Chris Edwards chats with Sonalie Figueiras, the founder and mastermind behind one of the biggest climate media platforms in the world - Green Queen.
Imagine being the founder of one of the biggest climate media platforms in the world and still experiencing self-doubt, imposter syndrome and the feeling of failure. We deep dive with Sonalie Figueiras about her inner demons and limiting beliefs, how she built Green Queen and the place for Asian voices in the future of food sustainability.
In this conversation we learnt…
– How and why Sonalie built Green Queen (04:15 – 10:15)
– How working in disadvantaged communities changed her mindset (10:41 – 18:51)
– Her work experience before starting Green Queen (19:33 – 26:28)
– The demons and limiting beliefs that plague Sonalie (26:55 – 32:17)
– Sonalie’s love for work and how she’s able to juggle multiple businesses (33:08 – 39:48)
– The role Asia is going to play in the alternative protein market (40:20 – 43:03)
“I ended up stumped in terms of this massive connection between human health and planetary health.”
After facing medical misogyny and multiple misdiagnoses, Sonalie began a journey of research into food and how it can impact our health. But what she found was even more shocking – the relationship between how food is produced,our health and the climate are highly interlinked. So she started a blog but quickly transitioned it into a media platform in Hong Kong. It was very focused on health and green living in the beginning but quickly took off to become more of a news platform.
“That was a different type of poverty than just economic poverty. It was social poverty.”
When working in Chile as a young woman, Sonalie was exposed to really tough situations. She discovered that a lot of the women had part-time husbands – that is, the husband had two or three homes, with different wives and children, and then they would rotate. A lot of the kids also had at least one or two relatives, if not a parent, in jail or had been arrested or were fighting drug addiction. It helped her question the prevailing mindset of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps to make a mark.
“How do I square my ethics with selling insurance to old ladies?”
Upon graduating, Sonalie joined the financial industry but struggled to find a job that matched her mission. She was constantly questioning her role and her purpose. This ultimately led to her quitting the industry and joining consulting. It isn’t something that is discussed enough but there is a suspension of ethics that you have to do to participate in many parts of the financial industry.
“I think of myself as a failure, which I don’t want to say because I don’t want to be one of those women.I don’t want to be that person and have this negative message. But I don’t feel successful.”
One of the biggest learning and pain points for Sonalie is that she feels like a failure despite her successes. She shares that she is battling demons and needs to be brave enough to push through her bigger vision. Green Queen got successful before she caught up to its success as she had other businesses and always saw Green Queen as something on the side. She still doesn’t give Green Queen enough credit for what it’s done and what it’s built. She is surprised by the way people perceive her. But it is something she aims to change in 2023.
“I love working. I’m not someone that’s looking forward to a time in my life where I don’t have to work.”
She recalls having a conversation with someone where they mentioned that their goal in life is to lounge by the pool all day and do nothing.
Sonalie realised she’s quite the opposite and that not working would make her unhappy. She doesn’t find it stressful to be doing many things In fact for her, it is stressful not to be juggling multiple businesses.
Chris Edwards (03:39)
Sonalie Figueiras so grateful for your time today. Thank you for joining me here.
Sonalie Figueiras (03:44)
So nice to be here. Thanks for having me.
