Episode 158

Danny Taing ·  Putting Together Bokksu

“ I would bring back these authentic regional Japanese snacks and my suitcase and share it with friends and family. Every time they were all like in love with it and lwere just be wowed by how different it was the packagings.”

Danny Taing is the Founder & CEO of Bokksu, a New York and Tokyo-based D2C snack subscription and e-grocer that delivers authentic Japanese food and lifestyle products to over 100 countries. Providing Japan’s traditional makers with a platform to share their goods with a global audience, Bokksu is helping to support, preserve, and promote their craft, while making it easier for the rest of the world to discover, buy, and love authentic Japanese goods.


The son of Cambodian-Chinese refugees, Danny was born in NYC and raised in NJ. He received a dual Bachelor’s in Psychology and Communication, and a Master’s in Sociology, all from Stanford University. He then worked as a marketing strategist at Google HQ. After that, he relocated to Japan for a position at Rakuten. It was there, during the four years he spent living and working in Tokyo, that he developed his deep love of Japanese food and culture (as well as met his wonderful husband). 


Following Rakuten, Taing returned to New York to study Computer Science at Columbia University. Inspired by his passion for Japanese culture, Asian-American representation, and entrepreneurship, Taing founded Bokksu in 2015 with $5,000 of his own savings. Utilizing every skill and contact he had, Taing was able to go from concept to launch in just three months, without an additional penny of outside funding. And he sold through his first run of boxes in less than a week. Today, the company is valued at $100M and employs a staff of 50, 80% of whom are BIPOC, female, and/or LGBTQ+; a metric Taing is particularly proud of.


In his spare time, Danny is an avid rock climber, fierce board game competitor, and anime binge-watcher.


Social media handles:

Instagram: @dannytaing @bokksu

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Podcast Transcript

Danny Taing

Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, my name is Bryan and my name is Maggie. We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

Maggie: (00:00:23) Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast, today we have a special guest! Danny isis the Founder & CEO of Bokksu, a New York and Tokyo-based D2C snack subscription and e-grocer that delivers authentic Japanese food and lifestyle products to over 100 countries. Providing Japan’s traditional makers with a platform to share their goods with a global audience, Bokksu is helping to support, preserve, and promote their craft, while making it easier for the rest of the world to discover, buy, and love authentic Japanese goods.

The son of Cambodian-Chinese refugees, Danny was born in NYC and raised in NJ. He received a dual Bachelor’s in Psychology and Communication, and a Master’s in Sociology, all from Stanford University. He then worked as a marketing strategist at Google HQ. After that, he relocated to Japan for a position at Rakuten. It was there, during the four years he spent living and working in Tokyo, that he developed his deep love of Japanese food and culture (as well as met his wonderful husband). 

Following Rakuten, Taing returned to New York to study Computer Science at Columbia University. Inspired by his passion for Japanese culture, Asian-American representation, and entrepreneurship, Taing founded Bokksu in 2015 with $5,000 of his own savings. Utilizing every skill and contact he had, Taing was able to go from concept to launch in just three months, without an additional penny of outside funding. And he sold through his first run of boxes in less than a week. Today, the company is valued at $100M and employs a staff of 50, 80% of whom are BIPOC, female, and/or LGBTQ+; a metric Taing is particularly proud of.

Danny: (00:01:33) Thank you for having me on today!

Bryan: (00:01:39) I want to make sure we are announcing Bokksu’s name correctly. 

Danny: (00:01:44) It’s when we say boxing says the brand, but yeah, you’re correct that in Japanese, it goes by books which literally means bookstore.

Bryan: (00:01:51) What was your upbringing like, what did you grow up and how did you develop such an entrepreneurial mindset.

Danny: (00:02:09) I was born in Manhattan, New York City on parents were kind of living in the Bronx at the time because they like happening as sponsored over from Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge and we’re just kind of trucking by accepting dishwashing, sewing clothes jobs and whatever they could do to get by.

And shortly after I was born and my parents stayed, but up enough to go move across the river to New Jersey. That’s where I ended up and kind of being raised with an entrepreneurial background. At that time. I didn’t really know it.  I never really sought to be an entrepreneur to be honest I think  I probably got it from my dad.

My dad was really scrappy and as I said started with dishwasher, but then worked his way up in a lot of different ways and eventually had his own retail store in North Bergen, which was just right across the river, and then eventually that opened his own wholesale.

So the kind of business where you started selling wholesale shoes to like Chinatown and gift shops. He was very scrappy and built this business over and that’s over 40 years now. He started it in the early eighties and I think I got a lot of that from him. Funny enough though, the short, long story short is that when I was younger all the way in my twenties, even I was running away from that.

