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Interview with Tiffany Leong, Founder of Bo-yi


 

Upright makes delicious foods that are better for people and our planet, and is launching with a high-protein instant oat milk. To help, we're launching an interview series with thought leaders and innovators who are making a difference in health, sustainability, and inclusion.

In our first episode, our founder Betty Tang kicks off our interview series with our first guest, Tiffany Leong. Tiffany is the founder of Bo-yi, which launched a collection of East-Asian superfood teas this past year. We talked about her inspiration for the company, how diet influences health, the importance of inclusion and representation in food and beverage brands, and advice that's helped in her entrepreneurial journey.

Here is the transcript!

Betty:

Hi everyone, I'm Betty, the founder of Upright, which makes delicious foods that are better for people and our planet, launching with a high protein instant oat milk. Our vision is a world with equal access to health and sustainability. And so to help, we're launching an interview series with thought leaders and innovators who are making a difference in help, sustainability and inclusion. I'm super excited to be kicking off our interview series with my first guest. Tiffany Leung is the founder of Bo-yi, which launched a collection of East Asian superfood teas this past year. She's an amazing innovator and also a dear friend who was a classmate of mine at Yale School of Management. We talked about her inspiration for the company, how diet influences health, the importance of inclusion, representation in food and beverage brands and advice. It's helped with her entrepreneurial journey. So without much further ado, here is our conversation. Super great to have you join me today on the Upright podcast. How's your day going?

Tiffany:

Hi, Betty. I'm good, and thanks so much for having me!

Betty:

Amazing. Well, I wanted to get right into introducing our listeners to you and what you're working on at Bo-yi, which I think is such an amazing product. I want more people to know about it, so I'd love to start off by telling us about what inspired you to create Bo-yi.

Tiffany:

Right, so Bo-yi is an East Asian superfood brand, and our mission is to make East Asian superfoods accessible to everyone, and we're starting out with a really delicious and healthy ready-to-drink superfood tea line. We have three flavors: Jujube, Hawthorne, and Chrysanthemum, and they're really good! We just launched in New York, Connecticut, Boston and online, which has been really exciting. I was inspired to build Bo-yi because I am Chinese American, and my mom's from Hong Kong. She would make herbal soups and drinks for me and my family every day, growing up, and it was just a really staple part of my childhood. As a kid, I kind of didn't really think too much of it. I was just kind of like, this is what Chinese people do. It wasn't until my early 20s when I started working at one of my first jobs and it was very, a little bit intense in terms of hours, and my body just kind of went out of whack. I had a lot of random health issues, such as food allergies and allergic reactions to them. I tried a lot of crazy things to heal my body, including cutting out the eight most common food allergens from my diet for like three or four years, and lots of other stuff. One day, one of my doctors told me to eat foods that my ancestors ate to heal, and she was a Western doctor as well. I thought that was a little bit crazy. But my mom was in the room at the time, and she's like, yeah, this is amazing. We'll start making these herbal soups that we used to drink growing up and see what happens. I started making a lot of these herbal soups and drinks my mom used to make for me, and I just became really obsessed with it. It made me feel better physically, and I was drinking it everyday, morning and night. But then also, I had moved away from home at that point, I was living in San Francisco and I grew up in Texas. It was also a way for me to feel more connected with my mom and my culture. I was at a point where I wanted to do more cultural exploration, and it made me feel good inside both physically and just being connected with family. At the same time, I was living with two other girls in SF and you know, they would be making stuff like bone broth and turmeric lattes and I would see my co-workers get kale salads, and try out other superfoods. It was all the rage. I thought, there's hundreds of superfoods that I grew up with that I think people would love to discover, but they don't know it exists. Unless you're Asian or you grew up eating the stuff or live next to Chinatown, and have the time to explore and make a lot of these recipes yourself, you probably don't know it exists. I saw an opportunity to share this part of my culture with people and here we are!

