Learn to Cook — Knowing to cook is an essential life skill. It’s not healthy to eat out all the time. I’ve learned to substitute unhealthy ingredients to create healthier versions at a fraction of restaurant prices.
I had the pleasure to interview Aihui Ong of Whistle Labs. As founder & CEO of EdgiLife (acquired), she’s built a pioneering platform that helped CPG companies rapidly perform A/B test their products, concepts, messaging by leveraging a large nationwide health and wellness community called LoveWithFood.com (acquired), one of the nation’s fastest-growing snack subscription business. EdgiLife and LoveWithFood were acquired by SnackNation in June 2018.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I was born and raised in Singapore. I moved to the U.S. after accepting a financial software engineering position. After fifteen years in the fintech world, I decided to pursue my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. I traded my cushy nine to five, six figure job for a world of unknowns. I launched a startup, worked 24/7 and made zero salary for many years.
What I did know is that I love food and technology and wanted to pursue something in that field. The archaic food industry has definitely not caught up with the present Internet age. It’s still hard for a foodie like me to easily discover healthy snacks. By combining both of my biggest passions, I started coding, creating a better-for-you snack subscription service called LoveWithFood.com to take consumers on a monthly foodie adventure.
In 2018, I sold my startup, took a break and now I’m very happy to be back in the health and wellness space focusing on pets and their wellbeing at Whistle.com.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
Before I embarked on the entrepreneurial journey, I saw an interview with Richard Branson and he said “The best people to fix the world’s problems are not governments, they are entrepreneurs.” I never fully understood what he meant until I became one.
As entrepreneurs, we are given a lot of superpowers and you can use those powers to do a lot of good. In the past, I’ve used that power to hire a diverse team, hire and train inexperienced women developers to address the tech pipeline issue. I’ve also worked to donate more than a million meals to food banks all across the country.
No matter how big or small the initiatives are, every entrepreneur can use their superpower to make the world a better place.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I underestimated how difficult it was to build a company from scratch and how difficult it was to raise money as a newbie solo founder. I was really naive. I pitched to more than 75 investors just to raise 650,000 dollars for my first seed round. During that process, I was told I would never raise money because I didn’t go to Stanford or MIT. It was a very hurtful experience, not because I was being rejected, but because I felt that I was discriminated against. However, this experience just motivated me more. I went on to raise millions for my startup and proved the naysayers wrong!
I’ve learned and accepted that sometimes life’s not fair. If I had to hustle harder than everyone else because I didn’t have an Ivy League education, then so be it! That’s why today, I’m also a partner at XFactor Ventures — an investment fund created by female founders to fund other strong female founders. We understand entrepreneurial journeys are harder for women and we aim to make that journey less difficult.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There were endless naysayers but there were also folks who helped me along the way. They saw my passion and gave a minority immigrant like me a chance to succeed. For that, I’m forever grateful. They made my entrepreneurial dream come true. One specific person I’ve always admired is Freada Kapor. Freada Kapor is an activist and pioneer in the field of organizational culture and diversity. She has spent decades to help remove barriers to STEM education and tech careers for the under-represented and people of color. Her mission at the Kapor Center which she runs with her husband Mitch Kapor, is to make the tech ecosystem and entrepreneurship more diverse, inclusive and impactful.
I heard Freda speak at one of her TedTalks and I bravely and shamelessly approached her to discuss my startup. I handed her a Love With Food Box and she gave me her business card. Within three weeks of follow ups Kapor Capital invested in my startup. Because of her work and commitment, I was given a chance as she leveled the playing field for me.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I’m a data freak. The first time I saw FitBit pitched at TechCrunch50 in 2008, I knew I had to get one. When I started tracking my fitness, health, sleep and what I ate, it changed my life and helped me stay motivated. I’m sure fitness devices have changed many other lives too.
At Whistle, we bring the same kind of science and motivation to empower our pet owners. By tracking the pets’ behaviors in terms of scratching, licking, drinking and sleeping, we can monitor changes and catch potential health issues before they become problems. As the saying goes, “dogs are man’s best friend” and we want our best friends to always be healthy and happy.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Learn to Cook — Knowing to cook is an essential life skill. It’s not healthy to eat out all the time. I’ve learned to substitute unhealthy ingredients to create healthier versions at a fraction of restaurant prices.
- Meal Prep — With a hectic work day, I almost always have no time to cook everyday. I often meal-prep healthy meals once a week and freeze them. This helps me save a lot of time and ensures that I eat healthy.
- Exercise — Exercise helps to keep me healthy but it’s also an outlet for me to destress. I usually go for a run or swim, which helps me mentally feel more energized and filled with new ideas for my business.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
You are what you eat. I love to see children learning to cook healthy meals at a very young age. The OECD found that almost 58% of Americans are overweight or obese. It also estimated that ¾ of the population will be overweight or obese by 2020. We can put a man on the moon, and yet we can’t control the obesity rate in this country. It’s time to return to basics.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
First: Running a business is not a sprint, it’s more like a marathon with no end in sight. I had to learn to pace myself to prevent burnout.
Second: The word “impossible” is actually read as “I M Possible.” When naysayers tell me something is impossible, and get me down, I’ll digest it as “I M Possible.”
Third: Always follow your gut. I’ve made mistakes when I didn’t follow my gut.
Fourth: Building a business is like jumping off a cliff and building a parachute on the way down. I had to learn a lot rapidly to be able to run my company effectively.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
I deeply believe in sustainability. We all need to do our part to help build a world with foundations that will allow future generations to prosper.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/aihui/
Medium — https://medium.com/@aihui
Twitter — https://twitter.com/aihui