Cause I saw him do it and I didn’t want to be like my dad, but kind of came full circle and instead of shoes, I’m selling Asian slash Japanese sacks, kind of do American world. So we’re still spreading Asian culture in some ways.

Bryan: (00:03:38) That’s an amazing story. That is so heartwarming to see that the dream is really there and your dad seriously worked from the bottom congratulations on all his successes. The question I have is like, as you’re transitioning to become your own business owner and entrepreneur, how much of that affects you in terms of like, determining, like, asking for help fundraising. I also come from a very similar situation where my parents own a used appliance store.

And for a while, when I became an entrepreneur myself, I had to unlearn a lot of things they told me. You can ask people for help. It’s not about grinding it out and just crying though it doesn’t really work in today’s world, especially in the startup world.

I’m going to ask that question because I feel like a lot of people are similar physicians and your story is very unique in that you are in a very bad position. Right? So how many things do you have to unlearn like raising money and asking for help and doing all those things? I’m really curious.

Danny: (00:04:37) That’s a great question, nobody’s ever asked me that before actually. To fully answer with context. You’re absolutely right, especially cause there are a lot of warring opinions that were in my head. I mean thankfully with some privilege, since I went to Stanford, I actually had a good amount of friends that became founders.

That’s not an uncommon path for Stanford grads and mentors or at least tried to be founders and so I would get like advice from them. So when I was first starting out, I would ask them what should I do? Then they would give me their version of their advice cause of their experience.

I’ll talk to my own father who did the small business thing for over 40 years and he would give me almost totally diametrically opposed advice. He’d be like, go very slow, don’t overextend yourself, don’t accept praise, and build it brick by brick. Similar to my dad, I bought one case of shoes and I sold it, and then I bought two cases of shoes and I was like, dad, this isn’t the eighties.

So it was actually very confusing at times, but it really helped to get the multiple types of perspectives. And for me to kind of see what fits with me and in the end, that blended type of outlook really helped me out. The function is a very unique business and the way I read it was unique we were bootstrapped fully for like three-plus years and then mostly for like five.

And I was really trying to build solid unit economics, the underlying business foundation before just like fundraising and burning it and fundraising more and burning it, which is not an uncommon path for the VC backed. And so I kind of walked this middle path where we still grew quickly, but I wanted to be mindful of what my dilution, like, what the control of my destiny, and also realizing that just because I didn’t grow as fast as that startup doesn’t mean it’s over, it’s like a marathon, not a sprint and that kind of mindset came from my father for sure.

Bryan: (00:06:28) I really appreciate that.

Maggie: (00:06:37) You mentioned that your product is very unique and I absolutely agree. First of all, I want to know and we know that you spent a couple of years in Japan and that’s really where this idea initially came from.

I want to know what that experience was like for you. When you had brought back snacks to your family, to share with your friends and family, and then how this idea came about and what was going through your mind. Thinking of coming up with something like a box because no one has really come up with something like this with a flourish and with a lot of new ideas, you, a lot of people tend to think is this something that could even be viable?

Is this going to be revenue-generating? Can I actually create a company? With this product and because it’s so unique, what type of thoughts did you have in your mind during that time? Did you think it was going to be successful? Or did you have thoughts about whether or not I was going to be successful? I want to know about your thought process during that time.

Danny: (00:07:33) The first one went, I was good though, It was like multi-steps, I’m like thinking about the long answer. I live in Japan and focus for years. And so I got to like kind of come back and forth quite a lot from Japan back to America.

And during that time, every single time I would bring back these authentic regional Japanese snacks and my suitcase and share it with friends and family. Every time they were all like in love with it and they were just be wowed by how different it was the packagings. I mean, I myself was as well as just like living in Japan as I was still stunned by that every day.

And so that helped really plant the seed early on that there was something very special here and Boulder really drove it home and why I kind of realized this could be something when I moved back to New York city almost nine years ago now from Japan. And like, after living here, I like lost access to. I couldn’t just so easily just fly over and get it. Cause I was not, I’m all rooted in New York. Even if you go to the kind of Japanese grocery stores, it’s generally like Hockey Heights, Jewish type of stuff, which are good, but it’s not, doesn’t really show the full depth and breadth of what Japanese stock culture has to offer in my opinion.

So that’s kind of where it first started germinating the seed of an idea and I think what really drove it home for me of why I wanted to do this was that after about a year of living in New York, to be perfectly honest, that first year I actually hated it. I had this like reverse culture shock because in Asia I felt so seen.

I didn’t realize I’d forgotten about that, that low level of stress we all have as Asian Americans, probably up here where we have to deal with not only being invisible, but recently even being in fear and feeling like this type of hate, we have. Like that doesn’t exist in Asia because we’re all the majority of, you know, for better or for worse in different ways.

