What’s the inspiration behind Moku Foods?
Growing up on Oahu, Hawaii - an island with limited natural resources - I understood the importance of caring for the land or, malama ‘aina, as we say in Hawaiian. As I became older, I learned more about the immense carbon footprint of the beef industry, which led me to adopt a plant-based diet. I struggled to find an alternative to replace jerky, my go-to snack, that wasn’t filled with ingredients that sounded like they were made in a lab. So, I set out to create my own.
Why did you choose to use mushrooms in particular?
Mushrooms were the only ingredient I found that has a meat-like texture, is nutrient-dense, and grows sustainably.
This is not your first time founding a company – what do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
The medium between patience and pivoting. It’s very difficult to know when you need to pivot or just be patient. At the end of the day, I listen to my instincts when contemplating tough decisions.
How does your experience founding Moku Foods differ from your previous experiences co-founding Undorm and Cinco Terras Coffee?
I’d say the biggest difference in starting Moku compared to Undorm and Cinco Terras was the time and resources it took to start. When developing our jerky product, we had no precedent to look at. We had to start from scratch in figuring out how to make mushrooms look and taste like meat. It took a lot of time and patience before the business was ready to launch.
How do you handle risk and competition?
After spending nearly two years developing the product with two renowned chefs and culinary experts and going through close to 100 iterations of the product, I’m not too worried about someone copying our product. There are other vegan jerkies on the market, but there’s a reason none have really taken off. We developed a proprietary three-step process in producing our jerky and have tight contracts over trade secrets to protect our formula. In terms of competition, given how small the category is, we welcome competition and believe it’ll help us grow. The more great tasting vegan jerkies there are on the market, the better it is for us and the category.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
The biggest challenge was finding a manufacturing partner that would help scale and grow with us. We were turned down by most meat co-manufacturers, but ended up finding a great partner that aligns very closely with our mission and goals.
What do you hope to see for the future of plant-based foods?
I hope to see more brands move towards clean-label ingredients instead of compromising on their ingredient labels with chemicals and ingredients people can’t pronounce. I believe consumers will start to demand cleaner labels and pay more attention to what is in their food. Brands like Moku and the plant-based chicken company Daring Foods will be models for creating products that taste like meat, while still maintaining a clean label.
Climate change has become more critical than ever before, and awareness around meat production is continuing to grow. Any suggestions for other entrepreneurs looking to reduce their footprint?
Education is key.
The more brands that can highlight the environmental impact their brand is making, the easier it is for consumers to learn and understand.
Do you foresee other industries responding to new pressure from sustainable food companies?
I think the wave of plant-based brands is only just beginning. While our climate continues to worsen, consumers will become more educated on the topic and brands will be pressured to bring products to market that are more environmentally friendly.
What’s your team culture like?
We have a small, lean team and we all work remotely. Ownership and freedom are key, as each person owns a specific area of the business. Everyone has the freedom to work their magic in whatever way they wish. The two values that are most important to me for our team are communication and empathy. Both make for a seamless and collaborative work culture.
What is your superpower?
I like to think I am very good at reading people, and also blending into almost any group or walk of life.
What’s your kryptonite?
I get excited about new ideas and want to move quickly. Unlike other industries, the food world moves pretty slowly and requires a lot of patience before pushing new things out.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I don’t eat my first meal until 1-2 pm. Once I get started on work in the morning, I get so locked in that I don’t get hungry until the afternoon.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I love to surf and play basketball with my friends. It’s a great way for me to disconnect and clear my mind.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Have patience during times of uncertainty.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Someone told me, "You are not your company. Don’t take on all the pressures and energy that goes with it.” I try to take this into account every day. Instead of being my company, I just try to surround it with good energy and people while letting things play out as they do.