Scaling a Small Business: A Balancing Act of Profitability and Sustainability

The LMU Center for Asian Business, D.K. Kim Foundation Lecture Series in collaboration with the Center for International Business Education and the Center for Entrepreneurship hosted a special webinar on Tuesday, October 27, 2020, featuring Mylen Yamamoto Tansingco, founder of Cropmade. Tansingco formerly served as associate director of the LMU Fred Kiesner Center for Entrepreneurship and is a winner of the Small Business Administration’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Cropmade produces Cropsticks– chopsticks that feature a built-in rest and are made from eco-friendly bamboo. Headquartered in Los Angeles, with branches in Hawaii, Monaco and Mexico, and with plans to expand into the United Kingdom, Cropmade is a thriving global business with national distributors, hotels and restaurant chains, including Disney Parks and Resorts and The Four Seasons. In 2021, Cropmade will expand into the retail market in stores like Cost Plus World Market.

From the beginning, sustainability was central to the founding of Cropmade. It is a Certified B Corporation having met the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and accountability to balance profit and purpose.  “Our core mission is to leave a greener environment for future generations,” said Tansingco. “We’re a proud Certified B Corporation.”

Tansingco described how Chopsticks came to life, from the idea, to the prototype made on a 3-D printer to crowdfunding, a launch in 2017, and an appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank. She is very thankful for the opportunity to appear on the TV show. “Every time [Shark Tank] airs in each time zone there is a huge bump in sales.”

Tansingco’s first venture into entrepreneurship was selling brownies to her high school classmates where she learned a lesson that still informs her today: Go where the market is. She contributes Cropmade’s success to additional lessons learned surrounding gratitude, loyalty and friendships, which she highly values. Tansingco explained how the YouTube influencers she represents through her first entrepreneurial venture, Clique Now, a talent management company, “blasted” Cropsticks into the global internet. “I learned to be grateful and humble because it’s your community that lifts you up. For us, it was people stepping up so I could get funding through Kickstarter.”

Like many companies, with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, Cropmade has had to make a pivot. “I thought of the stakeholders — customers, employees, vendors, investors — and the whole supply chain that gets affected,” said Tansingco. “We have all had to step back in 2020 and reassess what matters the most. For every decision that we make along the way, we have to be profitable, but for us if it doesn’t match our mission statement, add to sustainability or leave behind a greener environment for future generations, then we say no.”

Taking the mission of sustainability further, Cropmade has a new product— bamboo fiber straws made from sawdust leftover from the manufacturing of Cropsticks. The straws are biodegradable and do not get soggy like paper-straws.

Cropmade has stayed true to its mission and, in turn, opportunities continue to follow. “Sustainability can be profitable,” Tansingco concluded.