive technologies for what we called the outside and inside of the body in sustainable manner.


RICH: What is the core idea and what is the disruption you are hoping to bring to the market?

CHRIS: The core idea was to basically say, there are big companies out there who try to come up with sustainable approaches with regard to what we call the inside and outside of the body. That means personal care products as well as food and beverages. However, doing something different in a multinational is almost impossible or very, very slow moving. So we decided to basically say lets take an opportunity to step outside of such an environment and lets look into opportunities with an unmet needs. Wherein you can actually say if we could resolve it, if that were to happen, what if we can resolve it, what would happen? How would we actually impact.

What we did was try hard for about a year, 9 months to come up with 15 ideas and we launched a company and took 12 ideas into the lab trying to say ok, how do we approach this? What is it that we have to do or can do with regards to technology advanced and sciences, applied sciences in particular in order to fulfill or meet these unmet needs particularly on a consumer basis. That within the view of being sustainable.

RICH: What are the issues that you are dealing with? What are scarce resources that your most concerned with?

CHRIS: We are all living in a world where, we all know that by 2050 we will be 9.6 billion people, whatever depending on which reference point you are trusting more. We are going to be that many people and we need to increase the production capacity by about 70%. Now if we have to do that, the approaches that we had in the last century are not available to us anymore. They are more luxurious because we could actually take the forest down and just increase acreage in order to increase production. That to us is not available anymore particularly because, particularly in the context of food security, water scrutiny and energy security.


RICH: You mentioned that you start out with 15 ides, you brought 12 into the lab. Generically without getting to technical about your secret sauce here, what's the process that you took from going from 12 to the 1 or 2 you knew had the most potential that technically could deliver to the market that you could get your big Z...which is your scale.

CHRIS: It took us 4 years to be able to communicate that. I think what it really runs down to is our strategic pillars that we call aspire, discover, translate and size. In order to be able to filter something to apply a filter of ideas, bringing them forward and getting them from ok I have an idea, and you try out an approach and you probably have an discovery. You identify something new to use or an invention. That may or may not have any great economic value at the end of the day.

So what we are really, really trying to hard at the beginning of each and every single project to ask tough questions what if. Also, allow yourself at the beginning of a project even before you go into the lab, to dream about a different future. Travelling in your mind. We call it aspire, dream. Travel into that future and say so if our technology truly can make markets, meaning disrupt the market, how does that future then look like? How would the industry behave differently? What is our role then? I think that is one key aspect of it.

Then we take it forward to what we call a discovery phase. Whereby we say let us talk to consumer. Then we start it off talked a lot to industries and industry players. But we very quickly figured out and we learned that talking to individual brands, you get a very, very biased few. The biased few from an angle, from a few of the brand and how the brand of that particular potential customer fuels the world. That maybe consistent with a larger needs within the consumers, but it many, many cases it isn't. It is very, very tainted in a way.

So we do a lot of that work to start with. We are working together with recognized people in the industry. We have people in-house that are doing consumer insights. Then we take it into the lab and say if that is a true unmet need, how can we actually, what can we do in order to help a process and new way of doing things to come about in order to really be able to disrupt?

This discovery process and the aspiration are aligned to it may take years. Once we hopefully win and say that there is something that we can take forward, we then look into can we carve this out? Can we create a subsidiary company? Can we equip subsidiary company with different skills? People that are actually good with translating science into how to process factories, and so on. Then lastly, scale it up from there and go on the market and succeed.


RICH: What does scale look like for you? Hop do you define success of a product or an innovation that you bring out of this lab? What is your big goal?

CHRIS: I think the moment we wake up in the morning. We come to work because we would like to be experience a billion times. We are on the path to be experienced 2.6 billions times a year., which is great. Now we can actually drill down and can we now create, can we replicate what we've done with this first partner to be able to be experienced a billion times in a quarter, in a month, etc.

That's behind that aspiration aspect of being experienced a billion times. If I were looking tomorrow, the financial aspect of it. I would say lets try to analyze it to what's the minimum size required to actually make markets. So that your technology finally becomes the norm, the standard, the status quo at some point and time. So that you have the technology, the go to technology and how can you leverage from there. That will be more of the aggressive a business aspect of it.

RICH: What's that number? How much of the market to you have to own before you really that impact that you want?

CHRIS: If you look at the entire life cycle of a business it would be about 30% of the market. Whether or not we ever get there, who knows. But unless and until you aim high, how can you get there in the first place?


RICH: Between achieving 30% and today still in the lab, how do you keep yourself kid of mindful that's your goal, but keep everyone moving on a day to day basis in a grid?

CHRIS: I don't think it's me. I think actually its the folk around me. Because what we've done in this business we've set out the company and how it functions like a system I keep on telling everyone I am not the CEO, the project is the CEO. If the project needs a particular CEO because the CEO has a particular skillset or experience, so be it. Take over. Run with it.

That helps you tip toing on each other, helps you be focus, helps you stay alert, that helps you having your big goal in eyesight. So, I would not to do justice to what we stand for if I would say it is me. No, it is not me at all. I'm just one of many here who are really driving this project.

RICH: When you're going through this process you hit this challenge you know that on the other side there is something amazing. How do you get yourself through that, that challenge? Like you can't get the experiment to work. You can't get the team to buy into your idea. What's a process for you to get through a challenge that's worth getting through?

CHRIS: I never find it difficult to be self motivated. An experiment, a failed experiment is just a data point, it's just one learning. It's just saying ok, this approach didn't work lets try the next one.


RICH: Do you have a support network outside of this albeit investors, advisors, friends, family, things like that. That you're able to call on when you have a questions that can't be answered by yourself or by the family in the company here?

CHRIS: Yes, we do have. We are fortunate to have what we call the three F's behind us. We are first to family, the friends and the fools. This is a support network that we have that the function is supporting partners, sponsoring goals. The function is counselors, advisors. They are here to ask the difficulty questions. They are here to ask those questions we haven't asked yet.

I don't think any single person, any single companies own right can be successful unless and until you built this ecosystem around you. The ecosystem includes not only the three F's as I've explained, but also the partners that work with you on saying, hey I have an appetite to translate my business.

RICH: If you were going to be advising the 25yo Chris who is entering the market, food entrepreneurship, what advice would you give him to just take it to the next level?

CHRIS: The 25yo Chris. I think the 25 you Chris didn't have a problem of taking risk. That was always the sort of aspect of mind I probably scared a lot of my family members on the way. But I honestly I think as an entrepreneur, I have done an MBA throughout my career and what you learn doing an entrepreneur is that you can quantify risk, or you think you can quantify risk. Therefore, if you think you can quantify risk, you become more risk adverse than you should be as an entrepreneur.

At the end of the day, 25yo Chris I would say take the risk and make mistakes. Learn from them. Implement a better of yourself and don't believe you have wisdom. It is a collaborative approach that brings people forward. It is not a single person. You can have an idea, but unless and until somebody else picks it up. Like in football or soccer. You can have the ball all 90mins without scoring a goal, but if you have a team that helps you out, you could win the match. The same is with a company. Your really have to think like that.

I think that's what's really, really important. Of course, then comes the more tangible aspect of becoming an entrepreneur. A crucial aspect of being an entrepreneur is always making sure you're not running out of cash. The best idea can become meaningless the moment....the best idea, the best business proposition can be meaningless the moment you run out of cash. If you are lucky, somebody else takes over but then you're not enjoying the fruits of your labor.

So cash management is of utmost importance. Always make sure you are not running out of it. I have learned in my past that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is the only reality. That holds true for that sort of entrepreneurship.

I think theses are the core aspects of really being daring to go out. Daring to go out and if you start something with friends, make sure you are ask the right questions. Make sure that you have an honest approach to things because...Actually I didn't tell you, but my very, very first entrepreneur exposure was with two other friends and we failed because we didn't ask the right questions. We only burned cash. That's life.


RICH: Some of the most valuable lessons I ever learned was actually through a crisis of cash flow management. I'm a completely organic entrepreneur. Everything is about how much I can sell. How much I can sell. How may I can reinvest. In that vain, you've taken on external funding and you also put all your own in. What is the balance for you? Organic vs Investment?

CHRIS: I don't think that we have a formal 90/10, 10/90, 80/20 whatever it might be. I think all formulas we would like to work on in what we call strategy partners. Money that is of strategic importance.

We at this point in time are not it the capital market that seeks venture capital funds neither private equity funds because that particular industry is not really yet geared up to support an agri kind of food setup. Particularly in this part of the world. Maybe not the part of the world, but I don't know the ecosystem in California and places like this. Probably there is money that is better suited for that sort of industry. But here, it isn't.

You don't want to go into you know getting a license, a factory license takes you 9 months and then you have a funding you who wants to sell you in like 12 months. It just doesn't work. There is a misalignment from what the cash wants to do to the business aspects are. So I think the expectations with regards to the cash management of what the cash ought to do for the business has to be considered very, very smartly. If that is align, doesn't matter who owns what stake, but what's the value that we can generate. It could be something very, very small, but hugely big in terms of return. It could be very, very small loan, but a huge return on something that is greater.

The recipe as of now for us is work with strategic partners, you can call it smart money. In the true sense it has a to have a strategic impact on the business. Just bringing in money for the sake of bringing in money ends up with managing balance sheets and P&Ls and it doesn't really help you on the project.

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.

Pol Fabrega

Urban Farming in Hong Kong - Pol Fàbrega, Rooftop Republic

In this episode I speak with Pol Fabrega about his experience building Rooftop Republic.  Interviewed on his own rooftop, we dug into the movement of urban farming, the potential for urban farming in Hong Kong, and building his business.  It is an interview that is full of tactics, and lessons of resiliency, patience, and building a movement towards something better within the confines of today's economic models and consumer expectations.


About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About Pol

After graduating with a MA in International Relations, Pol devoted the first years of my career to the academic and non-profit sectors where he worked in Europe and Asia on a wide range of issues from education to human trafficking, gender equality, or human rights.

In 2012, life brought Pol to Hong Kong where he had the chance to connect with the local organic farming movement, where he realised the potential of urban farming to transforming the way we currently grow, consume and think about food.

At Rooftop Republic, he am mostly responsible for business development, programme management and finances.

Follow Pol and Rooftop Republic

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Full Interview Transcript

RICH: I'm here with my friend Pol from Rooftop Republic. It is at night, but we are here to talk about rooftop gardens in Hong Kong. I wish you could all see the garden that he has, but hopefully you're enjoying the background. Remember if you like this, if you find value, if you enjoy his story, please remember to like, share and comment.

