Gooder Podcast

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Disrupting Distribution with Fiona Lee

Cofounder at Pod Foods Co

Fiona Lee is the Co-Founder and COO of Pod Foods, a logistics and technology enablement company. Connecting B2B brands directly with retailers, Pod Foods is a marketplace built for the new era of grocery.

Prior to starting Pod Foods, Fiona was the Community Manager at Block 71 in San Francisco, a launchpad for Singaporean tech start-ups coming to the United States, and the gateway for Silicon Valley companies to enter the Southeast Asia market. She also founded Green Pea Cookie, an endeavor that helped her realize the need for a company like Pod Foods.

Fiona discusses how she built the business in a highly competitive market and shares the value Pod Foods provides, solving problems with food distribution worldwide. Highlighting the importance of leveraging innovation, she talks about growing the company and remaining competitive in a fast and ever-changing environment.

Today’s episode is hosted by Diana Fryc of Retail Voodoo, connect with her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dianafryc/

Key Takeaways

  • Pod Foods growth trajectory
  • The greatest challenges with food distribution
  • Leveraging innovation and technology in order to grow the business
  • Advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs

Quotes

“In the first year, we were not thinking of our profitability. What we were talking about was finding product market fit.” – Fiona

“Our team is passionate about using technology and data to drive innovation and create impact.” – Fiona

Chapters

00:00 | Introduction
03:00 | What is Pod Foods
09:19 | Building the Business
12:17 | We All Make Mistakes
14:21 | Harnessing Perseverance
15:33 | Revolutionizing Food Distribution
24:56 | Leveraging Data in the Supply Chain
27:01 | Using Data to Predict Demand
35:07 | Advice for Entrepreneurs
38:24 | What’s Next for Pod Foods
40:27 | Honoring Hard-Working Women
43:02 | Conclusion

This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo. A brand consultancy focused on building,growing and revitalizing brands in the food, beverage, health and wellness industries. If youare ready to find a partner that will help your business create a high-impact strategy thatgives your brand an advantage, please visit

https://retail-voodoo.com/contact set up a discovery call today.

Produced by Heartcast Media.
https://www.heartcastmedia.com/

Transcript

Diana: Here’s a quick disclaimer. The views, statements, and opinions expressed in this program are those of the speakers. The statements are not intended to be product claims or medical advice. 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 into the industry. This episode is brought to you by retail Voodoo. Retail Voodoo is 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. So 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. To find out more, you can visit retail hyphen voodoo dot com. Well, today I am very excited to introduce Fiona Li who is co-founder of Pod Foods Co, a logistic and technology Enablement B2B marketplace connecting brands directly with retailers and built for the new era of grocery. And we’re going to learn what that means here in just a minute, but a little bit more about Fiona. Originally from Singapore, Fiona came to San Francisco and started a food company together with her co-founder Larissa, frustrated with the existing system of distribution which revolved around outdated technologies and hidden costs. They decided to create a distribution network to enable products to sell to retail stores, leveraging their experiences. Food Manufacturer. The two co-founders built a B2B marketplace that leverages data technology as well as existing logistics infrastructure to provide both stores and vendors with a more affordable and accessible way to sell and source products. So low. Fiona, how are you?

 

Fiona: Hi, Diana. It’s so good to be here. Thank you for having me. I’m doing really well today. How are you?

 

Diana: I am. I’m fine. I’m fine. And you are in Florida, is that right?

 

Fiona: Yes, I am. Good weather here in Florida.

 

Diana: Is it good today?

 

Fiona: Yeah. It’s not too hot. It’s also not cold. Pretty much perfect.

 

Diana: Yeah. You guys had a little bit of a banana winter, right? I don’t know if maybe exactly where you are was, but I know Florida had some strange things. Some strange weather this winter. Did that.

 

Fiona: It got a little cold the last couple of weeks, which was strange for Florida, but now it’s back on track.

