Daria came to Poland from Ukraine and Krystsina came from Belarus. They met while studying at the University of Warsaw. After they graduated they founded their own startup, Oh my Goji – healthy vegan sweets. A few months ago Daria opened her Oh my Goji café in the very center of Warsaw, at Grzybowski square 10, where you can now try delicious vegan pralines and cakes made according to very original recipes.
How did the story of Oh my Goji start?
I met Krystsina at the university. We studied international relations together at the University of Warsaw. We clicked straight away, on the first day we met. We became very close, the best friends. We dreamt together about establishing our own company. In the very beginning, Oh my Goji was a small stall at the Hala Gwardii – a shopping center with a big food shopping area. It was a very nice smooth beginning, because we didn’t have to invest a lot of money, but at the same time we could get a very nice experience: really positive feedback, as well as negative feedback, which also helped us grow. The positive feedback really inspired us to develop what we were doing. Hala Gwardii was open only on weekends, so we could sell only from Friday till Sunday, and it was only us two, who were involved in the whole process of making sweets and selling them. We started in November 2017. A few nice boutique style companies noticed us, as our concept goes along with their concepts and they offered us cooperation. They placed a few big orders and did caterings as well. This is how we started getting our experience.
What is the concept of your product?
Basically, what we do is vegan sweets. Our concept is based on the presumption that healthy food can also be very tasty and look nice. We make pralines, but we make cakes and other desserts too. We also make very good coffee and hot chocolate. The idea was born from our interests, from our passion. Both of us are extremely passionate about good healthy food. We were just looking for something that was not in the market, and healthy flavorsome pralines were simply not present in the Polish market back then. The pralines that you can get at the supermarket in Poland are not the healthiest products. They are full of preservatives and different kinds of chemicals. When we started creating sweets, we did not try to create a vegan product, but in the process of creating it we realized that it is vegan. Our pralines do not contain any milk powder, any dairy, so they are naturally vegan. People started treating us as a vegan company and we decided: ‘OK, let it be vegan.’
The idea of veganism is close to me and Krystsina but we are not trying to be fashionable in the first place, just because it’s trendy nowadays. Also, we are not trying to convert people into veganism. The idea is that we offer good quality food with interesting taste combinations, which at the same time is healthy and delicious.
What was the inspiration for your idea?
We created all our products from scratch. We never used any blog or advice from anyone. It was a very long process of experimenting. There are a lot of vegan desserts around at different places in Warsaw, but we never copied them. It is a very exciting and inspirational process, because we felt that we were creating something magical. From the get-go we knew that our idea had a very big potential. A lot of people nowadays are vegetarian or vegan, or they are just looking for something unique. It is our big advantage because we do not make regular pralines, we are not that kind of company. We are very niche and a lot of people look for such stuff nowadays.
What was the next step of developing your startup after catering?
After half a year of selling our products at Hala Gwardii and participating in different events we realized that we matured up and we were ready to create our own place. At that point my partner Krystsina decided to move to a different country and rather help the business online. I stayed in Poland and started looking for a place for a coffeeshop. It went fast. In a month we were signing papers and we were ready to open.
What was the financial base for your coffee shop? Did you have an investor?
We invested our own money in a stall at Hala Gwardii. It was not a big sum and the risk was not big from a business perspective, but rather big for two girls who had graduated from the university just a year before that. During the whole Oh my Goji history we had invested pretty muh all the revenue into the equipment and growth we had not taking a lot for ourselves. Therefore, it did not require so much money to open the coffee shop, because we already had the equipment we needed. We just needed some furniture for the place, and a coffee machine.
What is your experience with formal requirements for opening a café? Did you encounter any obstacles or problems?
There is the Food Safety Service in Poland which every gastronomy place has to have a certificate from before it opens, and the place has to comply with all the standards. And it is a really tough path, because you have to prepare a lot of documents. We had the experience of getting this document for the kitchen and it helped a lot to speed up the process. Overall it took us 2-3 weeks, it is not that much, but it is only because the place is very small and the kitchen (a completely different place) had the approval already. If I were to start from the very beginning, it would take me two months or more, because it is a very lengthy and daunting process.
How do you see the development of your startup in the future?