Chris Edwards (03:47)
So I Sonalie you and I have known each other for a few years. Now I have to say I was really nervous the first time I reached out to you, because I see you as a bit of a I suppose what I haven’t girl crush if that’s the right term on what you’ve done, because you’ve got Green Queen, which is a media platform in Hong Kong. Can you please share with our listeners, just how Green Queen started? What was the personal journey and that triggered you to create the business
Sonalie Figueiras (04:15)
that well first of all, I’m such a huge admirer of everything you’ve built. So that’s really touching and an honor that you would have felt that way. I always feel like I’m just tiny and kind of just doing my thing. Whereas I feel like honeycombers is in so many countries and just has such a big presence. So that’s really, really nice of you. And it was so nice when you reached out. And I’m such a believer in having open conversations, I really don’t see it as competitors at all. I see it as you know, women wanting to make interesting and good content accessible, so that people can live better lives. And we need more of that, um, so much of the media is dominated by a certain type of male energy and is quite male led. So I think the more female lead content we have out there, the better. Green Queen really started out because I had health issues that went essentially undiagnosed for a really long time, not because I wasn’t going to the doctor. But because I was facing what I like to call medical misogyny, which is a multi fold issue that involves one a doctor, usually male, not paying attention to you, as a young female, especially one of colour in how you describe your symptoms and sort of belittling them. And I was often told I just had, you know, IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, which is a sort of catch all condition that is given to people who, who don’t feel well, but there’s no clear, underlying reason. And then another form of medical misogyny is that a lot of research is done, if not 90% of medical research is done on men. And so we’re actually living in very much a man’s medical world. And so female bodies and female conditions are less studied and therefore less diagnosed and less understood when they are diagnosed. And so I ended up after many years finding out that I had, you know, three different issues that tend to affect women more. One of them is only for women, it’s endometriosis, which is even today, still very misunderstood, very underfunded, even though one in 10, women have it, so you know, quite high of a percentage of the population. And then I have Hashimotos thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disorder. And we know that a lot of autoimmune disorders are actually more likely to occur in women, they’re also related. So it’s very early, but we’re seeing a relationship between all these different conditions. And a lot of these conditions don’t have a drug that you can take to cure yourself. They require long term kind of lifestyle changes. And so you know, it’s less profitable for the pharma companies. And so we most doctors are not super aware of these things. So what that ended up doing all of this medical misogyny that I faced, meant that I took it upon myself to do my own research. And it’s really on this journey of doing my own research and figuring out what my symptoms meant, and how I could improve them, that I came across food as this huge topic that I had only looked at in the lens of gastronomy and enjoying myself because I do come from an obsessive food family in so many ways. But I had never looked at food as a topic of study for in this sense of how is food grown? And what is the nutrition and food and what are the things that affect nutrition and food and how certain foods and how they’re grown can end up affecting our health and exacerbate or potentially cause some of the issues that I have. So that’s where it all started, I went down a rabbit hole, and I just never got out of it. And the more I learned, the more I saw the connection between food and the Environment, Food and pollution. And then I obviously figured out there were all these other things in my life, like the products I was choosing to use and how they were related to my health and I just kind of ended up stumped in terms of this massive connection between human health and planetary health. And this kind of disbelief that I had never been taught about this, you know, told about it? Nothing. So, you know, no teachers had told me about it. No doctors had told me about it. No parent had told me about it and how did it How was I an adult who didn’t even know basic things about my health and how to live a healthier life. And so so I ended up starting what you know, was a blog but very quickly realised, I’m not a blogger, and I don’t want to be an influencer and so quickly transitioned it into a media platform, first around Hong Kong and very focused on health and green living and then it really flew from there to become more of a news platform. And then it went from Asia to global a few years ago, but always with a very strong Asian lens. And now, I see our role as incredibly important from the diversity point of view. Because I think especially in manners around climate, and food and sustainability, and things like future food technology, you know, and how we’re going to build future food systems, it’s so important for there to be an Asian lens, an Asian voice at the table. Asia, as you know, where 60% of the world’s population lives, we only have 20% of the world’s agricultural land, it’s where a lot of this is going to play out in terms of how we’re going to feed people sustainably, ethically and, and healthfully. And it cannot be dominated by Western centric media.
Chris Edwards (10:15)
And I want to get into talking about what’s shaping the media and also shaping decisions in politics as well. But before we get into that, because that’s a big piece, I just want to go back, I recall that you went to work in Rio and Chile and Delhi, as a teenager and worked with disadvantaged communities. Can you share with me how this shaped your journey and you as a person?