 

Diana: Okay, good. Check that box. Excellent. Okay. I want to start off with a member of our listener community, I went back through all of my notes and I couldn’t find who recommended Fiona and I chat about her business. And then Fiona reached out as well. And I am so sorry that I can’t remember the name of the person or can’t find his name, but I just really want to say thank you to the listeners for recommending women like this to be on the show, people who are great contributors. I really like to bring on guests that are recommended as much as I can because I want you guys to hear from the people that you want to hear from. So thank you to the universe of listeners for bringing Fiona to us. I want to first, you know, Fiona’s brand is not a food brand. We don’t always work in the food or beverage or wellness space, but her company is very, very integral to these brand CPG brands of fast-moving CPG brands. So I really would like to start with the basics. Fiona, can you tell us a little bit more about pod food and a little and the reason why you created it?

 

Fiona: Yeah, definitely. So Pod Foods is a B2B marketplace. We connect emerging brands to grocery retailers both online and offline, and we function pretty much like a traditional distributor, but we’re entirely tech and data enabled. So we come to grocery stores on a truck with all of these amazing brands and deliver to the grocery stores to put on store shelves. And this company was started about six years ago now. Time flies, really. But six years ago and three years before that, the founding of this company, Larissa and I had a cookie company and we were just like one of these emerging brands trying to make our way onto grocery store shelves. And that was where we learned a lot about distribution and about how difficult it was with the incumbent system to get our products into grocery store shelves. It was not only incredibly expensive, but the distributors would serve as a gatekeeper. And not to mention that there would be all of these fees and deductions. And we had we will have no idea where our product would be going or who they were selling through at what price point nor how much money we were going to receive at the end of the day to sustain our business. So it was just like the necessary evil as everyone was calling it in the nursery. So Larissa and I saw this problem and being in San Francisco, we were super inspired. It was kind of like a Silicon Valley vibe that was happening all around, and there was an app for literally anything you want to do in your life. And we said, How can there not be a tech or data solution for something so important as food distribution, which literally affects every person that we know of as everyone goes to the grocery store? So we said, Right now let’s hang up our aprons, let’s turn on the oven, and forget the cookie company. We have a much more important mission to accomplish, which is to build a really strong distribution solution for all of these emerging brands who work so hard every day just to get their products to the consumers and to make some money for themselves and just to share like the family recipe or, you know, the sometimes it could be an amazing product that’s so much better for you. It’s a product that comes from another part of the world, like all of these amazing things and just gaining letting consumers have access to these products at an affordable price. That’s how Part Foods came about.

 

Diana: Mm-hmm. And how big is your region now? Are you guys nationwide?

 

Fiona: Yeah, we are national. We got national last year with the expansion and the farmers market. So that was really exciting. And even though I say we’re national, we also have a regional focus. So what that means is as a brand, if you wanted to expand with us and you say, you know, I just want to be in California, that’s all I want to be in, and that’s totally fine. Right. Like we allow our brands to grow based on their feet of growth and as well as the locations that you want to be in. So there are brands that come to us right away and they say we are a national brand. We need you to service all of these locations, all these stores. That’s fine with us as well. We can grow really fast and that is because of the way our model works, we don’t own any warehouse, and we don’t own any trucks we work with. Our partners do have this and they’re all plugged into our system. Everyone’s like.

 

Diana: Interesting.

 

Fiona: Network of partners, that enables us to very quickly expand our capacity. So if we’re running short on warehousing space, we can very quickly activate a new warehouse, expand that, and bring on more products, or if we need to go into a new location, we can also very quickly stand up a new warehouse and get trucks going and distributing products. So that enables us to move really quickly as a distributor versus having to spend a lot of time and resources opening up a warehouse.

 

Diana: Yeah. So less time spent building physical infrastructure and more time spent building a digital infrastructure that allows you to be agile, it sounds like.

 

Fiona: Right, Exactly.

 

Diana: Yeah. Tell us about those early days. Because, you know, for me, we build brands all the time. We help the big brands build brands, we help little, little brands build their brands. And to me, I understand that process, but I’m thinking, how do you build a business where you need to be in a lot of places in order to be profitable in a very short period of time? So maybe tell us what some of those interesting learnings were, those that like that first year.