Betty:

Amazing! I'm sure lots of people can relate to similar stories, really just struggling with their health and how their diet impacts all of that. And so, can you talk more about how Bo-yi is more than just the beverages that you mentioned? In terms of the future, can you talk about your long-term vision and mission for Bo-yi?

Tiffany:

Yeah, our long term vision is to be kind of the premier East Asian superfood platform in the U.S. When I say East Asian superfoods, I'm talking about the kind of the popular fruits and herbs within traditional Chinese medicine. A lot of people think that this is going to taste really bitter or herbal, but there's actually a lot of really delicious herbs and fruits that are in this category, including the three that we started out with, which are naturally sweet and really delicious flavors. We would love to expand to different categories like soup kits, snacks ingredients, and there are over 500 plant-based East Asian superfoods that we have the opportunity to represent and introduce to this new market. So there is a lot of opportunity to introduce super East Asian superfoods in different forms! 

Betty:

Amazing, that makes a lot of sense. Do you have any product that you could show our viewers and maybe describe it for anyone who's just listening right now?

Tiffany:

Yeah, so we just launched two beverages out in the market, and the first one is Jujube, which is a Chinese dried date. It's a very popular fruit in Asian cuisine, people literally just eat it as a snack, throw it into stir fry, throw it into a dish like chicken ginseng soup, or put it on top of their oatmeal. It's a very popular, kind of tasty, and naturally sweet fruit. Some people wonder what it tastes like, and it kind of tastes like a crisp apple. It's very similar to an apple and the raw form actually looks like a mini apple. And then we have Hawthorne, which is a small, tart berry. We compare it to a cranberry, as it is tart and tangy, and really delicious. I was inspired by the candy haw flakes, which a lot of Asian Americans grew up eating. And then the last one is Chrysanthemum, which we're releasing in the next few weeks. Chrysanthemum is very floral, delicious, really refreshing and cooling, and additionally has some great health benefits. Jujube is known for aiding with blood circulation, immunity, better sleep, stress relief, and lots of other awesome benefits. Hawthorne is great for heart-healthy digestion, and Chrysanthemum is really known to detox your body and kind of cool down your body from maybe more unhealthy foods. So if you've been eating foods like fried chicken or pizza, what is known in Chinese medicine as hot foods, you would counteract those types of foods with more cooling foods like chrysanthemum and similar drinks. 

Betty:

Amazing. There's so many benefits to all of these East Asian superfoods that I feel not a lot of people know about. I’m curious, how did you decide to choose these ingredients? Specifically, how did you decide to launch with these ingredients?

Tiffany:

Yeah, so I wanted to choose ingredients that I personally grew up with, and that I know a lot of other Asian Americans grew up with. We wanted to start out with staple superfoods that people are a little bit more aware of. So I know, you use Jujube in a lot of different types of recipes. And again, Hawthorne was inspired by haw flakes, which I grew up with and a lot of my Asian-American friends grew up with. And then Chrysanthemum reminded me of the Vitasoy-like chrysanthemum tea pouches, which are really delicious. It was all just kind of based on nostalgia, nostalgic flavors, and a lot of the stuff that my mom would make for me. We also wanted to choose three flavors that tasted very different from one another. They're all very unique flavors that are really delicious, and that a lot of people would love even if they didn't grow up eating them. 

Betty:

I love that idea of building on nostalgia, as someone who is also Chinese. My family came from China and haw flakes, chrysanthemum, and jujube were definitely a big part of my childhood and definitely bring up really positive memories for myself as well. You have launched your product in New York and Connecticut as you’ve mentioned, so how are people responding to your drinks so far?

