Diana: Hi, Diana Fryc here. I’m the host of the Gooder podcast where I get to talk with the powerhouse women in the food, beverage and wellness categories about their journeys to success and their insights on the industry. This episode is brought to you by Retail Radio, a brand development firm providing strategic brand and design services for brands in the food, wellness and beverage industries. Our clients include Starbucks, Kind RCI, PepsiCo, Nike and many other market leaders. If your goal is to crush your competition by driving growth and disrupting the marketplace with new and innovative ideas, give us a call and let’s talk. You can learn more at retail hyphen voodoo dot com. Well, today we get to meet Vanessa, who is Vanessa Pham, who is the CEO and co-founder of Omsom, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees and the Bain and Company and Harvard alum at Bain and Company. She advised Fortune 500 and CPGs on their growth and retail strategy as a management consultant outside of Amazon. Vanessa speaks on entrepreneurship and heart forward leadership at organizations like General Mills and PepsiCo mentors Bipoc founders and finds joy in cooking all things fermented, caramelized and braised. It’s super yum. And she has been recognized as a Forbes 30 under 30 and a create, create and cultivate 100. And now, before we step into the conversation with Vanessa and bring her on officially, I really want to say the funnest part about my show is when I have a regular guest, reach out to me and say, hey, is it possible for you to bring on a certain guest? And in this instance, Vanessa was requested by Emily Ma, who reached out to me a couple of months ago and said, Hey, I’m really inspired by Vanessa. I would love to hear her on your show. So thank you for the inspiration, Emily. I’m glad we could make this happen. So welcome, Vanessa. How are you?
Vanessa: Diana Thank you so much for having me. And Emily, thanks so much for requesting that I be here. That’s such an honor and I’m so excited to chat and share my story and hopefully be helpful in some way to the folks in the listeners, of course.
Diana: Well, and are you in L.A.? Remind me.
Vanessa: I am based out of Brooklyn, but our next HQ is also in Brooklyn. We’ve built down a little bit here. We’ve built out quite a fun office here. So yeah, we love being in person as much as we can.
Diana: Oh, my gosh. Is that happening for real for you guys now?
Vanessa: We are two days a week in person, but not everybody. We definitely have about half the team remote and half the team here.
Diana: Okay. Yeah, we’re we’re in that that space, too. Okay. Well, we’ll talk about virtual another time. I really want to start off with I’ve done I’ve done enough homework to know that I’m excited. I think we’re kindred spirits because I myself am also loud and I’m very passionate about the things that I’m passionate about. So I’m sure that we’re related in some way, shape or form. Let’s start with Omsom. Tell us about the brand and what it stands for.
Vanessa: Absolutely. So Omsomis a proud and loud Asian food brand that I started with my sister, who’s my co-founder with the Daughters of Refugees, as you mentioned. And basically, we craft pantry shortcuts that allow you to make your favorite Asian dishes in under 15, 20 minutes. We partner with iconic chefs to create products with cultural integrity. And our mission is to educate on the multitudes within Asian America and honor and celebrate the communities and cuisines that we represent in our product line. Omsom is actually based on a Vietnamese word, also actually a negative term. It’s what our parents would use to actually chastise us when my sister and I were being noisy in the back of the car. So it little translates to like rambunctious, riotous and noisy. And Kim and I can bring my sister. We’re kind of like we we love kind of this idea of like reclaiming that word and using it to to kind of say, you know, this model minority myth of like Asians being docile or quiet or submissive like that doesn’t apply to us. Let’s just cast that aside. And honestly, what we say is we put our middle finger to that mic and we bring this noisy and riotous spirit to everything that we do, whether it’s the flavors in our product, our branding, our visual identity, or maybe even some of the views that I’ll share in this podcast, we try to show just as we are, and be unapologetic about who we are.
Diana: I love that. I absolutely love that. Listen, I am a daughter of Central European immigrants, and I and my parents were quite a bit older to boot and I was always too loud and over the top and everything. You know, I think I had I think I had two career paths that I was allowed to pursue outside of science know. So I love that your brand seems to embrace your authentic you. And this, of course, leads me to this concept of the third culture that I’ve seen you mention out in this in the social world. America is made up of so many third culture people, and I think that businesses aren’t really paying attention to this group, kind of just smoosh everybody together. You’re either an immigrant or not an immigrant. And I love that you have this thinking around that. Can you share about third culture a bit from the way you see it and why it’s important to you and how businesses can understand it better?