 

Fiona: I would say that the very first year we were not necessarily thinking of our profitability right away. While we were talking about finding product market fit, right? So for the very first year, it was like, does the market actually need a solution like that? And even though we were super convinced we didn’t want to be delusional as an entrepreneur, and so it was very clear that how we started it in it was like we just do it up a very quick and dirty Shopify site as a test, sort of like a test. We got a couple of brands on that test site and we just went out and started selling to retailers and said, Hey, buy products from this website and we will deliver it to you. And funny. And at the beginning, we actually started making money from day one, even with our baby. Really? Yeah, we’ve with our very lousy Test Shopify site and we were like, Wow, okay, there’s really something going as we could actually have a business. And then we started experimenting with the business model. We started initially charging retailers to do work with us, which we found didn’t really make sense after a while, even though they were paying. And then we switched to realizing that, well, it was a viable business model to charge for every transaction that would go through. Very similar to what e-commerce players like Amazon and eBay would do with every sale that you make and take a person. And that’s our model till the day. Of course, we had to adjust our percentages a little bit here and there as we trial and error, everything. But that’s, that’s essentially that’s our entire business model. And in the early days, it was very clear also as we were figuring out logistics, that that was always going to be a fixed cost component or almost fixed cost because it cost the same drop to stop the truck every time. But the amount of product that would be on that truck would vary. So the more products we are delivering per stop the more products we deliver, the more money we would make because.

 

Diana: Absolutely, I’d get that. Yeah.

 

Fiona: Yeah. So it wasn’t a very simple economics model. And when we thought about it, we were like, yeah, like it doesn’t even require that much scale that people would think traditionally traditional distribution would be quiet because the reality of it is we just didn’t make enough money per stop to be profitable. So that’s how we are skilled and that’s how we continue to grow our business and fill the day. That’s how the business model works. And that’s how we also know all of the levers required of us to drive profitability in our company.

 

Diana: All right. So how did you learn about this complicated ecosystem? Are you guys just kind of working your way through it or do you have any mentors or where are you learning about this ecosystem?

 

Fiona: Well, we kind of picked it all up ourselves as we learned about this industry. So we were very young. I mean, now I’m not so young anymore, but I think when I started, this company was very sad. We were still in our early twenties and there was just so much work to do. I think that when we started, most people in the industry probably thought that we wouldn’t really go anywhere, but we were so convinced really hard on ourselves and our idea that we just kept going on and we learned through talking to our customers, we learn through mistakes that we make too great. We’re still learning through some of the mistakes we make and we just keep trying to get better day by day, day by day, eventually. And now the industry is starting to take notice of us, which is very exciting. And we have people who have decades of experience in the industry just coming to us and saying, I would love to be a part of this. Like I, I have all these.

 

Diana: You’re kidding. That’s amazing.

 

Fiona: It’s like what you guys have built is what the industry has never seen. It’s what the industry desperately needs. And I want to join you on this journey, whether it’s an investment advisor directly into leadership management, all of that stuff. So it’s very cool right now to be where we are, I think.

 

Diana: That’s fantastic. Now, when at what point did you know that you were headed in the right direction? Was it pretty early or as you know and what was the indicator where you guys where were, both you and Larissa were saying, yeah, this is working. This is going in the direction we had hoped.

 

Fiona: Um, so I think that we were so we had so much conviction at the beginning that there never really was a point of time where we doubted ourselves, where we were like, Maybe this is not going to work. And that’s, that’s the element of being delusional for an entrepreneur. So, I mean, I think we just made it work. And it was so clear that there wasn’t a good solution out there. Like, it was just obvious. It was like a big, fat, gaping hole. There was just a big hole to be filled. And we just tried filling it like we just every day we were working on filling this big hole. And we still are filled today. And I think the biggest indication of product market fit is when we start actually having good revenue and making money. In saying that. That, you know, the more deliveries we make, the more product we’re delivering, we’re making money, and the more brands wealthy retailers work with us. That’s just an indication of the flywheel that is happening and then the big network that is building.