Thank you very much, Pol. Appreciate your time spending with us. So, do me a favor and introduce yourself and introduce Rooftop Republic.

POL: My name is Pol Fabrega and I'm the cofounder of Rooftop Republic. Social enterprise that promotes urban farming in Hong Kong. Our main vision for Rooftop Republic is to integrate urban farming into our city lifestyle. So we set up farms on rooftops. We help to maintain those farms and we organize a lot of workshops and programs around urban farming and around food and around sustainability as well.


RICH: What is an urban farm and what does urban farming look like in Hong Kong right now?

POL: So an urban farm is basically a farm within the city limits. It can be right in the middle of the city, like right now right now here on this building. Or it can be within the _____ (1:32) urban areas surrounding of a city. So in the surroundings of a city. The particular like case of Hong Kong is quite interesting because we live in a very densely populated city. We have an area out there called the new territories. There is a little more of a rural sort of land and there is more farmland, but here in the city is a very dense, very sort of concrete jungle kind of city. What that means is that when we set up farms within the city, generally we do it on rooftops just because that's the most widely available space in Hong Kong.


RICH: Are we gonna feed people using rooftops? Like what's the goal of urban farming at it's central core right now?

POL: There is a university professor here in Hong Kong who has been doing a lot of research on rooftop farming. He has estimated that there is around 600 hectors of rooftop space that could be available, could be suitable for rooftop farming. That almost equals the amount of farmland that is currently farms in Hong Kong. So, only with the rooftop space we could double, you know the amount of, not necessarily double the yield because we might not get the same yield, but double the amount of space that we using for farming today.


RICH: Yeah, and actually that's kinda my question. Ok you have 600 hectors potentially, but it's spread out over a little 20 square meters, 50 square meters. It's actually really an efficient space, so how do you make this work?

POL: So for us, our model, like we were with a wide range of clients and they have different interests. They have different, they come to us for different you know with different approaches I guess. So we work a lot with property developers obviously to set up farms within their buildings. This can be within commercial buildings, this can be within industrial buildings, part of residential buildings and but we are also with hotels and restaurants to supply their you know to supply their kitchens in this case. But we also work with schools more for educational purposes. We work with corporates more like employee engagement and sustainability and corporate social responsibility. We work with community organizations more for the community and social aspect of having an urban farm and we work with individuals. This is my rooftop and I have a few planters where I'm able to grow my own vegetables.

So you know different kinds of people, different kinds of clients from our perspective have different kinds of interests and we'll use those spaces and those yields for different, for different reasons I guess.

RICH: We're in Hong Kong. It's pretty tropical year round. What are the types of plants or vegetables or like what can you do on a rooftop like this. What works, what doesn't?

POL: So in Hong Kong, we mostly divide the seasons in to two main seasons. The cold season or the warm season. Now we're entering the cold season. So between September/October all the way until April/May, it's the time of the year where we can grow wider range of things because the temperatures are little bit more mild and bit more or like it doesn't rain so much, it's not so hot so humid. We grow all kinds of things. We grow everything from tomatoes, carrots, beet roots, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, speed roots, all kinds of things.

Then in the summer in the warm season, we grow maybe a little bit less variety, but we can still grow a lot of things like beans, eggplant, squash cucumbers, peppers, bazo, chili, sweet potatoes, water spinach. So this basically it's always a season for something. What we try to educate the people is that you need to know what to grow when. To be able to be a successful farmer.

RICH: How did you get into this?

POL: So I'm originally from Barcelona. Before coming to Hong Kong, I absolutely knew nothing about farming, about food, about growing. Certainly I would not have imagined to be coming to Hong Kong to become an urban farmer. But I came to Hong Kong 5 years ago and I had the chance to connect with a local organic farmers here in Hong Kong. There's actually a lot of farmers in Hong Kong There's around 450 organic farms in the new territories, different sizes. Some are a bit smaller, some are a bit larger, but I started to kind of learn from them. Started to become more interested in growing, in food, and our food system started seeing all the problems associated with our core and food system. Started thinking about together with my cofounders, started thinking about how can we bring this movement, which is kind of developing in the new territories to the heart of the city and make it accessible to city dwellers.


RICH: How did you know this was more than just a hobby that you come up on a Sundays and you pick you beans? How did you know you could make money? How did you know you could build organizations? Like what did it take before you made the jump on your own?

POL: I had no idea basically. Sort of like had no business plan, had no you know this is something quite new, it's quite an infant sort of industry especially in Hong Kong. It might be much more developed in other countries, but here we didn't have any reference really. Is this gonna fly? Is this gonna work? Are people going to like it? Are people going to be willing to pay for it? Who are going to be our clients? We had an idea obviously, but we had no idea whether or not the market would respond to our assumptions. Luckily enough we were able to quickly realize that there was, there was the demand for our services. From there obviously that was a lot of iterations, developing your services, improving them, getting feedback from your clients, learning as you go along and sort of fine tuning your business model and your business as a whole.


RICH: What were the early lessons that you think were just super critical to either learn from failure or like wow, we got that right. Like we had that.

POL: The technical side of farming was something we were not really familiar with. So we needed to overcome that by surrounding ourselves with some you know with some expert organic farmers that were working with us and that still work with us. So I would say would one of the main challenges.

The other challenge was how are we going to market ourselves and how we market ourselves to different kinds of clients Because like I said different clients come to us with different, very different interests. Everything from a school, who runs a school programs to a corporate who wants employee engagement and sustainability sort of program initiative. So these are very different clients, different users at the end of the day of our farms.


RICH: Is it a good thing to go after so many different types of clients or should you just each one's different so how so how do you make sure you maintain quality for all of them?

POL: So we had to develop, we had to develop tailor made solutions and this took a while obviously. You know we didn't have curriculums to give to schools for example at the beginning. So we were you know putting together workshops, curriculums and learning from other trainings that we had undertaken ourselves, consulting with farmers and so on to actually deliver something that would be suitable for a school for example. We need to try and build customize solutions that could be applicable to different client segments. We didn't focus like our range of clients was a little more limited at the beginning and then we kind of expanded gradually as we went along.


RICH: So the core. What are some things you have to do every day to make it work to like, to succeed to have a valuable proposition that's stable? What are two or three things that just have to work every day?

POL: One of our key services is so we set up farms that's one main service. We design and install these farms, but also we do the management of these farms. It this is actually very critical especially from a business perspective. So when we set up a farm we have a client and we design it an set it up, that is one of the bit of revenue that we get. But what happens afterwards? How can we ensure that project is successful, sustainable and it's achieving the objectives that is has and it's making you know the client happy with it.

That's where our second service comes in where we provide a farm management service where we need to, not only is it a technical sort of support we provide where we send organic farmers to all of these farms to do some maintenance, but it is also managing the client's stakeholders. All of the users of these farms and how do we successfully and effectively engage them in the day to day running of the farm. How do we build an understanding? How do we build their passion for it? How we keep that momentum goin?. That is the most challenging one and that is where we are putting in a lot of energy.


RICH: You live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. How do you make this work for yourself personally?

POL: Obviously as an entrepreneur when you start on this journey you take a lot of risks and there are a lot of uncertainties. Together with my cofounders we invested some of our savings into this without necessarily knowing whether it was going to fly. You need to kind of be able to take that jump and have confidence that you have something that might be valuable and might work out and keep working on it.

It has worked out for us. Today we have 3 cofounders, we have 2 staff and we have a lot of people that we work with on a more part-time basis more on a project basis. So if you're able to pay five salaries, fulltime salaries. We are able to pay several part-time salaries by building our pipeline, expanding the client base, doing a lot of business development, putting the word out there, a lot of marketing and also media, media attention, media coverage that definitely helps to sort of reach different audiences. It has been working out so far. We've been around for 2 years and half and we're still kicking so.

RICH: Kicking is the first step to thriving right? So that's ok. You're still alive.


RICH: You've got over 30 rooftops now?

POL: Over 30, yes.

RICH: Over 30, where do you go from here? Like how many can you achieve here? How many do you want? Then is scale something you talk about, something you dream about or is 30 a good number for you?

POL: No, I think 30 is just a start. We feel like potentially in Hong Kong we specially see a lot of potential more working more directly with property developers and architecture firms to actually integrate urban farms in spite of their designs. So entering like the history, like the life of a building at the design stage where we can actually fully integrate it into the whole building. There is a whole trend towards green building in Hong Kong and also abroad. There is a whole trend towards well being, promoting well being and building environments. So this fits very well with general trends we seen in the architecture and the property sector.

So we see a huge window of opportunity there to develop our business in that direction. Both in Hong Kong and abroad. We already have a couple of projects in China. One in Hunan, in Wong Dong and we get inquiries from other regions, Shanghai, from ____(12:49) from other parts of China and also from other parts of Asia. Mostly like bigger cities and we see that there's a lot of potential to develop, expand our operation here in Hong Kong, but also tap into some of these other nearby markets that have similar markets for that.

RICH: Very Good.


RICH: How do you measure success for your organization. How do you measure the impact that you are trying to have?

POL: We have a lot of quantitative indicators that we are tracking. Everything from how many arms have we set up, how many square feet of underused urban space are we transforming into urban farms. Yields that we are getting form some of our rooftops. Number of workshops and programs that we are running. Number of participants that are attending these workshops. Number of people that we are training to become urban farmers because we are also doing some trainings for different groups with sort of underprivileged backgrounds to provide them with job opportunities and employment opportunities.

So how many have we trained, how many of them actually employed at the end of the program, etc, etc. So there are a lot of more quantitative indicators that we are trying to track to measure how much impact we having. But then there's also a whole range of quantative data that we would like to also dig into and collect although it is much more complex arena, but trying to see how people are reacting to this project. Ok, you been part of part of this project as been participating this urban farm for a year. How do you feel different about food? How do you...have you changed your behavior in shopping?

RICH: So you're trying to measure the immeasurable.

POL: Yes. Like the quality, like mindset change, behavior change.

RICH: That's the tough stuff to measure. People talk a lot about that.

POL: Yes. Do we try and do survey's before and after the program. How have you changed your perspective of food? On farming, etc, etc.? Trying to capture that change in their behavior.


RICH: You have an aspiring entrepreneur watching this. What are three pieces of advice you give to someone when they're starting this process? Like what are the three keys to success? Like what are the three things they should avoid? Or what are the three challenges they should persevere through because it's fucking hard! Right?

