Name: Monique Bernstein
Business/Location: Universal Yums /Parsippany, NJ
Specialty: We teach adults and kids about the world through food.
What makes your business unique?: We send a box of snacks and candies from a different country each month. It's a unique proposition itself, but more importantly, we place a unique emphasis on education. For example, we’ve featured snacks from Pakistan, as well as treats from Colombia and Italy. Each box contains a 8+-page booklet with fun and interesting information about the products and culture. It takes several weeks to write!
What’s your story?: My business partner Eli and I were working corporate jobs that we felt didn't appropriately use our skillsets (and they were also pretty boring). We decided to take $4,000 from each of our bank accounts and start this business. Our thought was that we would think of the $4,000 as "tuition" as if were enrolling in a community college to learn a new skill. That initial investment got us to where we are today. We never put any more money in or took money from outside investors.
One piece of advice you have for other food entrepreneurs: The taste of food is so subjective. I try all of the products we put in our boxes, but our customers don't always feel the same way. If you can make it more about the experience of trying the food (this is what we aim to do), it matters less what people think of the actual taste. That will keep customers coming back again and again.
What do you wish you had known before you started your business?: It requires an incredible amount of dedication and work to start and grow a successful business. There was absolutely no balance in my life during the first two years. I worked constantly, my friendships dwindled, I never exercised, I gained weight, never took time off. Sure they're "first world problems" but they were very real for me. As my life has stabilized, I've certainly sought more balance. But I think it's important to tell the truth about those early years and how much focus and work it requires. You have to want it more than anything else: more than a social life, more than a nice body.
What’s your greatest challenge in your business and how are you overcoming it?: Hiring the right people has consistently been our biggest challenge. Every time we've had an unsuccessful hire, we build in a step to our hiring process that we feel could have addressed the problem earlier. We have 5 steps now, and hopefully, finally, those 5 steps will be all the steps we'll ever need!
What are you most proud of about your business?: I'm most proud that I was able to do this with my partner in life and in business, Eli. It has brought a depth, meaning, and joy to our relationship that I could not have anticipated. Behind every disagreement we had there was an opportunity for real growth as people and partners. I feel so proud that we've been able to do this together.
What do you love most about being a food entrepreneur?: I love — absolutely love — seeing what other countries eat. There are so many unique ingredients, flavor combinations, and product categories abroad that simply don't exist here. Nothing makes me more excited than seeing an awesome product (think adobo chicken chocolate, or seaweed chicken larb tempura) and then being able to bring that product to our customers. Food is so fun and creative...and educational!
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