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) Today, we have a very special guest with us her name is Sajani Amarasiri. Sajani is an immigrant entrepreneur who transitioned from building world-class tech supply chains at giants like Microsoft and Amazon to building a brand with more equitable supply chains for better for you inspired modern Gettys that originated from her heritage and a south Asia, her passion for marrying her two cultures and getting back to where she came from, got her to travel across the world to start the first community-focused coworking space in Sri Lanka. And that onto building Kola Goodies to bring more equity and cultural representation to wellness around the world by directly sourcing and supporting communities that have used these ingredients and rituals for thousands of years, but weren’t being represented on shelves. Sajani, welcome to the show.
Sajani: (00:01:18) Hi, thanks for having me and this is awesome.
Maggie: (00:01:21) We’re so excited to have you on the show and so, we’ll jump right into it. We have heard so many amazing things about Kola Goodies, but I want to take it back a little bit and talk about where you grew up. We know you grew up in Sri Lanka, and I want to know about your experience growing up in Sri Lanka. What was it like?
Sajani: (00:01:39) It was wonderful. Well, if you can see my background to anyone who watching some video, this is inspired by Sri Lanka this background, and it’s a small island in the middle of the Indian ocean. And I grew up, in a very middle class. A loving family a very loud family actually but also a family that got my parents just gave absolutely everything for adjudication and just wanted us to excel in anything that we chose.
And both of my parents are also small business owners. So, I saw the struggle of, the ups and downs of having a small business of sometimes, just going through really bad periods and around at the same time, there was a war happening in Sri Lanka for like 30 years. So, my entire growing up was this like, crazy fun but then there was a backdrop, lots of war and this is a lot to unpack when you get out of the country and you’re like, wow, that was an interesting upbringing.
Maggie: (00:02:49) That is amazing. And I mean, I can’t imagine what it was like for you growing up and I’m sure, at such a young age, there were probably times where you didn’t even, probably didn’t even know what was going on right. And it was so hard, for us to understand as children, growing up in times of war.
Sajani: (00:03:08) I was just born into it. 2009, which was the year that just two months after that, I came to the US for college. So, for me, that was the norm and like now, and after that a year or two, after it ended, and the moments that I went back to Sri Lanka, that’s when I realized, oh, this is what it is like not to have that in the background because it’s not that I grew up in Colombo, which is the city in Sri Lanka. And it was not that the fighting was happening in the area where I lived in. It was happening more in the Northeast but there would be things like suicide bombers or like real safety issues happening.
And, but I just didn’t it’s weird too, to now say that because. Now looking back at it, that was your norm. And it was completely normal because that’s all we knew. So, yeah. So even right now, what’s happening in Ukraine and Russia. And my heart is like really hurting for all the kids, honestly.
And like the citizens in Ukraine that are going through this right now, I just can’t believe this. That is much more intensive to an entire country under attack right now.
Sajani: (00:04:47) I went to Pittsburgh so I can be anywhere city and I have to tell you regarding the warlike the people of the north and east in Sri Lanka went through much worse and the people in Colombo and children in those areas as well. So, it’s just another thing to unpack. It’s a really sad situation that was happening there. So, I must tell it because I remember going to the ceasefire to the north and I remember seeing it going to school under like a roofless school building, which for me, with the privileges I had, compassion to that.
I was so privileged because I was going to an awesome school and shit in Colombo, right. Where we had all the amenities and these kids in the north didn’t. So, it was it’s definitely, they indefinitely. I don’t want to charge, more life than I did. So, I came to Pittsburgh out of like, Sri Lanka, which is like everyone.
When I came here, they were like, why didn’t you choose LA or Miami? I was like, I don’t know. I thought all of America is the same. I will be watching like friends and I thought my life would be like a set of friends. It would be like New York and I’ll be so fabulous. But no, I came to Pittsburgh and know him to Pittsburgh, but it just was not what I imagined it to be.
And especially being an immigrant, like the first time in America, right. I didn’t do any college trips. I had no idea that was a thing like that college. When I first came here, I was like, oh, you came to the school before you came here. What do you mean? I just like picked it out online and like applied, so, but I got a full scholarship to college, so that was CUNY and incentive to come and figure out your life here and fit in and assimilate as fast as it can.
Maggie: (00:06:51) I don’t blame you for thinking the whole United States is all the same beause I feel like if I were to be born outside of the United States, I would think every state is the same too because we always talk about how our American culture, it’s all very aligned with every state, but it’s, there are so many different nuances and different cultures in every single state.
