Feiy’s Impact Series : Interview with gre3n founder Thames Wangpatravanich
For Feiy’s Impact Series our writer in residence Nika Dulevich is talking to entrepreneurs who pursue a path greater than just profit and strive to contribute to the greater good with their products and services.
The business owner she talked to this time is Thames Wangpatravanich, the founder of gre3n, a Shanghai wellness start-up that utilizes healthy Thai coconut products as a tool to promote the balance and conscious lifestyle to fast-paced city lives.
How did gre3n start? And how did the first years of the company look like?
I’m going to speak from my perspective, but the company was started by the three of us, while two other co-founders left after the first year.
I was doing yoga in Shanghai and didn’t know what to do with my life. The opportunity came during a yoga class when my ex-business partners came to me and said, “Are you interested in doing coconut water business in China? There’s a trend in the US and we know it will soon come to Asia too.”
So I thought, “Why not. I’m from Thailand and I am well connected there.” That’s how we started gre3n. Purely from the financial perspective, I wanted to have a comfortable life, earn enough money. After a year, with our team of young, inexperienced people, things were going badly, we didn’t understand how to run a business and didn’t have enough financial or human resources. So after the first year, my ex-business partners decided to leave.
At the time, I was responsible for logistics, outsourcing, and finding farmers in Thailand. But from that moment on I became the managing director of the company. So I had to do all the sales and marketing myself, without knowing how to do it. As the job became very stressful, I thought to myself, “Should I just quit, go back to Thailand and drink coconuts on the beach? It’s so much easier.” But then I realized, I have been giving up my whole life and this is the time it is going to change. I didn’t know how to run a company, but I just kept doing it.
And after six months of confusion and forcing myself to just keep going, a group of investors saw the potential in the project and invested in the company. From that point on, the company grew and has never been the same since.
What do you think of your competition? What if more companies get into conscious wellness and using coconuts in particular, would you welcome it?
It’s not really about what we want, it’s going to happen anyway. The only thing we can do is to accept what is and keep moving, be balanced, believe, and be different. This is our philosophy. When you are different, there’s the real value generated and when there’s real value, there is always room, niche markets as well as people who believe in the same thing as you, and that’s where you can make money. So to answer your question: I welcome everything, especially when we talk about conscious living. We need more of it on the market.
这个由我做不了主，它还是会发生的。唯一的事我们可以做的就是接受它和继续努力，平衡，相信 和变得与众不同。这是我们的企业理念，当你和别人不一样时，会有一个真正的价值在孵化， 当有一个真正价值时，总会有一个市场空间，瞄准机会的市场还有和你有相同价值观的人。慢慢你也会从中获利。所以回答你的问题，我欢迎所有的，尤其是当我们谈到意识生活。我们需要在市场上有更多这样的想法。
In general, do you think of the impact-driven business world as more of a game of competition or a place of cooperation? How does it affect how you operate and develop gre3n?
Darwin came up with the theory of evolution, which is about how people survive because of the competition. It seems, however, that people just take half of what Darwin said, while the other half is about cooperation. In nature, everyone competes for survival, but most importantly, everyone also cooperates for survival. So I think, the impact-driven business has to have both. It has to have competition at a healthy level, and not just driven by capital. At the same time I think it’s all about cooperation because if we talk about conscious wellness impact-driven businesses, you cannot do it all alone. It’s a new mindset for most, and the more people talk about it, cooperate about it, the more we can speed up its progress.
Where does the name gre3n come from? Why is it spelled this way?
This name wasn’t my idea, my business-partners came up with it. We needed to find a name that even a high school student in China would understand. So we thought “green” is easy and fits our sustainable approach. And then we changed the second “e” to 3 because there were three of us.
However, after the first year, when everyone left, I asked myself what I stood for, and today 3 in our brand name stands for Balance, Believe and Be different. Balance is there because I think to live happily, we need to find an everyday balance in terms of input and output, tangible and intangible. Believing in ourselves is crucial. After the first year with the company, I almost gave up many times, but I held on strongly to the decision I made. The success of almost everything in life depends on how much we believe in ourselves. And the last, but not least, be different. The value of everything you do comes back to how different you are. You don’t have to follow what the society dictates to you, it’s okay to be different, be yourself and be happy.
What has been one key factor in gre3n's success? What has been your biggest challenge?
The key success factor would be the intention. If we were doing this just to earn money, we would have closed down after the first six months, because it wasn’t worth it. Why would you go through all of this stress, just to make a living? For me, happiness has become the number one factor. And as a consequence of the fact that I want to be happy and I’m sure everyone wants to be happy too, we confirmed our intention as a company. In the end, everyone has to figure out how to be happy for themselves, but what we as a company can do is to provide options to choose from while being genuine and sincere in our message. Most of our clients are people who say, “We like the people behind this project so we will support it.” Of course, the quality of the products also matters, but the biggest motivation is intention.
