We had the good fortune of connecting with Karine Wong and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Karine, do you disagree with some advice that is more or less universally accepted?
In business, people will tout that you have to grind every day, 24 hours a day. Some call it the Shark Tank effect. When I first started, I thought that if you didn’t do that, you were a bad entrepreneur. That’s not true. I didn’t quit a 40-hour work week to work 60-hours instead.. I started this company to create my hours, be responsible for my own company’s growth and its decisions. Currently, I work in 3-hour blocks of time every day, either 2 or 3 blocks a day, except Saturday and Monday. Those are my mandatory days off. If I have to work on those days, I reschedule the day off to the next day.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
My Guiltless Treats offers a delicious and sustainable approach to managing the diabetic or pre-diabetic diet and preventing unwanted weight gain. And we do it with desserts. Our signature line is the Italian panna cotta dessert, which is soft like flan. Instead of the traditional use of heavy cream and sugar, we use coconut cream, agave and a dash of stevia. The soft coconut dessert is layered over real mango puree, guava, or pineapple bits. To make them even healthier, we added at least 5 g of protein from milk protein. The milk protein does not contain lactose, which means lactose-intolerant consumers can enjoy panna cotta for the first time! All of our tropical desserts are soy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, lactose-free, and protein-enriched. In 2019, Guiltless Treats launched the chocolate coconut panna cotta, which eliminated all 8 common food allergens. The chocolate version was made in response to the need from vegan customers and my own nephew Jack, who struggles with food allergies. It is the only vegan dessert that tastes like a Fudgiscle! The most difficult time of the business was the first 3 years, when there were more expenses and hardly any revenue. Decisions were difficult to make because everything costed money and I didn’t know if I could justify the expenses. Is it worth spending $3,000 on a marketing company to tell me who my demographics are? Is it worth it to spend $20 a month on electronic highway billboards? Is it worth it to spend $1,200 a year on a platform that is supposed to drive retail buyers such as CVS and Whole Foods to my products? As a very decisive person, I found the first 3 years to be very frustrating with no real substantial answers from other entrepreneurs. And here’s the reason why; most entrepreneurs do not know what is right or wrong to invest in. They don’t want to share advice or tips because they don’t want to be responsible if it doesn’t work in your favor. What worked for them may not work for others. To overcome this challenge, I applied my Six Sigma knowledge and developed a decision tree based on the fishbone format. Expensive projects had to meet all the criteria on the fishbone before execution. For example, a platform costs $1,200 a year to reach buyers. If interested, retailers would email you and get you into the stores. My first criteria was, “Is my product ready to be sold at multiple stores? The second was , “Could I scale to produce 1,000 units per week and guarantee product like in Costco?” Nope. At this point, I would not pay for that premium on the platform. A different example was the opportunity to partially-wrap my car with my logo. The cost was $1,000. I negotiated it down to $800 and had their designer create the mock-ups which would cover all 4 side panels, bumper and front hood. My first criteria was, “Do I want my own car to be permanently covered with the wrap?” Yes. The wrap would make my Prius a unique car, noticeable to the public. If I were to drive a car, I rather drive my car with my logo. The second criteria was, “Would this be a good marketing tool?” Yes. People love to read things on the road or signage. And my final criteria was, “Would it increase sales?” I didn’t know the answer at the time, but I figured that it wouldn’t hurt sales either. If anything, my sales would remain neutral or increase. To date, this has been the best marketing decision I ever made.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
In Orange County, CA, there are several little gems to visit besides Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm. For my friends, I host a “Day in the OC” trip. We start with a brisk walk on the beach, grab an acai bowl at Bonzai Bowls in Huntington Beach, head over to the nail salon to get our nails done, and finish up with a hair blow-out. At night, we’ll dine at Kappo Honda (Westminster, CA) for authentic Japanese food then go home, fire up some s’ mores in the backyard. If they have kids, I’ll take them over to Polar Playground (Huntington Beach, CA) where they can get the largest cotton candy confections in the world. You can even order cotton candy in the form of your favorite character like Homer Simpson, Yoda, or a large dinosaur head! If they like Vietnamese food, it’s worth the trip to head up to Y Tea (Westminster, CA) for authentic sugarcane juice and an order of filet mignon over a bed of garlic noodles. They sell Vietnamese street food and tons of smoothies and boba drinks too. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My Guiltless Treats is successful because we chose to listen to customers’ feedback, Yelp reviews, and Facebook community forums for food entrepreneurs. We appreciate the help from Real Food Brands Marketing Round Table with Katie Mleziva (on Facebook) and her podcasts, Food Entrepreneurs & Business Owners Group (on Facebook), Small Business Association (who offered free workshops and mentorship), GSO shipping (who has worked closely with us to provide low-cost overnight shipping to my customers), and Hollis Henning (the best graphic designer who will work, revise, and revise all of my labels until I was super happy). Hollis taught me that design on the packaging is the first thing consumers see and should pop out from your competition.
Linkedin: Karine Wong, Pharm. D.
Yelp: My Guiltless Treats (Irvine, CA)
Youtube: Karine Wong