We had the good fortune of connecting with Julie Funderburk and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Julie, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
My thought process behind starting my company was founded on a need to feel inspired and fulfilled. I was 37, and by that time I had already put 14 years in the corporate world. I am not sure if it was age or just wanting more, but the desire to go after “it” would not leave my mind and heart. I thought for awhile about what “it” was, but the funny thing is, I didn’t have to look far…I just had to open my eyes.
I called my parents in the fall of 2017 and asked them what they thought about bottling mom’s sauce. Both mom and dad were excited, but also gave me some advice to treat this adventure like a real business from the very beginning. They encouraged me to do research and development, conduct lots of tastings, and make the right contacts, etc. With my parents blessing, and a mountain of encouragement, I hit the ground running.
I knew this was the correct path for me because my mom is from the beautiful and very small island of Palau, located in Micronesia. She raised me and my siblings with this sauce that keeps us connected to our Palauan culture. My father, born and raised in a very small town in Nebraska, joined the Coast Guard and was stationed in Palau right after graduating from the academy. That is where he met my mom and our family story began.
For decades my mom would prepare Olokoi and pair it with homemade gyoza for my dad’s office parties, and it was a hit every single time. I have to say, technically my parents already did the tastings for years! Now, we are taking the results of their tastings to a grander scale.
Olokoi means “wow”. It can be used in so many ways, such as, when you are happy, angry, or excited. It is the perfect word that captures all feelings. When forming the company, I only had this one product in mind and in fact, I did not have a company name, I just knew I had a product. As time went on, I realized that I wanted Olokoi to be our flagship product and that is when 680 Foods came to fruition. 680 is the country code for Palau and will be the holding company for multiple food brands.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
When talking about my career, I defer to my day job. Yes, I still do my Monday through Friday gig. My career since 2003 has been in I.T. I began as a corporate trainer where I travelled all throughout California training people on how to use software. I did that for a while but got completely burnt out on the travel. And that is when I decided to become a technical writer. I spend my days creating, editing, and maintaining instructional material for processes that end users need to perform their job.
I really think the discipline that I learned in my career has helped me venture into the world of entrepreneurship. There is a lot of research in learning a software, partnering up with subject matter experts, as well as a lot of quality assurance testing. Each one of these steps are needed to create the final product, and I have performed each of these steps in the development of 680 Foods. At the time, I didn’t know anyone in the food manufacturing business, so I had to do a lot of my own research, contacted local suppliers (subject matter experts), and asked if they could answer the many questions I had. Aside from that, I spent many hours doing research and development and countless tastings. In fact, I continue to do all these things today.
Reflecting back to when I took that leap of faith and started my company to where I’m at today is pretty mind boggling. Learning how to build a company has been the most exciting and exhausting job (outside of being a mom) that I have ever done. This really has been an adventure, and I am always excited to see what happens next.
Growing up, I had no idea how truly special Olokoi was. It was my mom’s sauce that we had every day and we always knew the deep connection it had to our Palauan culture, but you never know how beautiful things are until you grow up, leave home, and begin your own life. The desire to be fulfilled in life, for me, meant going back home in a sense. This company was easy to begin, because the roots were already there, I just needed time to see that.
What I would like for everyone to know about 680 Foods is that this company represents the incredible work ethic, dedication, and willingness to take chances that I saw in both my parents while growing up. Because of that example, I was able to do something as wild as try to build a company. Life is just a tad more exciting with some risks and most importantly with family by your side!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I don’t get to LA often, so how about some spots in Orange County? In Costa Mesa there are so many amazing restaurants, but here are the spots that I regularly visit:
Shirley’s Bagels – Hands down the best bagels! My favorite is their Super Purist bagel, it’s an everything bagel minus the salt. Extra toasted, easy spread, tomatoes, red onions, and lemon pepper. Delicious!
El Matador – Chile verde burrito, wet, half red, half green. So spicy and so good. The pork is incredibly tender, the best in OC. Their tequila display is impressive too. Get their Ultimate Margarita (you can thank me later).
Philz Coffee – Philharmonic Philz way – cold or hot it is so delicious.
Super Pollo – Basically, everything here is amazing. The pollo is ridiculously good; the lemon garlic butter…DELICIOUS.
Massimo’s Pizza – The pizza is great, but my new addiction is their toasted roast beef sandwich.
Sidecar Donuts – Honestly, the best donuts.
Nate’s Korner – Every breakfast burrito is on point and gigantic.
Things to check out:
Newport Aquatic Center – This place is so fun to rent kayaks and cruise around the Back Bay.
Fairview Park and The Back Bay – They have beautiful hiking trails.
The Lab and the Camp – Great little shops, and lots of nice dining options.
West Side Costa Mesa – This area is full of amazing restaurants, bars, and entertainment.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to dedicate this shoutout to my family. My mom, dad, brothers, my sister, my husband, and my daughter. They have all played an integral part in the forming of this company. Each one has provided me the motivation and support to take these giant leaps of faith to take an idea and run with it.
But I have to really give credit, where credit is due – to my dad – thanks for the countless phone calls, FaceTimes, emails, and text messages about what the next steps are. I know I wouldn’t have gotten this far without him!