My name is Nathanael Foo and I run a rad company called threeonesix. Three words to describe myself would be The Real Foofighter. My favourite meal to cook at home would be pan-fried salmon. I love doing simple things well! I am passionate about ending exploitation around the world, because it still exists a lot and that’s not good at all.
What did you study at university and how are you applying this knowledge in your work?
I studied Occupational Therapy as an undergraduate, and completed a Masters of Business Administration in 2015. The really cool thing about Occupational Therapy is how we are taught to perceive people and how they function in their contexts. We’re kind of like an engineer for humans – if something is wrong, we diagnose which part/s need fixing or replacing, and put everything back together again. This is super important when working in the social impact space. By diving deep and considering all of the factors affecting a social problem, my Occupational Therapy mind helps me limit biases by more broadly understanding the complex factors and dynamics in play. This then forms a wider basis to develop more comprehensive solutions.
My MBA was really useful in helping me “download” the business and economic operating systems into my brain. This was essential for me to develop socially impactful models that related to my passion, and that can be sustainable and scalable.
You have travelled across the globe. What have you taken away from these experiences?
So many things!
Growing up in Perth, I lived in a bubble (Perth) in a bubble (Australia) in the world. The way I understood and perceived things in the world, my reactions, assumptions – went largely unchallenged as they fitted within the “normal” boundaries in Perth.
Since 2012, I’ve worked and travelled in ten countries, over four continents. Doing so put me in situations that broke down those schemas and structures I developed whilst growing up. It made me look at the world, and all of its people with an open heart with open eyes. It taught me that no two are the same, and that putting people and things into labelled boxes does nothing but create an incredibly superficial and plastic sense of reality. I became more curious, whilst realising that I will never fully understand anything, making me even more curious.
How did you come to start your own business?
Since 2012, I have devoted most of my time to learning about and developing solutions to tackle human trafficking and exploitation. I worked for an international anti-human trafficking organisation in San Francisco, and learned about the life-changing impact you can create at the grassroots through creating access to safe and dignified employment opportunities. In 2015, I was offered a role at an impact investment firm in Copenhagen where I managed the social impact and operations of a consumer goods social enterprise. It was then that it struck me that there is such a natural connection between poverty and exploitation, and regions around the world where cash crops are grown. The dubious connection, often being a lack of safe and dignified employment. Thailand itself has an estimated 450,000 people in modern slavery, most of who are economic refugees from Laos and Burma, and minority “stateless” hill tribe people. Northern Thailand often acts as an exploitation highway as these people either come from or pass through this region in search for work.
In early 2016, I traveled to Northern Thailand in search of a cash crop producer who I could partner with. It’s not as easy as googling ethical cash crop producer, so I found a Thai dude to translate/drive/trek with me around the Northern Thai mountains. On my last day, I found a tea plantation owner who produced amazing specialty tea, and who truly believed in empowering these very people with life-changing work opportunities. And the rest is history – threeonesix launched in August 2016 with a specialty tea range from this plantation!
Did you choose entrepreneurship or did entrepreneurship choose you?
I have always had a fascination with entrepreneurship, but very much so from the sidelines. I admired people who thought differently and innovatively, and who took the initiative and risk to forge new and creative paths. All my experiences since finding out about human trafficking and exploitation has led me to conclude that a lack of safe and dignified employment directly or indirectly fuels much of this incredibly complex global social issue. Capitalism isn’t theoretically a bad thing. It’s just that greed has pushed for bottom line growth at the expense of those who are least able to stand up for themselves.
I don’t think it’s particularly innovative to create supply chains that directly create social impact. It’s something that should have always been – if everyone in the supply chain was compensated fairly, there wouldn’t be a need to create consumer goods social enterprises.
Where did the name ThreeOneSix originate?
The combination of the numbers three, one and six have always had symbolism in my life. The simplest explanation is:
- Exploitation is a combination social, environmental and economic (three) problems
- threeonesix as (one) solution to those problems
- And the hand gesture for six is the same as the one they use in surf culture for “all good” or “good times”
What differentiates your tea range from others on the market?