Sonalie Figueiras (10:41)
Sure. So when I was a teenager, I was very, very taken with ethical issues. I spent a lot of my time volunteering for NGOs around that I created a magazine in high school called peace of mind, peace being spelled like world peace, that was all about issues at that time. You know, the whole issue around Tibet was a big one, and just displacement of indigenous communities. So I worked, I was more on that side of the story around social issues and human rights issues. And I just felt very strongly that I wanted to go and help people I was passionate about South America, I had done a public health program in when I was 16. In Mexico, in the Guanajuato region where I had lived in the middle of nowhere on a ranch that was an hour and a half away from a road with a big family that had 16 houses on this land. And they were living an incredibly rural life. And there was this program called amigos de la samedi gas, it’s still go going that would bring students to communities in rural Mexico originally, it was mostly around Mexico, but now it’s all around South America and Latin America. And it would, it would train you to do public health projects. So in our case, we were creating concrete floors in some of the houses so that they could clean it better. And we were also creating a way for them to have a stove where the exhaust would go out of the house. So they weren’t breathing in the fumes of a gas stove, and a fire stove. And then there was a lot of work around latrines and toilet building, so we would create outhouses. So it was like it was physical labor, really. But also, of course, in those situations, the real gift is what you’re being given by the community that you’re interacting with, and everything they’re teaching you really. So that really informed me as a person. I thrived in that situation. I really wanted to go and live in Latin America. And so I had a friend who was Brazilian and her parents were really kind enough to say, okay, you can come and live with us and Rio and go and, you know, everyone, all her friends, all her family thought I was completely insane. And I was like going to favelas and knocking on the door and saying, hey, I want to, I want to help. I want to say I ended up being a teacher, both in Chile and in Brazil, in you know, disadvantaged areas, but again, learned so much about life because I found that in Brazil, there was just, I mean, I don’t want to glorify poverty at all because these were hard lives and looking back, I spent a lot of time with the women in the community. And they were they were facing just so much sexism and most likely sexual abuse and physical abuse, but they were also just so full of life and kind and generous and just embrace me into their communities. And, you know, let me kind of get close to their wonderful children. And so I was teaching in a preschool. And then I did something similar.
Sonalie Figueiras (14:10)
And in Chile, Chile was a lot more depressing, I had to take a bus for two hours each way outside of Santiago to go and the quaint kind of tenement areas or the poor areas are, they’re not really tenements in the same way that they are in, in a city like Delhi or in a favela, like in Rio, but there are kind of these neighborhoods where people live. And it’s, it’s pretty dark. I mean, one of the little girls that I was teaching, she had stopped speaking. And then it turned out it was because she had been raped by her uncle, you know. And it was like story after story like that in the Chilean kind of, I managed to do a lot of these things by connecting with churches and saying, I’m here as a volunteer, I can speak Spanish, and what do you need, but the area that I worked in until he was really, really hard in terms of what these people were living through, like, I found a lot of the women were had part time husband, so the husband had two or three homes, with different wives and children, and then he would like you’d rotate. A lot of the kids, you know, had at least one or two relatives, if not a parent in jail, or had been arrested or was maybe, you know, fighting drug addiction, it was really tough, you could really see that poverty, that was a different type of poverty than just economic poverty. It was, you know, almost social poverty. And so I was teaching the kids that were left behind, that were like, basically, were 11 years old, and they still did another alphabet, so they couldn’t progress. So I was doing like a lot of one-on ones with them.
Sonalie Figueiras (15:58)
And then I went to India. And that was more like Brazil, I found a much happier, upbeat community of people. But this was in a slum, this was like, literally in an area of Delhi, where there was a, the water that was going through it was sewer water. I mean, it was, you know, it was a reality check. But the people were super happy and very upbeat and positive. And they just, they really wanted to learn English. So I would do different sessions of different age groups for English, in this like tiny little stone like hut. And it was it was really like, there were older kids that were trying to pass the government exams and English because then they would get a better job, so I would work with them. But it was just really, I guess, it really informed me as a person. It really did all this work. I still think about it today. It coloured a lot of my views around capitalism and global systems and injustice. And I grew up in the 80s and the 90s. And you know, that the real kind of the prevailing mindset was, you know, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and you can make it you know, and being in these communities every day and watching these, these people survive, and they were anything but lazy and they were anything but you know, unmotivated, they were just victims of their birth circumstance. And that completely changed my view, and made it very difficult for me when I then went into banking on Wall Street, and just was like, What is?
Chris Edwards (17:42)
Oh, wow, wow. And I wonder whether also having that experience at that age is an age in which you do set who you are and what you believe. And, you know, it’s a really integral part of that growing up, but I wonder if you were 25 or 30, whether it would have had the same level of impact?
Sonalie Figueiras (18:05)
Probably not. I was also so much braver then most people would not go to a favela every day by themselves as a young woman. I don’t think I would do that today. I don’t think I would have the guts to do that. But I was fearless at 18. It did shape who I am. And I just have trouble suspending disbelief and kind of participating in our neoliberal capitalist world. without feeling guilty. I often think, why don’t other people feel bad? Why don’t other people feel guilty and other people are much happier than me and, and having a much better time. But I guess, in a way, I left a really big mark, in terms of always just always having that at the back of my mind.