POL: It's a very lonely journey. It's a very hard, you know it involves a lot of hard work. I don't want to paint like a pink picture of what being an entrepreneur is because it has a lot of nuances being an entrepreneur. It's incredibly gratifying and it's incredibly rewarding on many levels because you're building up your own thing and you're creating your own. You're sort of developing your own visions for something. So that's really exciting and that's what drives me and that's what keeps me going and what makes me sort of overcome all the obstacles.

But you also need to be aware that there will be hard times. There will be a lot of uncertainties. There will be a lot of risks you will have to take and sort of adventure into the unknown and be able to navigate through that. Find what works for you. Find that balance that works for you in managing this feelings, this emotions and this...

RICH: When you're navigating that, what's your..what is your flashlight? What is your compass? What are the things that you....what are the tools you have when you're really trying to navigate through that when you're uncertain? What are the things that you have to have to get through that?

POL: One of the things that we really have been working on is since you're a startup, you only have so many resources. You only have so many people. You only have so many skills sets. You have so many gaps. You have to change hats and double, you know, double up to do everything a business or organization needs to achieve. So you need to surround yourself. You need to build your network. You need to build a pool of people that are there to support you when you need them. So you need to really establish those relationships with advisors. With people who are at good with finance or people who are good at market. Or people who are good at different aspects of your work that you might not be necessarily very good at and sort of trying to find how you can think creatively about...ok, I don't have money to pay someone fulltime to be my marketing manager, but I need marketing. So how do I creatively find a solution for it.

One of the things we tried to do is surround ourselves with good people around us, good advisors that can fill in the gaps when we need that can support us along the way.

RICH: Thank you very much for your time.

POL: Thanks Richard, it's a pleasure.

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.

Abigail Smith

Do the Work. Trust Your Process - Abigail Smith, Thai Harvest SOS

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with Abigail Smith, who a year and a half ago established Thai Harvest SOS. An amazing organization that has, in just a short time created a process that is able to safely redistribute more than a ton of food a day to more than 20 communities in Bangkok.

For Abigail, she sees this time as a pilot for building the process, systems, and support needed to take this to the next level, and in my conversation with her we discussed a wide range of different systems that she is focused on, trying to nail down, or is struggling to bring to scale.

There is a lot of valuable content in here, even for the most experienced leader, and I hope you will enjoy watching this conversation as much as I (we) did filming it!

This interview is about identifying a problem, and building systems that address that problem and bring a measurable impact.

About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About Abigail

Thai Harvest SOS is a charity dedicated to the reduction of food waste and the redistribution of food fit for for consumption but not sale to those that need it.

Thai Harvest SOS collects non sellable but consumable food free of charge and sends it to communities where it can be of use. Food not fit for consumption is sent to local farms for composting.

Abigail Smith, originally from the U.S., is the group's operations director for Thailand and is responsible for driving its mission to "reduce food waste and use it in the most meaningful way."

Follow Abigail

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Full Interview Transcript

RICH: Good afternoon everybody I'm here with Abigail from Thailand Harvest SOS. We just had the most amazing interview and I think you're going to love this one. We covered everything from having a laid to like process to focus on your organization. The myth of the administration costs and just going from getting through one day, to one week to one month to changing the world. We hope that you enjoy this episode. I know I sure as hell did and if you do, please like, share and comment on her Facebook page. On every Facebook page. Thank you Abigail, this has been hysterical.


RICH: Tell me about your operating plan. How many trucks do you have and how much food do you process?

ABIGAIL: Twenty one food donors right now all over Bangkok. We're processing anywhere from, it's averaging out to about 900 kilos a day. Cuz we do get some bulk in every once and a while and 900 kilos a day and about 22 recipient communicates throughout the city of Bangkok.

RICH: And do you move it, do you like you get it that afternoon and it has to be out your door by the evening?

ABIGAIL: Pretty much. Anything that my trucks, So I've two vehicles. I have one compost vehicle and one edible vehicle. They start at 7:00am and then they are parked back on premise by 7:00p. If any of the food...the compost is all managed within a day. If any of the edible comes in after 2 or 3:00pm, that's what our storage coolers downstairs is for and that goes out the next cuz we've got get it to the community in time to prep dinner. Otherwise it's going to go to waste for them. Also we're working though a lot of agencies that don't have the fridge storage.

We've done food safety training but we would rather manage it for as long as possible. A, to save them on the storage costs and B, to ensure that it's of the highest quality that we can give it to them and it's served at the highest quality that we can predict to the best of our ability.


RICH: So how do you look at your system? Like, what are the flaming hot risks that you try to manage every day?

ABIGAIL: The flaming hot risk of course your first one is food safety. So we don't take cooked rice. We don't take anything cooked with coconut milk. It has a high volatile right after it gets heated. It kind of like goes on this crazy spectrum of bacteria within almost 45 minuets.

RICH: So, don't eat cold curry on the street.

ABIGAIL: Really don't. But it's just one of those things that we know that's a hot point especially here in southeast Asia that's a lot of foods made with it. We do not take cooked seafood, at all. We do not take frozen shellfish, at all.

RICH: Because?

ABIGAIL: Because it's just, those are your biggest risk factor categories for sure. The next is I guess cultural sensitivity with the food a lot of Hala communities. A lot communities that wouldn't eat the food that we were given. So we spend a lot of time trying to match out. You bring a Thai family a box of bad Ghats, they don't know what to of with it so it's ending up in the landfill anyways. You bring Vietnamese refugee a box of baguettes, they thrilled. Same with we cater a lot of...yea, we cater a lot of post large Indian weddings. This is a huge Indian wedding hub. Pakistani refugees, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, all love it. But my Vietnamese are like whoa, why what is this? I don't want it. So that's how we deal with a lot of that.

Then the other hotspots are of course just being sensitive with the people that are receiving food. We want to treat them with dignity right?


RICH: Did you start with one community and move out? Did you always do everything like it, how it started?

ABIGAIL: It started pretty much one community, one donor, two donors, two communities and now it's blossomed and it works. Now what we need are more vehicles. That's really our next step. So in our first, we're about a year and half old. Locally founded in March 2016. I've kind of looked at everything we've done still even almost up to this January as a pilot, as proof. Now, what we've been able to do is, we've been able to physically prove is that the food waste is there and that you know when I walk into a hotel and an executive chef says I have no food waste, that you do. You do and it doesn't matter if it's 10 kilos or 100 kilos, it's still food waste and the more on people I get on board, the more 10 kilos matters and so forth and so forth.

So I've proved the food is there and the waste is there and that it's not a hard process. Actually we've found that like some of the stewarding teams in hotels we're making their jobs easier because they have less, wet heavy garbage. Ya know.

RICH: Right, so they save money from that.

ABIGAIL: Tesco Lotus is built into their KPIs for the store managers to donating. Things like that. We've proven the food is there. We've proved that the process is not impossible and we've proved the need and the hunger is there and maybe there aren't staving people, but they will take the cost off that. They will take being remembered. It's kind of fun and that they enjoy the difference in their diet and the variety that we are able to bring. Halfway home I got 100 kilos of frozen salmon from a restaurant that was changing menu. We brought it out. We mad fish balls. They've never had salmon before. So it was like this really special moment for them. Ya know, so it's ya we're providing meals and nutrition, but we're also ya know just....

RICH: Like a nice night out in a way.

ABIGAIL: Yeah, it's like they see our truck coming and their like, "oh my god, maybe it's going to be a really cool desert today." Or something different than they have every day.


RICH: Legally, how difficult was this? Were there laws in place? How open is the Thai society, Bangkok, a foreigner coming in and setting this up?

ABIGAIL: We do it before. We have a mixed Thai foreign board. We are locally registered. We are a Thai foundation. That process to get a local registration start to finish was bout 9 months and as we say, Phaeng mak, very expensive but well worth it. So Phaeng mak, mak. I'm the only westerner on staff. Even like my one American staff, she's half Thai, she grew up in a Thai household and she's fluent. I'm the only westerner on staff. I try to stay off the camera as much as possible and like when we do local news articles that it's featuring the Thai staff. In Thailand, as much as like I don't, there's also a respect with the foreign foundation.

Now for me, I'd also been here for four years. I'd also worked in hotels for four years and could speak a little bit of Thai was kind of able to win over respect and that a lot of our corporates that were going through most 5 star hotel executive chefs are European here. Right? So I set it up and then my Thai staff comes in with their Thai staff and knocks it down. Then working with the mixed refugees who are used to working with UN, with asylum access, which has a.... So they were pretty used to it already. Some of our biggest blockades have been, I don't want to say Thai, I want to say Southeast Asian here perception of what food waste is. Changing language over to surplus that it's not dirty.

I feel like culturally all over the world, we have this big problem where...Oh my god if we donate food you're going to sue us...everybody's going to get food poisoning. It's an Urban Legend essentially it really doesn't happen. One of my partner foundations has been operating in this fear for 14 years over 1 billion meals served and not a single claim. They've also been able to change the laws in Australia to get food donors under Good Samaritan. It's something that we're looking at doing here.

Right now, I offer contracts to each food donor that guarantees that we accept liability if there is an issue and we can do that cuz honestly, there isn't going to be an issue. I really firmly believe that.

RICH: You don't worry about it.

ABIGAIL: We do have global insurance, but I really firmly believe that we're not going to have an issue.


RIGH: Even though it's potentially the hottest thing, it's something that you don't worry about.

ABIGAIL: I mean I worry about it, but we practice ____ some standards. I'm _____ (9:15) certified. I have a full time food hygienist on staff. We don't take the right things. We train the people donating food. We trust our process.

RICH: So you trust your process.

ABIGAIL: We trust our process. We train our communities receiving food as well. It's not....there is nothing half-assed about this. It was really thought through. It's been really well thought through in other programs in the world. You trust your process and honestly, you can get food poisoning order at the table at a 5 star hotel just as easily as you can get it in street food, just as easy as any where in the world. So we trust our process just as much as you do sitting down at a restaurant and ordering a meal.


RICH: How do volunteers support your organization? Who makes the, do you use volunteer on a regular basis? How are they part of your....

ABIGAIL: We done on couple..first off we take interns. Usually the interns are admin, are Facebook, social media, like doing cute little projects that we want to do that are itching in the back of our head, but like nobody had time to do a sliding scale, so our staff can see how close we are getting to our food capture goal. They bring a lot o f light and energy to the office to normally and so it's great to have some. So internships have functions really, really well for us. We've taken volunteers on web design and on different projects like that which functions pretty well and is fun.

We are having problems. I don't even know how to say it. We're absolutely having problems. We are having problems having people cancel last minute. We're having problems of people taking photos of the wrong thing and posting it on social media. Then we need to..

RICH: What's the background of your average volunteer? Are they Thai? Are they foreign?

