Food Science, Business, and Passion with the Founders of Tempea

If you're thinking of taking your side-hustle full time or taking the leap into entrepreneurship then this interview is for you. If you haven't heard of Tempea Natural Foods yet, you're going to soon! Tempea's authentic, unpasteurized, organic tempeh is selling out at farmer's markets and retail shops around Vancouver,  and their journey is just getting started. Andrew and Ariela from Tempea Natural Foods talk about the beautiful journey of starting your own company, the very real challenges, and how sometimes the universe just lays things out for you.

How is your life different from before you were an entrepreneur?

Ariela: Starting a company is terrifying for a lot of people, especially for us since we had little experience to back us up. We worked with a different team at the time and we had to make sure that people we worked with were interested in taking Tempea further and would be committed. Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle choice and we respect our teammates' decision to pursue other opportunities. Andrew and I also grew up being a part of family businesses so I guess we had an understanding of what life as an entrepreneur is like and we both saw this as a chance to pursue an opportunity that was our own. 

How did you know that you two would make successful partners?

Ariela: It just made a lot of sense from the get-go. Andrew has Indonesian roots and is an amazing trained chef who's familiar with the Vancouver food scene. He also has a business background from his family's retail chain in Indonesia, in which he had a major role in its recent growth. My background on the other hand, is a fun mish-mash of business management and food manufacturing (food safety, quality assurance, product development, and all the fun back-end stuff). We have a complimentary skill set and a shared background that made it easy for us to work together. But I think the most important part is that we both just really love food and also find comfort in the logic that science provides---in short, we're huge food nerds!

It also helped that we weren't 'best friends' to start. We only got to know each other a lot more when we started Tempea together. It's always good to have the opinion of another person who isn't afraid to be honest because their best interest lies in the company's and nothing else. It can be a messy thing to mix your work and personal life, and we both understood that coming from a family business. 

It made even more sense when Andrew's brothers came into the picture. I'm really grateful to now have Richard and Jeffrey on board, who have experience in research and business operations, AND they also love food as much as we do! Getting as much help as you need to start things up can go a really long way, and it's great that we all have different strengths in particular fields. It' an amazing feeling to know that you have someone you can rely on and will be around to help you carry the weight. 

Was creating your own company something that you always knew you'd do? How did you know it was time to take the leap?

Ariela: I personally grew up with the idea that I would continue our family business. Since I was a kid, I always told other people that I'd like to be a 'chemist' when I grow up. (But now I think I meant to say food scientist!) My parents had this grand plan for me and my siblings to be the trifecta: my brother finished industrial engineering, my sister took up business management, so it made sense for me to be the food scientist in charge of research and development. Growing up, I guess there was just a constant reminder of who I had to be in x number of years. When the time came for me to enter college, I was actually pretty close to choosing something entirely different (it was almost like an IT course) but decided to take my parents advice and switch to a program called Management of Applied Chemistry. It essentially focused on enabling us to be entrepreneurs who also had a training in chemistry so that we can develop new products ourselves. It was an interesting concept but to be honest, I wasn't sure how to best use what I had learned in university after I had graduated. So I hopped on a plane to go halfway around the world to Vancouver and study Food Technology at BCIT. I surprised myself when I discovered I truly enjoyed food science and did really well at it too.

Everything just felt serendipitous. I never planned to study again after university, let alone move to Vancouver. What were the chances that Andrew and I would've even met? That my passion and talent would intersect? That we'd work on a project like this? That Tempea would win a product development competition? That we'd be later joined by our awesome powerhouse team? (Go Team Tempea!!) It felt like I was about to unravel something really amazing and this was it! You don't know it now and you will never know for sure, but I knew I had to take the leap. By some mysterious way, the universe just laid it out for me and there was no need to think twice. Things just fell into place and I couldn't be more grateful.

Andrew:   My parents raised me to be a leader with hopes that I would continue the family business. When I was young, my family did not have the financial stability it does now but my parents strived hard to make sure I went to the best school with all the other future leaders. Starting from second grade, I have been going to a school which has slowly groomed me to be a leader. My past has been shaping me to be a leader and to strive for greatness. Although creating my own company was not something I would specifically think I would be doing, I knew that I would be doing something great. I wasn't sure how I would achieve greatness, but I always knew it was something I could reach out for within my grasp as long as I worked hard enough. As my mom would always say, "With hard work, we can achieve anything."

It is always difficult to know when you should leap to do something this bit and life-changing. For my part, it was more about seeing an opportunity and seizing it before it passes. Having support from my family and friends is also a big part of being able to take the leap. My parents have always been supportive in everything I do, even though sometimes it takes some convincing to get them on board. But they were always willing to do everything and anything to make sure I have a bright future ahead of me. For this instance, I think having a partner like Ariela to go on this journey with is also important. Knowing that I am not diving into this project alone is a great courage-booster.

What's been the biggest learning lesson since founding Tempea Natural Foods?

