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What A Ride It's Been!

“How do you feel about K-Mama entering its 7th year in business?” asked my wife at the start of 2022.

“I feel great! I feel like I have grown a lot, and the business has grown a lot,” I replied.

It certainly didn’t always feel that way. When I first started off in 2015, I worked 60-70 hours a week just trying to get the business off the ground. As an entrepreneur, the only thing that was glamorous was my title. There were many things I had to learn by trial and error, from bookkeeping to administration to operations. Looking back now, I am very grateful for all the people who came alongside to help out, or advise me.

Here are a few of my biggest takeaways from K-Mama:

1. Listen to the customers

K-Mama became the sauce it is today because of tons of customer feedback. The product we have now is very different from the product I started out with. When we were giving out samples at farmers markets, customers would ask some critical questions, “Is this gluten free? Is this vegan?” Of course, when it came to the spice level, it was kind of tough to please everybody. We are in the Midwest after all!

Sometimes it was hard to receive negative feedback, and naturally there were  some along the way. Starting a business as personal as this feels almost like having your own child. And as every parent knows, sometimes it’s not easy to hear or receive critical comments about your kid even if it is well-intentioned. But I have learnt to appreciate the feedback for what it is, and to be less defensive about it, because K-Mama’s success or failure is not tied to my identity as a human. Which brings me to…

2. I am not my business. 

This was the hardest lesson to learn when K-Mama was not doing very well. Everything in my personal life felt great when the business did well. But each time the business faltered or took a hit, I felt like I was failing as a person. I would get very stressed and depressed, and my personal relationships would suffer. Little things would obsess me and my mental and emotional health would get worse. Here, I have to thank my faith community for sticking by me and for valuing me as a person, and reminding me constantly of my own inherent worth. So I would like to take this chance to remind anyone reading this that you are worthy because of who you are, not because of what you have or don’t have.

3. Have trusted advisors or mentors and like-minded peers around

I cannot emphasize this enough. Especially when running a small business, it gets really lonely sometimes. I owe where I am now to my personal mentors, my therapist, various business advisors, consultants and other small business owners who have all been so generous with their time, energy and expertise. When you’re in a small business doing everything, there were times I missed the trees for the woods. It’s so helpful to have had people come along and adjust my perspective, or widened it, and help me see the bigger picture. You just can’t put a price tag on any of this. 

Sometimes people think oh these small businesses must be competing with one another. But genuinely more often than not, we have been cheering each other on and exchanging notes with one another. The world is big enough for all of us, and what comes around goes around.

4. Invest in people

Because other people have invested so much in me without expecting anything in return, the only way I can repay them is by investing in others. Originally my life’s dream was to become a pastor, like my father before me. I thought my path lay in full-time ministry, but now it looks a bit different. 

I want K-Mama to be a different kind of business. A different way of doing business. We (our investors and myself) still want to give 30% of our profits to charities and organizations that support affordable housing, access to higher education and provide for the hungry. But we also want to invest in our employees and help develop their skills and interests. Sometimes their growth trajectory extended beyond K-Mama to other things, which meant moving on from K-Mama. Even though that has occasionally been tough from the perspective of an employer, it has been very beautiful to witness their development as a friend and brother.

So there they are – my learnings through this journey with K-Mama Sauce. From our humble beginnings in farmers markets to now being in retail stores around the metro like Target & Whole Foods, we have indeed come a long way. I did not quite expect for us to be still around after 7 years since government statistics show that only 50% of small businesses survive their 5th year. Hence I count myself blessed. 

I am deeply grateful for all our customers who continue to support our sauce and introduce them to their friends and family. Please continue to do that and we hope to see you soon at upcoming festivals and markets (TBA)!

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