Our biggest challenge is the game we are in. The company is a for-profit business and coconut water is 15RMB to 25 RMB per can, so we have to fill a million cans to go somewhere. It’s still a cash game, meaning that we cannot do it ourselves, we need to have investors. And often investors don’t get involved for the same reason we do – to create a positive impact in the world. They do it for the potential and brand value, and we have to adapt our decisions to them because that’s how the commercial world works. So our biggest challenge would be not having financial back-up from people who believe in the same thing.
我们成功的最主要的因素是意识。如果我们只是为了盈利。应该在刚开始的6个月就歇业了，因为并不值得。为什么你要承受这么多压力，就是为了生存吗？对我来说，幸福是第一个因素。作为一个事实的推论，我肯定每个人都想变的开心与愉悦。当确定了我们公司的理念。人到最后，每个人都应该琢磨如何让自己开心。但是我们作为一个公司我们可以传递的是真实与诚恳的信息。 大多数我们的顾客说 “我们喜欢公司的背后的人，所以我们一直支持它“ 当然产品的质量也是重点。但我们最大的动力是自我意识。
What has been your biggest lesson learned throughout the years working with coconut water in China?
Every lesson is a big lesson, but I would say that the biggest one is about people and intentions, as I mentioned above. People misunderstand intention as a sort of compulsive decision-making pattern, like today I want to be a good person but tomorrow I’m not feeling well, so I’m going to be mean. The intention is not that. It is something that has been cultivated throughout your life, it’s your North Star. To give you an example, I am now starting to work on a new project. First I asked myself, do I really want to do this or do I just want to escape China, what is the real reason? After many hours of meditating and reflecting I understood that either I die or I do this. And once I got to that point things started to go accordingly, meaning that people that can contribute to it are coming in, or resources somehow appear. When you are conscious and certain about your intention, you meet more people with the same intention or direction. Having the right intention leads things to go the way I want to.
What are your plans for the future of gre3n? How do you plan to revolutionize the health and wellness industries?
We want to focus more to the F&B industry, like restaurants and bars. Earlier, we were focused on the health and wellness market, but in the past year, we learned that this market is still relatively small compared to the much larger F&B industry, like larger restaurants, bars, and clubs. So in the future, we want to occupy the cool and healthy but relatively untouched territory of the traditional F&B market.
How are we hoping to revolutionize the health and wellness industry? I would like to lead this industry to a more conscious lifestyle. At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. If we want to be healthy, we shouldn’t suddenly cut out everything. That’s unhealthy too because it can create a lot of resistance. So I see gre3n as a tool for people who haven’t gotten into wellness yet, but they want to know how they can contribute to sustainability. They can take our business and our message as an example and learn as well as support the industry by supporting us.
你对gre3n 的未来有什么计划吗？ 你是想计划怎么改革健康产业？
What advice would you give to entrepreneurial individuals who would like to make a positive impact in the world?
No matter an entrepreneur or not, the first question I would always ask is: who am I? The second question is: why? Why are we doing what we are doing? Keep asking yourself that without being biased. Once we find out who we are, we find out what we want to do. And once we know what we want to do, it translates into an honest passion for our business. I think every business should be about creating a better world and not only about financial success. Whatever we do, we need to go through the smallest scale first, which is “who we are” and after we know that we can build anything that follows our belief and value system.
不管你是否是企业家，第一个问题我想问： 我是谁？ 第二个问题是：为什么？为什么我们坚持做我们想做的？不要带有任何偏见的问问自己。当我们开始找到自己。我们也会找知道要做什么。一旦我们知道我们要做什么，这个会转换成对我们生意的一种最真实的热爱。我想每个生意应该是为了让世界越来越好而不仅仅为了经济上的成功。不管我们做什么，我们都应该从最小的范围开始，就是而来我们知道我们所建立的所有会随着我们的相信与价值系统而来。
How did you build your team? What advice would you give those thinking of starting an impact-driven business in terms of building a team?
The first questions I always ask when I hire someone are the same as above – who are you? What is your passion? And sadly, nearly 100% of the people don’t know how to answer these questions. In my opinion, it’s important to know their intentions and whether they are aligned with the company’s intentions. If they are, then we can work together for a long time. ¬It’s the same with passion, it is not as important how much he or she is paid, as long as they are excited to get up in the morning and go to sleep peacefully every night. However, this is often far from reality, especially in China. So my goal in the company is to inspire my team to be more conscious human beings. A big part of my job is to share content that I think is useful in terms of being a human, being conscious because sustainability is about being a conscious human being.
Gre3n was born in 2014 in Shanghai, since then you have been developing rapidly. How do you scale your impact? And what advice would you give to those who want to scale their sustainable ventures?