ABIGAIL: College students born here, but maybe a foreign background is a huge section of the population. Thai people returning home is a huge section of the population. Then all of our refugees want to volunteer, which is amazing. So we kind of use refugees volunteers on site to help sort, pack and distribute. That works well. But they can't go out on the truck all day really.

We've also found some great success volunteer from spousal expats. So they're on a spousal visa, so they can't work, but they can only give so much time to it legally. It's complicated I guess finding good volunteer help is not easy.

RICH: What are some of the challenges that you face, like how you...because managing volunteers is a process. It really is. It's no different than budgeting. You ask for five people, you're going to get three. How do you, what's the process you try to create?

ABIGAIL: We've tried to create by month volunteer trainings, which happen right in this living room. Ten to fifteen kids come in, we pull out a wipe board, we sign them up for days. We go through food safety food standards, safe lifting, community sensitivity, all of that kinds of stuff. They sign up on the wipe board, we follow-up with email. Um, I learning that, that might not be a great process, so it's not enough and honestly, I would love something like what you do to help us managing volunteers. It's really... It's really hard man.

RICH: Yes.

ABIGAIL: I thought it was supposed to make my life better, but it makes it worse almost every single time.

RICH: That's the irony of volunteering.


RICH: So, how good are you with your cash flow? Like how in touch with you are and I found this out like two years ago I nearly spiked my non-profit. I had about a four month window and I mean we were headed straight for the earth. I realized there's a big difference between sales and cash flow. Like it's huge. So, how do you know that?

ABIGAIL: I do all the forecasting. I am on it. I am picky about receipts. I am watching it all the time. Know when I say that we have x-amount for this program, for this month. There is usually a buffer in there. I build buffers all over the place. I always when I look at fundraising, I forecast on the fact that what this person that's gonna to do this campaign for me, he's going to raise me a million Baht, I put in my forecast, 25,000 Baht. You know what I mean? I don't put anything in my forecast until I have ink on the paper. There's no pipe dreams in it.

RICH: I have three sheets. One that is current and this is what I booked and I have exact numbers for. There is realistic what I'm pretty confident I can sell through. The other is potential. This is not just the revenue side, but it's also how many people can I add. Like when they want a raise, I have to bake the raise in. That way I can figure out how many months do I have at present. I sort of hyperventilating under 6. I started loosing hair at 3. Sort of my doctorate at...
ABIGAIL: Yeah. When I do my end of 3rd quarter books, I mean I just...I just like to be hiding under my table with a bottle of wine going I have to fire everybody.

RICH: At least you don't end that sentence with again. Right?

ABIGAIL: Again, no. It never...and that's what buffers are about right? There's guarantee, their bonuses aren't guaranteed. Now are they all siting on my forecast like they're all going to happen at 100% at all times, yes. Then that gives me another, that gives me a whole another month lets say something goes horribly wrong, that gives me another month. There's things in there, there's stuff in there like we know that our refrigeration is often unkind. Or we're working on getting trucks in Kind now. But I still build my budget and forecast like I'm paying full price for that. That's a lot of ways that I manage it. By telling my staff that we have less money than we do.

RICH: This give us the idea of scale. I think we'll close it out here. Everyone's like you got scale, you gotta do more. Bigger impact. More people. More trucks. More this, more that. How do you, how do you approach scale?

ABIGAIL: How do I approach scale? I mean...

RICH: Because this is a pilot right?

ABIGAIL: We're still in pilot and I'm like looking at the real thing like I've proven it. Now we know stuff like for every US dollar we spend I can provide 4 meals. That's the fuel I need for fundraising. Now I know that I've done operated for almost over a year and we haven't had any food poisoning cases. Now I can say that. Right? I can really say that so now I can sell it stronger and better. Chicken/egg is a huge problem in what I'm doing here. Do I have the truck waiting in the wings and the staff sitting there with nothing to pick up while I'm out pitching to hotels? Or do I get the hotels on board and tell them I can work wonders and then when they call me and say can you start on Tuesday and it's Monday and say, hey who can go buy a truck today and hire a staff. So we're kind of balancing on that right now. I'm at the point where I'm at capacity and I'm still selling and the program to more food donors.

What I'm saying is that I'm going to get another truck, which we are. In the beginning of 2018 and then we would like to start your program on this day or this day. I also don't pick up new communities and new food donors at the same time. For example, Hilton started on the first. Chatruim will start on the 15th. We've got a new recipient community starting on the 25th once I know that that's all there and ok.

Because so that's kind of the stuff that I'm doing. Just praying, there's a lot of praying. I say to the kids, I call my staff the kids, everyday I kind of walk in and put my purse down and I'm like alright, what are we doing to get to the end of the day. If we can get to the end of the day, we can get to the end of the week. If we can get to the end of the week, we can get to the end of the month. Then eventually we are going to get to the end of the year and if we just keep doing the right thing every day...and if we just keep communicating and if we just keep pushing ourselves, our other team members, our donors, our recipient communities appropriately and just a little bit, we're going to make progress.

If you're doing the right thing, the money is going to come. The stuff is gonna come. I know it feels like ______________(17:35) I talking to you just like my staff talk, like I know today felt really hard, but we did it. It wasn't impossible, it wasn't maybe graceful, but we got to the end of the day, so now when this problem comes up gain, we're going to be able to get to the end of the day with a little more grace. Then we're gonna be able to prove our numbers and then we're going to get more.

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.

peggy chan

Building a Vegan Movement in Hong Kong | Peggy Chan, Grassroots Pantry

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I interview Peggy Chan, the founder Managing Director and Executive Chef of Grassroots Pantry, about her mission to bringing the vegan movement to Hong Kong through a strong ethos, her passion for food, and delivering an amazing menu that reminds her customers of their favorite food memories.

As always, I hope you are inspired and engaged by the conversation!

Peggy's story is one of a passion for food, and the commitment to delivering on that passion every day

About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About Peggy Chan

Peggy Chan is the founder, Managing Director and Executive Chef of Grassroots Pantry, a homespun restaurant in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong serving innovative plant-based cuisine with the highest standards of hospitality. Through Grassroots Pantry, Peggy shares her passion for organic produce and supporting local sustainable agriculture by educating the public about the issues that face our food systems today. Grassroots Pantry, as a result, has grown to be more than just a restaurant: it is a highly regarded platform that highlights pressing issues and encourages all to make a difference through action and collaboration, while providing a world-class dining experience.

Since opening in 2012, Grassroots Pantry has enjoyed great success, community support and media coverage in publications such as CNN Travel, Cathay Pacific Discovery Magazine, Travel & Leisure SE Asia and National Geographic India, and Peggy remains determined to create an independent business that will continually challenge the way diners view food production and consumption.

Follow Peggy and Grassroots Pantry:

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Full Interview Transcript

RICH: Welcome back everybody. Rich Brubaker here with my friend Peggy from Grassroots. An amazing story about a young executive chef who has opened up a very unique place here in Hong Kong that serves only plant based foods. We speak about her journey, what drives her, how she stays humble and...thank you very much. The food is amazing.

Peggy thanks for meeting with us. Tell me a little about yourself as a individual and also Grassroots,which we are sitting in here.

PEGGY: Sure, thank you for having me. My name is Peggy. I am the executive Chef and founder of Grassroots Pantry, also managing director. We are a five year old vegan vegetarian organic restaurant. We source as much as possible locally and over 90% of our ingredients are certified organic. I've been an avid sustainable consumer or conscious consumer for the past 17 years, so that my lifestyle. So for me it's about how do I balance my food intake and nutritionally but also create food that is fun, interesting, and innovative.

RICH: How does that work in a city like Hong Kong where consumption is at a whole another level. Why did you choose this city to get started?

PEGGY: The challenge was really to take on what the city needed. The city that I grew up in, the city that I know and that I've worked in for many years. Take that challenge on and really to offer, offer our city and community something that is different.

RICH: How did you come into this?

PEGGY: Well, along with what I was doing in hotels in corporate, I was always on the back of my mind really wanting so badly to do something about the food industry and what was or raise awareness about what was going on thin the food industry. So back then, 12 years ago, was when I first read an article on Gourmet Magazine. That was in 2005 and that was the first article that had actually showed me what food was and where food came from. That was the first time I'd heard about Monsanto and genetically modified organisms. That really led me to do my research.

Throughout University in Switzerland I was continuously doing my research and figuring out what was going on with the meat industry, watching gorilla films. It was always in the back of my head even though I was working in corporate, I would be talking to my colleagues. They would ask me why I was vegetarian and I would tell them, do you know that? How cows are actually raised these days? No, well they're being pumped with RB/GH growth hormones. Do you know any of this? No. It's scary.

RICH: Why didn't you just become an activist for ya know for the human society, an existing NGO? Why didn't' you go that route? Why go into a restaurant business?

PEGGY: I really thought that I was going to leave the industry for good and go into academics and go into social work. Which is very normal for a lot of people, but I knew that I had my passion was really and my career ya know. Everything that I've honed for 12 years was in food and beverage and my craft is culinary. It's hard to leave all of that when, you know, it's kind of like a part of you.

I decided that after my Eat, Pray Love moment of traveling to Bali and India and everything, I really just felt that there is a way for me to do this. I can combine my love for culinary and running restaurants with my passion and activism for sustainable agriculture and combine that together and make Grass Roots Pantry my first pantry business and something that is more of social entrepreneurship base.

RICH: When you set this up, I mean the entire menu is completely Vegan, what were some of the core principals when you said you were going to build this restaurant that you had to adhere to and how challenging...what was the opportunity with all the challenges of sticking to those principals?

PEGGY: When we opened Grass Roots 5 years ago, we weren't opening it to become a vegan restaurant. It was only over the years and last year was when I decided after watching cowspiracy was when I,not realized that I really decided that.

RICH: Because you knew, but you like that was it.

PEGGY: Exactly. It was getting that push in. These food documentaries are so crucial to getting people to just, ya know do something. Plastic Oceans as well. So I really, with that we I decided to get rid of all the dairy. Not that we used a lot anyway, I just said we'll get rid of it overnight. I think many times when you're an restaurant operator and a chef with a big ego, you do what you want to do, but you fail to see what the market wants. If I made those decisions overnight and I made all these like funky stuff all wrong, all ya know cold foods and you know cold press all very like too hippy and stuff. I think It would deter people from trying.

RICH: Because whether they think... I mean to me it's like tofu. There's a preconceived notions that you can break through. How did what was your process for once you knew that it was a problem, how did you then create a menu or how did you look at that part of the business.

