How to develop a healthy startup culture and community with Stephanie Tan of Nooci

In this episode of A Founder's Life we will be talking to Stephanie Tan who is the Founder and CEO of Nooci, a for women by women supplements company, on a mission to modernize Traditional Chinese Medicine. As a mother herself, Stephanie was inspired by the health and benefits of the ancient practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Because of this, she decided to found Nooci to "bring balance" to their bodies. With Stephanie's success in her startup journey, tune in to learn more about how she was able to build such a positive culture in her company while also successfully building a larger community of supporters to further help Nooci grow into what it is today.  

Episode Transcript

Victor  00:00

Thanks everyone for joining the show today. Today we have Stephanie tan, the CEO and founder of Nooci. Nooci is a new Wellness brand that's modernizing traditional Chinese medicine for women. Nooci in Chinese is pronounced nu qi, which means women's energy, and I think that really exemplifies the brand. Before this business, Stephanie has built a number of different FinTech businesses, healthcare businesses, she was recently Chief of Staff of Avo insurance, one of Hong Kong's first digital insurers. She also founded Kinnet, a wellness center that promotes active aging, and was also the co-founder of Evercare Health, a home health care provider. Thanks, Steph, for coming on the show. You know, Nooci is a is a new brand. But I'd really love to hear the story straight from your mouth about the company's founding. ‍

Stephanie Tan  00:49

Yeah, so, I founded Nooci in the middle of the pandemic. I was pregnant with my second child, and I, you know, had crazy nasal allergies, and they were just acting up more than usual. And instead of taking my normal over the counter drugs, I knew I needed a natural alternative. And so I did a lot of research into the different herbs, and really found traditional Chinese medicine. I grew up with TCM, and, you know, growing up in Hong Kong, with TCM, my family, they did Tai Chi, my grandmother would make me TCM soups and teas every time my brother and I would be a little bit sick. So we grew up with TCM, but I never really understood TCM herbs. So it was really while I was doing all this research that I rediscovered the power of traditional Chinese medicine and the herbs. And in doing all this research, I was going to Mannings and Watsons and I was also going online to take a look at, you know, which herbs would really benefit me. But I found the process really daunting and very confusing. And a lot you know,  then I spoke to friends and I was like how do you, how do you pick what, you know, what products you take. And they all just said, Oh, you just you know, I trust my salesperson. And you know, I thought well, if people like myself and friends, you know, who have some, you know, from a similar background who understand TCM, but you know, they didn't have access or that knowledge around TCM herbs, were experiencing this confusion, I thought there must be other women like this, you know, who want to nap natural alternative that are similarly, you know, daunted and confused. Overall, I think that the industry just needed a new brand that can bring transparency around traditional Chinese medicine, and really bring out the benefits and where the herbs are coming from and the whole entire process around that. So with Nooci, we are making traditional Chinese medicine accessible and approachable to the modern woman.

Victor  03:12

That's great. You know, for us, like younger Asian people, we do hear about this a lot from our parents and our grandparents but how should we as a newer generation be more westernized, like the approach to these kinds of medications? Like are these herbs, these traditional Chinese medicines? I mean, for me, it is very confusing. It is like listening to the salesperson you kind of buy it, like how did you go about researching and learning about this when you're getting started out?

Stephanie Tan  03:43

The the herbal space is really, really confusing, and there's just so many herbs. And it's not just about the herbs, but it's also about the process, the extraction to maximize the potency of the individual herbs and where it's being processed and extracted. So, you know, it was really working with our manufacturing partner, as well as our Scientific Advisory Board. And together we formulate and we select our herbs. And in TCM, it's you know, a lot of the majority of the time is you're mixing different blends together, blending different herbs together. And so with Nooci we're really taking an East- Meets-West approach to everything that we do. And this starts from the people on our team. So we have traditional Chinese medicine practitioners as well as integrative health medicine doctors. And for the ingredients that we pick, we only pick in central herbs, and we pick TCM herbs as well as non TCM ingredients that are clinically backed. And the way we formulate is we're taking these ingredients together. And, you know, research backed ingredients. And we're mixing it with the, you know, Chinese medicine evidence based practices to fuse and so that when these herbs are mixed together, they're amplifying the results.