Chris Edwards (18:51)
But it has also given you this, I suppose the lens and this fire in your belly to apply to whatever you do to make sure that what you’re doing has a real impact. So it’s a double edged sword, you know, absolutely I can, I can totally see how you’re in a state that is very awakening. And a lot of people are not. And that’s why they can be happy, because they’re not thinking about the wider world and the pain that’s out there, or the injustice. It’s really, really big. So tell me, then how did you go at Wall Street?
Sonalie Figueiras (19:33)
Oh, just I went to university that was like, basically an investment banking factory. It was right in those times in the early mid 2000s. Were just that was the epitome of success, you know, just going and being an investment banking analyst or an institutional investor analyst. And I guess I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. And you know, I could do it. But it would always happen like six months after I’d be in a job. I would just be like, what, what is this? Like, what am I participating in? You know, what, but there was a part of me that that also feels guilty because it’s like, well, people need money. So I don’t want to be like the person that’s stuck in privilege and like not choosing a job. But I don’t know, I guess the way that a lot of GZers feel today, like, What is my purpose, and I want a job that matches my mission. I felt that 20 years ago, and was like, How do I square my ethics with selling insurance to old ladies, you know, like I were like, which is something that at one point in my life, I had to do and then I had to quit, like I couldn’t have that kind of mentality of Yeah, I mean, I think we don’t talk enough about, again, the suspension of ethics that you have to do to participate in many parts of the financial industry.
Chris Edwards (21:01)
And I think that’s a big motivator for lots of entrepreneurs. Like, I feel like when you meet an entrepreneur, and I just speak to someone the other day, and they’re like, I’ve done corporate, I don’t like the fact that I have to work in an industry that I don’t believe in or feel passionate about or have a purpose. And I feel like that’s why lots of entrepreneurs start their own business really, isn’t it to be very tied with their core purpose and to be able to wake up every day and work on that, that they personally have. So from Wall Street, what was your next move?
Sonalie Figueiras (21:38)
Yeah, I went to work in London. I worked in management consulting, and I had a really kind of an interesting job. It was awful in terms of the office. I mean, the misogyny and the sexism. I face like, if I had been in the US, oh my god, I would have had like, five or six lawsuits. I mean, I cannot tell you how bad it was like, it was like, my male colleague was literally stealing my work every day. My boss was this like French guy who would like talk to me about his wife’s breasts. Like, I mean, it was bad. It was bad. Like I was going into meetings with like CEOs of insurance companies that were asking me to bring them coffee when I was there. I mean, I’ve seen it all. I’ve been so mistreated as a woman, since in so many ways. So it was terrible for that, for that reason. But it was good training. Because it was a job where I had to analyze risk, I had to do due diligence on public companies, and figure out all the areas where their insurance, their business insurance, coverage could be called up for because there was a serious event that had interrupted their business. And I had to make sure that the company was essentially buttressed against that protected. And so it was a risk analysis job. And it really changed my mind. And I had done some, I had done some private equity as well, where I had looked at deals. And I always really liked that. And that’s what’s so hard about, you know, who I am, is that I know, I’m really good at assessing risk and assessing businesses. I do think that I often see things that other people don’t see early on, and I have been trained to do that. But should I be doing that with my life? I don’t know. You know, that’s why I was toying about whether I want to start a fund and promote entrepreneurs and their ideas. But yeah, so that’s I got trained in doing that. And that was really, really interesting.
Sonalie Figueiras (24:00)
And it was a job, I was in London, and I had to cover the French market. So there’s a lot of big French public companies. And I was constantly on the Eurostar. Like, I would go to Paris, like for the day, like three or four times a week. And then yeah, I did that. And then I came back to Hong Kong, because I got an opportunity to work in real estate investing. I had done an internship and met this woman who ran a real estate investment company here. And we had really hit it off. And she was basically like, I’m looking for someone to be my right hand person. And to like, be like under her, I just help her with everything in the company. And so that was also another really exciting job. And that’s really where I got a lot of exposure to digital marketing and building websites. We had a problem hiring a marketing manager, and they always ended up leaving. So I took on a lot of these roles that were way too senior for me. But I would deal with the web developer, I would deal with the SEO, I would learn about all these things, because it was a big service department company that was invested in by big private equity groups, and we had to run it. So my job was very varied. It was like go to China, look at a property, evaluate it and see if that would be the right property for the service department brand, all the way to figure out how we can set up online bookings on our website. Another thing was Oh launch, my boss was really creative and interesting. I think she she was kind of ahead of her time. And she had this idea to launch a membership card that would give you access to things like yoga classes and all kinds of things. So that was another project I worked on. So very varied and really loved working under her. That was a lot of good training. And that’s really where I got a lot of exposure to marketing.