Ariela: Starting Tempea for me has always been about facing my fears. Moving abroad, living on my own for the first time, going through school again...this was not part of my 5 year plan after college. There were a lot of personal hurdles that I had to tackle right after I finished the Food Technology Program at BCIT, and I know that starting up Tempea was going to be hard. What 'hard' meant, I did not fully comprehend at the time, not until I was just really beaten down from problems that came from all angles. It was scary, it was arduous, it was just one heck of a journey. But if I didn't make that decision to finally give it a try, even if there was so much at stake, I would be the same person today. So my lesson to keep from this experience is to learn to take risks and just see where life takes you. Don't fear failure, but fear the regret of not trying.

Andrew: I'm not sure there is one big learning lesson as everything we have done since the founding has been an important lesson. It was been a little more than one year since the incorporation of this company and I have gained more experience on business and life in general compared to the 27 years before this venture started. Something things you just have to learn by doing and starting this company has been quite an adventure.

What's been the hardest part of being an entrepreneur?

Ariela: It can be very, very exhausting and I think the hardest part is admitting that. You will need a healthy ego and a certain tenacity to start your own business, but sustaining that is a completely different experience. You need to constantly remind yourself that you wanted this, you said you’ll work hard for this, and if you don’t get off your butt, things won’t get done. I think a lot of start-ups always start that way. But the longer you go, the more you’ll feel the fatigue from always being hard on yourself. I learned that you have to let yourself be vulnerable, to feel tired, to ask for help, and to forgive yourself. No one’s perfect and things won’t always go your way. When it happens, you have to learn from it and move on. You get better and that’s the amazing thing: as your company grows, you grow as a person too. 

We are all but human: life can throw some curveballs at us sometimes, our bodies and minds can give up, and our emotions can also affect us more than we think. But we found that having an open mind and acknowledging these challenges as they happen is key to helping not only ourselves but also each other.

Andrew: For me, the hardest part would be the never ending work and not having enough time to do it all. It has been a really tough year to the point where I can’t remember what being relaxed feels like. I have missed the feeling of having nothing to worry about and just letting my mind wander. Even when I have the time to sit down in front of the couch and watching something on Netflix, my brain just never really stops. There’s always something to solve or worry about. After a while, it does get fairly stressful and it can be a little bit too much to take sometimes. It’s a good thing we do have days where we would get a win and when we do, it can really be uplifting...

What's the best part?

Ariela:  The best part for me is the sense of fulfilment after a day's work, which in a lot of cases, is an extremely long one. E-mails, meetings, admin work, production, talking to customers, even research (we're food nerds, we can't help it). 24 hours never really feels enough. Especially if you're a start-up, you're basically operating at a micro scale. You have to put on different hats and do things you don't necessarily have the background or training for. I guess that's also where the beauty lies, you just never stop learning and trying new things.

It's hard to stop working once you get going and I think a lot of entrepreneurs have a similar work ethic. No matter how tired I feel though, my mind manages to tell me that there's always more work to be done. There's this piece I came across on the interwebs that talked about the psychological price of being an entrepreneur, and that really resonated with me. I've never had to deal with anxiety and stress management before I started doing this. Of course, as a student I had other problems to deal with too, but since we started Tempea while I worked another job, the stakes were much higher. Another way I like to look at it though is that the rewards I reap now are also much, much greater.

What really does it for me is that there is a sense of "tolerable struggle": we still have challenges but we get through it, and we learn so much along the way. Without the struggle though, there won’t be a sense of reward. It's like a crazy kind of happiness: finding something you're not so sure you can achieve, and yet you constantly choose to do it because you know you're helping people (yourself included) in so many ways. From helping them think about their eating habits and nutritional intake, or just getting someone to try food they've never even heard of before, to connect people in our industry and the local community, and hopefully even providing more jobs down the road.

A lot of people say that we're still young (I won't object) and we have a long, long way to go. I joined Tempea with the insight to be open: to making mistakes, to working as hard as I physically can, and to just being genuine. Wherever Tempea leads, I'm happy that we got here, and it's not just out of pure might. When passion, luck, and skill come together, you know you're onto something. I feel very fortunate to have Tempea at this point in my life, and my greatest hope is that other people find whatever it is that makes them happy. It’ll never be easy but it has to be something that’ll you keep on choosing no matter how hard it gets. Keep trying and never give up! I really appreciate all the support we’ve gotten so far and we hope you stick around as we continue on with our adventure!

Andrew: I believe that the best part of being an entrepreneur is having the freedom to do what you want and to feel the sense of accomplishment and achievement that might otherwise be unobtainable. Until this company is a success, I don’t think that I will be able to enjoy the best part of being an entrepreneur. For now, I will have to keep enduring the fatigue and stress, and keep fighting until I am able to reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

Learn more about Tempea Natural Foods by visiting their website and following them on social @tempeafoods!