And we have different traditions and stuff like that. But I do want to know, what was it like during that transition when you moved from Sri Lanka to Pittsburgh. And did you have any culture shock at any point? I’m sure it was such a different lifestyle and coming from, times before and then moving to a whole new country, what was that experience like? Well, did you have, did you have culture shock at any point?
Sajani: (00:07:36) Complete culture shock. I am so thankful to my friends, only friends at canyon university, who even took the time to explain how things worked right. And just even like being in the dorm and the food was so different to what I was used to. We would have curry and like vegetables would be cooked and here it was l the most salad thing. I’m saying, why aren’t you eating raw vegetables? Can you imagine, I was I just don’t understand this. There’s no concept of salad in Sri Lanka actually when I can, a lot of south Asian countries because you cook everything right. And so, and that is actually like a root of ivory, the two lack, like food. And I was just even like exits, for example, I’m like, why do. Exits exist because in Sri Lanka, it’s oh, you missed one street. You just turn around and you go back. I’m like, dang it. These exits if you miss an exit, you have to wait five to 10 minutes for the next one.
And so, it was just so much in just that sense of the everyday practicalities, but also things I was missing my family and homes so much. I think the first three to six months I was. I went through probably those phases off the pressure on, off where you completely hate everything, you’re in denial.
And then you’re so sad because I just didn’t fit in. I missed my family; I missed the food. I missed everything that I was familiar with or familiar with the right. So, it was a very hot time, but that’s also what I think is why immigrants are so strong and that comes when you come out of the other end, it’s like you figure out how to survive that transition.
You figure out who to surround yourself with and you’ve kind of figured out your identity, even at that time saying you know what, I am Sri Lankan. I’m going to be this. And I’m not going to be afraid to tell what I don’t know and what I’ve done in life. I just have to figure this out. So, it was a very hard time, but you got to do it and you need to get through it.
Maggie: (00:09:59) I appreciate you for bringing that up because I feel even for myself, I was born in America right. And so, I’m American-born Chinese, but oftentimes when I go back to my motherland, I there’s, there are differences because when I go back to my motherland, I feel like who is in Hong Kong.
The natives in Hong Kong. They can tell them I’m not born there right. And so, I feel like there’s a sense of me that feels like I don’t belong right. But I want to learn more about my culture. I want to learn more about my heritage and then when I go back to the United States, after like along back in my mind and my motherland, I feel a similar way where I don’t feel like I belong. I’m always going to be seen as Chinese or Asian right. And so even if I was born in America, there’s always going to be a sense in you where I’ll seem like there’s, I don’t belong in either country, right. But the beautiful thing is that I can take traditions that I’ve learned in Hong Kong or back to my motherland and bring that to the United States and have people learn about them, right. And I feel like you had that kind of like sense of awakening where you wanted to bring your cultural roots from Sri Lanka and the things that you loved so much fostering long culture and back to the United States right. And that’s exactly what you did with Kola Goodies but we can talk about that in a little bit as well, but I know that when you were living in Pittsburgh, was this right before you had moved to Seattle, then when you were working at Microsoft and Amazon?
Sajani: (00:11:26) I graduated college. I’m from Pittsburgh and I dislike it so much. I need to finish this as fast as possible and moved to Seattle. My now-husband, my boyfriend then was also in Seattle, and H1BS and work visas are such difficult journeys for a lot of immigrants. And I knew that being in Pittsburgh it wasn’t like there were not many companies, especially tech companies at the time. Now it’s becoming a tech hub that was sponsoring these visas.
So, Wisconsin. San Francisco, Seattle auto, these areas had too much fuller opportunity. And my boyfriend was ESL. I was like, let me go over there. But it was a really hard journey, even actually after graduation to find a job again, it’s one of those times that I felt that I wasn’t valued here or why is, why am I not getting this opportunity to work and pay taxes for God’s sake America, you gave me a free education, and now you’re not even going to let me pay taxes back because, so the thing, what happens is to get at, try to be a company has to sponsor you. I would go to all of these interviews, right. I would apply and I wouldn’t get through the first screening.
And in my head, my ego was so big because I had graduated Summa cum laude, and I was, of course, everyone’s got to go to get me an offer at that. And then at the interview, they’ll be like, oh, do you need a visa? I’m sorry, but we don’t sponsor visas. And so, call after call after call, it was just so disheartening.
But I remember watching videos of Steve jobs, giving a commencement speech. And he said something that, that like stock and like got me through some of those times where I just felt like I was not getting anywhere was the dots always gonna connect, thinking backward and I think that truly came forward.
