Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Recovering from Mother's day

The weekday demos last week weren’t terribly productive, in spite of an imminently approaching holiday, but I managed to sell a modest amount. However, it did seem that some people started picking up products on Saturday and Sunday, both with and without demos.

I’ve been sampling almost constantly recently, just because there’s no other way to get rid of inventory… Sampling will at least increase awareness, even if it doesn’t produce immediate results.

After May 16 or so, I’ll need to revert to a sales rather than promotion focus. Since I have a new product, I’ll be emphasizing them more than the candy, but I’ll try my best to get placement for everything.

The Matcha Latte mix from Three Tree Tea has been well-received. I’m quite happy with the customer reception so far, and sales are about what I expected. Pulling off simultaneous demos is a bit tricky, but I’m starting to get a bit of a rhythm.

The most difficult thing so far is anticipating customer traffic. The dragon beard candy needs to be brought out of my cooler just as customers approach, and that’s tricky. If I let the dragon beard candy stand at room temperature too long, the “icy” aspect of the icy-crispy texture disappears, and the experience isn’t quite as impressive.

Similarly, the green tea latte has a short lifespan, especially in small paper demo cups. As the temperature cools, the matcha oxidizes, and after 5 minutes or so, the taste can become a bit vegetal. Reheating will actually make this more pronounced. I never noticed this when I was serving the matcha latte at home, even if it was consumed over about 10 minutes. But in larger cups—especially preheated ones—the cooling process doesn’t happen as fast, I think, and perhaps proportionally less surface area is exposed to air.

So I’ve found I have to make no more than 4 fl. oz. at a time, which produces 6–8 demo servings (about 1 fl. oz. each after the milk foams up). If traffic is more slow, I make as little as 2 fl. oz. at a time. If any samples are left after 5 minutes, I now offer it to store staff or discard it. The same would be true with a coffee sample; coffee loses its best characteristics when it’s been sitting around for 5 or 10 minutes. The problem, of course, is that if I run out of samples and a customer doesn’t see the green tea, they often walk on by, and an opportunity is missed. I don’t know whether it’s better to overproduce and waste perfectly good tea, and always serve everyone instantly, or lose the occasional impatient customer. Sometimes a customer can be pulled in with the candy and held for the tea, and vice versa, though.

I found this to be less problematic with the iced version. There must be some difference in the oxidation, or maybe less shock from temperature changes.

At the end of the weekend, with inadequate sleep and some long days driving, sampling, and beyond, I felt completely exhausted. And I still didn’t sleep when I should have.

Last reminders of summer

My absence of late is thanks primarily to excessive exhaustion… My new old commute has been draining. In fact, the traffic between Redmond and Seattle seems decidedly more painful than it was a couple years back…

But 2004 was a painful year in the digital economy, and I know some substantial hiring has gone on in the Eastside since then.

At the end of the day, I have rarely had much energy to take photos of dinner or write about the growth of YuzuMura.com. I have a few photos that were stashed on my camera’s memory card, but they’re all reminders of the peak of summer.

Tomato

These were some heirloom tomatoes we bought from Sosio’s in the Pike Place Market… one day we got an incredible deal on seconds, and I made 4 quarts (a shy 4 liters) of really dangerously sweet and flavorful tomato sauce with minimal handling… just basil, garlic, a little wine, olive oil…

But we also made some insalata caprese…

Insalata caprese

And a spread particularly suited for a potato rosemary focaccia, made with cannelini beans, garlic, and olive oil, topped with some tiny heirloom tomatoes.

Cannelini-mini-heirloom-tomato

Hiromi’s parents actually came to visit for a couple of weeks recently. Her father professes a distaste for tomatoes, but I suspect this is due to the flavorlessness of Japanese supermarket tomatoes (which pretty much match the flavorlessness of US supermarket tomatoes); he reliably took several helpings of almost any tomato dish I served.

We only have another week or two left to get decent tomatoes in Seattle, but we’re lucky, as the season is pretty much over in the rest of the country…

After the demos, satsumaimo

I guess I didn’t get enough sleep the last few nights… I got up later than I should have, but I needed the sleep.

Today I was a little bit touchy, but managed to have enough charm to sell a moderate amount of matcha latte blend and a bit of dragon beard candy. I think I did better yesterday.

I had lofty ambitions for dinner today, but once I got home, I lost most of my energy, and settled for baked satsumaimo with butter, black and white sesame seeds, salt, and a bit of sliced mellow cheese from Bella Cosa in Wallingford. I think I’ll be sleeping a little early tonight.

