Enter the world of entrepreneurship through the inspiring story of Jonathan, a doctor who transformed his passion for health into a thriving business with Miraclenoodle.com. From his serendipitous discovery of traditional Japanese noodles to building a brand that caters to a broader audience, Jonathan's journey is a testament to the power of combining expertise with an entrepreneurial spirit. Join us as we explore the triumphs, obstacles, and future goals that define his path as a doctor-turned-founder in the health food industry.
Chris: Hi, Jonathan. How's your day going?
Jonathan: It's going well, thank you for asking.
Chris: Great to hear that. Let me introduce myself. I'm Chris, the editor of ARTicles, a weekly newsletter focused on Ecommerce and DTC brands. My goal is to ask you a series of questions that can inspire aspiring entrepreneurs who are starting their journey. Can you share some insights about your brand's narrative, mission, values, and how your venture began?
Jonathan: Sure. I actually started the company in 2006. I'm a dermatologist with a special interest in using lifestyle interventions to treat autoimmune diseases like psoriasis and lupus. During a trip to Japan, my friends introduced me to a traditional Japanese product at a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant near Kyoto. These noodles, made from a plant called the Konjack plant, were invented over 1000 years ago by Buddhist monks as a health food. They recognized its gut health benefits, even though they didn't use terms like prebiotic or fiber. The noodles are 97% water and 3% plant fiber, allowing people to enjoy the sensation of eating noodles without worrying about carbs and calories. While the noodles have been consumed in Japan and China for centuries, they were relatively unknown in the United States. Upon my return, I launched the company online, initially targeting specific communities like diabetics and those with celiac disease who couldn't consume gluten. However, I soon realized that the noodles appealed to a broader audience as a general pasta alternative.
Chris: That's fascinating. When you launched your brand, what were the main challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
Jonathan: Despite being a doctor, I had already dabbled in entrepreneurship and had experience with marketing. As a teenager, I had read books on direct marketing, and I had set up several e-commerce sites, although they weren't particularly successful. Failure is a part of every journey, and I had my fair share. However, this venture aligned well with my medical career. Setting up the website and grasping the basics were relatively straightforward in 2006. It was easier to learn and navigate platforms like Google AdWords back then, as the major advertisers hadn't yet saturated the space. So the challenges primarily revolved around supply and logistics, as my previous businesses focused on digital products rather than physical goods. I had to learn about shipping containers, trucking, and the complexities of moving products, which proved to be the biggest challenge.
Chris: I see. Initially, were you the sole member of your team, or did you have a partner or additional team members?
Jonathan: Initially, it was just me. However, within a year of starting, we had a stroke of luck when a prominent magazine called "First for Women" reviewed this type of noodle as a weight loss item, coincidentally titling the article "Miracle Noodle." People started searching for "Miracle Noodle" on Google, and it happened to be my brand. This unexpected exposure led to more press coverage. At that point, my family members, particularly my sisters, joined me in the venture. We also brought on an outsourced employee in the Philippines to assist with backend tasks. So the team gradually expanded from there.
Chris: That's a fortunate turn of events. You mentioned finding the right audience and realizing the appeal of your product among different groups. Can you elaborate on the strategy you employed and the momentum you witnessed at that time?
Jonathan: Initially, I focused my advertising campaigns on diabetics, as I believed the noodles would be beneficial for them. We received numerous emails from diabetics expressing their gratitude for being able to enjoy noodles, pasta, and rice again. However, it became evident that people were interested in weight loss.
Chris: Alright, that's great. By the way, it's been quite a while since you launched your brand, correct? Can you shed some light on the growth of your business and the strategies that have contributed to its success? For instance, achieving significant milestones and revenue levels in the past year, and if you have any plans or strategies in place to replicate that success this year or in the near future.
Jonathan: Certainly, while I prefer not to disclose specific revenue figures, I can share that we are an eight-figure business with a presence in approximately 20,000 stores nationwide. Our business operates through a combination of retail and direct-to-consumer channels. What sets us apart from many other brands in the CPG health food space is our long-term ownership by the same person, which is uncommon. Additionally, we initially focused on online operations and only ventured into retail about ten or eleven years ago. Our approach has been centered around steady incremental growth each year, which distinguishes us from many CPG health food brands that seek rapid expansion through investor funding and subsequent strategic sales. Instead, we prioritize continued growth as a family business over the long run.
Chris: That's commendable, building a sustainable business. Impressive! Jonathan, I'm curious to know, what would you consider the most significant risks you've taken since starting your business? Being an entrepreneur, you've experienced both failures and successes. Can you highlight some of the riskiest decisions you've made thus far?
Jonathan: Absolutely, there have been considerable risks along the way. My mother often asks me if I would have embarked on this journey knowing the risks involved, and my answer is a resounding yes. Entrepreneurs don't typically choose the easy path. Perhaps the most substantial risk as the business has grown is the time it takes to remove personal guarantees from financing arrangements. There have been moments, especially during the COVID period, when logistics rates tripled within months, and issues at the Long Beach port resulted in rapid fluctuations in money owed. Essentially, everything I owned was on the line during those times.
As we've expanded, I've been fortunate enough to reduce some of the personal guarantees to the business over the past year. However, it's crucial for people to understand that as a business grows, securing bank assistance or non-equity debt-based financing comes with the need to leverage oneself. Ups and downs are inevitable in business, and when everything is at stake under your name during challenging times, it can be quite uncomfortable. Honestly, I had no prior knowledge of such situations; it wasn't even in my vocabulary. Another concept that took me by surprise was the realization that as the business grows and requires more inventory each month, it can lead to a deeper financial hole.