But like for the first time ever, I felt kind of whole there, and coming back to New York, even though New York is a pretty diverse city, all of a sudden I had to deal with racism again that I wasn’t used to. And that made me kind of angry and maybe want to do something about. Instead of like, kind of just complaining about it’s my friends, I was like, what am I trying to start something to kind of bridge the divided, that kind of bridge cultures and what better way than really delicious Asian food.

That’s kind of where that two kinds of starting points married and kind of developed box two in late 2015 when it kind of concept. And fortunately, he was able to kind of get it started as a solo bootstrap founder because like a lot of the things in my life that you kind of talked about before led me to have the right skills to do this, my knew how to do some web development from studying CS. I knew Japanese culture. I knew online digital marketing, you can Google and so it was a kind of a nice combination of.

Bryan: (00:10:13) We have to commend you for putting together everything, this is very special. It’s your personal experience because we can tell you understand the culture, and position that helped willed you to leverage your situations to make this happen. I’m kind of curious too, how hard was that? Because in my own opinion, in my own world limited, very limited knowledge. In your line of business the margins at the beginning are very slim, right? I want to hear how you’re able to manage the source seat of the items for your box that will produce the best results. I want to hear about the thought process that you put into each box and each theme that you have.

Danny: (00:11:09) The beginning, certainly the curation and sourcing of the box are very different from what it is to help. That has been reiterated a lot over time. I mean, we’re still constantly reiterating because I never want to be fully satisfied.

It’s the product, I want to keep pushing our boundaries and limits and early on, I didn’t have the resources to source as much as we can, so for full transparency, especially cause I think we all got a hustle a little bit right early on, even though we’re buying from these makers in Japan and these family businesses.

That was always what I wanted to do eventually but in the beginning, I couldn’t, I didn’t have those relationships. So I would have to buy them retail and I mean, still the same product. You gotta start where you can like make that true later and lots of founders that talked to your retail wholesale direct to manufacturers, the journey you got to take.

And so in the beginning it was really tough bootstrapping. However, one thing I will say that made it better was because we’re a subscriber. We started off purely as a subscription box. 

You have to get retail distribution, or GDCs set something like that. But with a subscription box, it allows you to order. So I would just forecast, like, okay, I launch in April 2016, I needed like, let’s go for 40 subscribers and that’s what I launched with. So I only got enough inventory for like 45 just in case.

And then I would kind of grow that the next month, it was like 50 and 70 and by that first year, half a year, I had like 150 subscribers and I was like, delighted. Because I didn’t have money to do Facebook advertising or do any of the kind of paid media stuff back in the day, that allowed me to keep kind of burning costs down because I could just use that and keep growing from there as opposed to buying a ton of inventory upfront and then having this cashflow cycle. That’s really difficult.

Maggie: (00:13:08) That’s a really great approach because you know, however many subscriptions that you get know exactly how many yet they need to buy-in from the vendors or the provider groups. It’s pretty much just paying for itself, right? Because you’re getting that prepayment from your buyers and your purchasers, and then that will fund for this.

Danny: (00:13:28) It also allows you to test and that’s what I did early on for the first year or two was a lot of testing, a lot of surveying, a lot of interviewing of the customers. Like in the beginning, I only had six unique products in the box. I’m like still around like 20 ish items who tend to manage that and nowadays we were on 22.

But like, I’d like, then I just put in like four of each item, three or four of each item because it’s a lot of work to curate. Now we have about 16 unique products in the box and that’s like 16 different vendors potentially that you have to work with together. And so that, but, early on I found out, oh, six is not the doc that the perceived value is too low.

Like customers are saying, it’s not worth it, even though the number of items and the cogs is the similar cost of goods sold is and so that allowed me to then test and then like, even if some customers are unhappy early on insurance, I mean, I only had like 40 subscribers. So was it a big deal? It didn’t cause lasting karma that’s allowed me to experiment and, um, and, and grow and get their product more perfect so that I can scale it.

Bryan: (00:14:23) I love this hustle story and it makes it more realistic for the average entrepreneur because we look from a whole picture standpoint where you are today. And it’s like, wow, like, even compete with that because like, it takes a lot of sources, a lot of money to add brands everywhere, by the way. I love seeing them that someone was like, oh, this is a pretty good snack.  I’m kind of curious too, about like scaling that business, and as you started to grow bigger and bigger, where are you doing this full-time at the time? Or did you just totally make the jump and like scraped by and live in, you know, a parent’s house or a bedroom or whatnot and it make it happen.