FoodEx Day 3 and on to Hoteres

I had a pretty interesting conversation with a Sri Lankan tea company director… They have a pretty decent upscale tea that they mostly sell in England, and they aren’t very happy with their U.S. distributor, which has started to focus on its own branded tea. They sell single-estate teas

Anyway, he’s interested in doing a line of “healthy” teas and could source organic single-estate products, and says he could contribute some kind of marketing effort for this line; some kind of high-profile tasting event, for example, which they have done in London. They’re also creating a sort of prefab tea bar concept, which is a British-style presentation, but kind of interesting. I could actually start with relatively small shipments with them, which may be compelling; they also have a reasonably interesting story (163 year old company, bought back from the English by a Sri Lankan family, and their tea line is all single-estate, they’ve got a standing deal with the Queen of England, etc.) It’s not necessarily in the “pacific lifestyles” category, but with an organic product line I think I could be happy.

Beyond that, I noticed a couple of gems that I had previously overlooked in the Japanese food sections. I was kind of frustrated that I hadn’t seen many products from Japan that I thought were must-haves… I still don’t know that I’ve found a must-have item, but I did discover a nice natural aromatic vinegar line and some interesting grain-based tea beverage products, including an azuki bean tea similar to mugicha.

In the afternoon I went to another trade show at Tokyo Big Site in Odaiba, the big artificial island in Tokyo Bay. That show was mostly food equipment and furnishings for hotel, hospital, and restaurant businesses. I think I don’t really understand food equipment well enough to operate as an importer for that kind of thing, but I did see some cool stuff… there was a product that takes a small block of ice and turns it into large spherical, soccer-ball-shaped, or other novelty shaped large ice “cubes”. Another product in the same vein makes ice bowls for serving food, and produces the sort of ice you’d expect to serve oysters atop. Beyond that, I spent a while talking to a guy whose company produces a product for making fresh oborodoufu (custard-texture) tofu at the dinner table, for home or restaurant use. The device could be used for other recipes as well, but they have a companion product which is soy milk mixed with nigari and some other ingredients, and has a fairly long room-temperature shelf-life. I think it could sell to certain Japanese restaurants and maybe to Asian shops in the west coast; the tofu it produces is actually pretty decent.

The other cool thing was an ozone-generating hand dryer that operates with the mythical (by which I mean often overstated… another story) Japanese efficiency… very high powered air. Unfortunately, none of the companies producing these devices have a 110 Volt product yet, but if they did, it would be really cool as an alternative to the paper-towel heavy solution that health departments in the US seem to prefer. One of the companies producing them has one that’s been marketed mostly to medical institutions and outperforms alcohol-based hand sterilization using a combination of heat, high air pressure, and ozone. I got a non-specific invitation to go out for drinks with a representative from one of the companies making these before I leave Japan.

For dinner, I went out with Hiromi to Okonomiyaki at a family-restaurant style chain in a Shinjuku department store. The okonomiyaki was average, as would be expected; I’ve been there before, but we were at a loss for interesting okonomiyaki restaurants in Shinjuku, which is dominated by expensive corporate concepts and chains.

The main selling point of this okonomiyaki restaurant is the cheap drinks… a grapefruit and cassis drink went for 280 yen, and another drink made with lychee liqueur and a self-squeezed grapefruit half went for 380 yen. By way of contrast, afterward, I ordered a small pot of tea at a popular cake shop, Comme Ca, for 600 yen, with a couple of slices of impressive-looking cakes for 700-800 yen each. 90% of those attending the cake shop were women, and maybe more than 95% of the male customers are there with dates.

I haven’t decided what to do tomorrow… I’ve seen nearly everything possible except some seminars at FoodEx, and I’m not sure that the rest of the Hoteres show will be that valuable for my current business direction, though I’ve only walked through half of the exhibition area.

Sullen

The day started out rainy, which wouldn’t ordinarily be shocking in Seattle, but it made me less excited about doing all of the things that I really needed to do this morning. I went to my office to prepare some things for today’s grocery store demo, and I did these things quickly, but rather than rush off and be a happy demo guy, I directed my attention to preparing web orders for shipping, even though none of them can ship until Monday.

I made it to my demo, a little behind my original planned timeframe, and it went as well as usual, I think. My mind wasn’t quite on task, but things mostly worked out.