It took for me to get it resolved and these sponsored my visa and he’d turn anywhere to go to that company for waiting for processing the visa and everything. But yeah, I joined them in the supply chain for, the hardware division. So, like Xboxes services and things like that. So, it was just exciting and very, very grateful.
Maggie: (00:14:21) Oh, wow just hearing you talk about that experience is so amazing. I feel like such triumph and excitement for you just because of that experience and I’m so glad that it all worked out. I mean, I think that when times get tough what does that, I think it’s like the law of attraction or something.
When something, when times get tough and you’re like at the bottom, your lowest point, right. And you start to kind of unknowingly look for opportunities. They somehow just start coming to you right. And it’s, it’s when we’re at our lowest point, that’s when things happen and arise that are beneficial for you.
Sajani: (00:14:58) I think it’s used surrounded, if you haven’t picked up I’m very typing first, right around just finished school. These all lay and get there and then obviously I’ll find a job right but when you try to control so much, I think sometimes even most has a way of showing and correcting and saying, why you don’t have so much control.
That’s you, thank you and maybe just give up the control and a little let me handle some stuff. So, I think that is exactly what happened because even within that, getting that off a process that was so many ups and downs of recruiters changing and me frantically, like looking through these recruiters and things that I just like, things that just worked out at the end honestly.
Maggie: (00:15:50) I’m so glad that it worked out. What was your experience working at Amazon and Microsoft as well? And when did you decide to leave your corporate job to work on your small business full-time? I think there was an article that said that you were working on your small business and it was overlapping, but you wanted to make sure that you were cash-flow positive before you had left your job. So, I want to hear about that experience. What was going through your mind at that time? I think you also mentioned there was a mentor that told you about maybe doing entrepreneurship full-time, but you were so scared to do it. Tell us about that experience.
Sajani: (00:16:28) I love Microsoft and I still do. I don’t think that some people leave corporate because they hate jobs or they are, they don’t like their managers or they don’t like the work that they’re doing. I just loved being at Microsoft. They valued me. My growth was immense and I was financially secure right. I think those things, especially coming as an immigrant are so important, and being just around some of the smartest people cause it’s not easy to get in that it’s like all of these people are extremely smart, very dedicated. And so just being around that was such a Neville of like being able to start with first my career, right? This was like Amazon. I was at eight months and then Microsoft was, I was there for years and being able to start with that level of professionalism and that level of work ethic from people.
I think that was such an amazing foundation for me to see how things are done, how things are not done as well in some cases, but also mostly now I adopted it and for me, when I kept looking at it, I keep doing these other things. I kept starting little ventures on the side. That was once I came to LA and I black, went to the garbage factory, bought some clothes sites, started a website and I started an online clothing store in like two years in.
And so, I doing those each offline, I just knew that was something that I wanted to do from the ground up. And even just that, that was more forcefully in there. And so, I did a bunch of these other little ventures on the side. And then Colombo Corp, which is the one that once I started, I left. That came about as actually one of the things like I started that online clothing store and I was, anyone was jumping back, 10% of the sales or I am with every purchase.
I was giving back to girls’ education in Sri Lanka as well, and I was doing this and I just kept thinking like, the fashion is fine. I love and resell for myself, but I have no passion for it right. So how do I do something? Where that there’s so much to me. And that is some, and that’s when I was like, just thinking about like, hey, networking, like why?
Like so much life for me was given thanks to networking. And that is because I introduced myself. I went up and spoke to someone I asked for opportunities right. And you have to do that right now. That is what you have to do and that’s what I did at, even at Microsoft. So, it does, it’s not even just entrepreneurial.
Honestly, I think a part of my success at Microsoft was because people knew who I was and what I was working on. And no matter what, guess my work was great. So that’s why they also knew all this other side stock that I did. They had nothing to tell me because I was delivering on time, every time, right?
So just like, you get for corporate people to do your work amazingly well, just deliver on time every time and make sure that people know who you are and what you’re working on. So, but when I started Colombo Corp, it was for me a way to kind of give back and we, that I’ve always wanted to give, take something from home here, which became Kola Goodies, and take something from here back home, which became Colombo Corp the first coworking space in Sri Lanka.
And I was just so surprised that in 2018, there was no coworking space back home. So, it was like, yeah, sure. So, I went in and started the coworking space and you’re right. I was doing both at the same time and I don’t know whether it’s the wisest thing that I would tell people because it’s burned me out so much.
I was exhausted it was around the clockwork because I would do work. And then in the evenings, I would get on and Sri Lanka times all the work right. But I just get, had to get that done because I just bootstrapped it. I didn’t have a concept of raising money for this at the time. I didn’t know that that was possible.