Chris Edwards (25:27)
And what a gift that is because I feel like anyone who moves into digital at the right time, that was just such an advantage. You know, 10-15 years ago, if you were keen to learn about digital and could understand it, because there were a lot of people in the world, particularly the media industry that was very strong about print and didn’t actually want to learn digital because they felt threatened by it. And it’s such a gift.
Sonalie Figueiras (25:54)
Yeah,she was ahead of her time on wellness, let’s create a community of our members. You know, that was really, that was really pioneering at that time. You know, now everybody has a community but you know, I mean, she was into yoga before it was cool. And you know, and she launched a cookbook for the properties, you know, so she’s really ahead of her time and had an influence on how I saw the world and you know, how I looked at things,
Chris Edwards (26:20)
what a wonderful experience to have that journey and that influence on you.
Chris Edwards (26:28)
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Chris Edwards (26:49)
I want to ask a little bit about green queen, what’s been the biggest learning or pain point in that business for you?
Sonalie Figueiras (26:55)
I think the biggest learning and the biggest pain point are is something I’m still struggling with and working on is just being brave enough to push through the bigger vision. Something that a lot of people don’t know is that Green Queen got successful before I caught up to its success in the sense that I had other businesses and always saw Green Queen something on the side. And really should have, if I if I talk regret, should have much earlier on capitalized on what we had built and should have, like, dove in and really given it more. You know, and now people are like, Oh, my gosh, Sonali, like you’re so you were so ahead of your time, you were the first person to talk about climate and why it mattered in Asia. And now I sound like a genius. But at the time, I felt like a failure. And I and I still battle those demons. And honestly, I really want to change that in 2023. Because I have not, I have not, and I still don’t give Green Queen enough credit for what it’s done and what it’s built. And the ripple effects, it’s had. And even like the way you see me, it still surprises me. Because I think of myself kind of as a failure, which I don’t want to say because I don’t want to be one of those women and I don’t want to be that person and have this negative message. But I don’t feel successful. All I still think that I’m just not doing what, that I didn’t make the right choices. And that I should have just kept up with a career in finance so that I could have ended up with a house and two kids and like, you know, a 401k and just had like a perfect little life, even though I know that’s not actually true. And that most people that I know that have that life, they’re either unhappy or they sacrifice something big. But I was just so brainwashed with neoliberal capitalist ambition, this religion of like, there’s only one way to be successful. If you’re smart, and academic, which I was.
Chris Edwards (29:02)
What was brainwashing you? That’s really I’m really shocked by that. I really am surprised. And I wish I could paint the picture of how I see Green Queen from the outside and everything else you’ve done. Even how you show up on LinkedIn is admirable. And you’re one of those people that if you don’t follow Sonali on LinkedIn, do that right now, you are truly helping the community of it’s not even Asia, now, It’s global. Helping people to think about what we’re doing and what we’re eating and what we’re buying. And you’ve been doing that for so long. You really are a hero in my mind. So I am very surprised by what you’ve just shared. But what I’m wondering is what shaped that like, is that the society of Hong Kong? Or is that your school that you went to? Or what is making you feel that way?
