Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be talking to an entrepreneur working on UN SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Danny Taing is the founder and CEO of Bokksu and is super passionate about sharing Japanese snacks and products—and the people who create them—with the world. Let’s see how he’s doing it!
Spiffy: Hi Danny! I’m excited to see what’s in that little box of yours! Does it have anything to do with the problem that you’re solving!
Danny: It certainly does, Spiffy! Let me introduce you to Bokksu! Our mission is to bridge cultures through authentic food, products, and culture. We’re taking on both the supply-side challenge of partnering with centuries-old family snackmaker businesses across Japan to sell their delicious products and keep their traditions alive, as well as the demand-side challenge of marketing and efficiently delivering those products to customers in 100 countries around the world.
Spiffy: This sounds like a win-win for the snackmakers and snack eaters! What motivated you to help connect these two groups of people?
Danny: I’ve always been deeply passionate about Japanese food and culture, which is why I moved to Tokyo after college and ended up living and working there for four years. After moving back to New York City, I had brought back a large suitcase full of my favorite Japanese snacks. After just one housewarming party, the entire suitcase of snacks was devoured by my friends, which is when I realized that it wasn’t just me. Other Americans also loved Japanese snacks, but they didn’t know how to find and access them!
Spiffy: Can you talk a bit about how Bokksu is working to make the world a more equitable place?
Danny: The main guiding principle for our work is cultural sustainability. Our family makers have been crafting their food products for generations, but because of the quickly changing demographics and taste preferences of Japanese people, their history and livelihoods are in peril. At the same time, there is skyrocketing global demand for Japanese products and culture, so Bokksu serves as the bridge to sustain our maker partners and introduce new cultures to our customers.
Spiffy: Have you started any new initiatives that you’re really excited about?
Danny: We recently launched an exciting new expansion business called Bokksu Grocery, which is America’s first online Asian grocery store shipping nationwide. People living in cities can easily access Asian ingredients and pantry items, but the vast majority of Americans live in “food deserts” and need to drive hours to reach their closest Asian grocery store. By creating a convenient, affordable service that delivers everyday grocery items right to your door, we further our mission to bridge cultures.
Spiffy: I always ask entrepreneurs about failure. Could you share about an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up? What did you learn from failure?
Danny: Our boxes are shipped directly from Japan via air to customers around the world, so when the global pandemic caused a shutdown of most flights last year, we no longer had a way to ship our products out of Japan. Instead of giving up, I worked even harder and talked to everybody I could find in global logistics, which resulted in me finally finding an alternative shipping solution after two weeks. Even when the unthinkable happens, I learned that it’s still possible to survive through perseverance.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, Danny, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Danny: Yes, Spiffy, I would strongly advise your audience that not every hobby or pastime needs to become a career. There are a lot of conditions that need to be met and you should ask—if there’s a need for the new product, if there’s a large enough addressable market, if the margins will be good enough to operate a business, and so on. If many of those conditions are sufficient, then start small with an MVP (minimally viable product) and test run the business to see if you enjoy turning your hobby into a living.
Spiffy: That’s great advice, Danny, thanks for putting that piece of wisdom out to our readers. And thank you for helping to bring Japanese food, products, and culture to people around the world. Over and out!
Danny Taing is the founder and CEO at Bokksu, a New York and Tokyo-based subscription box and e-commerce marketplace for Japanese snacks and products. He developed his passion for Japanese food during his four years living in Tokyo before moving home to New York City. Danny has previously worked at Rakuten and Google. (First published on the Ladderworks website on October 21, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.