Vanessa: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s so funny. Before I even knew the term third culture, you know, I was just living it. And this idea, the idea is that, you know, this kind of hyphenated identity, like Vietnamese-American or Mexican-American, whatever it may be, is that it is very different to be, you know, maybe my parents generation, they’re immigrants from Vietnam. They, you know, they kind of live and breathe that culture. And then you’ve got folks that maybe identify as American, only American. And maybe their family has been in the U.S. for generations. But to be of both worlds, to have kind of one foot in one and one foot in the other is a very unique experience. And I think in the world of media and in fashion, right, you’re seeing that really be acknowledged. And I think now in food you’re starting to see that as well. And Omsom is an Asian-American brand in a sense. And so we really center first generation Asian-Americans and I’m sorry, third, third culture, first and second gen Asian-Americans in everything that we do. And I mean, for businesses, definitely this is a generation that should not be overlooked in many ways. They’re they’re the group that is bringing this, you know, oftentimes bringing their culture to broader audiences and bringing their friends who are maybe not of that background into the fold and and their culture drivers, their culture makers. And and so yeah, for some, it’s only natural that we center this group because it’s, it’s who we are, and it’s the way that we see the world. Mm hmm.
Diana: Mm hmm. Yeah. Well, let’s go back in time, if you wouldn’t mind, and tell us how some kind of came to fruition. How did it start?
Vanessa: Yeah. So him and I were very different. And for most of our lives I was very risk averse as the daughter of immigrants. I went in that direction where I was like, I will do the safe, I’ll take the safest route. And she was much more of a risk taker. But eventually, after a couple of years and more of the corporate world as management consultant and I was ready to to jump out and do something of my own and I couldn’t imagine a better person to do it with my sister. So it was really just based on this idea of like, wow, I really admire her. I look up to her and there’s nobody I’d rather start a company with and I owe her. And I were hiking in Bolivia on the sisters trip and we just started dreaming up what it could be. And that’s when we decided we’re going to do this. And then we started saving up money like crazy because I was I think I was 23 at the time, was 24 when I started Omsom. And so I just started saving up. And then on nights and weekends came and I got together and started to think about what would we want to start together? And it really just became, for us, very clear that mission was the most important thing to us because startups are so risky. They’re such moonshots. Yeah. And we were like, We’re not going to sign up for something really hard. That’s very unlikely to be successful if it’s not deeply aligned with our values and what we want the world to look like one day. And so we dreamed from a place of mission. And that’s why I think Omsom today, it looks the way that it does is because that’s kind of what it was born out of.
Diana: As you guys were talking. I’m just curious, as you were, because we’ve worked with many founder owners and I think it’s interesting. I have heard of so many founders stories that have happened out in nature. And so it’s so interesting to hear you say that about you. And that was as you guys were thinking about it, was it more about what can we do together or was there something more like what can we do that celebrates our culture? Or What do we love? Like talk to talk a little bit about that. What was you said mission was important. But then also, I mean, you could have done anything and you’ve decided on this set of products. And so what led you to food?
Vanessa: Yeah, great question. So when we sat down on those nights and we started brainstorming, we were basically brainstorming against two areas. The first was, okay, now that we know that it has to be deeply mission driven, what are the missions that we are excited about? And at the end of the day, just looking out at the way that the world was evolving and looking at some of the political movements that we were seeing, we really felt that making the place, the world a more equitable place and educating people on different cultures, especially our culture as Asian-Americans, is really important to us. And so that’s why we decided, let’s center the Asian American audience. Let’s be unapologetic. Let’s create a brand that’s going to help people understand and become excited about and want to support the Asian-American community. And that was the mission that we all ultimately centered around really educating on the multitudes with an Asian-American, because Asians have been flat and in a race for so long. And then on the other side around, like, okay, yes, this is mission we want to touch. How do we want to do that? In what category? Why food? We started brainstorming different areas that we were excited about, different categories, different types of businesses. And we basically both sat there this paper and wrote food and came up with because we’ve just launched food as a form for us. It’s so much more than a form of sustenance, right? It was a love language with our parents. It was a way that we were getting in touch with our identity. And whereas in much of our childhood, we felt like we had to suppress parts of our identity to fit in. We grew up in Indiana, 9% white hometown, but food was the place where even in our most kind of like, uncertain standing with our identity, we could not deny that meaningful connections. And as we grew up unlearned, a lot of that internalized racism food became one of the first touchpoints for us. So yeah, it was just became really natural, even though at that point we had already spoken to operators, founders and investors and have heard how hard food is, how challenging supply chains, how slim margins all of this were. And we were like, okay, but that’s the only thing that we really care about. And so we did it.
