I’d like to share a little bit more about the origin of Pac Pac Snacks. This is a "Founder's Story" blog post if you will. Without further ado...
Things went south for me at the beginning of the pandemic, and I was without a job by June 2020. It goes without saying that this was quite a jarring experience. The silver lining for me was that, in my heart, I knew I wanted to start my own company.
For several months, however, I couldn’t get my mind to focus on an idea. I was a bit all over the place, and it was easy to rationalize non-action given all of the upheaval taking place.
That said, I became productive in other ways that really centered me. I started running a lot. San Francisco has a lot of beautiful paths for runners, and I found tranquility running through Golden Gate Park, up to the top of Buena Vista Heights and throughout the Presidio. I also started meditating while doing ab workouts, and while lifting weights as well, which I still find to be a pretty effective way to work on focus. I cooked most of my meals thanks to spots like Rainbow Grocery. And, I read a lot, including Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Plutarch’s “The Rise and Fall of Athens” and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.”
The previous practices helped me get to a place where I was mentally ready to work again. When that happened, I reached out to a friend in VC to see if she knew anyone else looking to start a business. Right away, she connected me with my co-founder Shinji. He grew up in Japan, and was looking to create a product with konjac because he ate a lot of konjac snack products as a kid.
I was very excited about the ingredient idea. Between 2011 and 2017, I lived and worked in Tokyo, Japan. At the time, I was pretty fanatical about language study. For two years straight, I memorized fifteen words a day. I was also pretty outgoing about talking to new people all the time. I traveled extensively around Japan, visiting new towns and trying out local food specialties. Food is a great conversation starter, and I love to eat. It was also my key motivator to going to Japan in the first place. With the pandemic happening, I was remembering all the adventures I had that now felt impossibly distant. All of the effort I made to acquire a second language and the connections I had built felt at risk. But, with this new company I could forge a way forward that helped me maintain what I liked about my previous life.
My co-founder and I started doing market research. We came up with product ideas, we conducted surveys and panels to test our hypotheses, and we brainstormed different brand ideas. What resulted was Pac Pac Snacks (thanks is owed to my good friend Rachel for suggesting we use an onomatopoeia word for our company name) and our gummy snacks, called Konjac Chews.
With a product idea in hand, we began reaching out to different manufacturers in Japan who could potentially make the product for us. This was a challenge because we had no business history to show that we were worthy partners and some of the manufacturers we contacted had prohibitively high minimum order quantities. Fortuitously, the one manufacturer who was interested in our company happened to make our favorite tasting gummy snacks. In addition, they were willing to adjust their formula to meet our requests.
Our manufacturing partner is located in Gunma, Japan. Gunma is a province located about three hours away from Tokyo and it is where most Japanese konjac (or konnyaku) is grown. For any hardcore Terrace House viewers, the konjac farm shown on the show is quite close to where our Konjac Chews are made. And for Netflix viewers, the hot springs shown at the end of each episode of Thermae Romae that the manga author visits are in Gunma.
While the pieces started to fall in place to start our company, there remained several challenges to overcome before getting to launch. However, I will stop the story here for now. More to come soon.