And so, then I would say some mistake, right. I would have raised money for it, but yeah, I did that in my, because I was depending on my salary to fund it. That is part of the reason that I stayed on and I was on for like six months after it opened. And we were able to cash flow breakeven on operating any tests, dependent on my salary to pay them in the depth of coworking space any more.
So that’s when that was my goal. I was I’m leaving this job when I do that. But like you said I would not have even made that a goal. If one of my mentors hadn’t even put that thought in my head because leaving the job was not an option for me. For some reason that financial security is so much to me, like my family they were so proud of what I was doing.
I was able to just a whole like do all of these things that are like quote-unquote financially secure doing the right thing. But then he asked me the question. How much money do you need to not leave your dreams? And that was that’s a tough question. So that kind of got me thinking maybe I should. Try this for a bit.
Maggie: (00:22:29) Oh my gosh. That’s amazing. I got chills, just hearing your story. And I feel like the fact that you said that you wouldn’t recommend having a side hustle. I know a full-time job at the same time. It’s hard.
I agree with you because I’ve done the same thing. I’ve worked on the Asian Hustle Network at the same time as having a corporate job, my nine to five right. And so, when I had my nine to five, I would work in the daytime and then Asian Hustle Network. I would work at night, but sometimes some of the things going to wait until night.
So, kind of switch off like between laptops and while I was working from home and pretend like I was working at my nine to five, but then some people say like, you shouldn’t quit your job until you feel comfortable financially right. Because it is important to have that financial security that’s the natural blanket.
So, it was just interesting seeing the two different sides right. I think there are struggles and just hardships, with both and it’s always going to be hard with entrepreneurship.
Sajani: (00:23:32) Exactly and if you can have if you have a financial security net or a way to raise money yeah. Go on and quit your job and then do something, or build at least a minimum viable product with some product-market fit while you’re working so that you have iterations and confidence when you work, when you leave that here, this could lead to something, right? But like, for me, just when you, especially building something that is a physical space in a different country where they, the work ethic is very different ways works.
What gets done is very different for me, I had never worked in Sri Lanka right. That was so interesting. I guess I was born and raised there, but I went to school there and I was a child when I left, but I always tell this I am such a product of those two countries. I was born and raised a proud Sri Lankan, but I also grew into myself and be in America.
My work ethic is so American. The way I work is so very good because that is the way I was trained in my first job; everything was in American companies. So, when I do go back and do the wake-up way, American store, they’re like, oh, you’re so rude. I’m just standing here. So, I do have not a lot of those things on FaceTime at work.
You have to have an established relationship. If they’re talented, they might not work that same way. So, a lot of these things I had to learn, and doing both of them was very odd when in a job. And the other thing supplied to you doesn’t stop, right? I was in the supply chain. So, I’m on calls with China even at night.
And so in, from my actual job that is paying them a night, five. So that’s the other part that was also so hard, right? It was like, it doesn’t stop the supply chain. That’s not stopping. So, things that keep going when you’re sleeping.
Maggie: (00:25:41) Absolutely. Oh my gosh. I can’t believe you have never worked in Sri Lanka, but a lot of the entrepreneurship endeavors that you had, went back, they were somehow connected back to Sri Lanka and that’s so amazing to me. And it seems like the common thread in your entrepreneurial journey and finding that intersection of your Sri Lankan roots with the businesses and cultures you have been part of in the US, right. And I’m so glad that you brought that up. You were talking about just managing those two different cultures between America and Sri Lanka.
I want to know about it. What other lessons have you observed with this approach of intertwining the two cultures when you started these businesses, starting Kola Goodies and starting the fashion apparel company as well?
Sajani: (00:26:32) I think a lot of that bent like I think it came from a place of wanting to give back. And having that full suit, probably, especially when I’m going back and giving a call, starting something it’s about like I did something in the states that can we do something. Change something or help with whatever I can to learn right. And like change ways that what is going on. Cause it’s not a perfect country and CS, it’s a tropical paradise, but it’s like little beads.
Perfect. There are racial inequalities. There is currently as we speak. Unprecedented economic crisis. People are on the streets protesting. They have like-new fuel does follow cops, electricity 15 hours a day. The currency has to its wards ever being like right now, two-color hoodies. We are facing.