And looking at your LinkedIn earlier, I noticed that there was like a three-year gap, right? In between late your business development, associate job, and be a founder of books. You, what was going on? Did I get where your experiments, where you try new things or do I want to hear all about that stuff?

Danny: (00:15:23)I guess you’re digging into the real questions. I love it. So, after I quit Rakuten in Japan and moved back to New York, I went back to school at Columbia to study computer science. And it’s like, kind of post-baccalaureate program thinking I was going to then pursue a master’s and then get a job as a software engineer. The main reason being is that I was in tech for already three-plus years, but always on the like marketing this step side, but engineers don’t really get all the credit in the tech world.

I wanted to kind of see if I can, can shift a little bit of my career in that direction, but ended up dropping out of my program. I don’t actually tell terribly often because it’s just that I was working with a friend and we co-founded some ideas before Bokksu too.

So that was like a whole year of that, where we were kind of gone into this Columbia incubator and it started blowing up and we were like testing different ideas, totally different. It was like, this was 2015. And so it was all about the CDC marketplaces, Uber fracks, everything is fax days and so we were trying to.

Those types of things, but then it didn’t work out and we pivoted like three times to different ideas and it was very frustrating and very demoralizing at times that you have to keep trying. So it wasn’t like magic that I came up with Bokksu actually, and then it was right away a success I’d already had a couple of failures before that I was like kind of dipping into savings and then living with some parents like that. When I came over with the idea of Bokksu in late 2015, I got really excited about it because this was something I was passionate about, and my background was uniquely qualified for my co-founder at that time was not interested. He actually thought it was a not great idea.

So then we amicably split kind of thankfully now, because we didn’t actually need to do this together. And then I then solo kind of started this, but it did help that I had almost a year of this experience of doing other entrepreneurial things because then I knew immediately how to create an LLC set up a website, kind of do all this stuff and get it going right away.

Create an MVP. I didn’t create a minimum viable product early enough in the other company. So now I learned from that and they made it faster. So maybe he was in like two months, after I concept Bokksu. So it was a really ugly box,  I like buying it from the April store with a tight ribbon around it with a sticker.

It was what you had to do at that time. So that’s kind of how I came up with the idea from these failures and then realized that if I’m going to do a startup, it should be something I give a shit about should be something that I want to wake up doing every day beause it is a hustle. 

Sometimes it’s not fun packing boxes, but if you enjoy the, like the actual product or the kind of mission behind it. That will keep you going and fully answer actually one of Maggie’s earlier questions. I want to be clear that actually when it came up with the idea, I immediately Googled around and saw that there were other Japanese candy boxes already.

So even though I came up with it myself, I mean I wasn’t the first in the space and so that helps validate it, that there were others existing. But the other ones are more about like wacky Annie Mae, character, plucky, Hello Kitty stuff. So nobody was really doing what I wanted to do, which was a kind of authentic family business to have these stacks.

So that’s what allowed me to then take a chance on this because I was like, okay, well there’s some validation in the. And being first is not everything actually. It’s better sometimes to come in later and just do an execute better.

Maggie: (00:18:48)  I love that so much and the fact that you mentioned that you really have to be passionate about it. So to put it in, you know, so much effort and hard work and. And who would, I want to try jug my stocks all day. I’m starting to try and go from new scientists and make sure it’s good for your customers. Right? And like, Bryan knows this about me as well Japan is my favorite destination. 

There’s this one corn soup that they have in the vending machines. It comes out of the pot and it’s so hard to find and remember the last thing like Bryan went to Japan, we looked everywhere at the vending machines in Tokyo but they all ran out.

Danny: (00:19:52) We do have some pretty amazing corn snacks and we have a corn tea from Hokkaido. That’s delicious and I was very surprised when I drank it that it still final taste tests everything that goes in the box. Over six years later, we do tasting day happens once a month and everybody loves it. It’s a really fun day we assemble over 30 different stack products and literally it down to like 16, essentially for that month.

Bryan: (00:20:24) Out of curiosity, what was the original first subscription price that you put up or to test things out?

Danny: (00:20:54) So pricing is, this is hard, right? So there’s definitely no easy answer to what is the optimal price and even nowadays I doubt myself. I don’t think you ever that’s like, this is the perfect price. It’s walking a fine line of product-market fit, and it’ll sell enough velocity that we still make enough margin. You have to be reasonable. You tweak it a little bit and like when boxing started in 2016, it was $39 flat. 

Once we were seeing what competitors are charging to work on a cost basis up because there are just some fixed costs that are going to be tough to reduce, and it’s not worth it to make it too cheap because then especially as a bootstrap company, you can’t survive on like 15% margins or something. You got to get at least 30% gross margins, if not better in order to make a real business.