Sonalie Figueiras (29:59)
Yeah, 100% Growing up in Hong Kong has played a role in that. I think if I had grown up somewhere else, I would have embraced my life calling which is calling truth to power and and fighting for a better future. Much earlier on, I would have given myself that permission. And I really only gave myself that permission a few years ago, when when people were just like, Wait, Green Queen is really important. You know, but definitely Hong Kong is a place where it’s just, it really does feel like the only thing that matters here is like your bank account and your power, status and money. Right? And there’s absolutely no interest in the environment or the climate or a way of life that looks different. Right, a definition of success that is broader. And I think yeah, also, you know, when you when you’re in school, and you’re, you’re an A student, and everyone says okay, you’re gonna go to a really top university See, and then you get into the top university, and then you do well at university. And then it’s like, Well, okay, what are the what’s the top career, you know, and what I really should have done is probably said, Okay, I want to go and get a master’s in human rights law or in journalism. But I had this block, and one part of it was also from a family member, that was really in my head. And that really made me feel like there was just only one way and it, it took many years to get out of that mentality. So I’m, I’m really telling you the whole truth. And hopefully, if someone’s listening to this, they can, they can hear, you know, a message of most people are struggling with demons. And I just, I really want 2023 to be the year that I fully give myself permission to go, let’s rule the world. Because the other problem that I have is, I have a problem saying that I want Green Green to be the biggest climate media in the world. I have a problem with that. It feels greedy. It feels like I’m asking for too much.
Chris Edwards (32:17)
I think it’s really interesting what you say about the demons and the limiting beliefs and also about the environment in which you’ve grown up and the people around you, how they shape you, and how they set these boundaries for you. And you actually, you do need to do a lot of work to get past that to be successful
Chris Edwards (32:54)
Before we go too much further on that point. I do want to talk about right now, we’ve spoken a lot about Green Queen, but you also have two other businesses. You’ve got source green packaging and eco warehouse. And I find it quite phenomenal when people have multiple businesses in different industries. And you’ve got investors in those businesses. So can you just share with me how these businesses came about? And what are your goals with these businesses you have now?
Sonalie Figueiras (33:08)
Yeah, absolutely. Eco warehouse came about because I had this idea. About 10 years ago that I wanted to start a green version of Starbucks, like a franchise of a coffee shop space. I love Starbucks third space idea. And I worked for Starbucks in university. So I have a special place in my heart for it. But I wanted a Starbucks where everything was, you know, climate conscious and healthy. And, you know, coconut sugar and almond milk and, you know, vegan options and all of this. Now, of course, that seems like, you don’t need to do that. Because everything has happened. You can get some of that at Starbucks already. But 10 years ago, it was impossible to find such a concept. And so I started doing a lot of work around the sourcing. And I ended up on Alibaba and realised why can’t I source safe, organic ethical ingredients. And so I did more research, I realised Alibaba was this huge business, but that they didn’t focus on vetting and certification and things like organic, and that there was this huge lack of of a platform where you could really connect with producers, farmers, processors, manufacturers of food ingredients from a b2b point of view. And so I abandoned green Starbucks and worked on that instead. And so that’s just It’s still there. And it keeps going. And we have loads of certified organic products. And the whole thing is that we vet the companies and we vet the certification. And that’s super important in a world where, you know, fraud is everywhere. And we’ve definitely uncovered fraud in our vetting. So companies that signed up to be on our platform, and then we realize like their certificate, we can’t, we can’t double check it, we can’t verify it, contacted people like Sarah’s or, or any of these bigs, SGS, any of these big companies that kind of do the actual audit audits, and said to them, we can’t find a record for this company. And then, and then it turns out, the company’s fraudulent, so we’ve definitely done some of that, but most people are honest, and, you know, trying to just grow really safe, delicious foods. And so we were able to do that. And actually, in the beginning of that platform, we had packaging, we had compostable packaging, and, and eco packaging. But honestly, we were too early, the market was just not ready for it. So we so that’s not what really took off what took off was the organic and Fairtrade food. And then source green grew out of eco warehouse in the sense that I really felt like a couple years ago, it was time to start really addressing the plastic waste crisis and come back to packaging. So originally, I was looking for a co-founder to help me to come and join eco warehouse and do that. But in the end, my co-founder Luke and I, we figured out that actually packaging waste was such a big issue. It deserves its own platform. And so we did that as a separate entity and separate platforms so that we could really put a spotlight on our whole thing is, you know, companies are not calculating the true costs of plastic accurately. So it comes back to data and having the right data. And we felt strongly that we wanted to create a platform, a tool, a framework for companies to better assess their plastic footprint. Because a lot of times, we’ve now become too reliant on carbon footprint and carbon emissions as the only data point. And when it comes to plastic and plastic waste, it’s a much broader problem. And just looking at carbon emissions doesn’t really give you the whole story. It just doesn’t.
Chris Edwards (36:57)
And I’m just wondering, how do you manage it all? And do you ever feel like you’ve got too much on your plate?
