Be confident in your idea, yourself, and your team. Be unafraid to be proud of your vision. You’re in control. Speak with passion, and people will care. Take the time to craft a great sales pitch that illustrates your confidence and motivates customers to buy.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tammy Huynh, Founder and CEO of Omni Bev.
Tammy Huynh is a serial entrepreneur and driven CEO with 15 years of leading consumer product brands in the U.S. and globally. She is the founder of Luxie Inc, a luxury makeup tools company, which she led to pre-IPO and valuation surpassing $30 million. Luxie is partnering with 40+ retail chains constituting a footprint in more than 200+ countries. Tammy is also the Formulator, Founder, and CEO of Omni Bev Inc, spearheading the strategic direction, growth, and birth of the Asian-inspired beverage company.
Tammy is a facilitator and architect of exceptional product management with experience in emerging growth and large enterprises, delivering multimillion-dollar bottom-line growth. She possesses proven fundraising and networking skills, which are applied to multi-channel product distribution and successful marketing strategies. She is an accomplished, results-oriented, and decisive leader with proven achievements in new market identification and strategic positioning for innovative and desirable consumer products.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
It started with memories of patiently watching hot coffee drip slowly into a small glass of ice over a spoonful layer of condensed milk. My love for Vietnamese coffee and the beginning of what is now Omni Bev kindled when I was just five years old. Living in Vietnam at the time, my father secretly gave me my first sip of Vietnamese coffee at a young age. It was unforgettable, the rich flavor maintained by the sweetened condensed milk balanced the dark roast coffee blend. Though my mother forbade it, my father continued to treat me to sips of what would turn out to be a lifelong passion for Vietnamese coffee. My first taste of the coffee industry was when I’d regularly accompanied my father to various coffee shops in Vietnam- each offering individual homegrown flavors and insight into its people’s characters. The fresh, distinctive roasted aroma of coffee ignited my curiosity. In Vietnam, coffee is an essential staple of everyday life- and even more so, a social ritual. These memories stuck with me even after moving to the United States. The shared love between father, daughter, and coffee became so essential in our lives, making a passion that would become a purpose.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the beverage brand you are leading?
In 2017, I visited my dad and uncle in Vietnam. Where I learned my uncle owns the largest coffee farm in Da Lat. Being back home, I felt it was time for me to educate and open the world to Vietnamese coffee. I didn’t want to wait any longer. I was excited to share the bold flavors founded in Vietnamese coffee with new communities. After a trip back to Vietnam, I was determined to bring the Vietnamese sense of community and connection to the United States coffee culture. Vietnamese coffee was already served at nearly every Vietnamese restaurant in California but not available to a wider consumer audience. Upon meeting with several restaurateurs, I uncovered a little known secret within the coffee community.
99% of the Vietnamese restaurants and cafes I visited served coffee made with beans from Latin America because Vietnamese coffee beans were very difficult to get in the United States. Not only does this completely change the flavor of the coffee, but it also made me think: Can you really call it Vietnamese coffee if it is not made with Vietnamese beans? You lose the power of culture and tradition.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
At the beginning of my course, many of my mistakes were typical small businesses’ mistakes, whether it happened to be sending an email to the wrong recipient or spending more money than necessary. Mistakes are a part of life. Rebounding from a mistake is the best thing you can do. Mistakes help us learn. An important lesson I learned from a personal mistake is the slippery slope of hiring a friend. No matter how well-intentioned you are in employing your friends to work in your small business, understand and recognize the impact will have on your relationship with that person. Just because you are good friends doesn’t mean you are the right business partners.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a beverage line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
It’s okay to make mistakes. However, don’t let your mistakes consume you. It’s important to take your time and do the necessary research before jumping into it — design and conduct focus groups. Focus groups are the bread and butter of any research. Also, identify the sizable market for your idea and determine your target audience. Most of all, believe in your product, don’t sell yourself short, and set goals. Take advantage of living in the digital age! The internet has made it possible for us to connect with people worldwide and share our stories on a greater platform. Your reach of the audience is immeasurable, and the opportunity is now. If you have a brilliant idea, don’t be afraid to make it happen, but understand it’s no overnight success.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Be clear about your objectives before beginning your market research. Research and research more, embrace the power of the internet, and use it to help develop your business plan. Set achievable goals and have a team. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! An effective business plan is key to raising capital. Unless you have tons of startup cash, raising money is a significant part of starting a business. Let your research determine a distributor and co-packer that meets your needs and aligns with your values. As always, you must wholeheartedly stand behind your idea and be excited to market and share it with the world. Know your target audience and imagine how you will deliver your message to them.