And so of course that’s different per industry but in my kind of food GTC.  I mean, jewelry is like 80% because they’re all in branding and marketing and stuff like that they have to spend on. But, um, and in, in this space, I was aiming for 30 plus percent and one of the costs that I could not really change was.

Because our stuff ships from Japan so there’s just always going to be this like floor that it’s going to be hard to go below. I knew that I’d wanted a price. It where it, there would still be a comfortable margin for me to be able to experiment and kind of make like-kind of mistakes if need be.

And it’s not going to be the end of everything and that’s how I first arrived at 39 dollars. It was very simple like one-third, one-third of the cost of goods, kind of shipping. There was no fulfillment because it was me packing myself at that time. But nowadays the shipping and fulfillment in that pie and a gross margin and that’s evolved a lot over time.

Nowadays if someone looks at our website,  it’s 49.95 dollars for the long-term kind of monthly plan. And it goes as low as kind of the original, almost closer as a price of 39.95 if they do 12 months, and the reason that we had to price increase, that all happened in 2020. So we kept that same $39 price for like four years, essentially.

Then COVID happened and then shipping price rates went through the roof for me first, before any other founder, because I ship everything by. Because our, a lot of our stacks, I’ve only like two or three months of shelf life, which is why it makes it so special and unique. You can’t find it in America cause you can’t import that by the ocean.

So you could only ship it by like Japan post or whatever to customers. But then unfortunately on April 20, Japan, pellet suspended shipping to 200 countries around the world. I was shipping a hundred percent of our parcels, our shipments at that time using Japan post and that was devastating.

I thought my business was over. I remember thinking like, holy crap, I might have to connect and declare bankruptcy after five years of just hustling for this thing. But fortunately, I’ve found after two weeks of working my butt off, found an alternative shipping solution, only one that could do what I wanted to do at a reasonable price.

And what was more expensive. It was like 50% more expensive shipping, but I ate the margin for a good six months because I thought that COVID is like a temporary thing. I think a lot of us did back in March when he’s 20, but, um, and so, but then we had to price increase in summer of 2020, and then we priced increased again.

Right before the holiday season in 2020, To where it is now, 49.95 dollars has just, the shipping was so ungodly expensive that we were essentially working on 18% for us margins in 2020. And that was not, that was not sustainable. That you can’t run a business. And so we increased, but fortunately, because we were growing so quickly and there was so much demand for Bokksu and during COVID when nobody could travel or leave their homes that like people weren’t as price sensitive.

I mean, nowadays we’re still holding to that price. There has been a lot of inflation like people talk about, but because we kind of preempted that, then a lot of our supply chain. Is in Japan and not as affected by ocean freight, which is where a lot of the freight it’s coming from. We haven’t had to increase our price again. Hopefully, we’ll keep holding on to that. Let’s see.

Bryan: (00:25:03) Thank you so much for sharing that. It brings so much visibility to the type of things that founders go through and it’s especially shipping when unless you’re in the industry, you don’t really think about that as a factor. Shipping containers like 100x the price then what it was before. It’s like it was a couple of dollars and now it’s 20, 30, or 50k for a cheap one. A lot of people don’t have that visibility and I really appreciate hearing that from the community. I know earlier that you mentioned during 2020 that you would fall into some hardships where you are not sure if you are going to make it.

I want to hear about your hardships earlier in the early stages of the business. I think no doubt about the roller coasters of emotions of doubt and anger, frustration. Especially when doing something every day where it’s like, so along solving some ways where it’s like, no one sees you taping the box and we’ll see this version of you.

Danny: (00:26:24) Jesus. It’s like how they dredge up those memories, but it’s good. It’s just talking about that now it’s almost like therapy, so it’s a good time. You’re absolutely right. You made a guess, but my parents were actually against me starting my own business. They were at first, they were why are you doing this? We went through this and it is not a fun journey. They’re like we worked at blood socks so that you could have an easier life in America and GQ, you have these you went to the school.

I was like, just do whatever you want and go work at Google again, super cushy, and display it. Like I just wasn’t motivated where I felt challenged and I didn’t feel like I had an impact on the world. I mean, it’s a great company and lots of people love working there but it just wasn’t for me and so what kind of kept me going at Bokksu early on. It was just feeling that weight of responsibility for better or for worse, right? Where everything I decided or did either grew the business or tanked it and like, but that type of direct impact I could see kept me going. Some of the really hard moments there to answer your question would be times when, oh god, I have like there and there were so many like really ups and downs, like one good one is in early, like early on in 2017 when we were still packing boxes ourselves.

And then we always include what we call the culture guide, which explains about kind of the SACS common allergens as well as where Japan is from that. And we were still kind of reiterating that thing. Like, is it a postcard? Is it like a foal? Is it a magazine? And one more. I remember thinking we like to print it from a new printer because we were just trying to save on some costs or something.

