Chef and Entrepreneur Jing Gao Offers Advice for Founders
May 24, 2023
Jing Gao is a chef, entrepreneur, and renowned expert on Chinese cuisine, and she’s on a mission to bring uncensored Chinese flavors to the global table. She was born in Chengdu, Sichuan.

Gao founded Baoism, an award-winning modern-Chinese fast casual restaurant in Shanghai, before founding her successful premium Chinese food company Fly By Jing. Her culinary innovations have been featured in leading magazines and food sections, her personal story as a cultural ambassador and entrepreneur has been seen on the BBC and CNN, and she has been featured in the pages of Forbes, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and more. Fly By Jing began as a direct-to-consumer ecommerce brand and can now be found in stores across North America.

Fly by Jing has exploded. What do you think is your (pardon the pun) secret sauce?

Our mission and values were very clear from the start, Fly By Jing was about more than hot sauce. We’re about changing the culture, changing the conversation, lowering barriers and allowing for greater understanding of Chinese cuisine. We’ve been fortunate in that we have a really unique product and proposition – a line of Sichuan pantry staples, flavors and sauces showing just how high quality Chinese food can be – and through our tremendous growth since our start in 2018, it’s clear that consumers are eager and ready for a new narrative around Chinese cuisine.

In addition to that, I started this company as a solo founder, so I was the person doing everything. A big transition over the past two years has been to let go of controlling every little bit and just allow things to actually grow faster once I let go.

Cultivating the team around the brand – I believe that’s the secret sauce. I’m excited to continue building a lasting brand, a brand that will become a heritage brand one day. A lot of growth and success is the product, but so much of it is the people who are building it – once you have that right, everything else falls into place.

You are a 2x founder; what lessons have you learned as a startup founder that surprised you?

What I’ve learned as a founder is to let your challenges and instincts guide you. Seek advice and learn from others who have gone down the same path before, because every mistake has already been made. You can save yourself a lot of time and money by not reinventing the wheel.

What growth hacking tricks have really helped set your business up for success?

When I’m creating a new product, I tell my inner circle and community. Early reactions can be your first form of validation. I love seeing people’s eyes light up when they try a new flavor or sauce — especially the sauce that became our top-selling Sichuan Chili Crisp. That was the ‘aha’ moment that it was special and could stand on its own as a product. Another principle I follow is to let my challenges and instincts guide me. It’s important to maintain my own perspective and identity in order to build a business that stems from something deeply personal. It’s nearly impossible not to infuse your own identity and values into the company, so lean into it.

Did you have any female mentors who were particularly helpful and if so, what did they do that helped?

The best advice I've received was from my good friend and mentor, Vanessa Dew, co-founder at Health-Ade. She told me to surround myself with other women founders and founders of color who get it. I took her at her word, and my small, but incredible community of founders have shared tips, tricks, and emotional support whenever the times get tough.

You’ve worn a number of different hats. How did that help you with what you are doing now?

From running an underground supper club to launching one of the fastest-growing premium Chinese food companies, I’ve realized that passion is not something you are born with, but something you create through hard work. I didn’t develop a passion for China's rich culinary landscape until I moved back to Chengdu in my early twenties – I fell in love with the complexity and diversity of Chinese cuisine. Through working in restaurants and running roving popup dinners, I found that the parts I loved the most about the process were the product creation, the flavor creation, the storytelling and the branding. I knew that I wanted to bring these flavors to a wider audience on a larger scale, and I wanted to challenge the existing notions about what Chinese food can be or should be. If you’re passionate about something and you put work into it, that enables you to tell a richer story around it. From the start, Fly By Jing resonated with people who saw the product's value in introducing complex Sichuan flavors in a way that hadn't really been done before. Looking back, my strong desire to innovate and disrupt the monolith of Chinese cuisine is what has helped fuel Fly By Jing’s journey and those who have supported us all along the way.

Who are a few women you admire today?

There are too many to name, but they would include the women founders in my network, like Sahra Nguyen from Nguyen Coffee Supply, Melanie Masarin from Ghia, Sana Javeri Kadri from Diaspora, Vanessa and Kim from Omsom, Vanessa Dew from Healthade, Rosalia Park of Cereal Magazine and Francis Gallery, and the list goes on.

What’s one thing you cannot live without?

FBJ’s Sichuan Chili Crisp and my himalayan quartz crystals.



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