Diana: When you are thinking about those early days, so you are now in startup, you have your idea, you have your where do the recipes come from? Where did you get your inspiration? Who did you pull in and are they are any of those people that you pulled in in the very beginning still involved in? Your lives as part of the business.
Vanessa: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, absolutely. So. Because from day one, one of our missions was to honor and celebrate the communities that we represent. Yeah, it was really important to us that we craft products with cultural integrity.
Vanessa: And for us, that was a process of doing our research, pulling in the right people, creating like equitable structures behind, like the behind the scenes within the company to do right by those communities. And so we became right away, it became very clear to us, like we’re Vietnamese-Americans. We are not experts on Japanese cuisine, Korean cuisine.
Vanessa: You know, Filipino cuisine like that. But it’s not complete, all of them. And so early on became very clear to us, like, we want to build this the right way. And so we kind of developed our business model to include who we call tastemakers. And these are basically our iconic chef partners that are of these backgrounds that have built their careers in these respective cuisines. So they are absolutely experts, and they work with us to craft these products for each of those respective cuisines, and they get a cut of sales into the future. Oh, and so okay, so we still work with us today because they’ve crafted those products and they’re part of our our journey. And yeah, they’re still getting royalties on all the products, which is something we’re really proud of.
Diana: Oh, that’s so brilliant. I like that kind of revenue share model with respect to the giving. So what I love about that is, I mean, it’s sort of a revenue share model, but rather than just saying, I’m going to buy this one, it’s kind of like it’s like taking care of an artist right out in the artist’s world. If you use a piece of audio or video or illustration or photography, you’re paying rights because you’re continually using it. It’s kind of the same concept, and I think chefs are artists in and of themselves, so I really find that concept really. Really interesting and clearly it’s working for you. Are you able to bring on more chefs or do you need to?
Vanessa: Absolutely. Yeah, we are. As we work on new products, we are definitely continuing that model, bringing in new chefs, new creators of all kinds. And it’s yeah, it’s I think it’s really important to us that we do that. And I, for one, really believe that it makes a huge difference with our products. These chefs are incredibly skilled at what they do and they have a very high standard. And that really forces us to be creative and extremely thoughtful in our sourcing and in our processes around manufacturing. It’s I think it’s a huge part of the reason why we have a very differentiated set of products.
Diana: I love that. I love that. Now, these are usually things that people don’t like to share, but I always find that there’s always a couple of these that happen where something didn’t go the way that you wanted it to. And what’s changed? Yeah, and it changed. It literally changed the trajectory. So there’s the things that go wrong all the time and you kind of like fixing them. But then there are the ones where something doesn’t go the way you want it to or the way it should. And it kind of changed the trajectory of the business in as a way of sort of like making it part of the success, like the failure component. I don’t know if you have one of those that you can share with us where it’s like, Yeah, that ended up doing this, but that’s why we now do this and it’s really working well for us.
Vanessa: Oh, that’s a really interesting question. I mean, we do have so many things that go wrong all the time, but we do learn so much from them. Yeah. Trying to think what might be a good example that. You know, I mean. Okay, here’s one really early on. Yeah. So really early on when we when we just started fundraising like our pre-seed, we got nodes from so many people. I mean, we were raising for an early stage for the brand which there’s our, there was at the time especially very little funding going there. And then also we didn’t have much to show for it. We had like a little battle that we had done. I was really young, my sister was young. We didn’t have like tons of experience, nor do we have any like meaningful connections in the right space. And so what part of what we did was like, okay, I guess we should just like apply to accelerators like that feels like a good starting point for like really early stage grants.