Money to set back on so that people can have food to eat because its patient has gone up 25% and people can’t afford food. So now he was just so much that I did to do back home, but I also, I wonder whether one of the things that like really want to know. Like for you to do something back home versus the fact that I saw she not gonna change so much from the point I left where entrepreneurship was not a thing, like as when I was growing up, because, so with the wall, you take fewer risks.
It’s already right. So even on a black spring up like really new ideas or probably just have to do that. But every time I went back home every summer from school, it was like a new restaurant start-up, and all of these units were there. And I think I just wanted to give back and rebuilding of the country has like different like roots in terms of quantity and even with Columbo Corp I said it doesn’t matter where you come from.
This space has zero racist policy where like, in this space it’s not an option racist or sexist because this is a female around space, but everyone is welcome. So, I think a lot for me was to like, how do I give back? How do I bring the good things that I’ve learned here to incorporate and see the potential back home? Because I knew that Sri Lanka has so much potential, but it’s just not there yet.
Maggie: (00:29:21) I love that approach about having everyone be welcomed as part of that. Co-op and that’s like various, it reminded me of what we do with Asian Hustle Network as well. A lot of people have come to us and asked us, hey, do we need to be Asian to join this community?
And although we have Asian in our title we don’t discriminate. We don’t say like, if you’re not Asian, you can’t join our community. And it’s, it’s more the merrier to introduce our culture, to other people who are not part of the Asian community, right. And I just wanted to say, I commend you and I love that approach that you, that you did for the co-op.
So, I do want to talk about Kola Goodies and I want to hear what was the inspiration for founding Kola Goodies for people who don’t know what it is, tell us a little bit about what Kola Goodies is and what it is offered, and how it all started?
Sajani: (00:30:13) We make the best milk tea that you can make and superfood lattes that are all inspired by my South Asian heritage. And the thing that we were trying to change with Kola Goodies is making sure that there’s cultural representation, not just in ownership of a business, but also when you do. It’s like, where does it come to, or do we source from, and if you look at our supply chain and our pharma partners, they’re all from South Asia.
And another part of it is how do we keep these rituals? And Tabby that, but thousands of years, but evolved to today so that now the next generation can also take this off, right? The way my mom is this, I don’t have the time to make it right now. So, if I don’t have the time for me to get my future kids on, I’m going to have definitely, they would not even know about it.
So how can we also be a little innovative, so it fits into our current lifestyle and is taken off for the next generations? So that’s what we do and started. So, we launched in August of 2020. That was last year we had in VPs dangerous wherein 2020, but we would like trying different things, different formula.
Packaging, messaging all of that stuff, but it is, and it was inspired by the fact that there was just so much better that I grew up with. And when especially when over the last few years, so when I first came to the states in 2009 in Pittsburgh, I saw. I think around that time coconut oil was becoming a thing.
It was like, get out of here. That it’s crazy that coconut oil is a thing here because in Sri Lanka the moment you go from like a lower class, to a middle class, you like abandoned. Because it’s not as hidden, right? Because all of this western media is if you say what you eat back home. And so, and here, people are going to words, the things that we are abandoning in our culture.
So, this thing was really interesting to me. So, since I first came, I was watching this other thing as coconut milk became so that’s the entire base and that’s crazy too or so I saw all of this happening, and then I saw this wellness and turmeric artists were popping up everywhere.
And I was liking there’s much better stuff. And that center juice that we could sell that I could also like it would have brought that I grew up drinking every day and it’s called color Canada is based out. And inspired from. And then I start telling myself to have a moment like wasn’t born in Venice Beach, California.
It was a convenient thing that for thousands of years that people in South Asia, I haven’t had every part of their life. We would tell you where can everything. So, I just saw that the stories were being told it was becoming so trendy. Amazing people are adapting the rituals, they are trying new ingredients.
Great, but it wasn’t being told and I wasn’t being represented on those shelves right. And if I’m not being represented, that means south Asians aren’t being represented on all those shelves. And that also meant that these companies weren’t sourcing it was. The trendiness here was not benefiting the farmers, all the people that couldn’t be right, because the supply chain is so much that it goes through at least 10 stops before it gets to your latte.
If you go to an auction area, exporter, distributor, wholesaler, like all of these places, and then there’s such a. The better way to do this. Like a much better way that we can just go directly to the farmer, buy this from them, get into California. They get into a drink that you don’t have to do anything, but just ad hoc water and have it so that you can easily put it into your routines.
Guess what? This now can live on for another generation. We made it easier right? So that comes kind of the inspiration behind Kola Goodies and like the hair loss tells you off, like how do I breathe like this? Firstly, kudos to working moms. I don’t know how my mom woke up at five and made this drink from scratch. She would like, the coconut built from scratch. Cause they didn’t use coconut milk, it would make me a coconut, they would put the greed’s they’ll blend it that’s way too much work for me. So, guess what? Not days, all that good, but there’s coconut milk already.