We want to grow, to get more catering clients, more corporate clients as well. I have been thinking about selling our sweets in different health shops or organic stores. Hopefully we would be able to find a bigger place. Maybe we will open some other place under Oh my Goji logo, and possibly expand our assortment, and also sell some snacks. I am very realistic about the whole thing, especially the last year taught me a lot. I am prepared for something not to work out. It’s life, this is a small startup. There are many places that just close up within the first year of their existence. If something goes wrong, if we fail, I will try my best to treat it as a life lesson, just some very valuable experience.
If you look back, what where the main mistakes you would like to have avoided?
I sometimes feel that I do not have the right priorities. For example, I think to myself that we have to focus more on marketing. Sometimes there is no time left for doing marketing as I’m preoccupied with other very simple things, and yet I understand that it is the most crucial thing at the moment. I know I have to bear the bigger picture in my mind as well. Sometimes I give too much to the business. There were times when I worked day and night, all the time. At some moments I felt completely burnt out. So I think, that, from the very beginning, you must have some kind of work and life balance. You must rest sometimes and have some time to relax. In the long run it is not good, it is unhealthy. This is what happens to many entrepreneurs: they burn out and start hating their businesses. It is taking too much of them, too much of their personal space.
Does your international experience help you somehow in your business?
When I was a student, I had a chance to live in Switzerland and I did some exchange program in Switzerland. I got to meet some people from completely different countries. Even in Poland I studied with foreigners. They were mainly form the EU, but I got to meet people from everywhere, and I guess that I absorbed some fresh ideas and that probably helped me somehow.
Did you find it difficult to start a business in a new country?
When we decided to start a business, we didn’t know how it works in Poland, we didn’t know how the taxation system in Poland works. In our home countries we would have family to help us, and it would be much easier for me to get some necessary information. Here it is all completely different. You really have to fight to get the information you need.
From your own experience, are there conditions for developing startups in Poland?
Yes and no. It’s not hard to register a company. It takes one day, basically. But there are some obstacles too. There are so many entrepreneurs in Poland, there are so many small businesses and it is so common to have a small company! It’s much more frequent than in Ukraine and that is why I feel there is a lot of competition as well. Even when it comes to our product – vegan sweets – it is very niche but there is still crazy competition. So many people have their own small companies. They can work at a large company full time and at the same time they can run their small enterprise. And this is a very common situation, but no one does it in Ukraine. No one, for example, has a barber shop and at the same time works as a manager at Coca-Cola. The amount of small enterprises is huge in Poland. It creates a lot of competition.
Another thing which is nice is the simplicity of accountancy here, because it is very easy to do it. There is a free program for small entrepreneurs like us, which helps us to keep track of the revenue and expenditure. Basically, it is all in one program and it is super simple, user-friendly. From this perspective it is also very good, because the program does everything for you. We can submit everything on-line. I know the situation in Ukraine is completely different. In order to submit some document you have to stand in long queues in an office building.. From this perspective it is super easy and very customized. This is something I like very much as well. The taxation system is simple for small entrepreneurs, you can pay the insurance as well as all the other fees on-line. It is very efficient this way.
What would be your advice for the people who are thinking about starting their business in Poland?
I would tell them this: ‘You must definitely give it a try.’ Do not have expectations that it will be amazingly profitable from the day one. Start small. If it is gastronomy, something like we did, start with a small stall. Poland offers a lot of opportunities of this kind: participating in festivals, doing some catering orders at the beginning without investing much. Be prepared that Polish people are extremely demanding and at the same time they do not want to spend much. You really need to try hard to find a perfect balance between making your clients satisfied and making some money at the end of the day. The feeling I have all the time is that Polish people have high standards but they are not necessarily happy to pay for it. So sometimes it is hard to strike a balance between your effort and the outcome you get, the money you get in the end. As a small company, you really need to have some clear advantages and you really need to stand out somehow. Otherwise, why would a company work with you and not with some other company that is much more professional and experienced? I have never done any business in Ukraine. I do not know how it would be with Ukrainian people, how I would feel. Maybe it would be the same.
If there is an interesting product with good quality, Polish people will buy it. The level of life in Poland is really growing and people are looking for interesting niche products. Their basic needs are satisfied, so they start looking for other things. This is what I feel that is happening in Poland now. People look for something that really stands out. If a product does, there is a big chance that within some time it will be extremely successful.