Diana: And okay.
Vanessa: I remember we applied to Y Combinator. Okay? It’s like a very prestigious salary. Yeah. And we flew out there, we interviewed with them, and I had lots of friends that had gone through it just from Harvard. And I think after one round of interviews, we got turned down. And I remember we were like really sad because we thought that, yeah.
Diana: That was the ticket. Yeah.
Vanessa: Totally. And ultimately I think that that was a really important learning point for us. Like it helped us really understand like we’re like a food brand, like we’re a proper CPG brand, like there isn’t food tech, there’s this like, oh, there was this whole trend. And so they were all these like. Consumer products that are trying to convert to be tech companies of some sort to like get that kind of investment and that type of multiple in terms of valuation. And I think early on that was a really important lesson for us. And ultimately what we ended up doing was being a part of the Ma’s Seeds of Change accelerator, which included like a 50 K equity free grant. And like we met some of our closest mentors there and many of our investors through that program. And that was like a very helpful, you know, I think one opportunity for us. I think beyond that, that really helped us see like, okay, let’s as much as like tech and like the world of food, tech sounds really sexy and compelling. Like, let’s be honest about who we are, what our vote is, and therefore who we need along for the journey to be successful. Yes. And so, yeah, the Mars accelerator was a really incredible experience for us. We were the only pre-launch brand that was a part of it. And to this day, some of our closest mentors and investors, we met. We met back then.
Diana: I love it. I love it. Thank you so much. Well, so speaking of leadership and mentors, I like it. My next question is, it’s like, you know who? Well, normally I ask, who do you like to connect with on a regular basis? But maybe it might be more. Maybe the question is a little bit more like, scuse me, what sort of advice have you received from mentorships that you kind of tuck in the in the back of your brain? Like, for me, I’ll say that one of the things that my business coach keeps telling me is like, you can’t unless you take a risk, then you’re not going to be able to move forward. So you’ve got to live into your future. So I that text into the back of my brain all the time. What do you what do you carry with you from a mentorship standpoint that kind of guides you during some of those days?
Vanessa: Yeah. So one piece of advice that I’m really sitting with and trying to internalize is this idea of trying to be less reactive and more thoughtfully responsive. I learned in entrepreneurship that there’s so much that goes wrong every day, and I think the first step to acting from a place of like intention, thoughtfulness and equanimity is really first being honest about what went wrong, where you’re at, and accepting it before taking a course of action.
Vanessa: And when I think back to the times where, you know, I wish I made a different decision, it’s often because I was coming from a place of reactive ness, which is underpinning that is like oftentimes fear or scarcity or urgency. Yeah. So yeah, in my, in my journey of leadership, that is certainly a lesson that I’m really trying to internalize. That doesn’t always come naturally to me.
Diana: But I think it girl, it doesn’t even come naturally to me. And I am one years old like I will someday when I grow up. This is going to be a different story. They think it’s part of my DNA, but I think the self-awareness is certainly helps slow the simmer, if that makes any sense at all.
Vanessa: Mm hmm. Absolutely. And I used to think it was just like, oh, like, take a breath and then, like, you know, slow things down. And I totally think that’s important. I think the step that I’m really internal try to internalize is the like. Intentionally accept your circumstance.
Diana: Whew. Oh, that’s so powerful.
Vanessa: Don’t act from a place of resistance to your circumstance. Accept it. Then decide how you want to try to change it. Yes. It’s a very different frame of mind. Like this situation is unbearable and it must change it versus I’m accepting this. And what else might I reach for?
Diana: Yes. Oh, I love that. So powerful. I love that because especially for entrepreneurs, it is very easy to be reactive because that whole false urgency and fear, maybe not fear of loss, but fear of loss in a negative. Well, it’s always, you know, depends on how you look at it. I’ve been an entrepreneur and in sales first for many years. And for me, losing a sale is not about the company is going to die. It’s about not winning. If that makes any sense. Totally.
Vanessa: Totally. Everybody’s got their own motivators, but oftentimes they manifest in similar ways, which is just like.
