"It takes a village to rebuild dreams"...Meet Lasi Theng
"The Koko Samoa"
Founded by Lasi Theng, The Koko Samoa is a pasifika and Koko lover’s dream come true! Bringing you a single-origin, sustainably sourced and delicious experience.
What motivated Lasi to start The Koko Samoa was her visit back to her homeland Samoa with her family. At the time of her visit, it was during the measles outbreak that deeply moved and inspired Lasi to do something to help improve the lives and infrastructure of her homeland and community.
When Lasi and her family returned to Australia carrying cups of traditional Koko (cacao) which were hardened into big cup sizes – it was too much for their small family! So the Theng’s had an idea; “I thought there must be people like us with the same problem, so we came up with the idea of creating smaller single-serve Koko Samoa pods.”
For Lasi, she carries on a family tradition that her father started with his own dreams in nurturing his permaculture plantation of cacao as well as other delicious produce.
“My small business takes after my dad’s name and produces, ‘Maalo Koko Samoa.’ He worked tirelessly for years to plant, and grow a plantation full of bananas, taro and koko.”
The Koko Samoa is committed to providing support for the people of Samoa! Through the Future Proof Samoa movement, a portion of their proceeds go back into supporting farmers and local charity organizations, and supporting the delivery of health, education and employment initiatives in Samoa. Lasi encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to take inspiration from anywhere – even your backyard. “One of the things that struck me in Samoa was how much delicious organic produce just rots on the ground because there is so much abundance.”
Read more about Lasi’s journey, and how she overcame the challenges she has faced along the way...
Lasi is of Samoan Heritage and based in Sydney, Australia. Her Business has been in operation for 20 months and currently has four staff and selling in 12 countries.
What inspired you to set up your own business: After not being back home in Samoa for 16 years, my husband and I visited with our children and saw a few things that got our attention. It was during the measles epidemic, and we just was so moved to do something that could improve people’s lives and the infrastructure. We knew we had to start small, then grow from families, to the village and out into the community. We saw a need and we wanted to do so much so we started with what we had, one barrel of cacao that my family picked, dried and set aside to sell.
Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit? Are your parent’s entrepreneurs? I believe I got it from both of my parents.
What was your key driving force in becoming an entrepreneur? My small business takes after my dad’s name and produce, ‘Maalo Koko Samoa.’ He worked tirelessly for years to plant, and grow a plantation full of bananas, taro and koko. He sold them in the market at Apia and a great opportunity was presented to him for his bananas to be exported to the NZ market and he did. Unfortunately, my dad wasn’t able to keep up with the demand and at the same time raising a family. My mum was heavily involved in the women’s ministry in our village creating small jobs for the women and within the community. I feel very fortunate and blessed to not have to go through the hardship my parents and some of my family back home do, so with the resources we have and what we can access today I want to be able to help others. I want to continue the hard work my dad started.
Where did the idea of your business derive from? I was set on selling cacao, as I realised how valuable it is, and we came back from our Samoa trip with cups of traditional koko (cacao) that have been hardened into big cup sizes. I wanted to make chocolate rice, Koko Alaisa (a Samoan dish) but the big cup was too much to use for our small family. So there I was in the kitchen with my big butcher knife chopping this hard block of koko in half (it was hard). I actually nearly cut myself by accident. So then my husband and I thought there must be people like us with the same problem, so we came up with the idea of creating smaller single-serve Koko Samoa pods. We wanted it for ourselves, and for others as an option to save time. We also lived in an area that was quite far from where all the Samoan food is sold, and again we thought there are people everywhere that have this problem and would appreciate to have the taste of the koko Samoa delivered to their front door. That’s how we came up with the idea of having an online store.
How did you come up with the name for your Business? We wanted it to promote ‘Samoan Cacao’ so we named it Koko Samoa at first. Plus it had the added benefit of being the name of the popular beverage. We searched online and couldn’t find any others called Koko Samoa and we were set on it. Only after launching did we discover there was indeed another great ‘Koko Samoa” company. In discussions with them, the idea came about to differentiate by adding the word “The” to our own brand, and so ‘The Koko Samoa’ was born.