And if we added old milk there’s moringa cinnamon and you just add hot water, frosted it up, and drink it like a latte. And in that scene, when was even the milk tea. So, in Sri Lanka, we don’t add necessarily spices to our tea, and milk, right. And sugar, but it’s Ceylon tea. So, it has an amazing depth of flavor in it.
And, and it’s not super sweet either. And that’s kind of what it to be because my husband honestly wants, he loves the way my mom makes tea and he would always be like, moms, you have to teach me how to make this tea because I like it. And you would try to teach it, but it never comes out consistently.
So, he’s like one day he honestly was, I just want to sell milk tea and see how it does. I just want to make it easy so that every time I have a milk tea, it tastes like your mother’s right. And I was like, let’s try it, and then I honestly had no idea how this would even do. I’m just you know what?
Let’s talk with like 250 let’s just put it out there and see how it works. And now it’s become one of the best sellers where people love this milk tea, and it’s only 70 calories. So, it’s good for you. It’s not like 300 calories, so you can make it at home and it supports small farmers because we directly work with all the tea farmers to sort of solve.
Maggie: (00:37:26) That is so amazing. I mean, it is delicious for all of our listeners out there go and try Kola Goodies it is amazing. And I agree with you like moms. I don’t know how they do it. It takes so long to make those traditional ingredients, recipes, and remedies even nowadays if I’m just waiting for my instant coffee maker to make my coffee, I’m like, oh, why is it taking so long? We’re just so impatient now.
But I agree with you. I mean, there are a lot of big brands out there that are capitalizing on rituals from south Asia and just Asia in general, with no attrition to their origins. They don’t know where it’s coming from, where they’re sourcing from. And it’s, it’s unfortunate because it’s really, they’re capitalizing on a lot of trends that are happening, right.
And this reminds me of another podcast, host podcast, guests that we had on where she was talking about Vietnamese coffee there, wasn’t like a really big trend with Vietnamese coffee, but a lot of these big corporations and big coffee companies, they weren’t telling people where their coffee beans were coming from the right and it’s the same thing that we’re seeing here, right. I think it’s so important for us to have transparency as to where our food or beverages are coming from. So, we know, what the conditions are for the farmers, what the stories are, what the culture is so that we’re getting the stories right, we’re getting the origins. And that is so, so important for us to like how people learn about the origin, learn about the culture. And information doesn’t get misconstrued right or it doesn’t get lost in translation.
Sajani: (00:39:21) For generations downright that has turmeric has had anti-bacterial properties. Like, oh yeah, it’s good for you. Like all my mom would say every time, there’s this called Kola Goodies. That is in a super-clean latte. That every time it’s exponential in Sri Lanka. So, and she’s like, oh, it’s really good for your eyes.
It’s great for our green. I’m like, yeah, you’re telling me this because you want me to get greens? No, all these studies are coming out and be like, yes, this, this is amazing for your neurotransmitter health.
Maggie: (00:40:00) I have a bunch of remedies that my mother makes that work for me, but when I try, like American, medicine, it doesn’t work the same way as the remedies that we have back at home. I love that you’re bringing it to the states and that you are having people learn about these remedies, these nutritional goodies.
And I know that when you started Kola Goodies, this was at the peak of the pandemic. And I think you mentioned that you had to like postpone the launch and I want to know, what was that experience like? Did it affect your ability to sell and source in any way? And how did it affect your launch?
Sajani: (00:40:36) When we did, we did a soft launch. So, a soft launch was in March of the 2020 pandemic, right. And so actually it was a blessing in disguise in a way, because it allowed us to iterate so much on the product, what is working, what is not working. And that’s a tip for any entrepreneur that is out there is just like putting a product out.
Don’t wait. So, there’s like a magical unicorn to the fear and be like, no, because just put it out. And then if it’s a pandemic that I find would put it out in the pandemic and I did, I think anyone can, and then all we did was just, we sold out of like that first batch, but it took months for us to sell.
So, it was sent out of that first batch right. And once we sold out, we learn so much from that first batch of inventory and liked the feedback that we got. We let the character site run a little for the first bit of 2021, but that’s where we like to put all of our efforts into like really perfecting the branding, the sourcing, the supply chain stuff, like all of that stuff.