Vanessa: Physical and felt experience. Yeah. Urgency and pressure.
Diana: Yes. I love it. I love it. Well, so then let’s let’s look at the flipside. Maybe like let’s talk about some things that have you excited or maybe something that you’re the most proud of. And I it’s so hard to say, what am I the most proud of? Especially when it’s your baby and your brand. But maybe something like in the last year or two, especially with all the bumpiness that’s been going on with supply chain and changing consumer behavior in in a, like a whiplash format, you know, like. What are you proud of right now?
Vanessa: Oh, my gosh, I am. You’re so right to say that it is such a hard journey and especially now. But I definitely am taking care to try to sit with some of the winds. And I would say at the end of the day, the pieces of our story that make me the most proud are the impact that we’ve been able to make in terms of driving national dialogs and conversations around really important topics, whether that’s within with consumers in our community educating or the myths around M.S., for example, or within the industry, where I had a chance to speak at Expo West around cultural brands and cultural appropriation. Right? Those are really hard topics and there’s tons of nuance there. And yes, I have a platform to share. My perspective as a Vietnamese American and Southeast Asian woman is really meaningful to me. And then hopefully to empower other people to share their perspectives and to drive change. One of the things that I think was really, I guess, representative of that change was that Whole30 in the last six months or so, recently removed MSG from their banned ingredients list and they cited Omsom’s work was the reason they did that. And you know that to me, that type of institutional change that reverberates within the industry is is something that I feel deeply proud of our team for, and we continue to be committed to that kind of work.
Diana: That is amazing to hear. I have learned about MSG. Have you heard heard of a show called Adam Ruins Everything?
Vanessa: Oh, yes, I have.
Diana: Yeah, he did. And and it Adam Conover is like a second city comedian, but he created this whole show that was supposed to blow up myths about a lot of things that were myths. And he did a whole episode on MSG and it is corny and hilarious. If you want to ever look that up, that will make you laugh, I guarantee you. But that’s awesome. I love to hear that you’re using this platform as success to kind of turn things around. Thank you for that. I’m curious, you’ve given so much advice on that, on the on the work that you are doing for yourself, in yourself, just personally, what advice do you. But this is kind of a different kind of advice. What kind of advice do you find yourself giving other people that are on a journey similar to yours?
Vanessa: Yeah. Yeah. I really appreciate any opportunity I have to connect with other founders and if I can be helpful, I do love to do that in the form of mentorship or otherwise. And one of the things that I really coach folks on, especially women and women of color and people of color, is, is getting really comfortable, like getting buy in from other people in terms of you and your company constantly. I think sometimes that can feel like less comfortable to.
Diana: People who.
Vanessa: Might assume by those identity, it might feel like bragging, it might feel uncalled for. But I have found that getting people bought in on you, believing in you, believing in your vision, inspired by you, energized by you, is the fastest way to five x ten x your impact in your ability to grow or to get the outcomes that you want for your business to thrive. Because we can’t do it alone. It takes a.
Diana: Village and.
Vanessa: It takes persuading people who have traditionally held on to power and decision making control over where resources and opportunities go. And so you have to convince those people to believe in you. And so I take this approach everywhere. I think most people, most often people assume this only happens with investors, it with pitching. But I take this approach in speaking to call manufacturers, suppliers to retailers, everybody that you interface with, they’re taking a chance on you. They could be giving their time somewhere else, their resources somewhere else. So yeah, I just really encourage people to get really comfortable with that and do so from a place of like authentic excitement and conviction as opposed to like, you know, pitching and. Yeah, so I don’t know, it makes me feel empty. At the end of the day. I try to, as much as possible, come from a place of genuine conviction within ourselves.
Diana: Yeah. And what’s, what’s beautiful about that approach is that I find that vendor partners and suppliers and media partners, etc. can be our biggest advocates because they want to be enrolled in something bigger. They, they really do. And I think when you’re community that when you’re communication community, I don’t know what the word is. Well, when you’re when your influence starts to impact people outside of just a simple communication channel, maybe that’s what I’m trying to say. I think you just accelerate the cultural impact that you’re wanting to make and which is acceptance and, you know, acceptance of a diverse way of everything living, eating, thinking, being, etc.. So I love that. Great. Well, so what’s next for you or on site? Anything that you can share at this time?