 

Diana: Yeah. Wow. So, you know, as I mentioned earlier, Fiona and I met digitally after a post I made on social media. Caught a bunch of people’s eyes. Quite frankly, I had returned from the fancy food show in Las Vegas earlier this year and was caught off guard. As I was talking to established brands and emerging brands alike about the volume of complaints about national distribution, the lack of opportunity, and the lack of transparency that the Third District’s current national distribution model was more focused on upselling and marketing opportunities than it was really about taking care of the brands and getting them on shelf and helping retailers get the product on shelf. And the response online was pretty intense as well as I’d made a mark as I’d made a comment on LinkedIn. Right. And I’m curious, are you hearing these things as well, or is this kind of a small did I just happen to step into an echo chamber? What are you hearing from these emerging brands?

 

Fiona: Yeah, you know, it’s funny because this problem has existed for a really, really long time, but it’s only very I would say maybe the last couple of months that we are hearing a lot about why people are getting more vocal about it with examples. And I guess, you know, they’re no longer afraid to speak up about how unfairly they have been met by these big companies. So and then really, this is a problem that we’ve been solving since we started this company six years ago. I think what is leading to the rise in brands just sharing their stories is because, well, we are going into a time where money is becoming expensive to get. Yeah, every retailer, every brand, and every business has to figure out how to maximize their profit or how to create a sustainable business.

 

Diana: And yeah.

 

Fiona: In the last couple of years, I mean, before COVID and everything, like we’ve been living in a pretty prosperous time, I would say Yeah.

 

Diana: Agree.

 

Fiona: There also hasn’t been a lot of ah, like this big explosion or awareness about eating food that’s better for you or consumers wanting to find new and better brands. So now after COVID, which was a huge acceleration as well, COVID kind of made retailers realize that they have to start bringing in these new innovative brands to compete with online retail and to their customers and keep their customers from coming back. So all of these are all a combination of factors, right, that led to what is happening right now where brands are saying we have more power now because we have people, we have consumers, they are willing to open their wallets and buy for bioproducts because they know it’s good for them. Yes, we also have more of us and we also need to make money. And so why are we suffering in this old traditional legacy system that is super opaque, doesn’t do us any good, and tries to squeeze us out of every single dollar we have? And at the end of the day, it doesn’t give care about us at all. So I think, yeah, it really is a perfect time for a foot stew to shine. We’ve always said this is a problem we’re solving from the very first day. We are a distributor for the brands because we, the founders, like my co-founder and I, used to be a brand like we. We felt that we understood that we used to not be able to afford to buy our own cookies on store shelves because it was so expensive. Like by the time it got to.

 

Diana: Right.

 

Fiona: And it made no sense.

 

Diana: Seems ridiculous, right?

 

Fiona: Right, exactly. Like, why is it that only the people with high income or whatever it is like more disposable income can afford to buy these or get any healthy good-for-you products? No more people should have access to it. It shouldn’t just be in California or New York. It should be like the whole country because everyone needs it.

 

Diana: Exactly.

 

Fiona: So here we are today. I think, you know, back to the point of, you know, like do you step into an echo chamber? I think a little, yes. If you’re in the industry, you are very aware of these. But it’s also just like speaking up and saying, hello, I’m here. I have problems like this because there needs to be a better way to.

 

Diana: Sure. Fiona, you and I are talking in the same language. One of the biggest things that I have been working on with this podcast, quite frankly, is democratizing healthy food and better for your eating. I think we have been focused on this really small group of people that are upper middle class, high net worth individuals and thinking that they’re the only ones that are interested in being healthy. And the reality is, the whole rest of the world wants to be healthy too. They don’t want to get sick because most of the time they can’t afford to get sick. So they want access to these products. But there’s some sort of. Some of it is the cost of doing business, especially when you’re an emerging brand. You have high costs because that’s the way it works. But as you mature as a brand, you have an opportunity to find and develop products that are a little bit more mass-market than friendly. But there’s this. I think there’s a greed component, and I have plenty of friends that work in equity, and I have plenty of friends that like to flip brands and people that we’ve worked with for years. But when we’re all we’re looking at is maximizing revenue to maximize value so that people can then get really lucrative exits. That doesn’t align with an industry that says, We want to help you live your best life, we want you to live in health. There’s a disconnect there between like squeezing every last dollar out of a category simply to make a lot of money. And I think there needs to be some more work there. And it’s a struggle because I watch like these big CPGs, you know, the Kellogg’s and the General Mills of the world, the PepsiCo’s that are entering into a kind of a better-for-you space from the other side, like incrementally better. So instead of going from a Cheeto to a kale chip, you might go from a fried Cheeto to a big Cheeto. And for people who eat those products, that is a healthy move for them, that single move, they’re not going to jump to a kale chip right away. And yet I think I’ve seen some backlash from people within the naturals industry kind of chastising these really big organizations for making these small moves. But the industry is looking for it. So I think I’m looking for some more harmony. And I think the way you’re addressing it is a little bit more harmonious. If we can take some of the costs out of these, out of getting the product to shelf, then, therefore, it’s being able to extend the reach because we can reduce the cost of the product on shelf. Why wouldn’t we do that? That is the best. That is the whole point of the industry, right?

