After going vegan alongside partner Myles in college, Bella Lam founded Coconut Whisk; a vegan and gluten-free baking mix company designed for busy families who want to create delicious-yet-healthy sweet treats. It was started with only a few hundred dollars and is today on track to reach $100k in revenue by the end of 2020.
The brand is big on giving back, too. With every purchase, Coconut Whisk donates a plant-based meal to a child in need. This is achieved through their partnership with FeedOm and Food For Life Global, the world's largest vegan hunger relief movement. Because of event cancellations due to COVID, they have started to invest more into the brand’s digital presence and are looking at growing their social media following. Following such an uncertain time for businesses, Bella talks us through what’s next.
Who are you and what brand did you start?
I’m Bella Lam, founder and CEO of Coconut Whisk. We are a mission-driven vegan and gluten-free baking mix company that helps busy families create healthy indulgences.
Aside from creating healthy treats, we also give back. With every purchase, we donate a plant-based meal to a child in need through our partnership with FeedOm and Food For Life Global, the world's largest vegan hunger relief movement. This is in support of the battle to address food insecurity and hunger in the world.
Our head office is located in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the USA. Since inception, we have been awarded as a 2020 Aerie Changemaker, an Adfed Design Awards, and currently, we are in 25+ stores in the Midwest of the USA.
How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for Coconut Whisk?
While in college, my partner Myles and I went vegan because we saw how positively impactful it was for our health, the environment, animals, and planet. We instantly fell in love with the lifestyle and knew that we found our calling.
Though we didn't have a business degree, we wanted to help promote and develop a better-for-you baking mix blend, so we created Coconut Whisk with nothing but a few hundred dollars to our name and a grand vision. At the time, there weren't any baking mixes on the market that ticked all the boxes. Essentially, we wanted a Vegan Betty Crocker mix.
What began as a simple idea started in our college apartment has evolved into a forward-thinking lifestyle brand and business that matches every purchase with a plant-based meal for a kid in need.
The logo is in the shape of a coconut, and the whisk has a heart embedded in it because being a heart-centered and compassionate company is what we're all about.
When we were in the ideation phase for our business, we wanted a name that would be easy to remember, heritage-inspired, fun, and, most importantly, one that represented our values. We believe our name represents all of that.
- Coconut, in many cultures, means the all-giving tree. We took this to heart and proudly ingrained it into our company's core and identity. As a mission-driven company, being a generous contributor to causes we care about is the cornerstone value.
- We're the first baking mix powered by coconut sugar. Early on, we discovered that coconut sugar has a distinct caramel-like taste that enhances our products and takes the flavor profile to another dimension #blessed. Plus, it's low glycemic index, relatively high on nutrients, unrefined, and overall a better sugar alternative.
- Coconut is a sustainable, multi-functional queen. That's something we can stand behind! It can be used as food, hair treatment, skin moisturizer, water, oil, fibers – the list goes on. Side note: we can't speak on all coconut producers, but generally, this is an eco-friendly, happy crop.
- Some of my fondest memories growing up involved the sweet taste of coconut. Growing up in Vietnam, my absolute favorite dessert was Chè, a traditional Vietnamese sweet beverage, dessert soup, or pudding made with coconut cream. To me, a coconut reminds me of home, family, and sometimes a sweet tropical vacay #selfcare.
Describe the process of launching Coconut Whisk?
When the idea for creating a baking mix company went off in my head, I wanted to work on it right away. I quickly asked my life partner to join me. Eventually, I convinced him to do so, and we got to work.
A week after the initial idea, I found out about a business competition on campus and decided to sign ourselves up.
Through the process, we created a business plan and got connected with mentors. The Small Business Administration locally helped us a lot during this time, and we ended up winning the Food/Ag Division award, providing us with a $3k grant to properly launch the business. Within six months, we turned that $3k into $30k and have continued to grow.
To promote our business, we used social media and organic PR to help create and cultivate a community around us, which worked right away.
A memorable moment was when we got our first customer and sale. A young couple came to our pop-up event and bought one of everything. It was so amazing to see customers excited and loving our products right away!
I'll never forget that moment.
Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?
We focus on building community and long-lasting relationships. We do this by being active with our social media, email list, events, and ambassadors.
I think what separates us as founders is that we are font-facing with our brand. We love sharing our personal journey, empowering others, and staying involved with branding and messaging.
With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?
We started with 0 followers on Instagram and have grown to over 12.2k within two years – all organically. Our email list is 5k+ as of August 2020. We have a distributor and an e-commerce fulfillment center to help us with increasing sales. We are on track to hit $100k by the end of 2020.
With regards to managing change through crises, such as Covid19, can you talk us through your experience as a business owner and what you’ve learnt?
We have had to invest more in our digital presence and website since our retailers and events were postponed. But when we found out about COVID, we knew we had to give back. When we heard about school closures and how some families couldn't afford lunches, we decided to donate our vegan and gluten-free pancake mixes to families in need. This was such a positive way to give back, and it gave us purpose during such an uncertain time. Our community also donated and contributed, so it was incredible to see that.
How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?
We have some really exciting things happening!
We're launching two new mug cake flavors; we recently partnered with our first distributor and fulfillment center.
We are creating a mobile food cart to make appearances at future events, workshops, and food kitchens. We want to create a fun plant-based experience for all regardless of their income situation.
Finally, we are also thrilled to be creating long-term partnerships and attending accelerator programs, all designed to help continue to grow Coconut Whisk.
What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?
Take action - everything is progress. Relationships are EVERYTHING in business. Invest in them and treat people well.
What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?
- Have a social media presence before launch (build relationship with influencers).
- Have a mindset of ‘progress over perfection’. Don’t wait for everything to look amazing before launch – get it out there and reiterate when you get feedback.
- Invest in self-education and surround yourself with mentors.
What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run Coconut Whisk?
Later.com is my favorite. I work a lot with social media and this helps me organize my posts etc.
|Email Marketing||Marketing 360|
|Social Media Tools||Later|
See what tools other founders use here.
Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?
My mom, Angie Bastian, Jenna Kutcher, Jasmine Star, and Marie Forleo.
Any other advice you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Take consistent action and you’ll get to where you need to go. Don’t let analysis paralysis stop you.
Do you research but the best way to gain clarity is through action, not thought. Make time for your dreams and they’ll become a reality. I promise!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?
We are looking for a Sales Director and warm introductions to investors.