Launching in a sector you've never been in before

Having simultaneously quit their jobs in tech in May 2019, friends Kevin Lee and Kevin Chanthasiriphan decided to take the plunge in a sector they knew nothing about – and take on instant ramen.
ramen hero 16x9

For Kevin and Kevin, the motivation for launching a food business came from their families. They’d seen older relations struggle with health conditions due to a history of eating the unhealthy instant ramen products that dominate supermarket shelves, and wanted to fill what they saw as a gap in the market. Eighteen months later, immi launched its first nutritious instant ramen product. We spoke to Kevin Lee to find out more.

Starting with the basics 

The pair’s journey started in a pretty rudimentary fashion – them meeting up, watching YouTube videos and reading whatever research papers they could find online about making noodles, before getting down to business in the kitchen. ‘We started testing different ingredients – we had a huge spreadsheet where we were testing each formulation and switching variables,’ says Kevin. 

External expertise

That kind of trial and error would only take the pair so far. ‘At a certain point, we hit a maximum of food science knowledge,’ admits Kevin. ‘I was emailing every professor in the food department at my college and asking “Do you have any insight?”’ After a friend introduced them to a chef-in-residence at a consumer packaged goods company and another food science doctor of philosophy, they brought the two on as advisors. Quickly, their food production improved.

‘One thing we learned in tech is always to try to validate demand first – you can’t assume that everything you believe is what the end user believes.’
Adapting to a new development cycle

‘The onboarding and research process stretched a lot longer than we expected,’ says Kevin. In sharp contrast to tech, where products are shipped on a weekly cadence, understanding what the manufacturer could do proved difficult. ‘As soon as you can, stop formulating in your own kitchen and reach out to manufacturers,’ Kevin advises.

More: Read immi's startup diary here

Taking lessons from tech

The pair’s background in tech has proved useful. ‘One thing we learned in tech is always to try to validate demand first – you can’t assume that everything you believe is what the end user believes,’ says Kevin. The testing process has included mocking up designs and running Facebook ads, creating a landing page and launching a beta community, which now has around 3,700 members. ‘We don’t want to be one of those brands that just builds, builds, builds in a silo.’ For their first beta product, Kevin admits they’re not completely satisfied with either the price point ($42 for six) or the ramen itself. ‘You may have a certain taste or vision, but there are so many constraints. We know we can get there, but it’s going to take time.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 40, April/May 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

You might like these, too