Subscription boxes are everywhere and can send us just about anything we want, with monthly delivery options now including birth control, perfume, and cat treats. But not every subscription company is founded purely on the idea of cultivating convenience. If you’ve ever thought about launching a subscription service that’s also a socially driven company that gives back to the community, you’ll want to get the inside scoop on how Love With Food founder Aihui Ong started her snack box company with a mission. In this week’s installment of the How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with Ong about why she started Love With Food.
Meet the Mission-Driven Pro: Aihui Ong
Before she started Love With Food, Ong worked full time as an engineer with a six-figure salary. During a backpacking trip around the world, she saw many children suffering from poverty, lacking access to clean water and food. Faced with that stark reality, Ong made a promise to herself that if she ever started her own company, she would make sure that it had a social mission, with a giving-back model as part of the business. The idea for Ong’s business was born out of seeing her friend’s frustration as a food maker. “I helped her sell food at the farmers’ market, and the common problems for these passionate food makers were the lack of distribution and not getting shelf space at big chain grocery stores,” shares Ong. “So I set out to build a direct-to-consumer channel to help her easily sell to consumers directly. I tested this idea with other food entrepreneurs, and they loved it.” As a monthly snack subscription, Love With Food distributes a curated selection of organic treats from small food businesses. Just as importantly, for every box that is sold, Love With Food donates at least one meal to food banks such as Feeding America Network and Share Our Strength. In February 2016, Love With Food hit a huge milestone when the company reached the point of having donated one million meals.
1. Learn the ropes. Before Ong started Love With Food, she had zero experience with the food industry, so she went to a lot of startup events to build her network of entrepreneurs and attended trade shows to learn more. She knew that going down a startup path would be a huge risk. “I gave myself a timeline and amount of savings I allowed myself to deplete before I went on this whirlwind adventure. The timeline and savings limit drew a clear line for me to know when to quit,” Ong explains.
2. Connect with friends. It was while helping her friend sell food at a local farmers’ market that Ong realized that there was a disconnect between creative food makers and the consumers who would want their products. This revelation is what she turned into her successful company. Then, when Ong needed some extra help with her startup, her pals jumped in to get the work done: “When I started the business, I needed labor to help kit the boxes and then drive them to the post office. My friends all chipped in a few hours to help so that the boxes could be mailed in time.”
3. Tune in to mission control. A huge part of the inspiration behind Love With Food was combating childhood hunger and food poverty, which is why each box purchased equals at least one meal for a food bank. Connecting with this vision has made the long, hard journey of being a solo entrepreneur easier for Ong, because she knows that she’s able to do something she loves that’s also tied to her passionate beliefs.
4. Deliver high-quality goods. For Ong, the bar for a snack to be included in her Love With Food box is set very high. “The snacks have to be unique, made with all-natural ingredients, and free from MSG, high fructose corn syrup, trans-fat, and artificial colorings or flavorings,” Ong tells us. Members rave about the selections — including the gluten-free box — and love the variety they get every month.
5. Ask for help. After Ong first conceived of Love With Food, she wanted to know if the idea was a sellable one, so she started by speaking with other food entrepreneurs to find out what they thought. “It’s good to test the idea with non-friends and family, so you’ll know that you are getting unbiased feedback,” recommends Ong. When the other professionals responded positively, she knew it was a good idea and kept moving forward.
6. Follow your gut. If you’re fantasizing about starting your own business, Ong advises you to pursue your dreams. While she acknowledges that there will be naysayers who will discourage you from following your passions, she encourages, “Life is too short to hang out with people who only know how to criticize or stop you from your dreams.” Keep going, even when unfounded doubt sets in.
7. Make positive changes. As a solo founder, Ong loves the fact that starting her own company means that she has the ability to create jobs and new opportunities for other people. She shares one anecdote about seeing a man while driving one day holding a “Needs Work” sign. She stopped, gave the man her business card, and told him to come to the address on the card if he needed work. He showed up the very next day. “This was such a rewarding experience,” Ong relates, “because I was able to make a positive change in someone else’s life.”
Perfect Your Skills
1. Learn How to Run a Successful Subscription Business (Free): Subscription School offers dozens of online guides, videos, and webinars on how to start a subscription-based company. Topics covered include Building the Perfect Box: A Guide to Product Procurement, Four Best Practices for Facebook Page Management, and Communicating With Customers — Dos and Don’ts.
2. Money Management for Your Small Business ($29): Get strategic tips from financial coach Shanna Skidmore. She’ll walk you through how to manage and track your monthly expenses and understand the numbers of your business, as well as give you money-management advice to make tax day a breeze.
3. Start Your First Creative Business Online Class (Free): Draft a business plan, figure out if your business idea is a profitable one, and price your products with the help of #girlboss Jess Ekstrom, who launched her first business in 2012.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!
(Photos via Love With Food)