To scale impact we have to focus on building a community and gather people who share the same beliefs and lifestyle, and then we can grow and scale our impact organically. I don’t think using money will work this way. Money works well with distraction and sensual pleasures but with sustainability, you have to touch people’s hearts. You have to build a community and do it organically. And as the understanding of and consciousness towards wellness and sustainability have been growing, the community and its impact have been growing as well. I believe that’s the way.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently, if anything?
To be honest, I never asked myself this question, because I feel like there are so many external elements that I don’t know. When people try to change their path, they come face to face with different elements that are at play. So I don’t ask such questions, but what I do is embrace whatever happens in my life, because there is no such thing as a bad experience, there’s just experience. Either you choose to like it or not, that’s your responsibility. So I choose to have everything perfectly as it was and be who I am today.
How can we as consumers encourage companies to have more sustainable products and practices?
I would say this is very difficult because the market is not controlled by the consumer. The market is dictated by the conglomerate. There are a few conglomerate companies in the world that control all consumer products. Whatever they think they can reduce the cost of and have a bigger margin on, that’s what they push out. Then they invest tens of millions of dollars in advertising per year, have KOL (key opinion leaders) to influence the consumer to sell the product. So, I don’t think consumers have much of a say, even though we hope it to be the case.
The truth is, people should meditate more, listen to their hearts, not their heads, and build a balanced, conscious lifestyle. Once people become more conscious, they can encourage companies to be more sustainable. A company is run by money, it’s the same thing with us. And the money doesn’t come because someone said, “this company is so conscious, let me give them my money.” Most consumers see advertisements, KOL, movie stars, etc.
So to get back to the question, I think the consumer needs to be conscious about who we are, our thoughts, our emotions, and our decisions. Because if we can do this, we can make the conglomerate see that we are not stupid, we are conscious, they cannot control us, and they have to make a change. And then they will be forced to create more companies that serve the right purpose.
Can you give us an example of a conglomerate?
Let’s talk about the F&B market. The food and beverage industry has been high-jacked a long time ago. Most of the products have been made for people to get addicted so that they can sell more. And that’s because it’s all about profit. I don’t want to mention the name of the company, but they are an umbrella company where they have a lot of brands in the market to make us feel like “there are market trends.”
As a consumer and individual, how do you contribute to environmental and social well-being?
First, we come back to ourselves. Whatever we do starts from who we are. To be conscious, we need to have the right mindset, and to obtain this healthy and right mindset we need to have a healthy body. If we don’t feel comfortable if we are sick or unwell, it’s really difficult for a person to make decisions consciously. And if you cannot make decisions consciously, you cannot contribute to the environment and social wellbeing. But if we have a balanced way of living, everything we do contributes to the environment. On the other hand, we influence each other all the time – consciously, unconsciously, directly, indirectly. So by being the best version of ourselves, by being aware, we affect the society and the environment positively.
Who do you think plays a bigger role in driving sustainable change: governments, businesses, or consumers?
If we talk about China, I would say government. If we talk about America, then it’s businesses, because that’s where the political campaign money comes from. And consumers are just sheep.
You don’t think consumers have any sort of impact?
Well, you asked who plays a bigger role. Everyone has their role to play, it’s that the consumer doesn’t have a big influence. We can talk about revolution, for example. When people are fed up with the government and businesses, they start a coup. However, I doubt that it leads to sustainable change and impact. Because normally the people at the bottom don’t understand what power the people at the top have, and how it influences decisions they make. So that’s why I think the biggest role in this socialist country goes to the government. And for half-democratic countries, it’s about business. The reason I say half-democratic is because to me there is no real democracy, it is all manipulated by money.
What does success mean to you?
Success to me is to be able to get up early every morning without forcing myself because I’m so excited and passionate about every minute. And then at night, I should think, “I have done so much that is meaningful to me and the people around me today”, and I can sleep peacefully, or can die peacefully. For me, that is a success.
What impact do you want to make in the world? And how far are you into making it?
This is more about my new project. I first want to start with Thailand and create a sustainable resort with a learning and healing functionality. I think there are a lot of people interested in sustainability, but don’t know how to incorporate it in their lives. This project will help them to learn and observe. Here they will learn how to be happy and emotionally intelligent, how to grow your food, how to create things that don’t have too much negative impact on the environment. Once we have this kind of society, everything we do will tend to go towards generating a positive impact. So I want to play a big role in improving the foundation of the education system in Thailand.
What is your Why? Why are you doing what you are doing, personally and professionally?
I do it because it makes me feel good. It’s as simple as that. And to tell you the truth, my professional and personal self is the same thing, it has already become one. I don’t want to just go to the office, then come back and try to rebalance myself, I want my work to be about rebalancing myself.
How would you like to be remembered?
I would like it that when people think of me, they smile. That’s it.
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