PEGGY: In order for us to get our consumers to...our customers to really feel like they are a part of that experience, I wanted to create a menu that was something they could recognize. So let's say if I were to make a Thai dish, I would make it as authentic as possible but give it those Grassroots tweaks. Which is to make it plant based, super food laced, all wholesome foods, 100% organic, all of that. So when they eat it, they're like oh, I remember this flavor, oh I remember that. But actually it's actually something so much more healthier than you would normally get. So like one of the examples that we do is popcorn chicken that we do which is super popular here. It is my memory from middle school after school we would go to KFC and buy these buckets of popcorn chicken and pop them in our mouths.

So the taste and the memory and the flavor and fragrance, all of that, just made me realize that I can recreate that with an ingredient called hedgehog mushroom. Just batter it, toss it in galangal powder and there you go. So everyone who comes here they eat it are like this is just like chicken.

RICH: So are you trying to fool them? Like the beyond burger it's actively trying to fool you so that you'll just make the switch more readily. But how much for you is just looking at the food and going this just makes amazing food, but the flavor speaking for themslevs and hopefully....the tica I just had, **** amazing, how much is just you looking through food and this is what I can do and I know that this will be amazing. How much is people is people like pop corn chicken and I'm going to created it and fool everybody and they're going to keep coming back?

PEGGY: I wouldn't use the word fool though. I'm proposing an alternative. So actually we have a catering arm called The Alternative Caterer. What I'm doing is really proposing you a different option as what you would normally have and still have it taste just as good. You're experience won't change whatsoever. You can still bring your friends who are meat here and everyone can have their own meals, different style of food. We can have India, Thai, Italian, Chinese, all on the same table at the same time. But you'll will experience something that is memorably.

RICH: What are the best ways for you to break through the noise of what's happening here in Hong Kong food and dining. How do you get your message out and how do you attract new consumers that are outside your friend's circle, the people you are actively going after? You need the masses to come here to make sure you have a stable business? Is it Facebook, is it events, is it speaking, is it everything? What's worked well for you as a story teller?

PEGGY: When we were smaller, social media definitely worked, but now that we are at the stage of business, our public relationships team really does help us give us a push. But most importantly, I think it's the messaging, it needs to be consistent. So no matter what channel you use, the message needs to be consistent. So we do this thing called the Collectives Table. It's an initiative we started a year ago and the whole idea is to get, ya know the restaurant is great as a platform to touch to the community, our guests. Change the ways that they think.

So most of our guests who come here, they are not vegetarian/vegan. But the collectives table is really to tap within, infiltrate within the industry so that we can get the suppliers, the chefs, ya know the big restaurants, the corporates to start changing their systems, system change. So what we do is challenge them to cook plant based over one special dinner and part of the proceeds goes to a certain charity. We created a lot of buzz, a lot coverage for them because everyone is talking about plant based food now, vegetarian, putting more like wholesome foods on your menu. So we kind of help them as well tweek their image to the public and vice versa.

So we're doing it globally and we've been able to successfully change some of the chef's, like not purposely, but they are so inspired. Through that pop up, through that collaboration, they've been able to feel so inspired that they will change, maybe the percentage plant based verses meat dishes have shifted.

RICH: What are the big challenges that you face? Like day to day, like your vision perspective. What are the challenges you are facing and how do you get through them everyday? How do you wake up like alright look, we've got all these problems and we can get through it?

PEGGY: Well, the biggest problem in this industry no matter where you are, big corporate hotels, or small startups...people. We are a human intensive human based industry where everything is based on communications. That is always a problem and we have a massive shortage of qualified skilled workers in this industry right now because no one wants to go into food and beverage. Noone wants to go into hospitality. So that is one thing.

RICH: How do you fix that? Robots? Right!!

PEGGY: Gosh, how I would fix that is really just to go back internally and say how do we become better. How do we attract quality staff? We have to be role models for what we do so if we...we say all these things like...we do all these things, but we're not really good with our work ethics and even if I attract great people they would see us as they're just ya know, it's just all poster, messaging. So I first of all make sure that my team, the ground team, the skeleton team is strong and they are ya know, their ethos is exactly like mine that if I say segregate your ways, you have to segregate your ways. That has taken a lot of time. Like 2 years ago was not like this. There were a lot of chefs who came in and there were multiple shortcuts. So it takes time to build.

So that's one way that we're tackling why, how do I wake up in the morning and feel 100% to go to work and continue what I do? I see everything with a bigger picture and the bigger picture here is we need to do something about the system here.

RICH: What inspires you about the food sector right now?

PEGGY: What gets me the most excited is really to be a part of that system change. So because I've worked in food and beverage for 17 years, it's really knowing the industry from inside out and knowing how to fix it, know how to change it. Of course, I don't know everything around the world, but I'm starting in Hong Kong.

RICH: How do you measure your successes? How do you measure impact?

PEGGY: That's a good question. People have their conceptions about you a certain level. To me it's all about my confidence within. I don't need someone else to tell me who I am or whether I'm doing well or not. As long as I feel confident and comfortable with the correct feedback and being open to accepting feedback, staying humble with humility and then just focusing on doing better than I have before the previous day. Then I know I've done my job well.

RICH: What advice would you give to a young woman about how to be yourself, get it done,...?

PEGGY: One of the things the words that was used on a chef's table, I don't know if you watched it, but Chef Nikiama, she uses the word, it's a Japanese word Kreashi, which means to allow the negative energy that people give you drive you to prove them wrong. I mean that sounds reactive, but actually if you have that mentality all the time, it can become proactive and become a part of you. So, let any doubt, anything that is negative that enters you be produced back as something productive and positive.

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.

Simon Vogel

Food Entrepreneurship, and Bootstrapping, in Shanghai - Simon Vogel | Entrepreneurs For Good

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with Simon Vogel about his attempt to build health food delivery platform, from the 17th floor of an apartment building.

It is an amazing look at how creative entrepreneurs can get when bootstrapping!

Simon's Story is one about bootstrapping in China, failing fast, and (hopefully) learning faster

About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About Simon Vogel

When coming to Asia a couple of years ago, he wanted to open a restaurant but quickly realized that it would not be as easy as he thought. Instead of that, he launched a business in delivery food.

Follow Simon and Saucepan:

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Full Transcript


My name is Simon. I'm from Switzerland. Working here what we set up a company called Saucepan, which is a food delivery company. Been here in Shanghai from, lets say almost two year now.


Well, I, well basically me and my partner both came, we cant to Shanghai because we had like some family members here and definitely the markets is very interesting market to be part of nowadays. Previously, me, I was studying in a hospitality school in Switzerland and also I was working for sometimes for hotels, different 5-Star hotel brands.


Well, to be honest, like I said like we were always like involved in a food in the food industry, in the food and beverage industry. Me coming closer to the thirty year, but the age 30 I was thinking like I need to do something which has more meaning. Well, looking at the market like Shanghai or China or if you take the big picture Asia, I think there is a lot of things you can do here in terms of foods. Especially delivering clean and trusted food to people's home.


To be honest, it was more that we didn't had like a clear plan. I'd say like this because we came here with the idea of more opening a restaurant. So, we came here in 2014 and then we just realized it was like at the time where all the rents was getting higher and higher and it was just commenting suicide if we would have open a restaurant at least back then in the days. So, then more and more we were looking about what was existing in the markets and what we saw. How the consumer behavior. How they are like ordering delivery food delivery form time to time. We were saying okay, this could be like an interesting concept like to actually bring the food to people's home.

Initially, we started with a three specific business model, which we completely failed. Then, we had to privates back in December last year and now we are like right on track on a food delivery ready-to-eat business.


Well, we specifically targeted expat at the beginning because we were feeling much more comfortable with the expat markets. We were coming form what we both know this how I conduct the consumer behavior of an expat. However, more and more we were like working on our concept. More and more we were realizing that the locals were also interested in a healthy food delivery concept. So that's how we realized that our concept would be both, as a market fit for both expats and locals.

So we started targeting the expat markets because we both, the two founders of this company are true expats and for us it was much more easier to tie it to stats with a consumers that we knew in the past. It was much more easier for us to target this clientele. However, more and more we were operating, we realized that Chinese, local customers were also interested in this concept. Now we feel that we have the right market fit for both locals and expats.


Well, I said we had like low capital to start with. We could not, this is also why we switch the concept initially not to go into a restaurant idea because rent wise was too expensive. So we were really looking about how we could save maximum amount of money. Initially we started from an apartment. Then we said okay, where can we find a place where we could operate. Then we checked a bit around the market and we saw ok, we could like here we're in China. We could maybe rent out an apartment and really like renovate it and then operate from there. This is how we decided really like to inject money like step by step and first to see if the concept is working before like investing a higher amount of money.

For instance, with our initial plan it was more, how do you say? We could say the first five months we tested the product, we tested the market and it the way we say the initial, our initial idea, there was no real demand bind it. This is where it pushed us to pirate the business model in December and this is where we now are fully operational.


I believe first, was the rent issue because running a food and beverage business you need a good location. We could not afford this at the beginning so this is why we initially started off in an apartment.

Second thing is definitely manpower. Manning represents a very high cost and this is where we initially had and still today, have hands on in operation and try to avoid, just like hiring a lot of people because we can do it ourselves. We need to be in operations.

The third thing which represents also high costs. If you don't have an IT team. It definitely building up the website building up an app or building up a WeChat store. This is where we looked into our friends and family network. If there was not someone who could like assist us in building a website, which also we found.

I think these are three major expenses that we're going on us. Definitely the personal expenses because we can't like, how do you say? Give us a payroll at this early stage. So, making sure that we are outside work we are living on a very low profile and making sure that we can survive here without spending all the money from the company.

Since day one, we spend zero on the company marketing. The only cost we had in marketing was maybe was like for some like fairs that we took part of, but it was very, very little cost. The thing is we could, we don't have, we didn't have the budget for this marketing and we believe more in word-of-mouth. So, we believe that if we have a product which is, how do you say? Good enough, people will talk around this product and talk to their friends.

How we also managed to have a very low marketing cost was like doing like partnerships with already existing startups, existing company's we have already renamed here. Food bloggers, everything that we can do where we are increasing our visibility, our brand image in the city.

We don't pay for influences. Again, I said, it's more we are going to food bloggers. We would maybe pay them in foods like we are trying to do this strategy of influence the influences. Where food bloggers who would try our food and then write on a blog post about us. Or, for instance, now we recently also started with some brand ambassadors. Like people who are working out in the gym or working out as a yoga teacher that they can influence their class. The people who are joining them in their class. Otherwise, was mainly social media was managed by ourselves. You have like WeChat, which is very strong here. Posting, accepting friends, trying to get like a big network of friends. Let's say posting on the asking people to post on their movements and so on and so forth.


