Three alumni entrepreneurs who turned a good idea into a thriving business shared the highs and lows of their journeys during an online panel discussion hosted by Punahou Alumni Association on April 14. The three businesses were among more than 50 featured in PAA’s Punahou Alumni Holiday Gift Guide in 2021.
Brian Chung ’06 is the co-founder and CEO of Alabaster Co, a publishing company that integrates thoughtful design with the different books of the Bible. Pohai Nuuhiwa ’05 Campbell is co-founder of Kaleimamo Hawai‘i, a cloth diaper company featuring Native Hawaiian designs. Ben Komer ’98 is co-founder of Simple Strap, an all-purpose rubber tie-down product. Meli James ’96, co-founder at Mana Up, an accelerator program for Hawai‘i entrepreneurs, moderated the panel discussion.
All three business owners described a roller coaster of success and failure, problem solving and risk taking.
“I know people love talking about the wins,” said Chung, “but every journey in entrepreneurship has failures.” Before Alabaster Co, Chung started several businesses that ended up failing. “I was excited to get started with all of these businesses, but in the end, nothing came out of it.”
He described Alabaster’s start as “boot strappy” and explained how he and his partner invested $500 for mockups to post on Kickstarter. Since 2017, the company has sold more than eight figures in sales and their products are found in Target, Walmart and on Amazon.
Similarly, Komer had previously started a surfboard company that fizzled. With Simple Strap, Komer succeeded in finding a niche product that he would eventually patent. After explaining the idea to his father, Komer said “his eyes lit up, and he was like ‘holy moly.’ And when I showed him how all the numbers lined up, he said ‘That is going to be a hit. That is going to go worldwide. Go run with that.’”
“It’s often a great starting point to enter a market where there is a puka for a product,” said Campbell, a new mother who began using cloth diapers on her own baby and wished there were diapers that reflected her Hawaiian culture. “I kept thinking if I keep wanting this, there must be others out there that want it as well.”
Each business worked through unique challenges – patent filing, product compliance, a global pandemic. Chung said knowing your “why” helps to get through the low moments and to persevere.
“When you look into the world, the problems are infinite,” said Chung. “And this is where I believe the entrepreneur comes in and says ‘I will jump in. I will go through the roller coaster of entrepreneurship to solve the problems I see in the world.’”