 

Fiona: Yeah, exactly. The cost of the product, even as a small brand. Yes. It’s more expensive than your Oreos, of course, But it’s not.

 

Diana: Right.

 

Fiona: It’s not insane. Like it’s not going to be insane to the point where, you know, it’s like a bottle of oat milk. It’s going to cost you like $12 on the shelf. Like it doesn’t even get the whole thing. It’s like first, Yes. Reducing the cost by having a more efficient supply chain is number one. But number two, it’s also a lot about optimizing for less waste. Right. Like we have a lot of data and we know we know that this product will sell well in certain locations. Yeah, the brand is more targeted into where they’re selling. They know how much inventory they need to move through the supply chain. There’s just less waste, which also equates back to less cost, and then it just increases profit. And then finally, is allowing them to grow at the pace that is sustainable for them so that you don’t suddenly go out of business. Right? Like with all the pressure. Right. And investors like to pump money and pump money into things like just getting your top line up. But are you watching or. Yes, sustainable at some point? You know this whole system is going to collapse. And I think that like 20, 23, we’re going to see a lot of shake-ups because money is more expensive. It’s so hard. And there’s just like things are changing at a pace that we don’t even know how fast it is right now. And right there’s have to adapt, brands have to adapt. And what we just need is data. We need to be able to move fast and we need to be very, very efficient.

 

Diana: You said something that has me super excited and that is a more efficient system also means not just less expensive, but from an environmental standpoint has a smaller environmental impact as well. And I hadn’t considered that. So we’re shipping products back and forth because it’s not being, you know, we’re getting chargebacks and moving products all over the place. That’s inefficient as well. And when we have the kind of access to data and the technology is evolving at the rate that it is, it seems like to all the all everything’s pointed at where what you guys are leading. That’s so exciting.

 

Fiona: Yeah. So it is very exciting. I started this company from the very first day I said that because we are right smack in the middle of everything and we have first-party data. Data. It’s our real pot of gold. Like the distribution thinks all that is fantastic. It’s great. It’s you know, it’s a business. It works. And we can make money. Great. Yes. Really? What is the pot of gold? Here is the data that we’re collecting that we use to drive predictive demand. We can influence product recommendations, we can influence on pricing, promotions, and all of that by looking at data, by being able to understand where products should be selling, at what price and when, taking into account seasonality, thinking to account, whether taking into account demand trends. Right.

 

Diana: I love it.

 

Fiona: Really popular, but I don’t know if kale chips are the next hottest thing right now. Like I’ve heard, I’ve seen data that mushroom stuff is really in trend now and just adaptogenic like these are things that didn’t exist I think through years ago. Now it’s like, wow, you know? Yeah. So yeah, all the different kinds of base milk as well. So that’s why we’re very focused on as a company and what we’re really investing in for the long term.

 

Diana: So. So we’re talking about technology and data. And I love data. I always like to say data is great, but it’s backward facing. You want to use that as a benchmark for setting trends moving forward. But when we’re working in a world right now where we have different types of AI, I’m curious, how are you guys utilizing this kind of prediction? I know I think you guys used the term predictive data, but are you using any kind of models out there or new technologies? I’m you may not even be able to speak to it because I don’t. I don’t know if you want to let that behind the curtain show up but how is technology? Influencing you and what kind of data or type of technology are you guys considering moving forward?