Yeah, basically it's a mix. It's like on a way its food porn in terms of food. So like attract the customers towards our foods, like showing them images of our food that we are doing.

Yeah, well hire the right team is definitely one of a very important factor. Then also yes, spend your money but wisely on marketing for instance. We didn't have money and we achieved pre a successful milestone without spending any money into marketing. So I think you don't need to get funding and suddenly like just spend all over marketing. You need really like to make like, I don't know, smart investment in this kind of field.

Another thing would be like don't spend all your money on like useless equipment, especially like in kitchen. You need a lot of equipment whereas it's fridges or knives or whatsoever. So, better to choose like a more safe way to spend money and like really like see what you need, really need rather than just buying all kind of equipment. Packaging as well, for us was like a big waste of money at the beginning because we were testing the waters. We were testing our concept and we were just buying packaging right and left.

Finally, we found ourselves with, I don't' know, more than 2,000 boxes which we were not using. So definitely these are important things.

I think we are trying to change the future of food delivery. We really want that people have access to health foods, trusted meals with healthy meals using trusted ingredients. So we really want to disrupt this market of food delivery and fast foods by giving like products which are very like healthy for your body, but also like very using like clean ingredients. Like something that you can really trust.

So what are we, what we are trying to solve here and what we are, our mission really to disrupt this food delivery market. We want to give people access to clean food and healthy meals. So this is where we are trying to disrupt all this food delivery and fast food industry.

Well, I think we have a pretty smart business concept where it's pretty easy to scale because you can all like produce centrally and then dispatch in like further delivery units. You don't need to control or build up a kitchen for each of your units. You just need to build up delivery hubs. If you go in cities and then just like build up a central kitchen and then be able to dispatch to the oldest units you can scale pretty fast in a short period of time.

I think China is a huge market. That's what makes it so interesting. It's so big and there's so many people here. Which makes it like anyone, not any conept can be successful here. But it gives you a lot of room even if you have, even if it's highly competitive market, it gives you enough room for you to get your customers and then operate your business.

Well, at the end of the day, we both, we don't' have a family so if we fail and now we will try to do something again. Maybe fail again and if we don't have like something that, yeah that where we have to succeed in the first concept we are launching. I think is even if we proven with our old concept we failed fast, we modified the business model, we switched, we made a pilot and then we try it again.

This is what we are both strongly believe in. We will keep moving and keep trying until we have the right market fit and keep failing, that's for sure.

I think you know, we were I think we were pretty frustrated at the beginning when we tried this initial concept. Because we believe in our, in one concept, but it was not what the market was asking for. So this is where we learned on actually you need to listen to what the market is demanding rather than listening to yourself and just think this could be a great concept.

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.

David Yeung

The Future of Plant-Based Proteins | David Yeung, Green Commons

In this episode of Entrepreneur for Good, I speak with David Yeung, founder of Green Commons, about his impossible mission to encourage people to leave the meat-based lifestyle for the betterment their health and the planet.

This mission was born through David's personal experience and difficulties as a vegetarian who regularly traveled the world and lived abroad. When he returned to Hong Kong, he found some like-minded others interested in creating a change, called “Green Common”. Over time, David has scaled that group into a number of organizations with the same mission, including "Green Monday", an initiative centered around the idea of helping people replace animal-based protein with plant-based protein.

Being very pragmatic about achieving his mission, David has had a very simple goal at the outset, which is to get people to give up one meat-based meal a week, one day a week, and take steps from there as they’re comfortable.

"We’re entering uncharted waters, so by definition, it’s a learning and trial-and-error process. So think big, dream big, but be ready to fail – and simply learn from it very quickly, and move on. And I think that applies to any entrepreneur in any field."
– David Yeung, Green Monday & Green Common

About The Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome. It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organziations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.

About David Yeung

David Yeung is a noted environmental advocate and founder of Green Monday, an innovative social venture that takes on on climate change, food insecurity, health issues and animal welfare with a diverse platform that shifts individuals, communities, and corporations towards sustainable, healthy, and mindful living.

Under Green Monday, David launched Green Common – the world’s first plant-based green living destination – to introduce a revolutionary food and lifestyle experience. The movement of Green Monday has now spread to over 10 countries, with 1.6 million people practicing Green Monday at its Hong Kong origin.

Follow David and Green Commons:

About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich

Contact Rich
[email protected]

Full Interview Transcript

David: So I'm David Yeung, and I’m one of the co-founders of Green Monday. And we're trying to change the way people eat around the world towards a more sustainable and healthier diet.


David: Well, there are a lot of things that are wrong with today's food system, in many ways. One of the key things is people eating way too much meats. Livestock industry, a lot of people do not know, is one of the biggest culprits for carbon footprints, and it's also a very inefficient way to produce food. It takes a lot more land and a lot more water resources to produce the same amount of food if you're eating meat versus if you're eating plant-based food.

And also, from a health standpoint, with the animal factory farming practice these days, so many chemicals and artificial things are added to food that this is not the healthy way to eat.


David: So what we're trying to tell everyone – and what we're trying to empower and enable everyone to do – is shift towards a plant-based diet and a plant-based lifestyle.

Now, we don't necessarily ask people to “convert” to become a vegan or a vegetarian, but rather a holistic shift. So if someone used to be a big-time carnivore, we say, “Hey, can you go green one day a week, or can you cut down on the portion of meats that you eat on a regular basis?”

Which is why we came up with the name “Green Monday”. The idea is – well, Monday is symbolic to a new start, and at the beginning of each week, let's start a new habit. And of course, from Monday, we hope it will grow into every day – and from food, it will grow into the whole entire lifestyle, to become healthier and more sustainable.

When people talk – when we talk about the term “sustainability”, or when we mention “climate change”, “global warming”, people think of these as mega issues that only major corporations or governments can deal with. So each one of us is quite powerless. So because our impact is so small, people would think that, “I may as well not do anything, because at the end, what does my little change mean to the world?”

However, the way we look at it is, if we can engage everyone to take a baby step and synchronize that baby step to be taken together, then it becomes a giant impact and a giant leap.

So the key is: How do we lower the barrier and make it engaging, make it approachable, make it super easy for anyone to do? But at the same time, they know that if they do it on an ongoing, sustainable, long-term basis, and if they start to spread this among their friends and family, this will create a mega impact as well.

And at the end, governments and corporations – no matter how big they are – they still need the change from individuals.

Well, on one hand, it is a very tough sell because food is such an integral part of everyone's daily habits. And of course, people want to choose what they love to eat. But on the other hand, food is also a great entry point. Because if you can find a way – if we can find a way – to make plant-based green diet delicious, tasty, affordable – and hip, trendy, popular – then it also becomes something that is super easy for a lot of people to jump onto the bandwagon.

So we look at it as a difficulty or obstacle, but at the same time, is also an opportunity. It's also the quickest way to engage people, because you will never forget to eat.

Now, with the rebranding of Green Monday, rather than calling ourselves – “Hey, try to join our ‘meatless movement’,” or “Try to join our ‘vegan movement’,” we simply use the word “green”, which is a positive, engaging, encouraging platform.

And we say, “Even if you do a tiny change, you are still making a step towards a greener world.” So we turn a negative into a positive. We turn what people perceive as a sacrifice into something that they can add value and contribute to the world.


David: Well, this is a – I think people are losing their trust in big companies. And that is not necessarily just big food companies, but big companies in general. The last seven or eight years, too many things have been exposed – how big companies have exploited the system, whether it’s from the food industry standpoint, in the finance industry, you name it. So a lot of those behind-the-scene things have been exposed, and people are losing that faith or trust in these brands.

And also from a second – I think another reason is, these mega companies, they do not know the “pulse” of the new – whether they're Millennials, or the New Age customers. They simply don't know exactly – what are they eating, and what is the trend going to be.

So that gives a huge opportunity to a lot of food entrepreneurs – or nutrition, innovation, etc. – a lot of opportunities. And consumers at the end will vote by the consumption and say, “Hey? You know what? This segment,” such as almond milk, or coconut water, or aloe drink, or whatever that is , “is the feel that I want.”

So a lot of times, the big companies – first of all, by default, because they're big, they also move slower. But second is, they simply don't get the pulse. And again, finally, is people losing trust in them.

Well, it used to be – when we think of “vegan” or plant-based food, it used to belong to the niche. Just the ultra-healthy people, the yoga people, fitness – just that niche group.

But now, people are all very aware that hey, the protein that you're getting from meat – whether it’s through our education and advocacy, or simply from many news that they read – they know that this way of acquiring protein is not the healthy way.

So with plant-based, I mean, there are a lot of companies such as Beyond Meat, such as Impossible Foods. And there are many, many examples that are coming up and using pea protein or other types of plant-based – a lot from nuts, for example – and to come up with these new products. These could be plant-based chicken, plant-based seafood, plant-based burger.

And they taste very much the same as what people are used to tasting from the regular food, but is healthier, and is also nowadays affordable. So this no longer just belongs to that healthy, ultra-healthy sheep niche of people, but rather, this is getting into mainstream.

Now one very, very good example, I think, is the dairy industry – dairy versus non-dairy. There are a lot of data that is showing that the dairy industry is losing market shares significantly, simply even over the last three years.

I just read the news couple days ago that skim milk, the sales of skim milk in the entire United States dropped 13% in one year. We're talking about an entire segment, a sector of product dropped 13%.

That's actually a debacle, basically. It's not a single product or single brand – it’s a whole category of things, because people realize that, “Hey, if I'm gonna drink skim milk, I may as well drink almond milk.” That is lower calorie, and healthier, and also better for – well, there's no animal involved, so no cholesterol.

So what we see is there a lot of alternatives that are now becoming mainstream. So it's not just that tiny, cute niche that it used to be.

Well, what is very exciting is, from an innovation standpoint – and even from an investment or venture capital standpoint – there are so many opportunities that are coming up from everywhere around the world. The food business, or food industry itself, is a mega-business. A lot of these blue chip companies that have been around for 30, 40, 50 years – or even 100 years – these are mega, multi-billion dollar market cap companies.

But now people are starting to shift and say, “Hey, I'm aware that that is GMO food,” or “I'm aware that this food has way too much antibiotics or way too much pesticides in it.” And they want to shift towards – whether it's organic, or natural, or plant-based, or non-GMO – and that is a mega trend that is happening around the world.