Sonalie Figueiras (37:04)
First of all, definitely not doing it alone, I definitely have a team. And it’s really important that people know that, you know, I think it’s really important to grow and to delegate and to find other talented people to help you. It’s not easy to get people to buy into your vision, but you need to ask for help and look for help and, and put helpful kind of teams in place. So like for sore screen, I have an amazing co-founder. So we’re shouldering it together. Do I feel like I have too much on I mean, I think it’s funny, I read this interview with this guy in The Guardian, who’s autistic and neurodivergent. And he was writing about growing up with autism. And I’ve wondered sometimes if I’m possibly on a spectrum, because I’ve always just felt so different from other people. And he said that part of his neurodivergent journey is that he needs to work. And then when he’s not working, he’s actually kind of unhappy. And I realised, I’m really like that I really take off Saturday and Sunday. And especially having a child really helped with creating balance. But I love working. I’m not someone that’s looking forward to a time in my life where I don’t have to work. Like I was talking to someone the other day and and their whole goal in life is like how can they basically do nothing, just like hang out all day by the pool and do nothing and I cannot think of something that would make me more unhappy like I can’t do that even now. You know, I I like holidays that have like much more action. I want to interact with the world and I want to learn and of course there’s you know, you can sit by the pool and read the best books in the world. You know what I mean? But my point is, I don’t find it stressful to be doing many things and working, where I’ve learned as an adult that for some people that is very stressful to be juggling. For me, it’s stressful not to be juggling things.
Chris Edwards (39:04)
Isn’t that great when you learn something like that about yourself? And I think a lot of entrepreneurs are neurodivergent like I think you have to be a little bit different to kind of want to challenge yourself with what the challenge of being an entrepreneur and I, too can resonate with what you’ve said so strongly. It’s really interesting that it takes you a bit of a journey to realise what lights your fire, and it’s really positive to say I love work, and it’s not a bad thing.
Sonalie Figueiras (39:33)
I’m obsessed with work. And you know, people always like, Oh, you’re so busy, like, I love to work. I’m also very domestic. And I love to cook and I’m a homebody in many ways, but I really, really love working. And I love working in many things.
Chris Edwards (39:48)
Yeah, 100%. And it’s a great thing to talk and think about, because I think people need to, to work out what works for them, and not compare themselves or not, you know, follow your own journey, get your own balance. Now, you wrote recently about the issues of lobbyists impacting the bias in the media. Do you think we have a unique position in Asia to create and lead the alternative protein market because we have less farming lobbyists in Singapore in Hong Kong? I’m just interested on this point.
Sonalie Figueiras (40:20)
Yes, I do think we have a different, we have a role to play. And we have a difference. There are lobbyists here, but they’re much more. They’re multigenerational billionaire owned company lobbies, where, you know, we have all these dynastic companies in different countries in Asia that own so many different businesses in countries, so it does affect society, and what’s available and what’s not in terms of products and, it’s a very different kind of capitalism in Asia. But what we what we found in our research is that Asian consumers are very different in their relationship to, to food in so many ways, but especially around this idea of, I’ve written a lot about this thing I call the Happy Cow myth, where if you’ve grown up in a European, or even Australian and kiwi or even North American kind of country, you have this connection to the happy cow in the field. And that conjures up images of delicious, creamy milk and you know, healthy, healthy foods and you know, yummy steaks and protein and nutrition. Whereas in Asia, that’s not really, that we don’t grow up with the Happy Cow, myth, that’s not what we see, all around us. And what the research shows is that we are more open to certain future food technologies, because we’re more concerned with things like food safety, and traceability, and, and health. And so in Asia, there is much more of an understanding that too much meat is not good for your health. Whereas in the US, and in some parts of Europe, and some parts of the world. Eating meat is now being aligned with your national identity. And that can be dangerous. So yes, it is very different. There is a chance to tell a different story. And it’s super important that we encourage domestic entrepreneurs to create products and solutions that are adapted to the Asian market. And a lot of this future food supply and demand fight will be fought here in Asia because of our incredible population growth and the hundreds of millions of people that are rising in terms of socio economic mobility and are kind of becoming middle class. When you become middle class you, you want more animal protein foods. So we have a lot of work to do around how we’re going to meet that demand safely, sustainably, ethically.
