Deanna Yang - Moustache

As a kid, Deanna Yang started 'Deanna Craig' - a gym for cats - yes cats - and while her one member lost 0.5kgs, Deanna's real success was the idea of 'Moustache'- a milk and cookie bar she dreamed up when she was 8. At 18, she decided to go for it and spent the next three years working three jobs to make it happen.

At 21, she opened the doors of Moustache on Auckland's Wellesley Street in the heart of the CBD to a long line of eager customers, (some of whom camped out in sleeping bags the night before) already hyped for the promise of what lay inside. 

When the decision was made to close the physical store (currently still open but will be closing this year), Deanna wouldn't accept that it was the end and launched a crowdfunding initiative  for a Moustache Milk and Cookie Bus - a travelling commercial kitchen in a bus that serves cookies and shakes to not just Auckland residents but all the big cities and small towns around the country even to weddings, festivals and fairs.

Her goal was to raise $80,000 to fit out the bus and gain all the compliance requirements. On the 17th of April at 11pm,  Moustache's crowdfunding closed with 1277 donors pledging $91,049 - $11k over what they needed for the bus which will go towards Deanna's stretch goal of also being able to open another Auckland fixed premises for Moustache when the time is right.

We've been following Deanna's career for a while now and below we share both an interview we did with her on the success of Moustache (completed last year) and an excerpt from her blog on her view as a female entrepreneur. Read on!

1. At age 21 when you decided to open Moustache, what was your decision process? – was it a ‘leap first, ask questions later’ decision? Or one that was thoroughly researched and discussed?

I made the decision to open Moustache when I was about 18-19 years old. Over the next couple years while I studied at university, I was constantly building and developing the concept. So Moustache was researched and discussed over a few years but once the ball got rolling, everything happened so fast that I felt like I just leaped first and had to figure everything out on the go! 

2. Did you have any prior business knowledge before you launched Moustache?

I started this project with no prior business knowledge, no money in the bank & didn't even know how to bake properly! I was just a home baker who had a huge passion for cookies, learning and I wasn't afraid of working hard.  Even though I had none of the necessary skills to start a baking business, it was sheer passion & determination that pushed me. 

3. How has Moustache grown since its inception?

Moustache exceeded my expectations from Day 1. I remember when we opened, I had a small Kitchenaid like the ones you see in people's home kitchens! Within two weeks we had to upgrade our mixer to a 20 litre dough mixer and then shortly after we had to upgrade again to a giant 40 litre mixer. It's amazing thinking back to when we first opened and how far we have come since then! 

4. What was the gap in the market that you identified and how does Moustache fill that gap?

We just do one thing and we do it well. It's a tiny little shop but there's a lot of heart behind it. I think the gap in the market I saw was that there wasn't anything quite like it and I worked hard at developing a unique an quirky brand. 

5. You were a journalist before this – how did the transition from writing to baking come about?

I studied journalism in university & went on to do a lot of communications-based jobs but really longed to create my own brand and product. So in my second year of university I decided to start my own business with the aim of opening Moustache right after my graduation. I used to bake cookies in high school and sell them to raise money for World Vision. They were so popular, I would always sell out and my friends would always tell me to open my own cookie shop. So I did! 

6. When looking to build a business, we hear you looked at a wishlist from when you were younger, how hard was it to sell that idea to backers?

The first seed of inspiration for Moustache came from my childhood bucket list. Because I grew up with very little, the younger version of me would always dream of the big things I would one day do. Number one on that list was to open a cookie shop. Because a milk & cookie bar is a very niche idea, a lot of people told me I was naïve to think I would be able to make any money just from milk & cookies. On top of that, I was young, I was of Asian ethnicity & I was female. I think these three factors made it almost impossible for people to take me seriously. Bankers, real estate agents and "adults" wouldn't give me their time of day. It was impossible for me to sell the idea to anyone. I knew the only way to make my dream come true was to back it myself. So during university, I picked up three jobs on top of full-time study and saved up penny by penny myself. 

7. Did you seek out any business mentors or partner with any existing business owners to assist you in the start-up?

Moustache is 100% owned and created by my own sweat & tears (and there were a lot of those!) I currently don't have a business partner but would love to find a business mentor! I love to read and take a lot of inspiration from the likes of Richard Branson and Robert Kiyosaki.

8. What is your vision for the future of Moustache?

Eventually I want Moustache to not just be a New Zealand brand but a global brand. I want to see the world, test my boundaries and see where I can take this brand. 

9. What do you think are the 5 most important things to remember or note for future entrepreneurs?

1) You have to back yourself. Because if you won't believe in yourself, then nobody else will.

2) We live in a generation of 'now'. With the internet and technology, a lot of people want things given to them instantly. But success doesn't come overnight - be willing to break your back to make your dreams come true.

3) Don't sweat over making mistakes. You make them, you learn from them and you move on. You're better for it and those mistakes are part of your story. 

