This month, I'm featuring my conversation with Trang Ho and Trang Sharbaugh of Masa Fresh. Masa is an online farmers market, just like your local farmers market but in digital form! Masa started in 2016 on a Catalina sailboat while two long-lost friends reunited and took an online class on human-centered design.
Through countless interviews as homework for the class, they connected with farmers from all over the world who strive to produce the best goods, regenerate ecosystems, and build vibrant local communities. Working with them brought back wonderful childhood memories of their mothers (a zoo manager and a biochemist) who share a deep passion for plants and living things. Like many Vietnamese moms, they buy fresh local produce and cook on a daily basis because to them, "freshness is king."
Trang and Trang believe in a world where anyone can have access to fresh wholesome goods and farmers are equipped to be profitable. Masa is the result of continuous efforts to answer a question: "How might we build an economy around local and regenerative agriculture?"
Coming from an Asian background, my parents wanted me to be a lawyer. Did you have similar pressure from your parents and how did you overcome that?
Yes, I used to have a lot of pressure especially from my mom but it's changed eventually. My parents are always my biggest fans and greatest supporters by the end. Determination, clarity, and empathy helped me a lot. My mom learned that I wouldn't change my mind just because she said something. Instead, I would work on it persistently (sometimes sneakily) and keep her updated with progress, small and big, along the way. Giving my parents enough information about why I want to do certain things and the process of me doing helped them understand me better and catch up with my growing up as an adult. It's also my job to understand why my parents want me to have a 'normal life, to view it as part of nature, and remember that I can't change it but I can change the way I respond to it.
How did you get started? Did you always know you wanted to do this career? If no, what was the path you were on before?
I always had a lot of ideas and tried working on some before but Masa(www.masafresh.com) is the one that I've followed through for the longest time (close to 4 years now). Before that, I worked for 6 years in market research and marketing for many different fast-consuming goods brands such as Unilever, Coca-cola, Nivea, etc. Learning a lot about consumption trends all over the world, I realized that I wanted to gear people towards a more collaborative and regenerative consumption lifestyle. While moving to the U.S after finishing my master's degree in Melbourne, Australia, I decided to start a new career path. Although I knew that I had always loved food, fresh markets, plants, and living things and pretty obsessed with environmental issues, I didn't know exactly what Masa would turn out to be at the beginning. I kept my mind open and practiced human-centered design to understand the challenges that people are facing and explore opportunities to serve people's needs.
What are some challenges you see as a woman, and being a person of color?
Women in modern society haven't got away completely from all the traditional expectations from the past but gain a lot of new ones that come along with opportunities. Having more options means more freedom and reward but also more consideration, hard work, and tough decisions.
Being a first-generation immigrant of color, I find not being able to speak English as a native a challenge. Communication is a big part of how a person expresses their identity. Since I established my new life abroad, I've sometimes wondered if my identity has changed because I can't always express myself 100% the same way as when I speak Vietnamese.
Do you have any advice for other women/men that want to start their own business or be their own boss?
Spend time understanding why you want to start your own business. Be honest to yourself and face the concerns that show up on top of your mind, for example, your age, your financial condition, your family situation, etc. After thinking about all of those issues and asking yourself many questions and you still want to do it, start small. Take small steps, get small wins, and keep doing it.
As I got older, a lot of things my parents taught me now resonate - do you have anything that you've learned as a child that today you live by?
That's true. Now that I'm an adult experiencing many complex scenarios in life and work, I did catch myself thinking of phrases my parents often told me since I was a kid. One thing that stays long with me is "When there's a will, there's a way." I think determination and persistence will lead us to success.
I’ve always fought my culture and wanted to be Western as I saw our culture's beliefs as so antiquity. Now as a mother, I am teaching my daughter about our heritage and also our language. How do you merge both cultures in your life today?
It happens quite naturally and effortlessly. I regularly catch up with both Vietnamese and Western friends and family in person or virtually, in the U.S or elsewhere in the world. I watch movies, listen to music, and read news in both cultures. I celebrate both Christmas and Lunar New Year. I always feel lucky that I've got to experience both cultures in a very authentic way.