First and foremost, threeonesix is a vehicle for social impact – a social enterprise that creates sustainable options away from exploitation. We just happen to be in the tea sector.
What differentiates us in the social enterprise space is that we create our impact through our supply chain. This is still an exception, as most social enterprise models generate impact via profits they donate. The large majority of social enterprises are small to medium sized enterprises, that often struggle with obtaining and maintaining consistent profitability. The problem we are trying to combat is exploitation that is caused by a lack of safe and dignified employment options. By providing these options to people particularly susceptible to exploitation, the life-changing impact comes in the form of them being able to meet their basic and healthcare needs, and afford to pay for their children to complete education. As we are an enterprise, we can also choose to donate a portion of our profits to fund specific projects to turbo-charge the impact we create through our supply chain.
We have high hopes to grow our business into a brand, where we bring together conscious consumers into the mainstream. Without having to rely on profits to create impact, our enterprise has the same financial model seen in other consumer goods enterprises. So by growing “big enough” and bringing together market demand for socially impactful goods, hopefully we can encourage other consumer goods enterprises to develop more socially impactful models.
On the tea side, we are quite possibly Australia’s only specialty tea company that does not exploit people or planet. Our tea is certified USDA organic, and those who pick and process the tea are truly empowered away from poverty or exploitation.
What has been one of your greatest challenges so far and how are you/did you overcome it?
There have been so many challenges! As threeonesix is still a startup, it’s all about the hustle. There’s so much work to do that your daily end point is as long as your piece of string. Throw in the anxiety of having to forge your own path, and the uncertainty of having all of your life’s savings in the business and things can sometimes get a little too hard to handle. I’ve personally experienced a breakdown, caused by persisting anxiety and depression. Here are five things I’ve found to help:
- Successful entrepreneurs all tell hero stories. These stories are often exaggerated. Don’t try to be a hero. So what if work needs to be done right now? If what you are doing is worthwhile, people will wait if you tell them why it’ll be late. People often don’t even know it’s late!
- Balance out your life. Splurge on at least one hobby that doesn’t relate to what you do.
- Each week, think of a way to complete one of your work activities better or faster.
- Meditation and mindfulness. Do it. It helps you focus on the now. Why continuously plan ahead and worry about the future, when your present self has the largest impact on your future?
- And if you find you can’t do the above, reach out to people and try to explore why you can’t. Could be family, friends, a professional of some kind.
What does a standard day look like for you?
My work day changes dramatically from day to day, week to week. It could include sales meetings, customer service sessions, industry events, social media / online activities, tea events, packing and shipping tea, or product development with large customers.
However, I have a ritual for the start of each day. I am a slight coffee nerd, so I take time to brew the best cup of coffee I can. I weigh the beans out and heat up my water to the exact levels I need (I have a kettle that I can set temperatures!). I have yoghurt, granola and lots of almonds and macadamia nuts to keep up my serotonin levels. After brekky, I spend around 45 mins doing yoga, meditation, and I journal at the end to consolidate my thoughts.
You have managed to teach yourself a lot on the job. What advice do you have for other young people wanting to build their skill set?
I love learning new things! Not just knowledge, but new abilities. This can go well with running a startup from a financial point of view. However, running a startup is full on enough so paying someone to do it for you could yield a better return on your time invested.