But we could get a chance to see it until it was too late. Like we already started outsourcing part of our packing to Japan, to a three PL there. And it was only after it was already packaged, shipped, and arrived at us, like a test shipment that we saw what it was. And it was like, so spin and crap.

And it looked like the cheapest thing ever. We freaked out like me and my team of three. At that time, we were like, oh my God, everybody’s going to churn. We were just obsessing over this like an inconsequential thing in hindsight. But at the time we thought it was the biggest thing in the world and our like 300 subscribers at that time, we’re just going to get super pissed.

I remember thinking like, wow, this is what I care about nowadays. Just like being so like this, but you know, in the end, a lot of these things, businesses are a lot more robust than you think they are like these, as long as the core kind of fundamentals of what you’re offering are there.

And if you kind of are still providing value, customers will like to understand, this is what I’ve learned over time even though the shipping issues in 2020, were really bad. Weeks, if not months of delay sometimes, but I sent off like sincerely written letters to like, kind of from the founder that I wrote myself and sent off to the whole mailing list we had at the time.

And by then we had like 10,000 subscribers or so, but, and people were, I mean, yes, some people were actually very not understanding and still being really mean but most people were really understanding and like were like, we get it. It’s a small business. The world is tough and that type of relationship with the customers was really heartening for me.

Maggie: (00:29:26) Oh, wow  I’m so glad that you weren’t able to get rid of those problems and it like exemplifies the fact that we looked back every now and then, and think the problem was so small and you have to experience bigger problems. Then the next year of bigger problems we eventually get over it and we find a way to get over it.

That’s exactly what you. So glad that you’re able to kind of get through that speed bump, but it just goes to show that the problems that entrepreneurs, that small business goes through every single day affect them. You have to really just find a way to resolve and, you know, we’ll figure out how to get over.

Danny: (00:30:05) I mean, and especially early on, there’s a lot of firefighting. Now we can put in processes and try and prevent some of these things. But especially as a first-time founder, like the mistakes you make, as long as it’s not like gonna totally bankrupt, you learn from it.

And it kind of like get up again and the mistakes that I had at the time, I thought were like catastrophic, but as you can kind of are transparent or you make good, or you do things that to like really make it up to the customer where your team or whatever. You should be able to get through it.

Maggie: (00:30:38) I love that you put in a note that another so much to customers and it’s like the smallest things that you don’t really think about that really make the biggest difference. And if I were to receive a personal note from the CEO, just explain what’s going on. And then why does public was happening?

That matters a lot. I know it makes me want to become a reoccurring customer or a repetitive customer. That those little things matter so much. I do want to talk about, you know, like when you were just starting out when you were, you know, being scrappy in the first couple of years, you mentioned there’s this article that I mentioned, and you guys didn’t have any marketing budget for paid ads or sponsorships. And the way that you hadn’t worked on the product was through influencers on YouTube. 

Bryan: (00:31:26) I want to add more to that question to you because you are the master of marketing, you live your brand, you grew your brand, and for you guys have more contexts, like I saw Danny’s products through another friend’s event in New York. And he was carrying around his box the whole night. 

Danny: (00:31:52) I mean, so from the beginning, since I didn’t have a marketing budget or external funding, I needed that I had to live and breathe this bread. I couldn’t like hide behind it. I couldn’t just be like this kind of invisible founder CEO. I had to really like, kind of always be selling so to speak, whether it’s. The box or the brand or the purpose or the mission or the ethos or whatever it is. I can’t be afraid of putting myself out there because who else is going to sell the brand new product?

If it’s not me, especially when I didn’t have much of a team back in the day. And I think I’ve just kind of, it’s already integrated into me. I don’t want to be realized I do it sometimes when I go to events nowadays, we are early on. It was very much, certainly my own network right in the beginning, like posted when I launched in April 2016 and it wasn’t really a launch.

Like I literally just posted to my Facebook and it was like, Hey, are you, buddies? I launched this company, please sign up. Here’s a discount code. Please help me take these surveys. And then like the vast majority of the 40 subscribers, in the beginning, were just all friends. They were all people that were kind of supporting me.

And then, but of course, I mean that runs out at a certain point and I’m in like the early ones I got were all very scrappy. Kind of in-kind influencer. So I would send them the product and then they would just review it, but they wouldn’t get any type of payment. Cause I didn’t have money for that. At that time, it was like a kind of box review site.

It was kind of just referral programs, word of mouth, like anything like that. And I didn’t even have like Google search ads turned on. I mean, I worked in Google ads back in the day. And so I know that you need a certain amount of budget to make it worthwhile as well as you need to have some brand recognized.

