Have you ever wondered what is it is like to give up a highly successful career as a senior executive to pursue your passion and dreams?
This month, I feel honoured and blessed to share with you Latasha Menon's thriving entrepreneurial journey, and I thank her for sharing with us her wisdom, business tips and personal values.
Latasha, you went from being a senior executive at GoldCorp Australia/The Perth Mint, to becoming a successful entrepreneur and running various business ventures.
After running your highly popular Latasha’s Kitchen restaurant in Leederville, which closed after 10 years in business, you recently launched the also successful range of Latasha’s Kitchen curry pastes, sauces and condiments.
1. How and why did you make the decision of becoming an entrepreneur, and leave the ‘security’ of an executive role in a well-established corporation?
There was, in me, always a burning desire to cook and get involved in the food industry. At times, it felt more like a cherished sentiment or an unattainable dream. But eventually it was a deep-seated, palpable, pulsating longing that I couldn’t ignore. I just had to birth a new Life to this idea. So in essence it was to create something out of virtually nothing.
All barriers came down once the dream evolved to a trial run for 6 months cooking for colleagues, neighbours and close friends. I had a gut feel that my concept would be appealing and the decision to quit the corporate life evolved from that point. And in doing so, it created a virtual ball of energy that just kept expanding over the years and still today keeps me growing.
2. Do you come from a family of entrepreneurs? Did you know what to expect from owning and running a business?
No, the family was not entrepreneurial and was quite horrified at my sudden career change in my mid-30s especially when I was thriving at my role at GoldCorp. We had a banker, a lawyer, lecturers, and semi-professionals in our family of 9.
Did I know about running a business? No, but I was determined to learn all that I could. Fortunately, I had people around me who knew a thing or two about running a business. But that was obviously not enough. Plenty of long hours, hard work (and some tears) were called for.
I knew I wanted to work on my own terms and not be dictated by the industry norm and so I seriously felt that I could do whatever it took because it was such a burning desire within me to fulfill that passion.
I was practical about it though and planned an exit strategy should things not work out as planned within 6-7 months of my initial capital. So making it successful from Day 1 of operation was an imperative.
3. What is the part that you like the most about what you do? What is it the part that you dislike the most?
I am a creative person and happiest when I make things for others. It fulfills a deep part of my soul in giving joy to others. I generally do not like taking care of admin work such as filing, completing forms and documents or managing technical issues pertaining to websites and the various e-commerce channels. And so I outsource much of this work.
4. What are in your opinion, the key planning aspects before starting a business?
A vision of what really makes you YOU. Knowing yourself in a frank and open way and approaching that knowledge with what you can do to fulfill a need out there in the domain. It is an essential part of what kind of business you wish to start and it starts from a basic and honest approach. Some of the following are other key planning aspects:
1. Understanding your product or the service you are offering and where it sits in the marketplace.
2. Knowing your target area well i.e. the demographics and socio-economic characteristics.
3. Financial implications.
4. Being flexible and responsive to changes.
5. Being bold.
6. Knowing when to call it quits and/or diversify.
5. Which were some of the main challenges that you ran into after launching your business and how did you go above solving them?
As mine was a food business, the main challenges always centered on educating some patrons why we did things differently to other ‘Indian’ restaurants. Some didn’t like the fact that we didn’t have a menu or that there weren’t table service or that we cooked dishes in such an authentic manner and it wasn’t toned down to their requirements.
I solved the issue by staying true to what was real in the first couple of years and not be dictated by the minority I encountered. Eventually the fact that we were different was what made us successful and stay the course.
6. To grow awareness and to increase your clientele, what tactics did you implement and which were most successful?
I recall I wanted to introduce Perth to the flavours of my childhood. I was also very aware that most Indian and Asian restaurants didn’t offer their customers food that they cooked at home for their own families – simple, honest, everyday food. I wanted to change that.
I wanted to shake things up a bit and shock them with some of our food choices such as mango curries, lentil and banana blossom dishes, curried chicken livers and fish head and wing curries. It wasn’t sexy food but it was wholesome and natural and real food bursting with flavours and very moorish.
This kept our customers coming back for more discoveries and with their families, friends and colleagues in tow. It was so successful and I was the one left gobsmacked. I had a daily changing Bain Marie menu housed in customised terracotta clay pots handmade by a local ceramic artist which further enhanced the appeal of the dishes.
6. With your marketing and advertising background, what advice would you give to business owners on a tight budget, to increase awareness of their products/services?
Keep it honest, keep it real, and that is easily achieved if you give your passion, your all. This meant I chose not to turn everything into a profit and some were loss leaders like our Masala Chai. We made each cup by hand and it can take 15-20 minutes to brew it well. So I chose not to make a huge profit at the expense of growth in the first year or two to grow my range of customer base.
I chose a spot that had huge foot traffic during the day as well as evening and weekends so it meant working long hours until we had the word of mouth referrals going. That in itself generated media interest, and we had many glowing reviews which all helped to get us to where we are now.
7. How important is social media for your business? Which social media platform shows more engagement with your desired audience?
I believe social media is extremely important to keep abreast of everything that is happening around us.
We use Facebook to update our followers with our events and social calendar, Twitter, You Tube and lately Instagram. However we chose very early to engage with our loyal customers by regular newsletters, and an informative website.
Social media helps us engage with our stockists and their customer base as well as our other support partners like primary producers of fresh food, bloggers, and other local food businesses.
8. What distribution channels do you use to sell your products and which ones are more effective for you?
In my first year of operations as a food manufacturer I chose to manage and grow my own distribution channels. I did this so I could have first-hand knowledge of how that side of things worked.