And food safety is such a major issue nowadays, because everywhere – particularly in many countries in Asia – food scandal is almost becoming a regular thing that they see or they read on the news. So I think from a business or entrepreneurship standpoint, this is just an amazing time.

Well, I think 2015 or ‘16 is definitely the tipping point. We've been kind of growing and getting up to that point when the mainstream starts to realize the natural food market, they start to come in, they start to try and then ultimately just adopt it for good.

And I think in the US, the last seven or eight years, that momentum has been building. But around 2015 or ’16, that's when we just see that natural food – or healthy food – is becoming the food industry.

When we go to the food – the Expo West, which is the biggest food trade show, based in LA – I mean, not only do all the vendors fill up the halls, but the number of visitors and people who come to visit that is just unbelievable. And it is exceeding any expectations in terms of the organizer of how many people are coming to these trade shows.

And then organic food, right now in the US – Whole Foods is not the biggest retailer of organic food. It’s actually Costco. So from a pricing standpoint, is also coming down to the point that it's becoming mainstream, and affordable, as well.

I was in San Diego not too long ago, and I was looking at organic kale for US$1.69, and I'm like, “Wow! I mean, 10 years ago this would be like $4.99. But now, it's US$ 1.69.” And actually, it even looked better than the version from 10 years ago.

Rich: But what about in Asia? I mean, okay, San Diego, the US – like, what about in Asia? What's happening here?

David: Well, Asia is a little bit behind the curve, but it's catching up very fast. When we started Green Monday and Green Common in Hong Kong, at the beginning, people were like, “Hey, people in Asia are not going to follow this. I mean, this is a ‘Western thing’.”

But of course, before you know it, everyone is saying that, “Hey, I want to go Green Monday. I want to try a ‘flexitarian’ lifestyle”, meaning moving more towards plant-based – not necessarily full-time, but shifting the ratio.

Right now in Hong Kong, about 23% people are adopting a flexitarian diet, meaning through cutting down on the portion of meat, or choosing a day, or two, or three to go vegetarian. They're doing it. That's one out of five – one out of four, actually, nearly 1.6 million people.

So that's – you're talking about a lot of people, are ready to jump in. They just need a platform, and you just need to provide the tools to enable and empower them.


David: Well, I think number one is: At the end, we still need all the basic skills that an entrepreneur would need, so marketing is always important. Research, in terms of nutrition, in terms of all the environmental impact – I think those are all important. Because the more transparent you are, the more people know that your food is clean, the more they will lean towards choosing your product. So from a nutrition/R&D standpoint, and then from a marketing standpoint.

Now, we still need all the techniques of traditional marketing, but now these people want transparency more than ever. So the more honest, the more frank you are, the more people would welcome or embrace your product.

And then, at the end, we are still talking about distribution. I think that is something that food, or food tech, is very different from other technology. You cannot just download it into your cell phone and eat from your from your mobile device, right? So distribution is still a piece that, from a food entrepreneurs’ standpoint, you cannot overlook – because at the end, people need to find the food at a restaurant, or at a supermarket, a local grocery.

So it is kind of like mixing between innovation, but at the same time, the traditional way of doing business.


David: I have been a vegetarian for 15 years, and I started vegetarian when I was living in New York. I then moved back to Hong Kong about 12 years ago, and it was very difficult for me to find plant-based food – whether it is going out or dining in. Both was a ultra-difficult.

And at the same time, I always needed to explain to people, one meal at a time. People would ask me, “Oh, so what happened to you? Why are you vegetarian? Where do you get your protein? Are you sure you'll be healthy?”

They showed genuine concern about me, and then I showed genuine reverse concern about them. I say, “Actually, you know what? Do you realize what you're eating is full of GMO or antibiotics? You're eating secondhand antibiotics if you're consuming meats nowadays.” So people are like, “Really?”

I mean, so that has gone on for a long time. And finally, the opportunity came along when a good friend of mine – he's also an entrepreneur, a social entrepreneur – and he happens to be a vegetarian as well. He is a big marathon runner, and the less meat he consumes, the faster he runs.

So finally – we’d always brainstormed a lot of ideas, and finally it came to the topic of food, and then my eyes light up. I was like, “Hey, you know what? I really wanted to do something about this for a long time – both from a selfish reason, because I want to have more choice – but at the same time, I want everyone to join in.” So that was how Green Monday was started.

Besides transparency, I think authenticity is something that's very important. They do want to associate it with a face or someone. That someone doesn't necessarily need to be a mega-celebrity or a superstar, but rather someone that they feel like it's just one of them. And they can see from that person, “Well it's okay to change, and actually, this is a better way to live.”

So we have a couple –myself included – a couple people who are on the core team. So on a day-to-day basis, we are either talking to business or talking to the general public market and telling them that, “Hey, this is a lifestyle that everyone can adopt.”

So authenticity is one – and the other one, I think, is simplicity. People, when you say “vegan”, “non-GMO”, “dairy-free”, and then “raw”, “organic” – there's all these criteria that are from people. And they just say, “Hey, at the end, I mean, I'm not a PhD in food. I just want to eat healthier, but I still want tasty food.”

So there are people who are getting very sophisticated and educated about what they're eating, they would study the entire label. But if you talk to the general – the entire market of just mainstream people – they want something simple.

So that's how we came up with names such as “Green Monday” – or our shop, which is called “Green Common”. It is meant to be so simple and easy – that hey, if you come in, we have done that selection on your behalf. You can trust this choice. We want to make it easy for you. You do not necessarily need to be a PhD in nutrition in order to eat healthy. And of course, the food that I selected are tasty. They're not the type that’s super healthy, but also completely unappealing in taste, right?

So I think these are all kind of the mix that makes our engine work. So for any food entrepreneurs, I also suggest that it should be fun, it should be engaging, and authenticity and transparency. The more they can associate with a person, rather than just a big logo, and a lot of marketing dollars, and billboard advertising – those actually are starting to lose that appeal.


David: Well, I think usually with transparency, with authenticity, it means taking a long time to build that momentum. But thanks to the age of social media, we have a mega broadcast platform that 10 years ago, we did not have.

If you have to wait for word-of-mouth, wow! How much long does it take to get to seven million or 70 million people? But with social media, it gets viral so quickly. So I think if you have a good cause, if you have a good message, if you have something that people genuinely feel that they can share to their friends or their family, it actually can get viral super easily.

So we have only been around for four years, and we're in 16 countries right now. Even I am amazed and stunned, in a way, by that progress. On a daily or weekly basis, we hear stories from people in Indonesia, in Holland, in the UK, in Mexico who are adopting Green Monday. And I'm like, “Hey, where did we get these people from?” And of course, it's through the Internet and social media.

So I think that kind of compensates for the traditional deficiency, or the disadvantage, of doing it that human, authentic, personal way. Because it used to take a long time, but now social media really helps completely accelerate that.

Now, for example, with our food emporium – our grocery market and restaurant food service – the way I look at our measurement of success, it's not just from a business standpoint. Of course, we need to be profitable, but beyond the margin – beyond the top line, bottom line – the other side of our business is wholesale.

The more people know about these products, the more existing restaurants and existing supermarkets will say, “Hey, I want that product, too. I want that product on my shelf.” So we are also distributing these brands and products into other supermarkets, and also other restaurants. Now, that makes it a lot more scalable, and also scale way faster – because at the end, building a store takes a long time. And of course, it's also capital- and human labor-intensive.

So once you start to spread that out, and then you see that restaurant is using our product, that restaurant is using our product, and that supermarket is selling our brand, too­ – then it becomes a citywide, or soon maybe, a region-wide thing. That these products are simply everywhere, and they're included naturally into the general food spectrum.

So, when I see that, “Hey, people are just picking up that product on the shelf,” or when someone just tells me out of the blue that, “Hey, I've been practicing Green Monday, or Green four days a week for the last six months,” those are all our measurement of success. And the more that happens, the more we know that the whole paradigm and ecosystem is really changing.

Well, at the end, scalability is always the biggest challenge. We cannot scale fast enough. I mean, we want to impact 100 million people – or even one billion, two billion, seven billion people. I think that is absolutely the ultimate goal.

How do we get there fast? How can we reach 100, 200, and then one billion? How do we get there? We're still trying to solve that puzzle, but I think we are on the right direction, and that from the team standpoint is super encouraging.


David: Well, first of all, food entrepreneur or any entrepreneur – I still believe that accumulating business know-how and general business experience is still key. A lot of times, people are super excited – too excited about becoming an entrepreneur, entrepreneurship in general.

And I would actually say that: Hey, do work in a big company – even for a couple years, because that is still a good way for them to see how companies work and what is missing from the big corporations. Because by knowing what they are not doing well, then you know what you can do well.

So first of all, the David Yeung four years ago already has been in business for 14 years, I think. So it wasn't like I was a completely rookie entrepreneur, but rather, I've been doing other business and accumulating business know-how. So that's one.

Number two, I still think is: Think big and dream big – and also be ready to fail. You're not going to get it right the first time, and chances are, there are a lot of things that…

We’re entering uncharted waters, so by definition, it’s a learning and trial-and-error process. So think big, dream big, but be ready to fail – and simply learn from it very quickly, and move on. And I think that applies to any entrepreneur in any field.

If authenticity is so important, then the third one has to be: You’ve got to do something that you absolutely believe in, and that you love. It has to be a part of you – genuine you, and what you believe in.

Rich: That’s awesome.

For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.

Sustainable Tech

Developing and Scaling Sustainable Tech in China

With the size of economic, social and environmental challenges growing at a scale and scope that can shatter limits set by global governments, Mother Nature and society, sustainable tech will become the gauge by which we analyze resource levels, measure system performance, identify efficiencies, curb consumption and influence stakeholders to make better decisions.

We are already seeing the results in a number of areas, and the gains made by streamlining our lifestyles and systems to increase efficiency is a win-win for both individuals and the environment around us.

Food & Agriculture
Over the past 30 years, China has experienced rapid levels of urbanization and its citizens have become richer.  But the trade-off has been depletion in arable land while structural inefficiencies in the food value chain have made it difficult to provide safe, accessible and affordable food to the market.

With available arable land diminishing and what little there is of it increasingly over utilized, one solution that can boost production in order to meet demand is aquaculture and hydroponic systems .   Alesca Life Technology is an example of a firm taking the next step forward, through the adaptive re-use of shipping containers where food can be grown within the proximity of urban centers.  Another example is Oceanethix, whose urban aquaculture process can turn any warehouse or retail center into a highly productive, environmentally clean, and transparent fish farm.

