THE IMPROBABLE FOOD STARTUP FOUNDER
Thuong Tan, a female founder and a proud Asian-Finnish immigrant based in Silicon Valley, is one of the SHIFT Business Festival 2021 inspiring speakers. She’s running Noodelist, her own consumer packaged goods startup with a mission to introduce a premium plant-based version of instant noodles to the marketplace.
“Born in Vietnam, I don’t eat rice.
Raised in Finland, I don’t eat potatoes.
Based in Silicon Valley, I don’t eat burritos.
I live on noodles – I am the Noodelist!”
Despite all the reasons for me not to start a business, starting a business is exactly what I did!
I already had a job I enjoyed doing. I was a 41 year old who loved eating but had no idea about creating a consumer packaged food product. But I was waking up to my comfort zone everyday asking “what would instant noodles 2.0 be?”
From Government Official and Non-Tech Person to a Founder in Silicon Valley
Before starting Noodelist, I was working for Business Finland, the Finnish innovation funding, trade, investment, and travel promotion organization. Literally sitting on the other side of the table for 14 years before I took the leap of faith and started a company in 2019.
I am in Silicon Valley, the place known for technology innovations and talented programmers but I don’t code. I don’t have any clue about programming languages. If you say Java, I would tell you that my favorite drink is a double espresso over ice. The languages I actually know are Finnish, Cantonese, Vietnamese and English. What I know well is how to hustle and find my way on things I don’t know.
I’m a Food Founder Who Does Not Cook
I grew up being spoiled by my mom’s homemade Vietnamese food. I did try to learn the family recipes and my mom’s cooking secrets but I was always kicked out of the kitchen for nibbling on the food before it was even half ready. I knew nothing about the food and consumer packaged goods industry, yet I knew that if I’m going to pour my heart and soul into something, it’s going to be around food and branding. I need to create through my passion.
I Don’t Fit Into 30 Under 30 List
We see a lot of listings about young and rising stars who are under 20, 30 or even 40. I already turned 41 when I started Noodelist – a company on a mission to create the best instant noodles 2.0 which are better-for-you, guilt-free, and plant-based. I was able to quit my steady job and focus on Noodelist with the checks from friends and family and the honeymoon fund from our wedding. I would not have enough courage and the network to ask for angel checks when in my 20s or 30s.
There is never a right time to start a company. And there’s definitely no such thing as too old to start a company either. It’s not about making into the list. It’s about making your idea into reality.
There’s definitely no such thing as too old to start a company.
“Product is Now. Brand is Forever.”
I saw this sign when I was in Helsinki, Finland. I knew that Noodelist was not just going to be a better instant noodle. It’s purpose is to bring joy and happiness with every bowl of noodles, a shared moment, even an instant one. While creating the best tasting instant noodles was the starting point, making a lasting consumer brand entails authentic storytelling that creates a brand impression across all mediums.
Making a lasting consumer brand entails authentic storytelling that creates a brand impression across all mediums.
I did lots of research and looked for brands that have created a new category. And one of my favorite ones was Method soap brand. I liked how they created a premium category for household soaps with more sustainable products and new packaging design, whilst competing against big companies who had the muscle and budget to do that but yet, Method was smarter and more agile against the big conglomerates.
Noodelist would not have come to life without my heritage and immigrant experiences. Being Vietnamese-Chinese has taught me to appreciate and demand the homemade level of Asian flavors that my mom cooked for me. Growing up in Finland is where I learned to appreciate the art of simplicity and honesty and the famous “sisu” – a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, grit, bravery and resilience.
And from living in Silicon Valley since 2003, I have been inspired by the entrepreneurial mindset and the encouraging environment where people are not just talking about their ideas but find opportunities and start to execute on them. It’s not just about pitching but actually doing and delivering.
I wanted to share and convey all of my background and learnings through Noodelist.
Passion is Contagious and Makes You Successful
Being an improbable founder in Silicon Valley – I want to encourage everyone to embrace the skills you have. To give it a try and just do it with who you are, what you know, with what you have. It can be more than you can ever prepare for. If the only thing you have to lose is money – then go for it.
Come and join me and other business leaders at SHIFT Business Festival in Turku to hear more about the launch of Noodelist and plant-based food.
SHIFT Business Festival
25-26 August 2021