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
Starting and growing a business is challenging, but it becomes less so when you prioritize your customers’ love over your product. If you want to make it, you have to take risks. You will never know unless you try. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. It is never a setback but a set up for future success. Now is the time, there are tons of resources and free money available for people wanting to start their own business.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
When you’re building a startup, speed is everything. As a young company, your brand is not as well known as other companies in your space. Especially if this is your first rodeo, I highly recommend hiring a consultant. Consultants will save you two of the most critical resources: time and money. Importantly, whenever you share your ideas with others, have a prepared non-disclosure agreement. Protect your intellectual property.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Financing your startup is one of the most constant conversations you have as a new business. It is an important decision to make; there is no right or wrong answer. It is best to educate yourself and hire a financial advisor.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
I have never filed a patent myself, but my golden rule is to do your homework about it. It goes without saying that starting a business isn’t easy, and it requires a lot of research on your part. Thankfully, the internet is full of free resources. However, I have worked with manufacturers, contract packagers, and distributors, and recommend the same advice, do your research. It’s so important to educate yourself and find partners that align with your values.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food/Bev Line or Specialty Food/Bec” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Have a good business team. You can achieve your goals faster with a highly motivated team. It is essential to collaborate with great partners you trust, from developers, distributors, and advisors. From suppliers to working with partners who align with your values, by fostering a balanced portfolio, your team will, in turn, increase productivity within the company.
2. Be confident in your idea, yourself, and your team. Be unafraid to be proud of your vision. You’re in control. Speak with passion, and people will care. Take the time to craft a great sales pitch that illustrates your confidence and motivates customers to buy.
3. Accept that you will make mistakes. You learn from your mistakes to make better decisions. Don’t worry if you aren’t an expert in the field yet; in fact, there is a great advantage to not being an expert. Sometimes being an expert limits your creativity.
4. Your contract packagers are as important as your distribution strategy. Both channels will significantly improve the efficiency of your company. Unfortunately, there are a lot of co-packers and distributors that will take advantage of small businesses. My advice with starting a business is to do your homework and talk to your network. You aren’t looking for any partnerships; you are looking for the right partnerships. Your co-packers and distributions strategy must align with your brand values.
5. Above all else, the taste is number one. The end goal is to create a product that people will want to buy again and recommend to their friends and family.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
In a world of increasing isolation, particularly during a global pandemic, people crave connection more than ever. As the founder and CEO of Omni Bev, the world’s first authentic Vietnamese cold brew coffee company, I have made it my mission to create connections, build communities, and promote positive conversations around race and culture — using just a cup of coffee. At Omni Bev, coffee isn’t just “coffee,” coffee unites communities. Together, we are on a mission to evolve the coffee industry, raise standards, and create unique flavors that reflect traditional Vietnamese coffee profiles. Our goal then- and our goal now are to create cold brew coffees that exceeds expectations while uniting centuries of Vietnamese customs with modern coffee culture.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
At Omni Bev, social responsibility is an integral part of our brand. My team and I strive to find solutions to give back to our community in any possible way. With the ongoing pandemic and wildfires happening in our home state, California, our frontline workers continue to risk their health on our behalf. We’ve donated over a thousand bottles of cold brew coffee to our local hospitals, fire departments, and California National Guard members. As a small business, we do our best to find opportunities to help our communities. We have a responsibility to take care of each other. You don’t have to spend money to make a difference.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I hope with the success of Omni Bev, I can encourage minority-owned small businesses to push through industry barriers and expand their business horizons. It is part of my mission to pave a pathway for more women and minorities to follow in our footsteps. I can’t wait to find more authentic ethnic food and beverages in major grocery stores. I also want to inspire more women, especially women of color, to turn their ideas into a business. There are many great ideas out there, and I’d love to eventually help women and minorities launch their brands. I want to encourage others to pursue their passion because you’ll be surprised by the impact it can have. Nowadays, there are so many resources and for small businesses. I had no idea that my first sip of coffee at age five would lead me to where I am today, but I am grateful for the opportunity to share my culture with the country I call home. We live in an incredible moment right now, where diverse cultures are being embraced and celebrated. Minority entrepreneurs can have a voice.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
If you are reading this, Angelia Jolie, don’t hesitate to reach me on LinkedIn to have lunch. I look forward to it. Angelia Jolie is a woman of substance. Read about her, because she will inspire you. She is a celebrity worthy of a celebration. Beyond her successful modeling and acting career, she is a devoted humanitarian, a strong businesswoman, and a loving mother. As a public figure, Angelia Jolie has used her platform to draw attention and raise awareness on multiple global issues, including refugee and displacement matters. She has also founded and financed numerous charity organizations. Jolie actively advocates for education and women’s rights. Though she is an influential celebrity, she is also like one of us. She has openly shared her experience with breast cancer and the procedure she chose to have. She has inspired courage and strength in many. Angelina Jolie is the very embodiment of compassion. She is truly beautiful inside and out.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.