As China lurches from one food safety scandal to another, it is clear that consumer confidence has deteriorated and changes are being demanded to improve and introduce sustainable practice. Using smartphone applications and online solutions, consumers can now easily scan and receive information regarding products’ life cycles. Shenzhen Vanch and IBM group are among those who have invested in traceability systems in China, a lucrative business opportunity that also gives consumers peace of mind.

There is also tech progress being made at other steps along the supply chain . For example, the introduction of drones that leverage advanced sensors, low-cost aerial camera platforms and autopilot capabilities can give farmers the ability to view their crops from above, detect and assess irrigation issues, pest infestations, plant health and provide soil analysis.  Tech products provided by companies such as DJI innovations and Ehang are now being used by hundreds of farms across China.

New graph 2-01

While it has made great strides in improving the quality of life for its 1.5 billion residents, China’s healthcare system has seen increased pressure to meet the size, scale and speed required for the country’s urbanized population.  This pressure increases by the day as China’s elderly population grows, and its residents transition into an urban lifestyle that includes higher levels of processed foods and lower activity levels.

To overcome the challenges faced, the government predictably made investments in hospitals, equipment purchases, and in training medical professionals. However there are a number of areas where technology has already proven itself in improving the accessibility, affordability, and quality of healthcare in China . In response to the long-standing problem of vast queues and growing inefficiencies in Chinese hospitals, solutions to cut the time spent at the hospital have grown popular. Guahao, a leading mobile app in this space, connects patients with doctors, allowing users to search for physicians in their geographic location and book appointments.

At the other end of the spectrum is personalized medicine. In response to the lack of trust between patients and doctors, medical tech companies offer a more personalized approach to healthcare where consumers can “shop for doctors”, review their qualifications, and contact them instantly . Tech has also become an important element in preventative medicine and one of the biggest trends these days is wearable medical devices.  Once luxury items for sports enthusiasts, for many people wearables are now becoming a part of daily life and may soon present an opportunity to improve quality care at the personal level. Many see this as a crucial area for healthcare, with users able to measure an increasingly wide range of metrics including heart rate, sleep patterns, blood pressure, blood oxygen, and blood sugar. There are already a number of products on the market from Xiaomi, Huawei, Fitbit, and Apple that are growing in popularity and use.


China has a national goal of economic prosperity for 2025, but the country’s rigid education system makes it difficult for students to develop skills required by both domestic and global employers. They are constantly pressured to achieve high standards but have minimal resources to adapt to the rigorous system, paving the way for an unsustainable future in education. There is limited access to quality content and structured English language classes in rural areas, while the gao kao – a high-stakes exam for high school students hoping to get into college – is seen by many as a measure of who is best at rote learning.  But there is help available in the form of online tutoring and test prep . These range from simple mobile apps such as Baidu’s Homework Helper and Kuailexue that allow students to crowd-source homework help, to online websites such as Genshuixue and Superclass, which allow students to select courses and teachers to learn interactively.

Then there are online language teachers: although English is taught in school, there are few opportunities for students to practice speaking the language. To fill that gap, startups like italki and mobile apps like CCtalk from Hujiang, are helping students connect with native speakers and teachers. This creates a personalized learning environment for students and gives them real interaction with the language.

Tech rules
Thanks to the development of technological solutions, and through the analytics that will come through the Internet of Things and meta-data analysis, smart products and services are able to tell us more and more about our daily lives. They help us identify areas for cost reductions, create opportunity and improve the uptake of technologies that help drive increased sustainability across a number of systems that will be at the core of managing the development of megacities.

To date, the firms best positioned to bring the solutions needed have been data driven firms like IBM, Alibaba, Apple, and others, who have spent billions of dollars over the last decade building the infrastructure to capture and analyze the data necessary to act on. But for entrepreneurs, this is also proving to be a huge opportunity ; this is particularly true of those looking for answers to tangible problems, and where development of local solutions can be supported. This is already being seen as particularly prevalent in the expanding cities of China and the rest of the developing world where urban populations are growing at the fastest rates. For tech-savvy entrepreneurs, there are myriad opportunities for well-executed planning to develop these cities into modern, sustainable urban centers .

Dow Agriculture food

Food and Sustainability in China

As part of my recent US trip, I was given the opportunity to fly to Indianapolis to give two presentations to DOW Agriculture leadership and sustainability teams on the sustainability and the future of food in China. As one of the largest firms in the food & agricultural sector, and one whose products extend throughout the food & agricultural value chain, I covered a wide range of important issues that are not only being faced by China, but by the world going forward to 2050, and the resulting conversations were nothing short of fantastic.

Given these are THE critical issues being faced, and will only grow in size over the next 25 years, it is important to create open dialogues with those who are both exposed to the challenges and seek to develop the solutions that solve them.

Key questions covered a range of issues of strategic importance, with the following being the most discussed:

  1. How does China define sustainability, what are the key issues of concern, and what/who are the catalysts for change?
  2. What are the megatrends that are driving consumer demand in China, and what will be the resulting "foodprint" of China’s plans to urbanize another 250 million people?
  3. What are the challenges of China’s farmers, processors, and brands to deliver safe and affordable foods at the quantities needed, and what are the short term stop gaps that will be needed to overcome those challenges?
  4. What are the key concerns of consumers, what are the perceived/real risks that they face, and what are the actions they take as a result?
  5. Who are the key stakeholders, and how are brands effectively engaging with stakeholders to better understand the needs of the market and develop solutions specific for China?

As with many groups that I meet with, a lot of time was spent really helping the people I was meeting with understand not only the urgency of the situation, but also how the systems themselves are wired differently. That, while the US and EU are largely more resilient to the range of shocks that are on their way, in the world's developing nations a confluence of rising demand and increasingly unstable supplies should be the critical focal point. Not just in the fact that it could potentially lead to disaster, but that it is itself the opportunity that they are looking for.

Just as it will be for the vertical farmers I visited.

Shanghai cities

Reframing Sustainability For Future Cities

2050-urbanizationFor the first time ever (as of 2012) more people – over 700 million – live in China’s urban areas than in its rural regions. By 2020, about 60% of China’s population will live in cities; and 300 million urban residents are expected to move into its urban centers by 2030. Along with this shift to a more urban population comes a dramatic change in lifestyle: from a subsistence level or an agrarian focus to a consumption-focused lifestyle.

Sustainability in China has been a topic of many conversations for years now. The failure of China and the US to come to agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009 focused even more attention on the topic.  It is a story that has been about smoggy skies and polluted skies, and as the challenges have grown, calls for a different model have grown louder.  It is a story that has gained more steam over the last several years as urban residents have become more numerous, grown wealthy, and are increasingly impatient with the smog.

On February 28, Chai Jing, one of China’s most famous television journalist and a best-selling author, released a self-financed documentary aiming to unveil the root causes of China’s notoriously polluted air. The 103-minute video quickly went viral, and within days of its release it had been viewed more than 200 million times.  Some began calling Ms. Chai China’s Rachel Carson, an American activist whose book The River Runs Black was seen as a turning point in America’s environmental movement. Others compared the video to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

For many foreign firms operating in China, this change in dynamic has often been seen as a threat as regulatory bodies and their enforcement arms have increased their efforts to curb pollutants.   For others, the changing dynamic has been a source of hope.  It’s a sign that China’s new markets for green energies, building materials, and electric vehicles – which are growing faster than anywhere else in the world – are being driven by a wider body of stakeholders that are accepting that China’s environment is failing and that change needs to happen. Change is beginning to take place.  A change that, if made, will over the coming decades see the development of sustainable urban environments becoming one of the greatest economic opportunities of our lifetime  .

Looking at the issues of sustainability in the context of China today, it is of primary importance for outsiders to understand the following:

  • Historically, China’s issues of sustainability were not linked mainly to private consumption, as they are in the United States or Western Europe; they were linked to the industrial processes that are supporting China’s economic development model.
  • China does not see emissions as a “problem” that must be dealt with immediately . With economic growth still the priority , the country’s concerns with sustainability are focused on accessing and managing the resources that its cities will need to grow, while reducing the emissions that are contaminating its air, water, and soil.
  • The largest pressure China faces to solve sustainability issues will continue to come from within, as the next 25 years of growth will come from another 300 million moving to the city  .

Simply put, the issues that China faces are largely tied to economic development , the problems themselves are growing in size and frequency, and China will do what it takes to fix those problems in a way that considers the needs of its people first. These are also issues that will continue to be faced by India, Brazil, Nigeria, and the next generation of cities that will go through hyper-development over the next 25 years.   Leaders need to stop seeing sustainability in China as a threat to doing business , and begin seeing it as an opportunity to develop a portfolio of products and services that will support the urban centers supporting billions.

Areas where there are immediate opportunities and need:

  1. Urban Planning – At the core of a sustainable city is the urban planning, and sustainable cities are often viewed as the only way that a population of 10 billion people on Earth could be sustained. They need to be dense. They need to be efficient with resources.  But more importantly they need to be places where people want to live, raise children, and invest in their communities.
  2. Energy distribution and efficiency – While the focus of many conversations in the energy industry is around cleaner energy supply, for China the real need is to drive efficiency through the grid – a grid that requires up to three times the amount of energy it takes Western markets to create one unit of GDP.
  3. Food safety – Whether it is through the acquisition of firms like Smithfield Foods, or through partnerships with IMB to create pork traceability programs, one of the key areas for improving the urban economy will be through food .  With an estimated 40-60% of China’s food lost before it reaches the tables of its consumers , it is an industry whose inefficiencies begin on the farm and continue through the entire food chain .
  4. Accessible and affordable healthcare – With China’s population graying, and its urban environments struggling to provide care to its sick and aged, mayors around the country are already looking to industry to bring solutions that build on top of the government’s own capacity to build care facilities .
  5. Efficient Transportation – As consumer demand for private vehicles continues to rise, a variety of alternatives are being developed to address the challenges. The automotive industry is focusing on broad innovations (including electro-mobility) to decrease fuel consumption and reduce the emissions of public and private vehicles. At the same time, advances in technology and investments in infrastructure have the opportunity to make public transport a more viable, efficient alternative.
  6. Waste Management – As China’s material consumption continues to increase, the level of waste production will only increase the amount of organic and inorganic waste that is entering landfills every day.

Where this gets exciting for those in China, is that once a product or service’s pilot project has proven itself in China, there will be an opportunity to scale to the country’s needs  through the markets of India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Nigeria .  These are the cities of the futures for hyper-urbanization, and will be critical players in a world where there are 6 billion urban consumers looking to live the “American Dream”. It’s a dream that is only possible through a new model, one that will be sketched out in China and fine-tuned over the next 35 years.