Victor  05:18

Yeah, I remember when we were talking about when we met up a couple months ago, and we were talking about sourcing a lot of the product, right? I found it really interesting when you were talking about how you had to go to the suppliers, and you had to negotiate and all that kind of stuff. Like, was that like a more difficult part of the whole process than the product creation part?

Stephanie Tan  05:42

Not really, I guess, like, for us, the hardest one, the hardest part was trying to figure out how to get our products into the US. There is, you know, with COVID, there were supply chain issues. And I think there was a lot of unexpected delays in our products, and then finding out that certain packaging, you know, it was delayed, or they didn't have it, or certain herbs that didn't, you know, couldn't get into the US or, you know, there's so many different regulatory issues around, you know, you have to think of. So our products are made in Japan. So we need to look at the regulatory issues in Japan, because all the herbs are, you know, have different regulations there. And then you have to look at, like, how to get the product into the US because they have all this regulation. And then the whole logistics of getting it there. So I think that that really was one of the hard parts that, you know, nobody had done before. And so it's just really learning as we were going, and we were hoping we were just crossing our fingers trying to make a timeline. 

Victor  07:00

That's amazing. And how did you figure all that out? Did you have consultants, was it like boots on the ground? Like, how did it all come together at the end?

Stephanie Tan  07:11

I had consultants, and we had to have a lot of consultants, actually. So we have to have consultants looking at our FDA labeling, we had to have, you know, custom agents bring us over to the US we had to get. So because we are selling products in the US, we needed to get our manufacturer FSVP certified. So there are a lot of different moving pieces that nobody had, you know, experienced before. And so it's just interesting. And now that we've, we've had three products successfully make it across to the US. We're now in development of two other products launching later this year. So that whole process, we've got it down. ‍

Victor  08:02

That’s amazing. And you can just turn that into a little, you know, factory, just as you keep coming out with new products. How do you market the products? I know you're going direct to the consumer and you have a terrific website. Like what is the main way that you're really bringing awareness and understanding of your product to the US market?

Stephanie Tan  08:23

Yeah, so for us, you know, building a community around Nooci is very, very important. So even before we launched the product, we early on, had developed a community and this community was really, you know, it was about educating our women and empowering them with this information. So we were taking this, you know, age-old wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine across the different modalities and breaking it down for our community. So it was really about sharing tips and tricks and TCM sharing recipes, making it fun and making it, you know, relatable to a younger generation. And so we did a lot of that and our community was really, really excited. And we were also tapping into what they were wanting. And so when we decided to launch our products we launched with our first three which is ReNoo, which is our women's longevity, TCM drink, which tastes a little bit like green tea meets barley and helps with immunity and for me it helped with my gestational diabetes. We also have our Noo Moon which is our menstrual support. And one of my favourites, which is New Air, and which is our nasal, nasal relief product.

Victor  09:47

But when you were talking about community I found that was, that's a super interesting topic. This is something that we've been, I've been talking about a lot with people on LinkedIn. Like what is a community you know, and what form did your community take? Was it built around content or was it built around discussion? I'd love to hear more about the community that you guys built. ‍

Stephanie Tan  10:09

Yeah, for us, it was really built around educational content. And so, we wanted to make sure that we could be, you know, we hope that Nooci can be the go to TCM resource for everyone looking for anything TCM-related, whether it's for herbs, maybe it's for exercise, also acupuncture, so anything TCM. We want Nooci to be that, you know,  so it's with our, you know, and we early on, engaged with influencers as well. And I think for us, one of the good learnings was that we thought, okay, let's just engage with different lifestyle influencers. And some of them are great, and some of them are probably, they look great in their feeds. But they might not be as authentic to our brand. And so really getting to know your influencers. And making sure that they resonate, they, I mean, all of them, we made sure that they loved our product, they took our products, before they signed on to be our ambassadors, but some are just much, you know, a natural fit for us. And I think that's really important. And when they love it, they'll do more than just what's written in the contract. And so I think that users and you know, the followers really resonate with that. So we're really wanting to build a community of authentic, you know, TCM explorers and lovers. And so that's on the, you know, more of like the consumer side, and then also there is a community of experts that we are reaching out to as well. So what we're hoping to do is really being that resource to bring, you know, your, your consumer together with your TCM practitioner. I think for me, to find, like, you know, to find TCM experts and practitioners or acupuncturist, it's really hard to find those people, and everybody is, you know, some of them have Instagram, or a lot of them have their websites and they have their blogs, but how can we bring this all together? And so right now, we're doing a lot of outreach to really connect with TCM experts, aside from just the new Chief Scientific Advisory Board.

