EMMA, I REMEMBER THAT AFTER WE FIRST MET AT A MUTUAL FRIEND’S DINNER PARTY, YOU GENEROUSLY SENT ME YOUR PLANT-BASED EMPANADAS. THEY’RE SO GOOD! A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW YOU FROM STARRING IN NETFLIX’S HIT SHOW, SELLING SUNSET, BUT YOU’RE ALSO CEO OF AN INCREDIBLE COMPANY, EMMA LEIGH AND CO. TELL ME HOW YOU STARTED IT AND HOW EVERYTHING’S GOING
I started Emma Leigh & Co., a frozen food company, during the pandemic. I partnered with Beyond Meat and launched my first items, which were plant-based empanadas that became a nationwide hit! Since then, my business has continued to grow and I have created new items that I am so passionate about. I am involved in every step—from the packaging marketing and down to the very last spice! My grandfather started Yankee Trader Seafood when I was little and I grew up doing demos in supermarkets and cooking in the kitchen with my grandmother—to say it’s in my blood is an understatement! My company means everything to me. I have self funded the entire endeavor and I own my business 100%. I also purchased my own state-of-the-art manufacturing facility back on the East Coast where all my products are made. In the food industry, to be your own manufacturer is huge.
DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR?
From my earliest memory of playing with Barbies and wanting my Barbie to be the “CEO Barbie,” it’s been something I always knew would be part of my future. As soon as I was old enough to babysit, I was doing it after school everyday and I asked my parents to sign a waiver so I could work at an ice cream shop when I was under 16. I loved making money. I loved saving money and doing the math in my head of “If I continued to save X amount each month what I would have in five years, 10 years, and 20 years,” and that’s where my drive began.
WE’VE BONDED OVER INVESTING IN FEMALE-FOUNDED COMPANIES. AS AN INVESTOR, WHAT DO YOU TYPICALLY INVEST IN? HOW DO YOU MAKE A DECISION ON WHETHER TO INVEST OR NOT?
I love investing in companies that I feel will make a difference in the world. The health and medical field is a space I have a high interest in, as health is wealth! Anything that can benefit our health is something I like to be part of. Another huge factor when investing in a company is the founder. I always look for someone I believe in that can take the company to the next level. I love investing in female-owned companies as I am a female founder as well and like to support fellow female entrepreneurs.
YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT HAVING MULTIPLE STREAMS OF REVENUE AND ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO DO THE SAME. WHY IS THAT SO IMPORTANT FOR YOU?
I cannot stress the importance of having multiple streams of income enough for anyone, but especially females! Creating financial stability is so important and the best tip I can give is having multiple streams of income where you are getting “mailbox” money. There are numerous ways to make this happen, from investing in a company to starting a business and having other people run it so you can move onto the next venture. For myself, I have my company, real estate, investments, Selling Sunset, etc. I am always looking for new ventures to get involved with. The sky’s the limit and I want everyone to know that!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS?
Never give up! Even when you’re faced with difficulties and/or failures, get up and work harder because what you thought was a business breakdown will turn into a business breakthrough if you put your mind to it. Learn from your mistakes and move on—it is human to fail.
HOW DO YOU COMBINE BEING A CEO OF A SUCCESSFUL FOOD BUSINESS WITH ALSO BEING A REALTOR SELLING LUXURY PROPERTIES IN LOS ANGELES?
Time management is key! For any entrepreneur balancing multiple businesses, it’s so important to manage your time with each endeavor and most importantly take time for yourself because your mindset is so important to succeed. I should probably listen to my own advice a little more and take some time for myself! I like to call it a “reset” when you do this and it will give your brain a little kick-start for fresh business ideas and a boost of motivation. Also, surround yourself with a great team of people you like to work with and you trust so you can delegate responsibilities. My factory is on the East Coast and I live in Los Angeles, so I am blessed with a team of great people who handle the day-to-day operations and make sure all our orders ship out.
WHAT I APPRECIATE A LOT IS YOUR HONESTY AROUND THE HURDLES AS AN ENTREPRENEUR. WHAT WAS A BIG CHALLENGE YOU FACED AS AN ENTREPRENEUR AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?
A huge challenge for me was being able to delegate and not trying to do everything myself. I think a lot of founders struggle with this because you want everything to be perfect. But, as time goes, on overworking yourself is much worse— which I definitely learned first hand. I was working 16- hour days trying to do everything and then a light bulb went off in my head:, “I need to hire people I can trust that can help make this entrepreneur road a little smoother.” I was creating bumps for myself by not allowing others to help and not being able to delegate. Now I’m happy to say I have a wonderful team around me that allows me to put the perfect amount of time into each one of my endeavors without feeling overwhelmed.
ONE OF THE THINGS I LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS ARE OUR SETBACKS BECAUSE, TO THE OUTSIDE, IT MIGHT SEEM LIKE EVERYTHING ALWAYS GOES PERFECTLY, BUT IT RARELY DOES. CAN YOU SHARE A TIME WHEN YOU’VE HAD A MAJOR SETBACK OR FAILURE?
One major setback that I dealt with that had me feeling completely defeated was early on when I started my business and I received a huge order from one of the largest retailers in the country, but I didn’t have my licensing deal completed with a plant-based meat yet. The order was canceled and I thought I wouldn’t get another chance with that retailer because I couldn’t fulfill the order. I was heartbroken, but instead of giving up, I reached out to so many people to try and get in contact with Beyond Meat because they were the best in the plant-based space. I ended up signing the licensing deal with them and getting a new order from that same retailer and my empanadas sold out! I hope this shows anyone and everyone out there to never give up even when you’re faced with your worst fears— work hard and dream big!
That’s a tough one. I think I would have to say when Chrishell and I do a tour of my listing, which is Harry Styles’ former home. I like this moment for a couple reasons. You get to see an amazing, luxurious, celeb home, which is what Selling Sunset viewers love to see. You get to see Chrishell and myself have not only a few funny moments, but also a cute little heart-to-heart where you get to see how much we love and care about one another.
I KNOW THE SKY’S THE LIMIT FOR YOU. SO WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU AND YOUR GROWING BUSINESSES?
Just that! Growing my businesses! I will never stop being in business mode no matter where I am. I’m always brainstorming, networking, and looking for new ideas to incorporate into all my different projects. My company will always be my baby so I will continue to grow that and create more products. I’m also continuing to invest in companies that I believe will make a difference in the world and of course continuing to not only sell real estate but purchase my own investments as well. I’m like the business Energizer entrepreneur that never stops and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Nanxi Liu is Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Blaze.tech, a fast growing platform that enables organizations to build apps and tools without writing any code. Nanxi also co-founded Nanoly Bioscience, a venture-backed biotech company that develops polymers to eliminate refrigeration for vaccines and therapeutics.