Like people aren’t going to click on your ad and convert if you don’t have a certain level of, you know, trust. And so early on wanted to build up that trust by trying to build this evangelical following of early adopters and giving them like kind of more personal attention. I used to handwrite a postcard, like a founder’s card and every single month’s box early on, where I would like to personalize it to that.

And thanks to them for subscribing and hope they enjoy this one’s box or something. I was able to keep doing that to a hundred subscribers, but then like, I just, I just couldn’t write cards anymore. And then from there, we started having me hand sign. Then we get still, we print the card and I would hand sign it.

And that lasted for like 300 subscribers. I’m in that also couldn’t go anymore. And so then we now print everything, but with like my signature printed, so we still continue to found a card thing where I type a message and like kind of talk to them about my spring being a socket or being my favorite season or something like that and cherry blossoms.

But, so it’s a lot of that, like building that passion and following before you throw ad money on it. I’m a big proponent of the cause unless you have a really good product-market fit and you if you just throw money on it, you’re just burning cash. You’re just like negative, gross margins. And it’s not going to work. If you do not see, knowing the LCD to customer acquisition costs.

Danny: (00:35:43) I that’s actually, the moments that I’ve had doubt in my company is when I reached these points, where if I ever feel like we’re losing that heart and soul in boxy, that’s when I have to like check like address that conflict or whatever it is, whether it be like a message that’s off-brand, that’s like actually kind of exoticizing Asian culture or something. And like, because I don’t control every part of the business now it’s like we have teams and stuff. Like there are still some guidelines and things that we have to follow by.

Like, we, we never use the words, like wacky crazy, exotic or weird in any of our branding or marketing. Cause there’s nothing weird about Asia sex or Asian products. It’s just, you know, people aren’t used to it. And so we just got to make it approachable and we’ve got to bridge that. We also would never like hyper-sexualized any of our sheets, like in a woman, in our images or photography that we do.

Like, that’s not what we’re going for. And like that whole thing. And that all does come from the top. This is a strong viewpoint I have. And it’s not even about like, trying to be diverse. It’s just that we’re trying to speak. Everybody. We’re trying to create a product that is inclusive of all types of people. And to do that, it comes from the product, the voice, the brand. Exactly,

Bryan: (00:36:51) Absolutely agree with that statement, Danny and for the last part of our podcast, I want to focus the conversation back then knowing that you have so much going on, how do you take care of your mental health and how do you set aside time for daddy time? Right. Because you’re taking time to run your business, but at the same time, it’s still a lot of in-person labor to like, get everything in place. So how do you make that time for yourself and take care of your mental health?

Danny: (00:37:17) I’m still figuring that out, to be honest. There are little things I try and do. So my husband is a big one. I was, I truly believe if I was single, it would, this would have, this whole journey would have been a lot harder. Not having somebody to rely on. He has a more stable job at like a big tech company and like kind of benefits and things like that. So like having that net safety net, having that privilege of knowing that I can fall back on somebody that’s there for me is a huge deal.

Like, absolutely and especially as a solo founder, not having a COVID.  I mean, he’s so tired of hearing me complain about all different aspects of my work, but not. So that’s number one, just having that type of rock and personally. Kind of rely on and trust in when everything’s going wrong.

Sometimes at Bokksu, too, knowing that this is going right, as cheesy as that sounds, really helps stabilize me, but also makes time for me to follow passions outside of boxing, I am very passionate about the culture, the mission, the language like Saks, but I can’t only live in, breathe inside my team and my company.

So like the other big thing I have is rock climbing and bouldering. Like I love rock climbing so much. It’s. Almost people are tired of hearing you talk about that too. And so I, um, make sure I set aside time, like the least, ideally, it’d be three, four times a week, but if I can get two times a weekend, that would make a really happy.

And I like, you know, don’t have to think about it. And my rock climbing friends know I’m the founder of Bokksu, but it’s not like not a big deal for them. And so I really appreciate it. That whole like an escape where I can just turn my brain off of constantly thinking, and worrying about what’s happening with work.

Maggie: (00:38:50) I think we’re all trying to figure it out, right? We’re still learning every single day how to improve on, you know, reflecting on her own mental health and, you know, making sure that we’re happy, making sure that we make time for ourselves. But yeah, I love that you have a good support system, having your husband be there to listen to all the problems that we have to go through.

We need someone to be there, to listen to the problems. But yeah, that’s, that’s so amazing. I know that there’s a really big, important seat that you’re very super proud of, which is the fact that your staff is. Oh, 60 right. 80% of whom are BiPAP female and or LGBTQ plus communities. So that is so amazing. I just wanted to point out the story to close out.