Victor  12:41

Amazing, that sounds really interesting, and what a great way to get your product out there. When you're starting a business. I mean, one of the biggest problems is funding. And this is not just I'm talking about with Nooci, but all of the other businesses that you've been, you know, a part of before, like, what do you look for, in an investor, what makes a great investor for, you know, for a founder?

Stephanie Tan  13:05

I think for you know, in looking at our investors, it's really important to have like-minded people on your team and like-minded investors. That can really support you and support the growth of your company in the direction. So when we reached out to investors, we really wanted to make sure that they’re connected with the idea. A lot of times since we're pre seed, you know, they were really just investing in me, a lot of my friends and family. And most of them, you know, have backgrounds in private equity or venture capital or family offices.‍

Victor  13:53

Like-minded folks are really important, otherwise, they're going to be hounding you all the time. Right. And, you know, that's just a huge pain. But, you know, aside from that, you know, the biggest one of the biggest issues is the founding team, as well. And you've built a number of founding teams, you know, what are the qualities of a great team, especially when you're creating a brand new company, a brand new product?

Stephanie Tan  14:18

As the founding team, I think that it's so important that we understand each other and that we're passionate about what we're doing. There are so many times where, you know, Nooci is built, you know, we're in Hong Kong, and we're building it for the US. So a lot of times we're on calls, you know, at 7am in the morning, you know, we're having calls in New York at 11pm at night, there are no set times, right. And so our team, we're very flexible. And we're only like a whatsapp away, right? So it's really accessible. And, you know, my team members can finish my sentences. I love them. And I think that, I'm sorry that I always call you and I always WhatsApp and our Slack people, but I think that it all comes from the heart first. And that we can, we can really lean on each other. And at the same time that we're constantly, you know, just throwing ideas out brainstorming, if there's a, there's a great idea like, you know, 11pm at night people message me. And so yeah, really, you know, leaning on each other and feeding off that energy, and just being really passionate and excited to create this new company and, and products.

Victor  15:46

Thanks for that. That's so interesting. I mean, like having a globally distributed team, it's gotta be hard. But I mean, for yourself, as the founder, you know, you've, there's gonna be a lot of learnings that you've had from different businesses that you started, what would you say are some of the skills and qualities of a good entrepreneur?

Stephanie Tan  16:06

I am very hearty first. And I think that's a typical Pisces. So I would say I get really excited very quickly. And I'm quite impulsive. And so what I've learned across the many years of starting new things is, you know, the meeting today, I did a lot more homework before I actually took that plunge. And I, you know, spent that first year, you know, spent my first dollars into Nooci, right? Probably the younger me would have, you know, just gone for it and, you know, did less research. So I think that it's really important that you take risks as an entrepreneur, but at the same time that you do your homework, and you know, that you can step back and think through things before you do like that. All right, let's just go do it. Because it's so exciting. And I'm very much like that. And when I was young, I think I just was like “you only live once” and you do this. But today, I am more grounded.

Victor  17:21

That's great. That's great. 20 year olds, you know, we often are like, jumping headfirst into, you know, some unknown, and it's super fun and exciting. But obviously, we've all got, we all get burned once in a while. And we have to learn like that. So, you know, what you said about taking calculated risks really resonates with me because sometimes you know it, you're for the long haul, right? Sometimes you start a business and you're like, Oh, it doesn't really work. But it's going to take you three years to get in and out of this thing, right? And it's a good piece of advice that you have. I mean, one of the things that is super interesting for founders is, or really tough about being a founder is the stress, right? It's really interesting that you founded a company that helps people live longer, live more healthy lives, you know, especially when it pertains to mental health, like what do you do to, you know, kind of take care of your mental health? And what advice would you give to other founders about, you know, staying healthy in that regard?

