At a recent networking event, I was asked whether launching a startup while attending an MBA program was a good and effective choice. I couldn’t help but laugh and say “Well, without the support of UCLA Anderson, I have no idea where KPOP Foods would be.” While is sounds extreme, it is absolutely true.
For some background, I developed a company called KPOP Foods while I was pursuing my MBA at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. KPOP Foods is a Korean food company with the mission of spreading Korean food and flavors to America. Our first product is KPOP Sauce, a Korean chili sauce based on my grandma’s recipe. Today, we sell KPOP Sauce through our website, Amazon, and in a few grocery stores local to Los Angeles. We continue to go through the ups and downs all startups experience, but we are growing our customer base week-by-week and believe in the future of our business.
From Piglets to Crowdfunding Research: The Foundation of Our Launch
While we had done multiple video-taped focus groups, we needed a cost-effective way to grow awareness of KPOP Sauce. This is how the KPOP Piglet came to life. Marketed as the perfect container for your bento box lunch, we turned these cute little containers into KPOP Sauce mascots and began handing them out to everyone we could. Our classmates would tell their friends, who would contact us to get those coveted piglet samples, and then recommend us to their friends, and so on. Anywhere we went, we made sure we had piglets on hand to give out to anyone we met. Through our KPOP Piglets, we began to grow and strengthen the KPOP community.
Since no one on the founding team had any experience on how to run a crowdfunding campaign, we needed to do a ton of research on best practices. While looking at other successful Kickstarter campaigns and reading Kickstarter success stories was useful, we found that talking to people who had used the platform was the most useful for developing our campaign.
As our plan spread throughout UCLA Anderson, our classmates jumped at the opportunity to help and immediately began connecting us to people who had successfully gone through the Kickstarter process. Through the assistance of our peers, we spoke with the founders of Mighty, Bureo, FINEX Cast Iron Cookware, Meat Dorks, and WUJU Hot Sauce, and gained a great understanding of the ins and outs of running a crowdfunding campaign. The biggest advantage of this process was discovering the importance of building a community and receiving feedback prior to launch.
We Aren’t Funny or Creative, but Thankfully Our Classmates Are
When it came time to prepare for our Kickstarter campaign, we reached yet another roadblock. Our team consisted of a banker, a military veteran, an economist, a technology consultant, and an engineer. While our backgrounds were diverse, we were not the right group to brainstorm witty, catchy ideas for a Kickstarter video. Thankfully, our classmates were there to support us once again. The benefit of a lot of MBA programs is the diversity in skillsets. We were fortunate to have classmates who had extensive experience in creative industries from entertainment to advertising. Watching our classmates brainstorm video concepts was a fun learning process for our team. Many of our peers volunteered a significant amount of their time to help us develop and write our script. By combining the brilliant ideas of our classmates, our video came to life, featuring a funny cameo of my grandmother and capturing a number of live testimonials.
After finishing the script, we shared it with our classmates and friends for feedback. Instead of just simply reading it and saying it was good, we received thoughtful comments that helped us get to a ready-to-film final script. Thanks to the awesome team at UCLA’s Film & Photography Society, we shot the whole video over a weekend. Everything about the process was an amazing and heartwarming experience, as so many hands were extended to help.
$10k in 8 Hours and KPOP Sauce was in Business!
After three months of preparation and a ton of effort, we launched our Kickstarter. While I had thought about the possible outcomes, I could not get the idea of failure out of my mind. The idea of falling short in front of family members, friends, and the entire school was daunting, and I wasn’t quite sure how I would handle it. Fortunately, our hard work paid off and I never had to find out.
The day of our Kickstarter launch, we held a small launch party in UCLA Anderson’s new accelerator space and invited everyone who had helped along the way. When the time came to start the celebration, we had a packed house for the reveal of our final Kickstarter video and campaign. And with that, we went live.
What followed is the most memorable part of our story. While family and friends contributed significantly to our success, our classmates did an amazing job of spreading our Kickstarter project through their own social media accounts, helping us become a top trending Kickstarter project. I remember checking Facebook to see how many of our classmates were sharing our project and was shocked to see that we had more than 100 shares in the first hour. This was critical to our success because we didn’t have any PR firm helping us, just a solid group of supportive friends and classmates.
Through our classmates’ help, we reached our goal of $10,000 in under 8 hours! The next morning, we were listed on the front page of Kickstarter with a “Project We Love” badge. A week later, we were Kickstarter’s featured “Project of the Day.”
After being asked whether launching a startup while attending an MBA program was the right choice, the answer seemed so obvious to me. Having resources to make valuable connections, learn from my classmates, and be a part of such a supportive community was a crucial part of KPOP Foods’ launch. While family and friends played a significant role is helping us achieve this, none of this would have been possible without the UCLA Anderson community.