4) Stop making excuses for yourself. I was young, I was naïve, I was inexperienced & I had no idea what I was doing. But don't let those factors stop you otherwise you'll never get anything done. Just get started & learn as you go. 

5) Most importantly, have fun. Stop looking at the statistics and numbers all the time. Life is all about having fun and making stories. 

10. What are the mistakes you made during the first year and is there anything you would do differently?

I can't remember all the countless times I've made mistakes but I can tell you that I'm still making them everyday! Especially during the start of the business, I made a lot of mistakes that cost me thousands of dollars and stress. In saying this, I don't think I would ever do anything differently. Had I not made those mistakes, I wouldn't be the same person today. You cannot know what is straight until you know what is crooked. 

11. How long was Moustache in operation before you began to see early signs of success and how difficult was it in the day to day before the business took off?

To my absolute surprise, Moustache took off from the very first day we opened. I remember we had people in sleeping bags lining up outside our shop at 5am on opening day & we didn't even open until 7am! We sold out of everything that day 8 hours early. Those first weeks were tough - never would I have expected the amount of demand we had. I was working for 23 hours a day just to catch up. I remember I would walk to my car, sleep for an hour and then walk back to the shop and start baking all over again. But I am absolutely humbled and fortunate that people took to the brand so early on and have supported me. 

12. What kind of leader are you and how did you find the transition from years of working as someone else’s employee to becoming the Director of your own company?

I like to lead from the trenches. That means I'm in the arena with my staff and willing to get on my hands and knees to scrub the floor or just do the menial tasks. I don't really believe so much in having hierarchy within Moustache but place a bigger emphasis on mutual respect and consideration for other people. 

13. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in the business so far?

There are so many challenges that get thrown at you when you're trying to build a startup. The biggest thing for me is the challenge of having work/life balance. It's so easy to get absorbed into the business and you become the business. I'm slowly learning to let go & start having a life of my own outside of Moustache. 

14. What do you wish you had known before you started?

That everything always ends up taking twice as long and for twice as much money as you predict. So always be prepared for setbacks and unaccounted costs. 

15. On your blog, you note how difficult it is juggling everything all at once and the effect it has on your mental health at times- do you have any advice for new business owners in the same boat?

I think it's easy to get overwhelmed especially when you're a new business owner. The main thing is to take a step back, take a big breath and remember to take things one step at a time. Don't look at the 100 things you need to get done, just focus on just one thing at a time. Get that done and then focus on the second thing and then the third so on and so forth. 

16. What is your advice for New Zealanders preparing to launch their own business?

Don't be afraid to be different. But remember that criticism comes to those that stand out. So don't be frightened of getting criticised - it comes with the territory. Nobody successful gets unanimous praise - ever. 

17. What’s your favourite Moustache cookie flavour? 

Chocolate chunk is my favourite cookie of all time because this was the cookie that inspired me to open Moustache. It is the quintessential cookie of my childhood.

Check out the video below to learn more about the crowdfunding and Deanna's dreams for Moustache.

Excerpt from Deanna's blog on her view as a female entrepreneur.

"I have at least over 100 emails sitting in my inbox from men telling me how wrong I am, how this isn’t how you’re meant to “do business”, how I’m a silly little girl, offering their advice and how they know exactly how to run my business. They see my photo and from that moment, I don’t stand a chance. I have everything against me. Every bad stereotype. Every box they try to shove me inside.

I am a woman.   I am young.   And I am Asian.

Flashbacks to meetings when I would ring my older brother & say, “Justin, are you free to come to my meeting tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I am. Why’s that?”

“Because they treat me different if you’re not around”

Do I hate the game that I must play just so I can compete? Do I hate that I have to jump through a million hoops just to prove that I deserve to be talked to? If I negotiate for what I feel is fair, I am a demanding bitch. If I have any downs, it’s because I am a stupid little girl who doesn’t know what I’m doing. If I am successful, then it is credited to good luck.

Sometimes, I have to sit pretty & play within their rules because that is the only way I can survive. But. This is not the world that is becoming. This is not the world that we are creating. Slowly, we are creating a world without those glass ceilings.

So this is why today was more than just a victory that enables the next phase of Moustache’s story.

This shows me the future of our society. This shows me that social media has revolutionised the world. That no longer is it just the rich & powerful, but also the little people that can have a voice. Without the power of our fans, the power of the Mo people, we wouldn’t be heard. I would be stuck to the confines of the stereotypes that I am boxed within.

Yes I am a woman, yes I am young, yes I am Asian... But i will hold onto those perceived weaknesses because they will become my strengths. Those attributes do not define me.

Don’t let them define you. Don’t let small-minded people tell you who you are. You are whoever you want to be.

So to those hundreds of emails from condescending haters that tell me “you can’t do business like this.”

I say,

W a t c h  m e ."


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