Stephanie Tan  18:34

Yeah, I definitely think being an entrepreneur, it's so important to take care of your mental health, because you're in it for the long haul. So for me, I think practicing mindfulness and meditation is really important. I do yoga, I just recently started doing tai chi, which I'm really enjoying. And it's just a time for you to slow down and to really hit pause. So for that hour of Tai Chi, for example, you can really center yourself and focus on the activity. And you just end the practice being much more refreshed, and you can go back to doing what you were doing, right? But especially with working from home or working remote, and having kids around, everything starts blending together. And then you're always thinking about work at the same time. So really making sure that you can separate those activities and giving it you know, giving your that dedicated time and giving my work that dedicated time. I think that's really important.

Victor  19:45

And having your own meet time, right? And I'm not just talking about having your own quarantine in a hotel, but like, um, you know, I'm really interested in the Tai Chi that you're doing. You're saying that you're really enjoying that. Like how much Tai Chi do you do and how has it impacted your health, your physical health and your mental health?

Stephanie Tan  20:07

Yeah, so actually, I just started Tai Chi two months ago. And I always thought it was a practice that we would see, you know, my grandmother did it. And we would see older people doing it in the park. So I never thought that I would, you know, at this age, be learning Tai Chi, right. But then I found that, you know, my Tai Chi teacher is young and very hip, and she could break it down for me, and that I can relate to. And it's just these very, like, serene movements. And it's the way you're breathing, we do it in my garden, and we're facing, she tells me to face the plants so that I can take in the energy of the plants. And it's just so relaxing, and it helps you send it to your mind. And I think that it really makes me feel like it is just a great relaxation tool, as well as I feel very rejuvenated after the practice.

Victor  21:15

That's cool. I think it's really cool. Also that you know, your product Nooci is really about TCM and living a healthy life, but in more ways than just the business you're living at yourself. And I think that's really cool, you know, that you're really exemplifying the brand and the ethos of your business.

Stephanie Tan  21:35

There's so much we can do to, you know, bring TCM and a TCM lifestyle to a younger generation. And I think what we need to do is just really make it approachable and relatable. And there are other modalities that are much more, you know, in popular culture such as acupuncture, washes all over Tiktok, bone broth , something that's, you know, hitting the US. But, you know, certain things like Tai Chi, or especially like TCM herbs, where it's an ingestible, and they're like, you know, 500, plus different types of herbs, if we can bring, if we can demystify it, and we can break break down, you know, the tough parts to understand, and we can do that research for you. That's really where I think Nooci can make a difference, and make an  impact.

Victor  22:28

Great, that's great. Um, you know, I just wanted to talk a little bit about on the business side, you know, the finances, you know, every business has to have strong finances, whether it's through growth, or through cash flow or profit. How does the company capitalized their business? I know, there's many different ways, you know, through investors through loans through your own capital, you know, in your experience, like, what are the pros and cons of different kinds of financing?

Stephanie Tan  22:57

I think from Nooci, very early on, I wanted to not just self fund this. I think, you know, we we wanted to raise a friends and family round and potentially then go venture track. I think that for me, you know, having having, you know, people invest into this idea, and be excited about creating this company together. Really, really excited me and also validates our product and our, our concept, right. So I really liked, I really wanted to do it that way.

Victor  23:41

And it sounds like your goal is to grow this into something big, you know, something that VCs and big time investors would be interested in? What are the goals that you have for the business in the short term in order to achieve that long term vision?

Stephanie Tan  23:56

So with Nooci, we want it to be more than just a product, we really see it. And you know, we are looking at building up our product line of supplements. So right now we have capsules granules, we're expanding across our product lines. You know, we have two more products coming on this year. And then we're actually in the process of prototyping a bunch for next year as well. And then looking at different formats like gummies. And Nooci is for women. But I think that as we build our community, we would love to expand and to men or even for children. I think that would be the goal and Nooci is launched in the US market at the moment, but we would love to be a global brand.

Victor  24:49

That's great. That's great. And, you know, I just wanted to end this conversation by saying that, you know, I do think that your brand has a lot of appeal, you know I mentioned that, you know, we got some of it from my wife but actually for myself I'm actually more interested in it than she is. I think there is a market there. And maybe that's a sign of myself getting old too, you know, I'm like, I'm always going to the market and buying, you know, bones to make soup as well. And she's like, are you turning into an old man you know, and I'm like, well, maybe I am turning into an old man. But I just wanted to say that I think that your startup is a great idea and I'm really excited for the future and you know, all the best to you and all the best to Nooci. Great thanks for coming on the show.

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