And then putting out products again in 2021. If you think about it, this is the thing for like a lot of CPG suppliers, like brands are like, oh my God, I don’t know when to launch. And I just felt shit. No one remembered us when Google launched no one knows when Airbnb launched like no one does right. So, just put it out and we don’t have to have this big fanfare of like, launch date.
So it was, I think for me, it was really to put it out that even as a soft launch, right. Because a lot of the things that we had planned, even in a soft launch was like, hey, let’s go to the yoga studio and get these products out and see what people would say. But no yoga studio was open during the pandemic. We were all in apartments.
So, we had to just really quickly see, how do we even get the word out there? How do we tell people that we insist even to get those soft launch feedback, right? And that was tough but I’m telling you all the dots collect 20 ends of February.
Maggie: (00:42:58) Oh, my goodness. Yeah, a blessing in disguise. I think it also is a reminder that it doesn’t have to be perfect when we launch something. I think a lot of us as creatives and entrepreneurs, want everything to be aligned. We want the stars to align. We want it to be like on the perfect date for it to be launched. We want everything to just be perfect, but it’s never going to be perfect. And you’re always going to have to iterate and improve the more launches that you do right. So that’s a really good reminder to us all.
Sajani: (00:43:27) You have to always keep going and I think that was a question that you asked before that I wanted to, this thing came up to me, I’ve been wondering why have I always been so. And if you think I do has had some sort of any mental shit, right and it’s a small country, no one even knows about it. Sometimes I probably, I hope you do. But when I first came to America, like literally college students that no one knew. What are Sri Lanka and I’m like, it’s a country it exists, I also went to a very non-diverse school, so, and, but it was like, wait, what?
So, I was just thinking maybe I have such a drive to make sure in this part of the world that. And that that use, even like we got, I’ve put Sri Lanka on it. I want people to know what shredder and like that people do. All of South Asia is so big. Does India. There are also like seven other countries that eat outright. And the cultures are so different. Food is so different in those areas. And I think that has been such a big drive. Also, I like to make sure no one info questions saying what I should lookup. So, I think that’s one of the biggest drivers too.
Maggie: (00:45:06) I love it and it works. It gets people to learn about it when they see it on the packaging, on, you know, your Millsy rapper, they’ll look into it and try to learn more about the culture. So, it works because, your brand is, all about wellness. I want to know, what do you do to look out for yourself? I know that there must be some rituals or maybe some practices that you do. How do you look out for your wellness and what type of wellness strategies do you incorporate into your life?
Sajani: (00:45:41) I wish I could tell you what is amazing ritualistic. But to be honest, at various, the last four to five have been so brutal in a good way for the business. But also, has meant that I have been so stretched in a lot of ways. And I made a joke with other wellness spread friends that the welder’s entrepreneurs are the least well people.
Maggie: (00:46:18) It’s okay. Entrepreneurs. We stress about, good sleep, eight hours of sleep a day, but it’s so hard.
Sajani: (00:46:26) Exactly. So, but I mean, the thing that like today in the morning I worked out that’s a win for me. It took 20 minutes to work out. I do think having like a meditation ritual of some sort for me is key in terms of just like quiet time in the morning for even if it’s just five minutes or even if it’s just being outside the winter and saying, I can’t use my intention for the day.
That’s one of the things I. We love to do. I think it’s very seasonal. There are times in my life when I do have that time, right. I wonder I wake up, I had to make a soup, a green or a milk tea, or have my coffee or something like that and just like sit down and like meditate, John. All of that, but this season has not been that season.
This season has been road work and getting the small wins. And in this season, the things that have brought me a lot of care and sales care as being the sun. I’m not, I, when I picture my life, I picture and.
I love the sun. I love just going for a walk. I take that as like, just going out that walking, I live in San Francisco, and there are parks everywhere. So, I just love being around that. I love going out to the beach. The beach calms me so much. I don’t know whether it’s because I grew up by the ocean. I grew up by the ocean in Colombo
And so, I don’t know whether it’s that familiarity or what it is, but deep ocean calms me down a lot, and being around water and I think those small things and like getting a workout in honestly have changed so much. And I think that has been a lot of what self-care has meant in the last five months for me.
Maggie: (00:48:26) I have so many similarities. I like love the sun. I love the beach. I love being around water. Like the sound of the waves crashing next to me. It’s the most peaceful, relaxing thing.
Sajani: (00:48:39) I read something somewhere about the fact that I think it’s stress being washed away or something like that gives so cleansing. And I think that might be one of the reasons, but I think, I think it’s very seasonal. Just like I watch something today. That’s it, and life can be done in sprints, right. And I feel like I’ve been on a sprint for the last four months, five months. And I am working towards being a little bit more scalable and a little bit more delegated out right now. And I’m just looking forward to that season where I’m not so craving, I don’t want to say stress underselling I’m craving.
