Interview with Vitasoy descendants
The Lo brothers, Erik Lo and Francis Lo, had emigrated from Hong Kong to Canada with their family during their adolescence. The Lo’s, a typical middle-class Hong Kong family, chose Ontario as their new home, and was no different from other immigrant Hong Kong families: Worried about Hong Kong’s future after ’97. Their father wasted little time back to get back to commerce, and their mother worked as homemaker. Both Erik and Francis enroll local schools to study.
The elder brother, Erik, had majored in food science while the younger, Francis had studied agriculture commerce.
While studying at Guelph University, Lo brothers join a school-wide competition, which required students to use Ontario soybeans to develop related products. Although Lo brothers did not take home any prizes, that competition awakened their business gene and it was the starting point of their future in non-dairy products.
According to Canadian Digestive Health Association, more than seven million Canadians across country are diagnosed with varying degrees of lactose intolerance. This particular group is the potential customer base for the Lo brothers. YOSO provides dairy-free, gluten free, casein-free, vegan, fermented and cultured foods to consumers. Their products include yogurts and spreads.
Their three-year age differences and different personalities made the Lo brothers perfect business partners. Erik, modest and introverted, is the food scientist responsible for developing new products while Francis, outgoing and dynamic, is the brand ambassador responsible for marketing. “We do not always agreeing on everything, but no matter what decision we make, it is for the best interest of our company” said Francis; at the same time, Erik was nodding and smiling.
The Lo brothers are continuing a family tradition with their business. Their grandfather Dr. K.S. Lo was one of the first to start mass producing soy milk in the 1940’s in Hong Kong and founded the multi-national corporation Vitasoy Company, and their father, Frank Lo, was one of the two sons who took over leadership of the company in 1979. To Erik and Francis, their grandfather Dr. Lo is a man who loves grandsons with a little serious personality. In their memory, Dr. Lo taught them to be a person who works hard, with devotion and dignity. Erik and Francis were also encouraged by their father to be adventurous!
But anyone can be an entrepreneur by themselves, how do you differentiate yourself from others?
“Your products have to be creative and innovative” said Erik. “Our products have gone through first generation soybean products, second generation coconut products to third generation almond products. I like to walk in supermarkets to cultivate new inspirations and new products ideas.”
“The competitiveness within Chinese soybean products market is fierce, it is really not easy to stand out in this specific market; sometimes you even need to lower prices below costs. Mainstream market might be easier to get into. Also, non-dairy market isn’t big enough for big name companies, there is always a lack of suitable products to meet particular demand” Francis also pointed out. “We choose local non-genetic-modified soybeans as our source; consumers for sure will welcome our concept.”
Lo brothers mention that their first investment to start YOSO was close to one million dollars. Half of the money was loans from family; another half was from the bank. The majority of this went into equipment purchasing and to upgrade quality control standards. After non-stop trials, they must pass different requirements from distributors and mainstream supermarket buyers before consumers can buy their products. Occasionally, when miscommunications occur between head office and local store managers, everything might need to start over again. Fortunately, after consistent efforts, YOSO products can now be found at different mainstream supermarkets like WholeFoods.
Francis also points out that YOSO participates in at least five major consumer exhibitions coast to coast annually. Setting up regular meetings with distributors to discuss marketing strategy and maintain business relationships is also required. Furthermore, interaction with consumers via social media; inviting renowned chefs to develop product-related recipes are necessary aspects of promoting YOSO products.
US venture capital Database Company, CB Insights’ recent analysis of 101 start-up companies summed up 20 reasons behind their failures: short on capital, lack of competitiveness, bad products and business model, etc. This study also points out 42% of cases share the very same problem: not understanding market demand, which is the number one reason for their failure. When founder clings to their concepts without any clear ideas on how to meet market demand might lead to disasters.
美國市場研究公司CB Insights近期通過分析101間創業公司的失敗案例，總結出創業公司失敗的20大主要原因：包括融資燒完、競爭力不足、產品糟糕和商業模式不佳等等。20大主因中， 沒有摸清市場需求排名第一；42%的創業失敗公司出現過這個問題，創始人執著於執行自己的創意，卻沒有弄清楚創意是否符合市場需求。
Descendants of Vitasoy in Ontario inherited entrepreneurship spirit from their grandfather. But before devoting themselves to the business, they carefully analyzed market demand, found their own unique product foothold, and were not afraid of making mistakes. They successfully transformed traditional soybean products into a new product category and forged their own entrepreneurial path.