The increasing amount of money needed can put you in a much worse financial position. It wasn't intuitively obvious to me until someone clearly laid it out on paper. While I had some marketing background, I had limited knowledge about running a company. I remember discussing this with my father, expressing concerns about growing the business while seemingly sinking deeper into a cash flow hole each month. It was through joining an entrepreneur's group, which has been one of the most valuable things I've done, that someone highlighted this on a whiteboard. It became evident that as you grow and require more inventory, you're essentially falling further into that hole.
This realization struck me as something that should be on page one of any business book. So, it was yet another situation where I felt the fear of going out of business simply because we were growing. These challenges, especially in inventory and cash flow management, are things we encounter as an e-commerce utility brand. Many entrepreneurs are driven crazy by these aspects and are actively seeking advice and tools. It dawned on me that these experiences should be fundamental knowledge in any business book. That was one of those situations where I genuinely felt like, "Oh my gosh, I might go out of business just because we're growing." These are the challenges that entrepreneurs, especially those in the e-commerce and utility brand space, face when it comes to inventory and cash flow management. They drive them crazy, and they actively seek advice and tools to navigate these issues.
Fortunately, I initially joined Vistage, an entrepreneurs group in California, and now that I reside in Miami, I've joined another entrepreneur group here. Meeting with my group every month for four hours and sharing our challenges, especially with people who have accomplished much bigger things than I have, has been an invaluable resource. I can't stress enough how worthwhile it is to invest in such a support system.
Chris: Understood. What aspect of your job do you love the most? What brings you the greatest joy in running your own business? What keeps you motivated?
Jonathan: Well, what excites me the most is knowing that people's health tends to improve when they use my products. It all goes back to my primary career and the satisfaction of providing jobs where employees can take pride in the products they help create and sell, knowing the positive impact they have on people. Running a business is always exhilarating; there's never a dull moment. Each day presents its share of challenges and, as an entrepreneur, it's a rollercoaster ride of emotions. But I consciously chose this path. Let me share a quick story. In the early years of the business, I was on a trip to Hong Kong with my family, and during breakfast, I was managing my AdWords account, finding joy in crunching the numbers. Back then, it was much simpler. I could spend hours analyzing the data and optimizing my ads. I turned to my father, who is a doctor like me, and said that maybe being a businessman might be interesting. Just at that moment, a man sitting behind us, frantically talking on his phone, exclaimed, "What do you mean the container fell into the ocean? It's all gone? I have no control!" My father looked at me and said, "If you want to be a businessman, be prepared for a life like that." And sure enough, that anecdote turned out to be an astonishingly accurate reflection of reality. We have encountered situations where ships were in jeopardy, and we didn't know if we would lose a container. Being able to navigate and adapt to these crises, which occur regularly, is something you may not anticipate when entering the business world. It's far from romantic; it can be terrifying.
Chris: Absolutely, couldn't agree more. Alright, moving on to our next question. Can you share any exciting upcoming projects or initiatives in your company? What are your goals for the future, let's say in the next five years?
Jonathan: Certainly, one of the most exciting things on the horizon is the development of a health optimization program specifically tailored for our online audience. This program will encompass health training, possibly a weight loss program, and overall health education. Since a majority of our customers are seeking a healthier lifestyle, I want to transform the brand into a comprehensive lifestyle brand that integrates products, coaching, and health education. That's the key focus that really excites me.
Chris: That sounds great. Looking forward to it. Now, onto our final question, which is quite important. What advice would you give to someone who is starting their own business?
Jonathan: Based on my own experience and conversations I've had with others, I believe the most crucial advice is to learn the fundamentals of marketing. Many people have excellent business ideas, but until you can effectively communicate and persuade someone to purchase your product or service, especially online, it's essential to learn the basics of direct-to-consumer marketing. I don't think one should venture into business without that skill set.
Chris: That's a valuable piece of advice.
Jonathan: Absolutely. You need to build your audience first, and only then can you successfully sell your product. Even if you have the greatest idea in the world, if you can't personally convince someone online to buy it, you won't be able to hire a chief marketing officer overnight. You must be capable of doing that yourself. Direct-to-consumer marketing principles have been around for a long time, so it's crucial to master them. While I now focus on running the company and leadership aspects, I still stay connected to the world of direct-to-consumer marketing, following experts and learning from them. It's an ongoing process, even if I'm not personally writing all the copy these days.
Chris: That's a fantastic approach. Thank you so much for your time and insights, Jonathan.
Jonathan: You're welcome. I appreciate the interview.
The story of Jonathan, a doctor-turned-founder in the health food industry, is an inspiring example for aspiring entrepreneurs. With Miraclenoodle.com, starting with the discovery of traditional Japanese noodles, he launched his brand online and overcame supply and logistics challenges. By targeting a broader audience interested in weight loss, Jonathan's business experienced significant growth. He prioritizes long-term ownership and steady incremental progress, focusing on sustainable growth rather than rapid expansion through investor funding. Jonathan emphasizes the importance of learning direct-to-consumer marketing and building a support system. His future goals include developing a comprehensive lifestyle brand and providing health education. Overall, his journey exemplifies the power of passion, perseverance, and strategic entrepreneurship.