Interview with the Founders of Strawmates
Image is courtesy of Strawmates.
Strawmates is a sustainable bubble tea company that is taking small steps to make a bigger impact. It is founded by My and Meli, who are two sisters from the Greater Toronto Area. They mainly sell portable, convenient and cute reusable straws that are different from those in the market. They allow you to have any drinks, including bubble tea, coffee, smoothie, etc. Currently, they also sell DIY bubble tea kits to allow you to have a bubble tea experience at home.
My has a bachelor of science degree from the University of Toronto, majoring in biology, and a marketing degree from Humber College. Meli studied interior design at Humber College. I had a virtual meeting with these two sisters to discuss their entrepreneurial journey and share some tips from their own personal experiences.
A few years ago, My and Meli were formal bubble tea baristas. They witnessed the enormous amount of single-use plastics being used. When the shop tried to transition to paper straws, they received a lot of complaints about how paper straws affect the bubble tea experience. The two sisters started to explore other metal straws on the market and noticed that there were a lot of design flaws.
Canada is starting to implement the single-use plastic ban in 2021. In Vancouver, it has already banned single-use plastic bags, which hugely impacted the bubble tea company. The government allowed a one-year extension for boba companies. My and Meli realized that there is an urgent need to solve this problem. Having an Asian family background, both of them wanted to extend this Asian culture without harming the environment. This sparkled them to start the journey of designing a straw that is portable, easy to clean, reusable, and most importantly, provides you with the best sustainable bubble tea experience.
Entrepreneurship is definitely not a straight line. In May 2019, My and Meli pushed themselves to dive into the unknown. They started by researching for a year by reaching industrial design and manufacturing. They had to create a whole new mould that is suitable for mass production. The production also took another couple of months. The original prelaunch was supposed to be in May 2020, but because of COVID, it was postponed to November 2020.
My and Meli believed bubble tea is a social event. They also wanted to create a name that is short and sweet while capturing the meaning of straws and friendship. After a couple of ideas, Strawmates was created.
One of the hardest parts is to grow a sustainable customer base. Everyone starts at zero. My and Meli started an Instagram account called @bubblesocial, which is a community of bubble tea lovers. They like to feature small and local businesses, such as the hidden treasure in the GTA. They try to highlight the unique features of every bubble tea shop such as a specific interior design, specific product/drink, etc. Once they reached 1000 followers, some bubble tea shops reached out to them to do giveaways which helped accelerate their growth. To expand and connect the community and tribe, they started to make reels, TikToks, and show their faces on camera. When Strawmates launched, they already had a bubble tea-loving community to show their product to.
After their launch, My and Meli started an account and hashtag called @strawmateswap, which is like a sustainability movement. Everyone, including My and Meli, is on this journey to build sustainable habits. This is an encouraging platform to motivate and inspire others to consider the future. It is a 14-day challenge: Whenever you show your pictures or videos using Strawmates in any beverage and tag them, you will earn an entry per day to win fun prizes.
People could also relate to us because we are also starting out our sustainable journey so...We are all on the same page. There are no judgements. If you forget the straws, it’s ok just remember next time.
- My and Meli
From the beginning, My and Meli patented and trademarked Strawmates to protect their brand. They also bought an international patent in China (suppliers) to protect their brand and ideas.
Image is courtesy of Strawmates.
In the beginning, they self-funded their research and got the prototype. When they were tooling, they received funding from a non-profit organization called Futurpreneur which supports young entrepreneurs to launch their business by giving them a loan. It ranges from $30,000 to $60,000 based on whether they are eligible.
My and Meli try to have a morning routine without thinking about Strawmates, such as reading, exercising and self-care. In the afternoon, they will do social media content, meetings, research and product development. In the evening, they will pack orders to be shipped.
For Meli, it is a huge mental toll on her. She finds it challenging to transition from a 9 to 5 job into having so much free time. Now, she blocks off every hour to do a specific task on her calendar app. Although she is very uncertain about her future, she keeps telling herself she is doing that for a greater purpose.
“Entrepreneurship equals freedom. You have so much freedom basically you have no structure.” For My, mental toughness is definitely important. Every time you come across a new problem, you need the perseverance to overcome it to get to the next step. “My brain keeps telling me to give up and not do it. Just go back to being comfortable. But when you have problems, it means you are growing,” she says.
What motivates us the most is the purpose of what I am doing for - my future. I also want to be able to support my family and give back to my parents. Seeing both of my parents working so hard inspires us to work hard too.
Both of them worked at a bunch of places before. Meli was specifically in corporate. She lost a lot of motivation when she was working under people. For My, she wanted more time for herself for her future. Doing something she is passionate about is worth the risk. Even though it is challenging, they all enjoy having the freedom to decide everything in their business.
Another big motivation is seeing people using our products. It is mind-blowing to see our products come to life. People using it in their daily lives is a big motivator and pushes us to continue to work harder to develop these products. It is leading to a more sustainable bubble tea experience.
They also love reading books such as “10X Rule” by Grant Cardone and “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins. It is a big influence on them.
Questions for My and Meli
Image is courtesy of Strawmates.
How do you define success?
Success is an ongoing life journey. As Grant Cardone said, “Success is a state of mind. Success is your duty, obligation and responsibility.” You always have to be working on it constantly.
What is some advice you’d give to those who want to become an entrepreneur?
Just do it. Just start it. It is never going to be perfect in the beginning. If you keep adding and improving, you will get where you want to be. Don’t be caught up by perfectionism.
- My and Meli
They also believe getting feedback is the most important part. You never know what the customers want until you ask them. Getting their opinions makes the products even more valuable as customers feel they are part of the journey. “It’s going to be scary and you will feel all sorts of emotions. But in the end, if you are really working towards something you are passionate about, it’s going to be worth it. There’s always going to be a solution,” says My.
What are your top skills in becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Persistence, having mental toughness, organization, and time management.
Vision and Future Plans
“We want when people think about the sustainable experience of bubble tea, they will think about Strawmates. And also be known across the world,” says Meli. Now, they are constantly developing Strawmates by improving the design. They also plan to add more products and accessories such as tote bags, cups, bento boxes, etc. Moreover, to connect with people, they are collaborating with other brands and bubble tea. “We want to be a young generation that wants to take over the boba world,” says My.
Where can you find them?
Thank you, My and Meli, for sitting down with me and sharing their business journey. I congratulate their launch and wish all the best in their future.
They also currently have a collaboration with Pocketi to order a value pack and play the first-ever Boba Bingo. They will be donating 5% to Plastic Oceans International for every purchase and an extra 5% for hitting boba sweater bingo.
Strawmates is working to contribute to the wellness of our planet. Although it is not a significant change, every step is important. I hope you can enjoy boba and all drinks in a sustainable way. Be sure to support!
Article Author: Michelle Lam
Article Editors: Edie Whittington, Victoria Huang