When I got home I got very frustrated about something personal and I lost all of my energy. I ate some cake I made late last night, and even the sugar didn’t create the usual rush of endorphines. I just felt hopeless.  I got doubly irritated when I tried to fight with my freezer, putting in uncooperative ice packs that I used to keep milk and candy cold for store demos, and watching them fall out, or finding out that something in the freezer shifted and kept the door from closing. I must have looked a mess when I went to run a quick work-related errand, and I am probably in worse shape now. When I got home, someone parked in my parking space, and I was so irritated I blocked them in. I’m in a mood not much different than when I felt some slight, real or imagined, from my parents when I was a moody teenager. It often took a few days or weeks to recover.

I hope I’m not that bad as an adult. It will ruin me.

One pint lighter, bank hunting, bad pottery day, exit interview

On the night of my last day at Microsoft, April 15, I didn't really start working until I got home. I had to finish up a business proposal to one of the companies I want to work with, and there was a lot more work left than I remembered. I was up until about 3 AM focusing on that.

Saturday and Sunday I jogged in incredibly good weather around Greenlake... I also made some plates at pottery lab on Sunday.

Today I went to the North Seattle branch of Puget Sound Blood Center for the first time. I've usually donated at the Bellevue location, which was across the street from my old apartment, or at the mobile donation bus that came to Microsoft every couple of months.

I also had to go bank hunting. I have been operating from my personal account, and that's very confusing and also not good to do since I'm organized as an LLC. I wish I had this figured out 6 weeks ago... talking to banks and trying to make sense of their fee structures, especially when my stuff will involve international wire transfers and so on, is not the most entertaining part of this job.

Actually, I did start developing a lead for one or two products I want to sell when I stopped to get some tea. It would be small volume but potentially a good thing.

In the late afternoon I went back to Redmond to do my exit interview with an HR person. I played nicely... and turned in my cardkey, parking pass, corporate card and all of that stuff.

Somehow I had a series of disasters at pottery class tonight... I guess my hands weren't steady enough or something... I kept on ruining simple cylinders. At least I was able to finish up some pots that I had started last week.

Coleman pool, simple picnic

A couple of friends wanted to meet up at the Coleman Pool in West Seattle, but I got the call just about 10 minutes before the last session of the day would begin. At that very moment, I was in Ballard, talking with a client of mine. I don’t keep a spare swimsuit in my car, so I had to stop at home.

The plan seemed to evolve into going to an even farther away pool, so I had to stop to fuel up my car, because after an earlier trip to Bellevue today I was running low. This delayed my departure a bit and then I learned the original plan was still on. Of course, this meant that I was now quite late for the session.

Anyway, I got about 30–40 minutes in the pool but I haven’t been swimming for about 2 years, so my endurance for lap swimming is nonexistent. But I got more time in than my friends, who managed to arrive just 10 minutes before closing.

Coleman Pool is right on the water. It is filled with filtered seawater and seems to have a minimal level of chlorine. The setting is spectacular on a day with like today, which was cloudless and very warm.

Afterward we us nibbled on bread and cheese in the surrounding Lincoln Park.

Under-rested

I slept around 2 am last night, which is in fact earlier than I have been sleeping recently, but not healthy. I don’t know why, but I’ve just been unable to get to sleep at night for a while. I’ve often had issues with insomnia, throughout my life, but it’s been worse the last 6 months. Personal and business stresses conspire to keep me awake.

Unfortunately, eventually, this sleeplessness catches up with me. I headed off to Bellevue Uwajimaya for an in-store demo but I wasn’t feeling very well, and due to some side errands required to do my demo I ended up arriving a bit later than I expected. I went in to say hello to the grocery manager, and he said I wasn’t looking well…

I’m not sick, although a few days ago I had the first hints of a cold. A few sneezes later, my morning congestion disappeared, and I thought I was back in the swing of things. Even if my immune system is still functioning, though, my body appears not to be.

Anyway, I set up a little store display and took his suggestion to skip my demo, though I ignored the part about getting some rest. Having driven to the Eastside, I felt I should at least make good use of my mileage, and stopped at my grandmother’s house for a bit.

Afterward I went to check on another customer, wandered a bit, and found myself talking another shopkeeper’s ear off, and finally made my way back to Seattle, where I coincidentally ran into Eugene of MyGreenTea, who was taking a rest after a hard day constructing a walk-in cooler in his new warehouse facility, where he will store his tea in a carefully climate-controlled environment.

I never did get a “rest,” but I ended up with a rather improvised day, which is almost as good.

