Tajen Sui – co-founder of First Harvest which is a proudly-Filipino brand that uses choice ingredients to whip up healthy and delicious peanut butter.
Q1: What do you appreciate yourself in the business mainly for?
I think mothers in community. I don’t want to be introduced as founder or co-founder of First Harvest, because it doesn’t say the all story. I think mothers should deserve the same title if they would know the word, for them the word founder doesn’t exist. Sometimes we observe the capacity of our production facility and we say: we can only produce this much. And all the time mothers would overpass it. Every time we have massive orders and I’m worry, I talk to them and I ask them anxiously what should we do and they always say: ok, how much do you need? We will do it. It’s amazing to see people, mothers, daughters, neighbors… everybody helps to finalize the order. And that’s the achievement. Collective impact to make everything happen.
Q2: What is the biggest challenge for you now?
Scaling up. Without any business background it’s very hard for me to run the business. But as Gawad Kalinga (the parent organization, ed.) taught us: if you put people in the middle of your business model, everything will be ok. Instead of asking yourself how many jars of peanut butter you want to sell, ask how many people you want to hire at the end of the month. From that we know which things have to be done.
Q3: What advice do you have for yourself in this situation?
There are several things we want to do. One is that we want to be sure we are able to empower mothers, so if they look for another job they are confident and able to apply for it. We collaborate with a job agency which organizes skills trainings. In Gawad Kalinga we define poverty not only in terms of money but also dignity and self-esteem. Power of choice. The second will be that farmers have profitable lands by engaging with us. But we don’t want them to rely on us. We want their crop to be high quality so they can work with other entrepreneurs. And last thing is that when you scale up you need efficiency, so you can sell more. In order to increase efficiency you need machines, and more machines means less people working. The problem is that if we scale up most of mothers lose their job because we will buy machines… so we are at the point of scaling up but not to make it very big. We don’t want to have massive production. We want to multiply small and medium production facilities in different places in the Philippines.
Would you like to add something more?
I shifted my dreams a little bit. My previous dream of creating a restaurant was just for my ego. With First Harvest I started a business not just for myself, but to unlock other people’s dreams. I work for mothers and other people, giving them hope. It’s a different drive, which is more powerful and meaningful. Many people ask why did we chose peanut butter. The official answer is that peanuts are one of the most undervalued crops in the Philippines and the world over. At the same time peanut butter has the largest market share in this country, it’s not jam or chocolate but peanut butter. We eat it every day, so the market increases with the number of people. We see the potential to make it sustainable. This is the official answer. Not official one… well, we do peanut butter because some mothers know how to do peanut butter. When we started it we didn’t know all the official information. We only knew that mothers in the community do great peanut butter.
The questions were asked on our behalf by Anna and Andrea from How to (ex) change the world.
Bulacan, Philippines, 25th February 2016