[Interview] Evelyn Liao, Co-Founder and COO of Greenvines

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2015/03/27 by lingdecklee

 [The following is an interview by Jessica Kao (EST’s Executive Director) on Evelyn Liao, Co-Founder and COO of Greenvines, with authorization for publishing on the personal blog of Start Jeffrey Up and the FB page of Entrepreneurs Society of Taiwan (EST).]

 

About Greenvines:

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  1. How would you describe your business or startup to someone you meet for the first time?

We consider ourselves a maker. We are dedicating to making products that meet the real needs that our bodies have. Our products use the natural beauty found within plants.

  1. What appealed to you about this startup idea rather than the many other startups you could have been a part of?

I was interested in the product development and research behind the design of the products. I want to emphasize that our products are designed to meet real needs that our bodies have, rather than manufactured needs that the world thinks we have. We create products because we think this is the best way to change people’s lives.

  1. Who are your target customers and what is your business model?

Our target customers are people that may not have been very healthy, but because of age and health reasons are starting to care more about it. Our target demographic is the over 30 age group. In our 20s, we think that we are invincible and do not care very much about our health. But as we hit 30, we start to care more, but do not know very much about it yet. That’s where we come in.

Our business model is very simple. We produce food or products, and we sell our product.

  1. Who are some of your direct or indirect competitors? How do you seek to differentiate yourselves?

Fresh food – organic sprouts, baby leaves, baby salad. Competitors – other people selling fresh food.

Sprouts – will continue to grow in your fridge. Growth is different than other. Because of our agriculture technique, knowledge.

Personal care – shampoo, conditioner, dishwasher. Competitors – natural brands, like body shop, aveda. Focus on MIT brands.

  1. How are decisions made in your company? The advantages and disadvantages of this process?

Honesty and transparency is very important to us. We want to be internally alignment and then communicate our brand and methodologies with the consumer. That’s how we make our decisions. The advantage is that during the 5 years that we have run this company, we have accumulated a lot of trust from our customers. The disadvantage is that product development is slower. People can come to our website to look up ingredient lists. They can come to our farms and see how we grow our food. Sometimes with greater transparency comes a greater degree of curiosity and greater levels of examination and question from customers.

  1. What has been your best marketing investment to date?

We are a very lean startup and have not a lot of resources on marketing. The best marketing is our product. Our product conveys the technology and skills required behind the scenes.

 

About Evelyn:

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  1. Why entrepreneurship? Why not entrepreneurship?

The 3 co-founders at Greevines (including myself) were classmates at NTU. We chose entrepreneurship because we wanted to solve a problem. Everywhere we looked, people were eating very little real food. The everyday products that we were using were filled with chemicals that we shouldn’t be putting in our bodies. We are slowly being poisoned every single day.

We wanted to make a change, and so we thought, why not do it ourselves. We can use the skills we have to make even a small change in the world, to give others just one more choice in the world.  Also by teaching, we are giving away knowledge so others can make a better choice.

Some young people think of entrepreneurship because they want work/life balance. They want to test their own skills. They don’t like regular, normal jobs. They think entrepreneurship is cool. If their reasons for entrepreneurship are that they want work-life balance, want to earn lots of money, want to be a boss, then don’t be an entrepreneur. Because as an entrepreneur, you will find that everyone else is your boss, from customers, channels, to employees. If you want work-life balance, then don’t be an entrepreneur.

  1. What is one great experience you’ve had working on your startup? What is one not-so-great learning experience?

There have been too many. As a co-founder, I have been able to watch the people who came to the organization early far exceed my expectations with their level of commitment. When we were negotiating a channel contract with CitySuper, one of my employees, Sean, went above and beyond. As a high end grocery chain, CitySuper worked with us on a one- month contract, before would consider a long-term partnership. We had other employees promoting our product and brand during the daytime. At nighttime, when these employees were off, Sean would rush over to take over our stand and put in another two-hour shift after a full day of work. Our organization has grown from five people in the beginning to 30 people now. I think that when what you do is right, the right people will appear at the right time. That has been great to see.

The not-so-great learning experience also has to do with people – firing people that is. I have learned that when the person isn’t right, they won’t become right with more time. We didn’t know how to fire people, because we didn’t have the experience and we didn’t know how to make the right decision. During that time, we procrastinated which was a use of resources and impacted morale – it wasn’t very good. I have learned that during recruit, the longer you spend, the better. And during firing, the faster the better.

  1. What helps you keep going in the face of challenges and obstacles?

We have talked to a lot of media, and this is a question that media often ask us. But it is only when they ask us that this question crosses our minds. We believe in what we do. If it’s the right thing to do, someone needs to do it. We operated at a loss during the first 2 years and expanded slowly. The belief in what we do has helped us keep going.

  1. What skill has been most useful to you in your entrepreneurship journey?

Communication skills. In this whole journey, the most important part has been the people. Team building, and aligning people toward our goal. My communication skill is pretty strong, and it has been very helpful in dealing with people.

  1. What do you need to learn or improve to take your business to the next level?

Leadership and management. At the beginning, everyone had to do everything, but now as our operations grow, we all need to focus on different things.  I now focus on operations. We are working on the transition from a small startup to a scalable company with sustainable growth.

 

[Evelyn will be a guest speaker at the upcoming EST event on March 27: EST Woman Entrepreneurs Night. Join us and listen to her startup stories!]
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