Jenny Eu’s lifelong goal of founding her own business was inspired by her father, who started an import and distribution enterprise that specializes in metal alloys. “I’ve seen my father make his work a part of his life. He built a solid business with a great culture, where the right people want to stay for a long time. And they become like family,” she says.
“My dad treats every employee and customer as a partner, and in every decision, he thinks about what’s best for them first,” Eu continues. “That guiding principle, along with core values such as integrity and commitment to excellence, is what sets his company apart. That’s the kind of company I want to build.”
When considering what type of business to start, Eu, of course, thought of her father. “I learned from my dad that it’s really important to be passionate about the product you’re trying to sell if you’re going to succeed,” she says.
But when it came to the specifics, she was inspired by her grandmother. On visits to her grandmother’s home near a forested area of Taiwan, she had learned from the older woman about the nutritional value of the edible plants that grew nearby, and Eu thought about getting involved in “good-tasting and nutritious and healthful” natural, plant-based foods.
She set out to learn as much as possible before starting her business. Eu began as a management consultant in Asia and the United States, gaining exposure to the range of challenges faced by her clients and discovering her love for consumer products marketing. Then she entered the Stanford MBA Program. She recalls Stanford GSB as “a great opportunity to explore. I tried to do as much of that as possible. Everyone’s door is open to you.”
An Entrée Into the Food Business
In her second year at Stanford GSB, her team in marketing class was assigned a brand audit, an analysis of a brand they respected. Eu loved Wallaby Yogurt for its delicious products and small-brand feel. The company had been founded by a Stanford GSB alumnus, Jerry Chou, MBA ’91, who agreed to provide her with the support she needed for the project.
Eu admired the company and ended up working with management to create a role that would be a fit for her after graduation. “I remember Professor Irv Grousbeck [the MBA Class of 1980 Adjunct Professor of Management] saying that if you think you want to be an entrepreneur but aren’t really sure, you should start by working at a smaller company,” she says. “If you work at a larger company, you grow accustomed to the support and structure, and it becomes harder to leave and take those risks.”
She took that advice to heart when she started at Wallaby after earning her MBA in 2003. “My decision to work with Wallaby was ultimately about brand love and wanting experience in the food industry,” Eu says.
In 2012, Eu felt ready to take the leap she’d been planning all those years. “My initial idea was a line of herbal teas, but I couldn’t get the ‘prototypes’ to taste right, or access the right Asian ingredients,” she says.
Then one day, she tried tossing nuts into her soy milk maker, which produced nut milks that she found to be really creamy and delicious. “I included them in the ‘consumer focus groups’ that I was doing on my friends, and the nut milks were the winner,” she says.
Believing that what she had created was superior to the dairy alternatives on the market, which usually contain additives and include fewer nuts, she turned to selling her natural almond milks.
Remembering her walks with her grandmother in the forests of Taiwan, she named her Bay Area company Three Trees Foods Inc., for the three “tree” characters making up the Chinese character that denotes “forest.” Eu financed the growth of her business with savings and revenues. Now her almond milks — the fruits of her family values, passion, and experience — are sold in natural, specialty, and co-op stores on the two coasts.
Photos by Erika Cole