Maggie: (00:49:31) They will come. We always make time for it. So, Sajani we have one last question for you, and that is if you could advise an entrepreneur or just anyone who is trying to get more in touch with their cultural roots, what would that one advice be?
Sajani: (00:49:50) So, one of the things that I think is like not embodying thousand company that is with one person, like you’re running your 1000 million company, like mentally. Be there right. Mentally be there because one, this part I learned that I read Obama’s book that came out last year. And one thing you realize is he didn’t just become the president and start giving amazing speeches right, he, if you read his journey, he’s been speaking at college. He’s been speaking way before he even got to college and he was being. So, speaking in his community organizing stuff he was doing in Chicago, like all of those things like me and him has primed him enough to give that amazing speech, whatever changed his trajectory when he announced his presidency or one of those points.
So, and as entrepreneurs, we expect ourselves to oh, when I get there, I’ll be like that, but that’s not gonna work. You have to be that Dave on day zero, as you’re envisioning, you’re envisioning your company, be the way that you’re going to bespeak that way that you’re going to be right.
You shouldn’t I’m talking to you right now. I’m going to get you as I run. Two $50 million companies. I don’t, but we’ll get done one day, right and because the, you aren’t going to change, hopefully, you just going to have more and more opportunities that come your way to the same you that going to be even better prepared when that, so I would say in whatever you do, whether even if it’s culturally rooted or not just like practice every day, show up like that every day.
And like I said, you can’t just, even with the cultural rebooted inspiration, right. I didn’t just come up with categories and be like, hey, this is what I’m doing. It’s been a thing that I’ve done actually. Since the very beginning, right? With my side hustle offering an online clothing store, I get back.
I had a t-shirt company where I did like these Sri Lankan slogan thingies. And, I, that was a thing with Columbia co-op was about connecting cultures. Kola Goodies is about connecting culture. So, like, just keep at it, it might take different forms. But the main thing that is driving you is if it’s connecting cultures, then keep practicing it. And if the first one doesn’t work out, that’s fine. Like you would be better prepared for the one that does work out because you’ve done the work for the past six years. So that’s what I would say.
Maggie: (00:52:56) I love that. I love that advice. And I agree with you I think, we have to, if we’re, if we’re trying to get to someplace or, or be some person, we have to be that person from day one, even if we’re not there yet we have to embody or envision ourselves as that person right. Because if we continue to have like this gap and our mindset that, we’re not where we need to be, we’re never going to get there right. So, you always have to be that person from day one.
Sajani: (00:53:25) Yeah, we don’t, we’ll present one thing. Something is interesting where you said you don’t like as a person, you don’t change when you get a little money, you’re either a crappy person who gets crappier or you’re a nice person that just becomes nicer and more generally. Yeah, right. So, you decide who you are going to be like, that thing that you’re going to be is if your thing is going to be connecting cultures or being true to your roots, practice it don’t just come out of nowhere not care about your roots and it’s not under me because then it journeys is going to be much harder right. And then the other piece of advice I would give is it’s very easy. To wait for clarity, right? What am I going to do? But I think clarity comes from engagement and, that is fiber, but clarity comes from engagement.
So just get out there, do something right. If you want to post a podcast, start talking to people, even if it’s just like over coffee, right. Or if you want to start setting the artist, start making. Asking your friends to test it, just like do that engagement and then you might see, oh, this is just not for me.
Or maybe I’ll go to a different class. So, I think weighty and then building and then putting out that and finding that that’s not passionate. Calling is such a waste of time rather than just getting done.
Maggie: (00:54:59) Yeah, absolutely agree. Love that advice. Thank you so much Sajani, so where can our listeners find out more about you as well as Kola Goodies and Colombo co-op online?
Sajani: (00:55:09) It’s Kola Goodies. And actually, I don’t know whether we did a talk this week. And so that was another entire podcast lesson probably that we would have, but unfortunately with COVID. So, sit down, but you can find us at communities and I am Sajani Amarasiri on need to go to them.
Maggie: (00:55:38) Amazing. Thank you so much. So, it was amazing having you on our podcast today. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Outro: [00:55:46] Hey guys, we hope you enjoy this episode. Please subscribe to the show. We would like to get to the top 10 on iTunes so be sure to leave us a five-star review. We release an episode every single Wednesday. So, stay tuned. Thank you, guys, so much