 

Fiona: Yeah, I mean, happy to speak. We’re pretty transferred as a company. Transparency is the name of the game here. So with data, awesome.

 

Diana: I love it. Love it.

 

Fiona: Yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t go so far as to call ourselves like, like, like a crazy API company because that’s really not we’re not building the next DP, obviously. But what we’re doing is with machine learning, there’s a lot that we can keep getting better at. So we built predictive models that look at the data and just as an example to illustrate my point, we need to make sure that inventory is continuously coming into our warehouse, not too much so that we have.

 

Diana: Right.

 

Fiona: Because we are, we just want it to like waste away or, you know, it’s just picking up space and causing cost for no reason. So we want the right amount of inventory at each of our warehouses. At all times. And that sounds easy, but it’s actually very complicated because you have to look at the demand, right? And you have to look at historical demand, obviously. But the demand patterns change a lot depending on time. They like to be like, during the wintertime, things like T sell out really fast.

 

Diana: Right.

 

Fiona: Cold season. People are just buying TS all the time. So and then during the summertime, you’re seeing a spike in refrigerated beverages and all that. So demand trends change. Retailers also have their own promotional schedules. They have.

 

Diana: Right.

 

Fiona: And they run, you know, and sometimes brands would set up a demo in-store and that changes the demand again. And it’s hard really to do to be very good at predicting exactly how much inventory to come in. So we have to bring all of these data points of what led to any change in demand up or down and record all that. And our algorithm or machine learning model takes all that and keeps learning to get better and better at predicting demand for the brain and measuring. And this we expand as we sell the brand into more and more locations, more and more stores. All of that is taken into consideration so that we can go to the brand and say, All right, this is the time when you have to send in more product. This is the amount of product you have to send in right now. And the brands that work with us rely on our recommendations to get products in. Granted, there’s a lot of times when a brand says, I see that you throw 100 cases of product, but unfortunately, I can only manufacture 80 cases or my factory burned down and I know I’m late. I’m sorry I have to find a new co-packer or whatever it is. And again, that would also affect the envelope. Right. So this is a very complex process that, yeah, requires I think that just the human brain, and Excel spreadsheets are not going to make it through like you really need. No, you need a data science team. You need people building models to understand it. And there will never be a point. We all get to like hundred percent, 100% accuracy. Nobody can get as close as that.

 

Diana: And know.

 

Fiona: What it is? But we’re getting there. We’re.

 

Diana: Right. That’s fabulous. I’m over here. You can’t see because it’s happening in my brain. I’m kind of geeking out a little bit. Those of you that listen to my podcast on a regular basis know that I’m currently enrolled in an MBA program. And a big project that we’re working on right now is. Is this level of the ecosystem for a multinational? Of course, it’s all fabricated, but. So as you’re talking, it’s so awesome to hear a real-life application to a new industry using new ways of thinking, because of course, the models that I’m working on, our traditional models, which are different. So I’m seeing in my head I’m going through the translation and going, Oh my gosh, this is so cool.

 

Fiona: I love it. It’s even more just like small brands, right? Like the menses. They have been doing this for years. They get it if you’re in your small brain, well, any factor can change anything.

 

Diana: Right. Right. I mean, yes, I and I think what I love about the opportunity that you are presenting through your business is in the best interest of everybody in the entire value chain. The entrepreneurs find an opportunity to distribute their products. That’s a major hurdle right there in and of itself. Finding manufacturers is also a challenge, but now you’ve got it manufactured. How do you get it out to people? DTC is not the end-all, be-all. It is not as inexpensive as the entire world makes it seem. And in most cases, actual distribution is a better methodology. But if you are begging these really large organizations that are not interested in you as an emerging brand or a smaller mid-size brand because you can’t bring enough profitability to them based on the way that they run their business, then the end consumer doesn’t and the retailer get no value and the entrepreneur is stuck oftentimes with really great ideas. So this model that you’re presenting provides every it’s like a win across everything. It is just phenomenal to me that a couple of people who were making cookies just got fed up one day and said, We’re doing this. It’s just fantastic and outstanding. And love I love the fact that you just zagged and said, we’re just going to do this. And what? Because why not?