Vanessa: Yeah, my gosh, it’s a very exciting time. And I think the biggest change that’s happening for us right now is that we are launching nationally and Whole Foods, which is really exciting deal. They have been such great partners to us. We’re so excited to be in all 500 of their doors. And yeah, we’re just partnering with them to get their their community excited and hopefully give our customers a chance to buy us in-store and make it really easy for them. They can grab their protein and their veggies and they’re awesome beyond.
Diana: Their White House. Yeah, wonderful. Oh, my gosh. Vanessa, I’m really enjoying our conversation. We’re just about ready to wrap up, but there’s a couple of questions I like to ask everybody that’s kind of like non-sequitur, like we’ve learned all this amazing ness about you and what you’re up to. Tell me what trends are. Tell us what trends are you following? It could be in our industry or not. But what is what do you. Now.
Vanessa: Yeah, great question. One of the trends that I think is really fascinating is people like across the industry of food, hospitality, like stepping away from the term fusion meaning place because it’s kind of become this like dirty, dirty word for like.
Diana: A little bit.
Vanessa: Right? Something that’s not respectful of the cuisines that are being represented. And I think it is fascinating how the word itself inherently doesn’t actually like the actual definition of the word is, is actually just like two things using together. But because of the way that, you know, people have used that word and what it’s come to be associated with has now had quite the negative connotation. So I think that is like a very interesting trend within the food and hospitality industry.
Diana: Okay. All right. And then the second question is, are there any other women leaders or rising stars out there in our industry or not that you would like to elevate or simply fire for the work they’re doing right now?
Vanessa: Oh, my gosh. So many. Like, where do I begin? But. But certainly one that I’m really in awe of is Chloe Sorvino. She is the food and beverage reporter at Forbes. And I just think she’s doing such incredible work. She’s working on a really important book about the alternative meat industry. And I think she or like, I guess like non like plant based meat, I should say. Yeah. And she she’s just done such incredible work there. I’m always in awe of what she’s doing. And I will say, I think in her her work at Forbes, she takes a very thoughtful approach. She doesn’t just take things at face value when it comes to looking at anybody’s success or trajectory. She works. She understands and takes into account all the structures in society that play into people’s success at different times in their life. And I do think that is rare. And so I commend her for all the work she’s doing. And I really admire.
Diana: Chloe Sorvino with Foreign. So I’ll have to go check her out because I don’t know that name.
Vanessa: Now is going to be check her out.
Diana: Okay. Well, we have been talking with Vanessa Pham, CEO and co-founder of San Vanessa. What can people learn more about you and on some.
Vanessa: Absolutely. I would say a couple of places. Instagram @Omsom. Okay. So am is really where you’ll get some of our incredible content discourse on Asian American culture and food. Mom I’m Sam. Com and then my personal Instagram. Vanessa tea fan. So my last name. I also have a personal website where I offer office hours for people in the industry who have questions or are looking for advice or mentorship. And you can kind of sign up on my website dot com.
Diana: Yes. Okay. Well, my goodness. Thank you so much for your time today. Best when I’m like, oh, my face is just not working very well today. I am so happy to have met you personally. Really inspired by really inspired by you taking this the arm, Sam, and flipping it on its head and making it a powerful term for and for you and your family and also for the culture. And I think we need more of that in all cultures, but I think it’s really great to see it manifesting through the work that you’re doing. So thank you for that. And I can’t wait to see what you’re doing next. Are you speaking at Expo East? I’m sure you’re going to Expo East.
Vanessa: I’m actually not going to, at least this year, which is why I know. But I will be at Expo West. Of course, there is another conference in Las Vegas called Grocery Shop. I’m seeing that. Okay, so that will be fun. But yeah, I, I’m excited for this to be out in the world. Thank you so much for having me, Diane, for the really thoughtful conversation.
Diana: Oh, thank you. Well. And I just simply want to say thank you to our listeners for your time today. If you like this episode, please share it with a friend. And if you want to recommend anybody like Emily Magid, please send me an email. I will do my best to bring on these amazing guests. Everyone, have a great rest of your day and we’ll catch you next time on the Good Her podcast.