Gaux Girl - Vanessa & Kim Pham2020-09-15
Even if working with your sister sounds like a dream, there's no denying that pairing up professionally with someone you're related to has its own sets of challenges. The rewards make it more than worth it though, according to the twosome behind Omsom, a line of pop-art-pretty, chef-designed cooking kits created to help anyone master Asian dishes.
"At the heart of our relationship is trust and love, and that sisterly bond keeps us forging through the many, many hurdles of starting a business," Kim Pham told us about working with sister Vanessa. The two grew up as boisterous siblings in a Vietnamese-American household where homemade meals were a way to display love (and where their loud energy earned them reprimands for being too rambunctious, a tsk-tsk of sorts that eventually lead to the name of their business—read on to find out more).
That shared history inspires the product they make but also the values they're committed to upholding as they build a business. The journey of Omsom is about creating the company of their dreams and the future they want to live in. To that end, they dug in and worked hard to ensure 50% of their investors were women and/or people of color and listened to their gut the whole time (when advisors told them to wait, they launched—and quickly sold out of everything).
Here, our conversation about working with a sister, why vulnerability is crucial to success, and more.
You've talked about your cooking being your mother's "love language"—how has that affected the choices you've made while building Omsom?
Vanessa Pham: As first-generation Vietnamese-Americans, we grew up at our kitchen table. It was where we did our homework while watching our mom cook these beautiful three-course Vietnamese dinners every night. As a bilingual household, food was often how we communicated and connected with one another.
Now as co-founders, we’ve realized the importance of food in the first- and second-gen Asian American identity. For many of us whose parents or grandparents are immigrants and for whom there may be a language barrier, food is the first touchpoint in re-engaging with our culture. It’s important for us to bring the same level of care, intention, and love to our products and our community—just as our mom did every night.
Omsom literally means "noisy, rambunctious, riotous" and was inspired by your childhood. Has the word taken on any new meanings as you've become adults?
Kim Pham: Omsom originates from the Vietnamese phrase om sòm, which is actually a negative term—like our parents would chastise us for being too rowdy as kids.
We loved the idea of reclaiming and redefining this word for ourselves and on our own terms, particularly as it relates to our proud, loud Asian flavors. We want to showcase the multitudes that exist within our cuisines and communities, and that approach needs to be unapologetic.
It also feels poetic that [it's] coinciding with a larger movement around Asian Americana, breaking this harmful, monolithic “model minority” myth and taking back our voices and our power. We’re proud to be a part of that conversation and will do everything in our power to bring that om sòm energy to American homes.
What is it like being business partners with your sister? Can you share some of the pros and cons?
KP: I couldn’t imagine working with anyone else! I kid you not it feels like I waited 24 years for Vanessa to say she’s ready!
We are wildly different as individuals, so that inherently presents conflict: Our brains are wired differently and our perspectives aren’t always identical. Also, as sisters, it’s easy to lapse sometimes into a sibling dynamic that can feel petty, unfiltered, and triggering.
Ultimately though, starting a business with a family member means that no matter the ups and downs, you got each other’s back. At the heart of our relationship is trust and love, and that sisterly bond keeps us forging through the many, many hurdles of starting a business.
Half of your early investors were women of color. Was that something that happened naturally or were you focused on finding those investors?
VP: We’re building the company of our dreams and that flows through everything, from our products and Tastemakers (chef partners) to our investors. It was really important to me that we actively try to fight against the deeply ingrained biases and exclusionary patterns in venture capital.
Building the company of your dreams also means building the cap table of your dreams, so it was absolutely an intentional priority for us to have at least 50% of our cap table be women and/or BIPOC folks from the start. If you’ve raised any funding for a startup, you’ll know how difficult this is (!), but we literally can’t imagine doing it any other way. This is the future that we want.
You both worked in finance before realizing there was a space for Omsom. What were some key corporate values or lessons you brought with you when building the brand and business?
VP: It’s so important to find mentors who can not only be advocates for your company, but also for your own mental health and your journey as a leader.
As a daughter of refugees, I often felt like I was trying to please people by soldiering through every challenge with relentless grit. My closest mentors were the ones to help me take a breath and feel everything, deeply and truly, and I truly don’t know what I would do without them! They taught me the ropes of weathering the many challenges that come with being both an entrepreneur and a leader and doing it in a wholehearted fashion (we stan Brene Brown in this house).
Welcoming this vulnerability into my life was transformative. I encourage other founders encountering personal or mental roadblocks to not push them aside or try to break through them, but to instead prioritize, inspect, and learn from them. It is through this continual vulnerability and reflection that I am able to show up for my team and myself in the right way.
What does being a girl on the gaux mean to you?
KP: Being a gaux girl means not pulling your punches. It means simultaneously giving your most and being *the* most—loudly, unapologetically, with zero fucks. The world is a better place when we step into our truths (in whatever way that means to you) and we hope to keep that energy with what we’re building in Omsom!
Photos by Kirsten Francis