I thought things would go more smoothly

It’s been a productive week, but I have been behind schedule on absolutely everything. Most of what I’ve been doing has involved a lot of context switches, but I guess that’s no more unusual than any other week. The intensity has sure been pretty high.

Monday I helped Masa and Lisa load up furniture from their now-sold tea shop, and then took care of some other tasks that must have seemed important at the time but this much time later I can’t remember a thing. I filled a ton of internet orders on Tuesday at the same time I was trying to handle a wholesale ceramics order and a matcha sales call with a little tea shop downtown. Yesterday I got lost in Kent running an errand on my way down to Portland to follow up with another customer; once in Portland, I spent some time looking at furniture shops to see what the market down there is like, since I have to start making a dent on new accounts for Enlighten… I wasn’t trying to be a salesman so much as gather information, but I probably annoyed at least two shopkeepers, nearly talking their ears off.

Internet orders seem to be picking up recently, so I took care of more of them today. The rest of the day I spent doing mundane tasks like invoicing and paperwork, and I made a little delivery to a tea shop in Bellevue. Maybe I’ll catch up on some internet code tonight.

Everything that I’ve been doing this week was running at least two hours and sometimes a couple of days behind my original plan… I haven’t been procrastinating but I’m having a hard time keeping up. I wish that weeks like this translated into enough revenue to live on… But it’s getting closer.

I'm in the gift show!

On Monday I met with a sales broker who focuses on specialty food items, a woman who was recommended by the leasing agent at the Seattle Gift Center. I didn't quite know what to expect, but I wasn't surprised that Cheryl, the broker, was frantic and faced multiple distractions as she was preparing for this week's Seattle Gift Show.

She seemed pretty pleased with the dragon beard candy, and she told me she would need a couple of days to talk with her sales team to see if they would agree to take on the project. In fact, I already got a reply on Tuesday afternoon, and was asked to bring the product and a display in on Wednesday morning to set up a display. I tried to throw together an 11”x17” poster without the benefit of my graphic designer's time, skill, or tools, and I prepared a flyer under the same constraints, and headed over to the showroom.

We realized that the poster didn't have enough support to stand up on the display, so I started to head off to Kinkos. Coincidentally, though not surprisingly considering how close the gift show is, the manager of the Georgetown Kinkos was in the elevator as I was headed out, and he offered to take the posters off for lamination and application of a cardboard easel. I never had to leave the gift center and the items were delivered about a half hour later.

After setting up, I tried in vain to print out a few copies of the flyer on the broker's printer, so I moved on. I got a quick sandwich at a Vietnamese spot just across from the corporate office of Starbucks, called Cyclo... it was already about 3:30 or so. I made another couple of stops, including a brief stop at Azuma Gallery, before moving on to take care of getting some color laser printing done at a shop in Capitol Hill.

I was somehow bewildered that all of this was happening so fast. A couple of months ago I was thinking it would be a good idea to attend the Seattle Gift Show so I can decide if I want to do a booth there in the future, and now I'm actually in the permanent showrooms. The broker's commission will take out most of my profit in the region, but I think they can get the volume up to a respectable level faster than I can, and I can start focusing on California and British Columbia, and hopefully some other products.

Today I spent the day at the showroom after taking care of some errands in the morning. It was kind of a surreal experience. I don't know how aggressive I should be about showing off the product or about approaching visitors to the showroom. It's not really my space, so I have to find my bearings, which is particularly awkward under such frenzied circumstances.

Earlier in the week, I stopped at Uwajimaya Seattle and learned that their inventory for the small gift boxes of dragon beard candy was getting pretty low, so I also made a delivery on Tuesday... I also met with an American Express financial planner at Chinoise in the same building... somehow my business card had been placed into a fishbowl at the Uwajimaya customer service center in the last week or so... I don't remember doing it, so maybe one of my cards someone picked up when I did an in-store demo or one that I left behind with some brochures may have been placed there by someone else. I had a nice lunch and received a short, respectful, sales pitch for AmEx Financial Services.

I'm trying to decide whether to go to Vancouver or head toward San Francisco for a few days after the gift show ends. I guess it's not the best time to make up my mind... I have a long day on Friday at the gift show, and Saturday I'll be doing sampling at Uwajimaya Seattle. I'll try to attend the temporary exhibits at the Convention Center for an hour or so on Saturday and whatever I can take on Sunday, then I'll go back to the showroom at the gift center on Monday and Tuesday.

I remember vaguely that I had a few other plans for this week... I haven't had a chance to even think about what those plans were...

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