And I know you mentioned that you intentionally invest a lot of your time and effort into making sure the workplace is a very transparent and fun and inspiring workplace for you to leave. Can you talk about, like, what are some of the ways that you make sure that your workplace is fun and inspiring and trends?

Danny: (00:39:54) I mean, first of all, just to make it clear to everybody listening to the podcast is that I didn’t hire a specific week floor of people of just backgrounds. I think it’s kind of like, it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy or a cycle where, because I’m a queer Asian guy, which is really rare in the entrepreneurship conversation.

I think that makes certain types of people comfortable to apply and go through their interview process. And then when they talk to me, um, I’m generally the closer and the final interview nowadays. And they like really like that they feel safe or comfortable with me. And it’s not just like straight white men in tech, Silicon Valley, like the type of stereotypical situation.

So that just, that really helped and it’s why I always push for like more diverse, like VCs and founders and all that. Cause it trickles down in a good way where they’re attracted to. I don’t have, um, I always try not to have any bias and like selecting based on background, just want to pick the best people and they want to join.

And so just the, it’s not just my intentionality of putting into workplace. The team itself is vibrant. They’re all from different backgrounds for different, like, you know, races and sexual, um, kind of orientations and stuff. That helps create this different workspace where everybody feels comfortable being themselves, because there is no one way to be, and that already makes people feel safe and inclusive.

But other things we do is I spent a lot of time investing into making sure that we do team lunches and we have annual retreats. We actually had two last year to like makeup for a lack during COVID. I recently got an office manager. 

So I want to invest in them. And so I invest a lot. I’m spending time with them, and I’m showing up at the office every day where we have a hybrid model, but I love working in the office and kind of being here. And so I think that kind of help drive and motivate people to see that the CEO is not on a beach.

Like, it’s not like I’m already checking out. It’s like still in this with everyone together. And that I think causes a lot, which allows people to also kind of bring their full self to work.

Bryan: (00:42:25)I love that’s such great culture-building advice, and yeah, you just gave me a lot of pointers. 

Danny: (00:42:41) I just mean the whole, like, but see, you’re just like, it doesn’t even like isn’t even there, you know, with everyone is just in his own office. Constantly vacationing or something, but certainly, everyone needs a little mental break here and there.

Bryan: (00:42:58) So Danny, you have one final question for you. And the question is, what advice would you give to someone listening to this podcast while working in their cubicle or our home office, or not achy about making that transition

Danny: (00:43:24) My advice is to really make sure that you have a lot of your foundation, the basics covered before she did. Because there is this like sparkle and shine to like entrepreneurship, especially the ones that do well, but you only see the side that it’s all growing and doing super well and they just fundraise or whatever.

And you don’t see a lot of the ugliness underneath. Sometimes they say high amounts of stress, your hair turning gray, sleepless nights fights with your family or spouse have you, and you can’t make ends meet with money. And there’s like, that’s all very real. Right. And now a lot of people don’t talk about it.

So like make sure that you have enough savings to last you like a year. Cause you’re not going to be getting paid for a while. I mean, longer would be better, but not everybody has that kind of privilege to do that. Make sure that you have some type of fallback client. Like maybe you can still get a job afterward.

Even if the entrepreneurship thing doesn’t work out and make sure that whatever you’re doing, you actually have a passion for because, and it doesn’t have to be the product. It could just be the. But like if you’re doing something that’s totally left-field from who you are, it’s going to be hard to keep motivated to, um, to do that.

Like I used to like write the culture, guides myself and, um, but I really enjoyed, like, we’re learning about the history of rice cracker bays and like when it started and like reading all about like, Articles about that online. And I, cause it’s like super nerdy and I really enjoy those parts of Japanese culture.

But now even if you don’t like that, if you don’t like these like weird esoteric things, don’t run a business that does stuff like that. So like just make sure that those things are ready and aligned. Cause it does take a lot of privilege to be an entrepreneur for better, for worse. And I think people need to realize that before they jump in with no savings. Like-kind of caution to the wind and then all of a sudden they’re kind of in-depth and it’s, it’s not great.

Danny: (00:45:39) People think that as soon as you’re successful, you raised a big round and you can just relax. It’s not true. It’s actually, since my fundraising and that’s spent at the series day in January, it’s only gotten busier, crazier, more stressful. It actually just gets harder. It doesn’t get easier until you exit fully, and then you’re no longer working at the company and that takes anywhere from seven to 10 years from start to skip.

Bryan: (00:46:52) Awesome. We’ll leave all that in the show notes, but Danny, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Danny: (00:47:00)Thank you for having me. It’s been such an honor and pleasure.