Co-Founder, Pantry's Best
Why Did You Start Pantry's Best?
My sweet tooth was cultivated by my grandma. My grandma was born in Japan. She often made sweet treats for me when I was a kid, so my childhood memory was full of her banana bread and pancakes.
In 2004, when I was studying in Tsinghua University, I met Mark, an American boy who was studying Chinese in Beijing. Mark was pursuing a double degree in Computer Science and Chinese at Stanford. What attracted me was the fact that he started baking since 6.
Upon graduation, I joined McKinsey as a consultant and Mark went back to Stanford. Mark always loved the Chinese culture, and Stanford’s strong entrepreneurial atmosphere gave him the idea of starting a business in China. More importantly, we wanted to be together again. In 2009, he moved back to Beijing and I gave up business school to join him to start a business. We both wanted to do something that we were passionate about, and would make others’ lives happier, so we chose to start a bakery. “Pantry’s Best” means selecting the best ingredients from the pantry to make hearty pastries. Our vision was to create an innovative dessert shop that produces high-quality products and delivers a happy service.
At the beginning, we only baked American pies. Later we added more cakes and cupcakes per customers’ requirements. Mark baked, and I delivered by scooter. The first winter was tough. But thanks to the early expat customers in Beijing, we survived.
We had never imagined that we could keep running this business for 8 years, with a presence in four cities, having two large central kitchens, our own delivery team, a call centre, 3 online shops and 10 retail stores.
What Does Success Mean To You?
For me, success is having the ability to maintain a conscious mind state, to make the right decisions.
Since 2014, I started to have anxiety and an eating disorder due to increasing management burden and stress. Although our revenue kept growing, and our managers had become much more independent, I didn’t become happier.
In 2015, I accidentally started to practice Ashtanga. Since then, I established my morning routine of doing yoga. Although the practice didn’t save me from my burnout immediately, I have become much more conscious of when my emotions arise. And I have become much more sincere with my employees and clients, instead of always trying to fake “the best of me”. I am also much more accepting towards myself, allowing myself to set more time for my hobbies.
Neither fortune nor good interpersonal relationships are eternal, but if we have the ability to adjust our mindset under all kinds of circumstances, we will no longer be scared. Isn’t it wonderful?
How Do You Encourage Innovation?
We don’t want to copy other’s success, and always strive to create new surprises for our customers. With this determination, we have created many innovative flavour combinations, and even used 3D printing technology to create our own molds to make a series of “Surprise cakes”. Innovation shouldn’t be a lonely process, nor a fancy term that only extraordinary people can achieve. It can’t happen without the entire team’s work to turn one idea into an actual product.
You need to pour your heart into your people, respect their individual dream, uncover their hidden talent, inspire them to not be afraid of making mistakes but to learn from their mistakes.
We wrote “We grow from mistakes and not fear for difficult tasks” into our company value statement, and we rewarded people who came up with innovative ideas to the day-to-day operations. We also provide flexible working schedules for good talents. There were some outstanding employees who had to return to their hometown because of their children’s education issue. We strived to find a way to provide them with remote jobs so that they could spend more time with their children back in their rural hometown while still make a decent living. They cherished this job, and in return, they became motived and their potential could turn into innovations.
What Have You Learned From Starting Your Own Business?
It’s easier to start a business than to operate it continuously. Running a business is like a marathon, but without a clear final line. It requires the founders to keep motivating themselves. It’s challenging, both mentally and physically. The biggest competitor of a business, is the business itself. How well a business can keep innovating itself and pushing itself out of its old comfort zone, and how much a business can keep a long-term vision instead of being shortsighted and hasty in China, would determine the life span of the business.
If you would like to reach Liang to learn more about Pantry's Best please contact her.
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