It was successful and it was only when I could no longer handle the orders and restocking that I started looking for a distributor to help manage it. I now have 4 distributors handling various channels such as local in WA, interstate in Canberra/NSW, one in Queensland and one in Singapore.
Collectively speaking, the strategy I have employed is proving fairly effective in organically growing our reach. I know this because we keep getting approached from all over Australia for supply of our products. I’m still very much a small batch manufacturer and sub manufacture my products in Australia using a contract kitchen.
The fact that I hand make my own products is the most appealing part and thus I feel the most successful.
9. Your brand has been a great example of business diversification. In your opinion, is diversification a ‘must’ to explore by any business?
I don’t personally feel there is a need for every business to thrive on diversification. I believe for a business that grows organically such as ours, diversification is a blessing as you may not always be able to do what you want to do long term.
In my case, I had a 5-year plan for my restaurant as I didn’t want to burn out from doing what I did. I wasn’t really looking to sell the business either as my brand was my name so I chose that deliberately. I felt if I had my name up as the brand I’m revealing myself to the raw truth of my personality and vision.
At the end of that first 5 years, I felt compelled to teach our customers our recipes so they wouldn’t miss us too much and so I diversified and started cooking lessons. My cooking class and restaurant customers went on to encourage me to bottle my pastes and condiments as they were time poor to cook from scratch.
Although I didn’t pay much attention to this proposal initially it became obvious before too long, of the potential opportunities it could bring forth for business growth.
10. What is your key piece of advice for companies who wish to start diversifying their services or products?
Start small with an achievable goal and then gradually expand from that.
11. In these times, where we seem to need to be connected 24/7, what is your rule to make time away from the emails, orders, calls and all the rest of demands that come with running your business?
Tackling the urgent or important stuff is always a priority for me. I don’t carry work over that I don’t have to. I tend not to procrastinate or be slothful. So no naps or long chats over the phone.
Decisions are taken decisively. I keep lists. I answer phone calls and emails quickly. I don’t give time to unnecessary issues.
My weekdays start at 6am. 6am-9am are for family and pets, prepping meals and getting the house ready for the day. The TV is rarely on apart from the morning and evening news. Mid-morning to 3pm, is all work time with a short break for lunch and walking the dog. Then from 3-8.30pm it is generally back to being mum and wife again, cooking and pottering around with house and garden. I usually continue to work again from around 9pm till midnight or 1am.
I generally need only 5 hours of sleep. Weekends can start as early as 4.30 or 5am as I’m mostly taking part at events and farmers markets so the routine is a welcome change and takes me outdoors, there’s a lot of physical work and when I get home at around 2pm I usually take it easy for the rest of the day, and we have take-outs or dine out.
12. If you had to pick one or two, which book, podcast or blog would you recommend any entrepreneur to help them run their business more effectively?
The holy bible is my essential tool! It is my daily reference book and continues to be my guide in everything I do. In both, dark and happy moments it has never failed me.
I also follow blogs of inspirational people like Sandi Krakowski http://www.arealchange.com/blog/
I also follow forums, articles & inspiration at Flying Solo. It is an Australian based micro-business community with over 75,000 members. I highly recommend it www.flyingsolo.com.au
13. At a personal level, how have you balanced your professional life with family life?
I always kept Sundays for church and family, and Mondays for myself and pottering around my quaint home. It kept me connected and grounded. My family ate at my restaurant almost daily and many significant milestones and other occasions were celebrated at the restaurant with friends and family. What many didn’t realise was that my restaurant in the heart of Leederville was just a 15 minutes’ walk from my home in Mt Hawthorn. So a daily routine would see neighbours, family friends, my daughter’s school teachers or classmate’s families, church friends and my husband’s colleagues in the restaurant either dining or taking out or stopping by for a friendly chat. It really felt like an extension of my home most of the 10 years I was there. The work I did at the restaurant also blessed us with travel opportunities and we enjoyed many memorable holidays together. Now I work from home and balancing my home life is that much easier. Not every day is perfect, but it’s never boring.
14. What aspects of your career as a business owner are you most proud of?
I have become that more enriched by the varied experiences and challenges that life has thrown at me.
My personal growth as an individual, friend, wife, mother and mentor and I hope a role model for others who want to start something out of nothing.
All this coupled with the fact that I have been able to run the business without going into long-term debt and being able to be sponsor charities and provide support to various causes are aspects I’m most proud and thankful for.
15. What have been your greatest joys during all the years as an entrepreneur and business owner?
From my perspective, the best part of the journey has been the connection I got to form with customers as well as the general public wherever I go. Although it may sound like a cliché or contrived - customers have indeed been our greatest source of joy and the reason I continue doing what I do.
It is a fact I don’t take lightly that I couldn’t have made it thus far if they hadn’t embraced me from the very beginning of this journey. They have challenged me, they have applauded me and they have followed me faithfully. They inspire me and they have made me aspire to do more and be more. The fact that they are so proud of me and continually tell it to my face or via email or text has been my greatest joy and the most humbling of experiences. They have really owned my every little success.
16. Lastly, what is your key piece of advice for anyone wanting to start their own business?
Follow your intuition, be led by your gut instincts, research well, find a good mentor and don’t lose sight of your dream when it starts to look impossible. Water it, feed it, talk about it, day dream about it if you have to and then do whatever it takes to nurture and give Life to it.
My 5 key advice would be to have a vision (for what you want to do), have faith (on the offer), stay the course (perseverance), sacrifice for your believe (dig deep esp. when the going gets tough) and be honest (true to your offer) then set sail, start your journey and be prepared for a ride of a lifetime.
You can find Latasha’s delicious products HERE.
To learn more about Latasha, head over to her website HERE.