Considering the competition in today’s business world, how would you highlight your Business competitive advantages? What makes it stand out of the others out there? In our experience a strong brand and stellar customer experience is the most valuable assets a business has. We knew that if we focused on elevating the brand to the best international standards, whilst putting customers first we’d be off to a great start. That strategy has worked very well for us.
Who is the one entrepreneur to be your greatest example and inspiration? My husband, Justin Theng.
What entrepreneurial tricks have you discovered to keep you focused and productive in your day-to-day busy schedule? When I find an idea, a rhythm or a momentum, I ride it out like a wave and use it to keep me going, or to encourage myself for the day
What would your advice be to anyone thinking of starting up their own business? Look at what is in your backyard, so to speak. One of the things that struck me in Samoa was how much delicious organic produce just rots on the ground because there is so much abundance. In Western nations, that’s organic gold going to waste. I think that’s a perfect picture of the opportunities that we have, and having the eyes to see it is half the battle.
What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs to invest their time in? Focus on getting your physical, mental and spiritual state at its best. You are your own strongest competition. I started getting up at 5am everyday to exercise, plan, think, pray and learn. It gets me ahead of my day and at my best.
What sacrifices have you had to make since becoming an entrepreneur? It’s a process. I’ve had to learn to let go of self-limiting beliefs, and fear of criticism. You’re at your most vulnerable when you’re the face of a business. I’m still learning to grow into that, and it will probably be a life-long journey.
What do you enjoy most about what you do? We had hoped to make people all over the world happy with the experience of receiving and using our products. The reviews and private emails we’ve received from our amazing customers has really encouraged us that it’s possible, and happening. Making people happy, bringing back memories of childhood, and making them proud to be Samoan has been such a blessing to be a part of. I also work from home and I can still work and see my kids at the same time. I feel very lucky.
The Global Covid19 Pandemic has affected Businesses across the globe. Has this affected your Business & How? Do you feel there is enough support out there for MSME’s in your region? What support do you think is needed & most important? COVID 19 has affected all of our lives, not just entrepreneurs. People have lost jobs, and businesses of all sizes have been affected. Ecommerce however has been an excellent way for people to create an income, and The Koko Samoa has benefitted from the increase of online purchasing. My hope is that people will be inspired to get creative about what they already have and be brave in taking the step and believe in themselves. I believe that the support of community, like-mindedness, especially in a time like this is critical.
What’s the biggest thing you struggle with as an entrepreneur? I struggle in believing in myself, and even to believe the amazing growth of The Koko Samoa is real! But I’ve learned to take those little baby steps, with the courage I do have. There’s always tomorrow to figure the rest out.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow as an entrepreneur? My 5am routine is the key. I get up, start my day to get ahead of the kids waking up, and the demands of looking after the family and of life. A part of that routine is I listen to podcasts to develop my thinking, I watch TED talks and I read books.
What do you wish you knew before you started your business? I wish I had the courage to not care what people think but instead believe in myself and just do it.
What best motivates you? How have your entrepreneurial motivations changed since you first started? When I start the day and I think about all of the tasks I need to get done, the one thing that motivates me the most, is knowing that me doing those tasks, is going to help someone, and make that person happy.
How Do You Manage Stress? At the start of each day my husband and I sit outside with a cup of coffee or koko and talk and prepare ourselves for the day ahead. Throughout the day we check up on each other. At the end of our day we talk about how our day went. Maybe if it’s a very stressful day over a glass of wine or scotch! We realise life with or without business can be stressful and we only have each other, so we remind each other we are on the same side. We try to celebrate the growth and the pressures, and we share the customer stories we’ve received throughout the day. That is always the perfect ending to the day.
Do you have a favourite quote? The book, The 5am Club has been game-changing. So my favourite quote is from the book, “Own your morning, elevate your life!”
We leave off with Lasi’s Top 3 Apps that help her work more effectively every day
Sendle. Shopify and Spark Email