 

Fiona: Yeah, well, thanks for all that compliment. That felt pretty good. But yeah, it was, I mean, it was a very crazy idea. I think that you know, if we were in the industry and had like 20 years of experience, we probably wouldn’t have said, let’s do this. We would have been like, way too difficult to do this. But because we were kind of naive and young and very ambitious, like, we’re going to make this work no matter what, like nothing to lose and everything to gain. So first of all, we’re here. We are today. Well.

 

Diana: Well, I’m just so fascinated and energized by this idea and this conversation. I’m curious. You know, I want to step away from the conversation about doing the business and kind of step back and think to yourself now, having gone through this short journey, because clearly you’ve got many years in front of you with what you’re working on. But when what advice do you give other people who come to you and go, How did you do this? Why did you do this? What do you typically say to people who want to take on a big challenge?

 

Fiona: Yeah, that’s a really good one. I mean, there are so many things to see, but if I have to just say one thing.

 

Diana: I’m sure.

 

Fiona: If I could say one thing, I would say, well.

 

Diana: Choose, choose, maybe choose a couple of things that you find yourself constantly saying maybe.

 

Fiona: Yeah, it is. Don’t give up. Don’t. Even till now. Yesterday, I had a really hard day. I had a day where it was like, Every killer is really angry at us. And we had some big issue at a warehouse, and we have, like, basic, basic, like, distribution issues. And it was like, well, you know, there’s a lot of fires all at once today. Yeah. The way.

 

Diana: It works.

 

Fiona: Yeah. And then today, we, the retailer, are no longer angry and we solve their problem at a warehouse and then it’s like, okay, well, do fires got extinguished? Hey, it’s a pretty good day. So, you know, it’s like it’s such a seesaw. Being an entrepreneur, especially if you’re creating something. Yeah. Nobody has done it before. And nobody. Nobody out there is going to be, like, your biggest supporter except for yourself. Like, you just have to support yourself. The only person that can get you through this is yourself. And you know, of course, my co-founder and I own each other a lot, and without her, I don’t think I would be doing this really like, you know, we just our good energies like vibrate on each other. And so that’s, that’s why.

 

Diana: Yeah.

 

Fiona: But yeah, you know, it’s, it’s a really difficult journey. You have good bad days and if you have that conviction and you really want to keep going and you just have to keep going and believing in yourself. Mm-hmm.

 

Diana: Yeah.

 

Fiona: Like every extra baby makes a difference because you might be like, Oh, I’m not going to make it through this week, but if you can get through this week and then you go through another week, something might change. Someone might step into your life and change something. So you just never know.

 

Diana: That’s really fantastic advice. I’m probably going to send this raw interview to my cohort because everybody’s working on projects right now and I think. We all get lost. We all get wound around the axle about things that are not working right now. And sometimes we have to step back and go in the grand scheme of things. These things are all fixable. They can. We can all do something about it and look for those bright spots as we’re calling them in class and leverage those. Yes, you need to fix the broken things, but if something is working well, why wouldn’t you double down on that and work on the things that are broken instead of focusing everything that’s on what’s broken? And it sounds to me like that’s what you guys are doing. This is working. Well, let’s put some gas in here. This is not working. Well, how do we handle it? You know. Fantastic.

 

Fiona: What?

 

Diana: Yeah, I love it. Well, maybe you can share what’s next for you. What’s next for you? Or what’s next for pod foods? What do you want to share with people?

 

Fiona: We are very excited to keep expanding across the country into many retailers. It just sounds like business as usual, really. But it’s actually very exciting because we started working with retailers who are just one or two stores, you know, maybe a mom-and-pop neighborhood bodega or something like that. And then, yeah, we do like regional chains which have like ten, 20 stores and now hundreds of stores. And so and thousands of stores. And each of these customers is like a whole different demographic. They have different needs, and different requirements, and it’s just so much learning every time. And likewise, on the brand side, it’s working with brands who are just starting out, working with them when they’re, you know, at the co-packer, just trying to get going. Or now we are working with friends who are 100 million in sales, sometimes even a billion in sales, you know, which is like really big brands all around, even brands that are international where they ship products in. So national corporations that are international and want to distribute in the U.S. So a lot of learning all the time everywhere and expanding into new locations like in Florida right now where I’m trying to land a really big retailer here. So I moved here and was very excited to see that through.

