Pop Quiz, Monday with Theo Lee

Theo Lee

The Pop Quiz, Monday is a fun little exam that we love to give to savvy business owners. The examination is not a surprise after all since the interviewee already knew about the questions in advance. However, we can always pretend and have fun with the scenario of a young entrepreneur sitting in class nervously biting on their pencil. They are ready to take a pop quiz on a chapter that they were supposed to read the night before. Instead, they played Metroid all night on their SNES (Oops, this was me in high school). The real purpose of the pop quiz is that this is a fun way to introduce business tips from real-world experiences that you can not learn in a classroom. We want to thank our entrepreneur for being a good sport and volunteering their time to answer a few questions to help our community grow from their knowledge.

I want to introduce you to our guest today who will be taking our Pop Quiz Monday.

Can you please tell everyone your name?
Theo Lee

Theo Lee
Photo credit: Theo Lee

What is your job role?
CEO & Co-founder

Tell us about your company?
KPOP Foods is an energetic brand infusing the bold and savory flavors of Korean cuisine into products for everyone to enjoy! My co-founder, Mike Kim, and I are both Korean Americans that grew up in families that associated Korean food with family, friends, and fun. When we started KPOP Foods during our final quarter of our MBA program at UCLA Anderson, we made sure to instill this value of into our brand by focusing on inviting people to discover and enjoy Korean food and flavors in fun and engaging ways.

We launched our first product, KPOP Sauce, a Korean chili sauce based on my grandma’s recipe, in April 2017 on Kickstarter and successfully raised nearly $40k from over 1,200 backers. Later that year, we debuted on Amazon and became the #1 new selling chili sauce for three consecutive months.

In April 2018, we launched our second product, KPOP Sea Snacks, a premium roasted and all-natural seaweed snack. Then in August 2018, we closed an equity crowdfunding round on SeedInvest by raising $217,100 from over 50 investors and announced our new Head of Product, celebrity chef Chris Oh (Seoul Sausage, Hanjip, Escala, Chingu, Food Network, and Bravo TV). This past December, we launched two new sauces, KPOP XXX Sauce and KPOP Kimchi Mayo Sauce, both of which are featured in our special box called the Triple Threat Sauce Set.

You can now find all of our products on our website or on Amazon Prime. We’ll also be coming to stores near you soon.

What do you love most about your job?
This is my first time running a company as I previously worked in investment banking, specifically in the energy sector, and then was a manager of finance for an early-stage fintech startup. The best part about my job is making a customer happy through our products. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling when you spend months developing a sauce or snack and watching people try the product for the first time and enjoy it!

Along with that, I really love learning new things. For example, when developing our first product, KPOP Sauce, I had to learn a lot about the manufacturing process and basic food science. Thankfully, we brought on a great food scientist who was terrific at explaining the basics and helping me understand the hurdles and potential solutions. I’ve also learned a lot about marketing and PR, areas that I didn’t have any experience in as a banker.

What motivates you to get up every day and go to work?
The opportunity to build a mainstream Korean food brand is really a big motivator for me. As a team, we believe we’re on the verge of making a mainstream Korean food brand that people can resonate with. The brands that we look up to are Nike, Red Bull, Sir Kensington, and other mainstream brands that built more than just products, but a culture. Working towards that mission is what gets me up every day to tackle new obstacles and overcome setbacks.

How do your co-workers inspire you?
It’s fantastic to see our coworkers learn, grow, and take ownership of their work. Better yet, learning from our co-workers is even more inspiring. For example, one of my co-workers, Cal, ended up designing an incredible email marketing campaign that led to the incredibly successful launch of the Triple Threat Sauce Set this past December. While Cal had previously been working on our emails, he really took a deep dive and spent hours working on a strategy.

Another co-worker, Hayley, initially joined our team to work in social media and marketing. A couple of months later, we needed someone to help out on managing our website, which was no small task given the new products we were launching. Hayley took the project head on and has now gone through two significant overhauls on our website.

When co-workers go above and beyond to help the company, it’s genuinely inspiring and actually motivates us to work even harder. Knowing that we can rely on our team to handle new tasks or initiatives is critical, and without our team, there is no way we would be where we are today.

How do you have fun at work (team building, pranks, etc..)?
Having fun is a big thing for our team! At the end of each quarter, we always do a team outing for Korean BBQ and then karaoke in Koreatown in Los Angeles. For the people that just finished their first quarter being with us, we have a small tradition of making him or her open a bottle of soju, or Korean liquor, by spinning the bottle to create a swirl and then hitting the bottom of it with his or her elbow. We know when it was done right because you end up hearing a little pop sound!

Given our following on social media, we also get invited to a lot of new Korean restaurants in Los Angeles looking to partner with us. We really care about our community and are all about spreading Korean food and flavors, and so we do our best to go to these new restaurants as a team to try their food.

Finally, something that the whole team really enjoys is our content shoots. We’re really focused on creating great content that is educational and fun – from photos highlighting foods with our products to long commercial-like videos. Our team tends to have a really fun time during these content shoots, thinking of new ideas for photos and short skits.

What are some of the challenges of your job?
While one of the great things about my job is learning new things, it’s also a big challenge. For example, this year, we’re really focused on expanding our distribution in grocery stores, something that as a team, we’re very new too. Thankfully, we have a group of great advisors and mentors, however, even then, distribution into grocery stores is a very difficult game. However, we’re hoping to be in a store near you soon!

What are some lessons learned from a past project that you can share with us?
Early on, after our Kickstarter campaign, we were fortunate to partner with Ballistic BBQ who ended up featuring KPOP Sauce in an incredible video recipe for a burger. He was a huge fan of Korean cuisine and loved the samples of KPOP Sauce we sent him. His video was a hit and led to a great uptick in conversions on both our website and Amazon. Based on this, we thought “ya, let’s keep this momentum and get some other influencers.” We ended up doing another partnership with a YouTuber, but this time, the experience was very different, and we could see it in the final deliverable. So while we knew influencers were great opportunities, it was also important for us to find the right influencers who actually liked and could resonate with our product.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting in your industry?
One huge piece of advice I can offer is to find a co-founder. Every day, I think about how fortunate I am to meet my co-founder, Mike Kim. And believe me, there were definitely some big ups and downs, but in the end, we both know we will always have each other’s back and are working towards the same goal. Along with that, I like to think that Mike and I are a great team as our backgrounds are so different – mine in data, finance, and strategy and Mike’s in leadership and operations.

Along with that, while I think it’s very important to be obsessive about certain things, such as aspects of your product, I am a big believer in the 80/20 rule, especially in the early stages of a startup. When your company is moving fast, it’s very hard to make everything perfect, especially because what someone else may view as perfect is different than someone else’s view. You have to really trust your team to execute and operate, allowing you to focus on more critical initiatives. With this, there will definitely be some mistakes, but mistakes are going to happen regardless. The important thing is to learn and apply your learning going forward.

Thank you for taking our pop quiz today. You get an A+ for effort. You can learn more about our interviewee and their business by visiting them on the web:

Website – www.kpopfoods.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/kpopfoods/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/kpopfoods/
Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/KPOP-Sauce-Korean-Authentic-Gochujang/dp/B075FW3TM3/ref=sr_1_2_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1548279167&sr=8-2&keywords=kpop%2Bsauce&th=1

Author: Ricky Singh, MBA

Editor of The Startup Growth.

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