Chris Edwards (43:03)
Yeah. It’s a very, very interesting time. And I think even just with COVID, now, I feel like it’s changed the landscape, particularly with the Singapore government, you know how much they’re investing in food tech companies. And yeah, it’s a really exciting space to be in. And I think having Green Queen where you are, you’re in exactly the right position to help the world understand the future here in this space. I’m conscious of time. So let me ask you a few rapid fire questions to round out our interview. I mean,I could stay here all day. And we could check, keep chatting and we would not cover it. But I want to ask you. Firstly, what’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Sonalie Figueiras (43:51)
Invest in yourself.
Chris Edwards (43:54)
Oh, I love it. If there was another industry that you could disrupt next, what would it be?
Sonalie Figueiras (44:01)
Medical misogyny, like the medical the injustices done to women in the medical field?
Chris Edwards (44:07)
I think there’s a real need there. And no one’s highlighted that as an opportunity before. So that would change the world for 50% of the population dramatically. What is your favourite business book or podcast something that inspires you?
Sonalie Figueiras (44:23)
I’m an avid listener of pivot, Kara Swisher. And Scott Galloway is twice weekly, business tech and media podcast. It is a bit US centric. But I love their analysis. And I love it. I just I don’t miss it. Even though it’s not related to food or climate. In fact, I think they could spend a lot more time on food and climate. But it’s fascinating to see. It’s about the future and how we interact with media and technology. And I think it’s a must listen for business people.
Chris Edwards (44:54)
Oh, I’m going to add that to my list. Love it. Finally, we believe at Launchpad, a rising tide floats all boats. So I’d love to know if you have an entrepreneur you think we should invite onto good business?
Sonalie Figueiras (45:06)
Yes, there is a wonderful founder. She’s called Helga Angelina. She is the co founder and CEO of green rebel foods in Indonesia, a plant based meat company. She also founded Indonesia’s largest healthy restaurant chain burger chains. She’s just doing amazing stuff. I think she would be a fantastic feature. I know her personally, too. She’s lovely, and smart and different and unique. Her story should be told more often.
Chris Edwards (45:34)
Great. Well, Sonali, I’ll get you to hook me up. Thank you so much for your time today. I’ve just loved this chat so much. And I really can’t wait to see what you do next. And I will be as I said in your corner. And to all my listeners out there, follow us on LinkedIn, I will put her LinkedIn and pivot the podcast. And I also will put in Greenwell foods into the shownotes. Thank you so much.
Sonalie Figueiras (46:03)
Thank you so much. And thanks for being such an amazing interviewer. You definitely got me to open up in ways that I wasn’t expecting. So thank you for that. It was really nice to share.
Chris Edwards (46:12)
it was very powerful. So thank you for sharing.
Chris Edwards (46:16)
My three things that I learned from this chat is, firstly, even people that are wildly successful, who you deeply admire, can be full of self doubt and limiting beliefs and have demons that that’s holding them back. And you never really, really understand what’s going on in someone’s internal world. So really found that really fascinating to learn about Sonalie what she calls demons. I think that is something that has a real impact on lots of people. The second thing I found really interesting is how she was able to pinpoint that the society that she grew up in and also, you know, people around her how they really have shaped her. And even her experience when she finished school and, and went to work in developing countries. How that has had such a big impact on her own journey and the way she sees the world. And then finally, I loved the way she talks about how great it is to be able to just say I’m obsessed with work. I love work and that can be so freeing, and how that’s something often women are ashamed of or feel uncomfortable saying but men are really, I suppose celebrated for working hard. That was just so wonderful and thought provoking. I love that conversation. I hope you found this conversation as inspiring as I did to create your own good business. Thank you for listening to good business. Okay, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Selfishly, I created this podcast for my own personal growth. So I could go deep with entrepreneurs that truly inspire me. Of course, I also wanted a wider listenership to think about having impact, and our wonderful community at Launchpad, where we’re all aspiring to create better businesses together. If you have enjoyed this episode, I’d love you to leave a review, or perhaps share this podcast episode with a friend. That’s how podcast episodes get discovered. And I would love more entrepreneurs to think more deeply about their business and about creating a Heartland business with a bigger impact than just profit. And I’m sure you would too. So go ahead and post something on LinkedIn or Instagram or Facebook and spread the word I will be forever grateful. Thanks again for listening and I hope that you feel as inspired as I am to create your own good business.