 

Diana: You moved just to wow so many people. This is a commitment to telling you this commitment. Yeah, I have not considered doing that. I think I’ll be honest. I might have to move to New York to work on those brands that I want to work with.

 

Fiona: That’s a great city. Yeah, well.

 

Diana: I think we’re in Seattle and Seattle’s got some pretty, pretty amazing brands out here, that’s for sure. Yeah, no.

 

Fiona: Place to be. It’s a very lovely city.

 

Diana: For sure. Fiona. Fiona. I am. You know, I clearly can tell. I’m just chuffed is the word I’m going to use for really enjoying our conversation. Our time is almost up, but there’s one question I like to ask everybody. It’s a little off the topic that we’re talking about, and that is other women leaders. It could be in our industry or not, but are there any other women out there that you would like to elevate for the work that they’re doing right now?

 

Fiona: You know, I. I find it very hard to pick someone better. And that’s because I come across so many brains every day and so many of these brains that women own. They are just really kick-ass founders. Yes, amazing product, and just work so hard and put their team together, put a product together. Come on. The most amazing thing is that you can buy on the shelf and be out there hustling, you know, doing demos in-store, just flying all over, just trying to get your product through to consumers. So I think all of these women deserve a really big shout-out. And some retailers also, try to buy products that are women-owned as they have. They’re like, Hey, do you have any women’s items in this category? And we would have a list for them. So these are attributes that we collect also on the brand site. And yeah, all these women founders just want to really give a very big shout-out to them.

 

Diana: Yeah, I did. Incidentally, I had it. I recorded an episode with Kyra Dilley. She’s vice president over at Frito-Lay. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her name or not. And she told me in one of our conversations that there’s a statistic out there that the number of startup brands in general, not just food and beverage with the number of startup brands that are started by women single moms percentage wise is significantly larger than people might think. And I don’t know what that number is right now. Otherwise, I’d capture it and share it. But she said the reason why entrepreneurship is so exciting for women is it allows them to care for their families in a way that a traditional corporate job does not allow them to. And that is why you see so much innovation, especially now that women have access to capital and access to resources and access to networks, where I think that’s going to only accelerate.

 

Fiona: Yeah, exactly. And that’s also the inspiration or the story behind a lot of these brands that you see when you go grocery shopping. It’s funny, I, I will always look at the labels of products and they were always made with love, you know, like love as an ingredient and all that. So you always see it everywhere. And I think this is where the inspiration comes from. It’s like they’re trying to create a better product for their family, for the children in their community. Yeah, exactly. And then now giving it to the world.

 

Diana: I love it now. Fiona Li, co-founder of Pod Foods CO. Fiona, where can people learn more about you and your company?

 

Fiona: Well, you can send me an email at Fiona Airport Food store c o or you can reach out to me on LinkedIn. I think that’s pretty much it. Yeah. I don’t have any other channels, so. LinkedIn or email. Or you can find out about Port Foods. We have an Instagram, you can go to our website. We’re very accessible. We’re just like any other tech company out there. If you email us, we’ll respond very quickly.

 

Diana: Awesome. Thank you for your time, too, Fiona. Today, Fiona, I. I am so excited to have spent time with you, and I really look forward to what you do, not what you’re doing now. But I’m also like you. You are definitely somebody that I’ll be watching for a while and just do great things. Thank you.

 

Fiona: Thank you so much for having me. And again.

 

Diana: Then I want to thank all of you, listeners. Pardon?

 

Fiona: I was just saying thanks for having me and for allowing me to share the story of pot foods.

 

Diana: Oh, my gosh. Are you kidding? My pleasure. Absolutely. 100%. And I want to thank all of you, listeners, for your time today. If you like this episode, please share it with a friend. Otherwise, have a great rest of your day and we’ll catch you next time on The Gooder podcast.

 

Produced by Heartcast media.

 

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For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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