I guess the main consideration for me is to learn in a cheapest and most efficient way possible. Find ways to have knowledge accessible to you – whether it be finding key online resources, or to pay someone to teach me. Here are three cool examples:
- When I started threeonesix, I had never created a website. I chose Squarespace because of its huge online community forums. I figured I could learn on the go as much as I could and if I got stuck, I could find an answer on the forums (this was the case 90% of the time). I developed my entire website myself (took me around a week full-time), and saved $4000 in the process. I’m proud to say that I’ve received nice feedback from it – you should definitely check it out 😉
- A creative agency offered their social media services to me for $500 per month. Instead, I bought a Nikon DSLR (I haggled liked crazy) for $400, and spent a couple of days youtubing the basics, and also how to use Adobe Lightroom for post production. I then paid an amazing photographer friend of mine to teach me some of his photography tricks, along with giving me pointers to create shots that related to my branding (composition, lighting, colours, lines). I now have some skill in photography, and am able to smash out a social media post quickly if I need to for nothing.
- I love marketing and branding, but knew that doing it myself would take up countless hours– I’m often a perfectionist. It would also create a lot of risk for tunnel vision. I paid a creative agency to work on my branding for me, and I really surrendered all of my prior thoughts on how threeonesix should be branded, but remained really engaged in the brand development process. I came out of the experience with branding ingredients that are way better than anything I would have created myself, and many branding tips that I hadn’t considered or had before.
I like your principle that social enterprise is enterprise. Can you explain this for readers, please?
Yeh! It’s crazy that we see social enterprise models as a lesser version of enterprise. I truly believe they should be equal, and what we’re seeing now is enterprises becoming more conscious about their social footprint. For those of us who live in developed nations, we more often than we think reinforce socioeconomic inequality in developing nations with our life choices. From the clothes we wear, the electronic devices we use, the coffee and tea we drink and the snacks we consume. The raw materials of these products come from developing nations, where wages are predominantly unfair and labour conditions unethical. This means that people either aren’t paid enough to meet their basic needs, or they are unable to access health care for illnesses caused by their poor working and living conditions
What this means is that companies buy these raw materials at a lower price than what they are worth. Someone in the supply chain has subsidised the final product cost that we as consumers expect to pay for – someone who has a much poorer livelihood than you, has subsidised your cost. The blame isn’t solely on us as consumers – it is also on companies that do not choose to commit to ethically sourcing and producing the products even though they can.
Enterprise or capitalism has long had a bad rep for the above. By doing so, enterprise has contributed towards the need to bring about justice and equality to those hard done by. I believe the enterprise model should be known as a sustainable and efficient way at creating social good. Imagine if all enterprises sourced and produced ethically!? If they did so, then social enterprises (at the very least in the consumer goods sectors) do not need to exist. They’d still be enterprises, but also social enterprises.
Let’s be real, there are lots of tea flavours on the market. What is for favourite flavour and how do you like it brewed?
It’s like choosing your favourite child! Tea is amazing. There are so many different types, and with a quality tea, so many different ways to brew an amazing drink. I’ve gotten into oolong tea for the taste and also health benefits. 4 grams (about two teaspoons), 200ml of water at 85 degrees for 2.5 mins. And you can rebrew that tea about 2-3 times after!
I’ve also gotten into cold brewing tea too – I put some tea in room/cold water in the fridge overnight, and in the morning I have a super refreshing but caffeine filled hit for the day. Perfect for the hot Perth days! Our osmanthus oolong, green oolong and English breakfast make killer cold brews!
How can readers purchase your tea range and find more information?
Please please check out our online store – threeonesix.co/shop We’ve also got all sorts of information about tea, our mission and our social impact strategy on the website too.
We’re also on Instagram and Facebook: @threeonesix.co
Would love for you to follow us on our journey!
How do you choose hope?
Hope to me always has a future aspect to it, but it can be hard to see hope if you struggle to get past the uncertainties of the future. That was definitely me for a while.
When I choose hope, I focus on the present. I focus on embodying great traits like love, happiness, peace and kindness within my daily life structures. It almost becomes a reality where what I do in my work and social life become the vehicles for me to live out those traits. There were times when I couldn’t genuinely do it, but I found that if I searched for people and things that embodied those traits, it would often become infectious.
I’m a firm believer that your present is the biggest factor you can control that affects your future. I feel happier and healthier both in the present, and what I believe the future will hold.