Tiffany:

It’s been really great. We've been doing a lot of demos in stores and at farmers markets and people are really loving it. For Asian Americans, like you said, it is a very nostalgic type of drink. Some Asian Americans actually aren't aware what jujube is, for example, and it's a little bit of a reminder and a little bit of education as well. Like hey, this is Chinese for a date, and then they'll taste it and know they have had this before. Same with Hawthorne. Some people know immediately what it is, and others are surprised in a really pleasant way. Some people have gotten really emotional drinking it.They're like, you know, this reminds me of my parents, this reminds me of home. It's really special to watch people's reactions. For those that aren't Asian and they try it, it's a really cool reaction as well. They're like, I haven't had anything like this before, but it tastes really good. It's really unique, and they love that it's a clean label. We formulated our drinks to not have any artificial sweeteners or preservatives, so it's very clean, very healthy, and we use whole herbs to brew our teas. In retail and in our first few stores, we sold out in three days, and we haven't been running any marketing, so it's all kind of word of mouth. That was really exciting to see, and then we also launched two online drops. The first one sold out within three hours, and in the second drop 70% was sold out and in pre-sale. We then completely sold out in two or three days, and had to schedule an emergency production run just to replenish the inventory. It was really exciting to see people be really interested in it, and we've definitely learned a lot the past three or four months and will apply some of those learnings to version two of the label, and also for our second product line, which we're gonna start working on very soon.

Betty:

It's so impressive how quickly you've been able to launch this and get so much market and traction from all these sales. It's incredibly exciting. What have you found to be the biggest barrier so far, or the biggest challenge that you faced in launching Bo-yi?

Tiffany:

Well, the food and beverage field is hard, as you know, and beverages right now are extremely hot. There's a lot of competitors in the space and this was the first authentic East Asian superfood drink out there. There's no jujube drink or Hawthorne drink out there, and there were a few chrysanthemum products, but we're really the first movers in the space as an authentic East Asian superfood brand. There are a lot of beverages out there and a lot of health drinks coming to the market, which is amazing for the category and educating the customer. Like I said earlier, some Asian Americans aren't even aware of what Hawthorne is until I say haw flakes, you know, or that jujube is similar to red dates. It's a little bit of just teaching the customer what it is, what the health benefits are, and what it tastes like. That's probably the biggest kind of hump. And I think it'll take time, and it's a new category that we're introducing to the market. It's really exciting to introduce this to people and be the first ones to represent this category.

Betty:

Yeah, I think it's super important that you're bringing more representation to the market with a really innovative and incredibly healthy beverage. And so, maybe our last question for you is, what is the best piece of advice that you've received on your entrepreneurial journey so far, that you would give to other founders who are early on in their journeys?

Tiffany:

I have to remind myself this every day, but you know, I've been really lucky to speak with a lot of successful founders that have done this several times, and a lot of them say to just enjoy the journey because it's long, and there's going to be ups and downs, so just embrace the challenges that come to you because there will be a lot, and realize that it's just kind of a small part of a longer journey. That's been really helpful advice because, if there is a roadblock, I'll call other founders and they'll say hey, we're going through the same thing. So it's helpful to just have that perspective, and then also having a really good support network to help with those more challenging times, or helping to get through obstacles, but then also a support group to celebrate with you when there are wins and you're at more of a high end. It just makes the journey all the more interesting. Just learn to embrace everything, and that it is all pieces to a bigger puzzle.

Betty:

I think that's really great advice, and I think you have a lot of wins to celebrate, and certainly a long, long road ahead, but it's super impressive the results that you've shown so far. And so for anyone who's listening right now, you know, where can I go find Bo-yi? What is your website and social links?

Tiffany:

Yeah, so our website is enjoyboyi.com. We are mostly active on Instagram, and it is also @enjoyboyi. You can buy our products and six pack bundles directly through us online. And we're also selling in New York, Westside market, and Chelsea Market. Our retail partners are listed on our website. And we're also in a few stores in Connecticut and Boston. We're hoping to expand to more stores! But yeah, feel free to check out our website and Instagram for where you can find our product!

Betty:

Perfect. Well, we're super excited to see you expand as well. So thanks so much again for joining us, Tiffany. Take care!

Here is the link to view the Spotify podcast episode, we hope you give it a listen!

Here is also the rest of our Upright social links:

Please also check out this episode's feature, Bo-yi!