Interview with Vivien Wong Co-Founder of Little Moons
Since launching as a small, family-run business in 2011 Little Moons has grown to the point when one mochi is eaten every three seconds. Our co-founder Mecca Ibrahim caught up with Vivien Wong one half of the dynamic brother sister duo behind the company. Discover how these bite-size artisan gelato, handmade in the UK moved from a home business, to stocking restaurants and are now sold in retailers including Selfridge’s, Whole Foods, Tesco and Ocado.
Firstly tell us a little about what mochi is and what Little Moons are?
Mochi is traditionally a Japanese dessert made from rice flour. It’s quite sticky in texture and I describe it as a soft-sweet dough. What Little Moons has done is to wrap the mochi dough around delicious Italian gelato balls.
You helped out in your mothers’ bakery when she was supplying Asian supermarkets and grocers with desserts, what was that experience like?
I learnt so much from watching my parents run their business together. We heard them talk about business across the dining room table. When I was old enough I would help in the factory and I learnt great work ethics from this. From 13 I was helping to pack biscuits. When I was older and had learnt to drive, I was doing some deliveries to clients. I learnt how to chat to business people and how to approach different work personalities at quite a young age.
Was there a pivotal or lightbulb moment that made you decide to leave Barclays & set up Little Moons with your brother?
My brother and I had started about running our own business together for a while and it was always in our blood. The pivotal moment for me was when my father was first diagnosed with cancer in 2004. It really galvanised something in me and made me realise how short life was. You have to grab opportunities as soon as you can, as you never know what is around the corner. You can have an idea but if you don’t take active steps to turn it into a plan it never comes to fruition.
It would be great to hear of some of the challenges you faced mastering/ commercialising the mochi making process
My brother and I built this business up the hard way with real solid graft. I do remember on one Sunday at 4am we were sat on a concrete floor labelling boxes as we’d just got a massive order in. The truck was coming to pick up the order and even though we were so tired we had to keep going to fulfil it. I’ve always said that with running a business it feels like you you are problem solving a thousand issues a day.
How did you come up with the name Little Moons?
We went to an agency to help us with branding and the naming of the product. The product itself looks a bit like a little moon. No two are the same as they are all hand rolled. We thought it was a cute name but there’s also a Japanese fable about a rabbit making mochi on the moon, so it all came together.
How did you manage to get into your first restaurants with the product?
Restaurants were our first market and we did a trade show – The Restaurant Show. I put the booth together in a week as I realised if I didn’t do it then, we would have a whole year to wait until the next show. This was how we first met a number of the chefs we ended up supplying.
We realised that it would be impossible to go into supermarkets straight away and wanted to start with restaurants, as people are more adventurous in restaurants. We wanted to get onto as many restaurant menus as we could.
You’ve now grown from kitchen production to employing over 100 staff and selling internationally – what were some of the key skills you’ve learnt to cope with this growth?
You always have to see a bigger picture of where you are going as you can’t always be the do-er. So my brother and I have moved from the do-ers to more of the thinkers. We have a senior leadership team who do everything and it’s a skill becoming more strategic. Sometimes you just have to step back and think through difficult questions rather than carry out tasks on a check list.
You’re the first sibling operated company that we’ve spoken too – what’s it like working with your brother?
There were some tough times earlier on, specially when we lived together and were bringing work home. One interesting point was we did a personality test, like a Myers Briggs test and it came out that we were complete polar opposites of each other. Within the results of the test it explained why you react to other people. There was a small paragraph on how you deal with polar opposites and it explained really well how we deal with each other. I understand where he’s coming from.
I am not sure who else I can work with. You have to have some difficult conversations in business, and it could make you permanently fall out. But my brother will always be my brother no matter what.
Who are some of the people you find most inspiring in business and in the food world?
I read lot of stories about really inspirational business owners. But hand on heart my mother is my role model in business. There was no spinning or PR story to her business. I have seen how she had bought up two young children, ran a household, ran a business, cooked dinner for us from scratch each day, looked after my father when he he got sick. She didn’t have it all and it was a struggle, but she managed to make it work and that’s what I strive for myself.
You’re on a desert island and you have one ingredient you can’t live without. Plus if there was one dish type you could live on forever what would that be?
I could just eat boiled rice with soy sauce all day every day. If I was on a desert island I would hunt for fish and sashimi that up and I would have it with my rice.
Have you found any particular advantages of being a woman in the food industry?
I don’t think there have been any advantages or but no major disadvantages either. However, I think that women have less self confidence and that what is what does hold us back in a way. We don’t stand up and say we are are amazing or in general ask for pay rises. We need to know and value our own self worth.
What’s the biggest thing that you know now, that you wish you could have told your younger self?
To have self worth and to have self confidence. So much of my earlier career was about doubting myself and doubting my decisions and not following my gut. Not having that confidence to go for it. I don’t want to sound like a L’Oreal advert but I would tell my young self you’re worth it.
What are your plans for Little Moons for the future?
We are launching Little Moons cookie dough bites into Tesco into a thousand stores nationwide and into Ocado. We have been working on this for a while and this is the next part of our adventure. We are always working on new product development, so watch this space.
You can also enjoy our previous interviews & podcasts including our interview & podcast with Gemma Colao Managing Director & Co-Founder of OTO CBD, interview and podcast with Lesley Stonier CMO of Forward Fooding, our interview with food mentor Karen Green, our podcast with Katie Chesney Head of Marketing of the STK Steakhouse group of restaurants in EMEA, interview and podcast with Renée Elliott founder of Planet Organic and our interview with Nicola Matthews UK Marketing Manager of Tony’s Chocolonely here.