The Importance of Building Connections in Business with Amanda Yu-Nguyen, Founder of Barkuterie Boards

Welcome to another episode of The Female Founder with Bridget Fitzpatrick, Co-founder of ASBN and the CBT Automotive Network. The Female Founder is a show all about helping women grow their businesses and reach their full potential. Each episode will highlight inspiring stories and advice from female entrepreneurs to help you build and grow your business. This show is designed to inspire and motivate other female founders to be the best entrepreneurs they can be.

Today’s guest is Amanda Yu-Nguyen, founder of Barkuterie Boards, an Atlanta-based small business that curates charcuterie-style boards for dogs using quality ingredients. Barkuterie Boards has been featured in the New York Times, Wear Wag Repeat Podcast, The Wildest, and more.

Transcription: 

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Amanda Yu-Nguyen, founder of Barkuterie Boards, has combined her love of dogs and food to create handmade, made-to-order charcuterie boards for dogs. Amanda, thank you so much for joining us today.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes. So such an interesting business that you have. Talk to us about how you got started and how this all came to be.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yeah, so it all started, my partner and I, we attended a wedding during … it was a COVID wedding and after the ceremony, we were gifted charcuterie boxes to go as a way to celebrate our friends who had just gotten married. And we were sitting in the family room, eating our charcuterie and all of a sudden I was like, wait. I look at our dogs and I look at Tony and I tell him, I’m like, what if they had charcuterie boards for dogs? And he is like, oh, okay, that’s cute.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
And so I’m like, okay, I got to text my sister. She is also dog obsessed like me. I text her and I’m like, charcuterie boards for dogs. What do you think? And she replies all caps. She’s like, oh my gosh, is this a thing? Where do I get this? And from then, the conversation was rolling, and then I decided maybe I have something here. Maybe this is something that’s creative enough that if the two of us would love it, other people would love it too. And that’s really how Barkuterie Board started.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes. I love that. And you started during the pandemic.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Talk to us about how that affected the start of your business.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yeah. So I started in end of 2020 and at the time, for me, I was thinking, well, let’s just start a business, not really thinking about the context of the world around us. I’m like, this is a great idea. I think this makes sense. And quite frankly, I think that in a way, the pandemic helped folks realize what was important and who was there in a great time of need. And that’s our family, our loved ones and our pets. And so creating a product where it’s something to celebrate our pets, our dogs actually ended up taking off pretty well because people wanted to recognize that we’ve been going through some tough times and the folks that have been there and the pets that have been there are really important and they deserve to be celebrated.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. So you start the business, you are currently working full time at Emory University.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So how do you balance that?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yes. I think about this every day. So how do I balance it all? For me, it is setting boundaries and understanding that it’s okay to say no. Right? And so navigating a full-time job and running a small business is a lot. And so for me, the way I navigate that is I look at my schedule each week and I look at what is happening, obviously, with my work, my job, and with Barkuterie Boards. For example, for my local Atlanta based dogs, when I do deliveries or pickups, they’re only on the weekends. And so for me, that boundary is sure, could I take them in the afternoons or in the evenings during the week? I could, but that’s not a good boundary for me. Right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
That would lead to burnout. And so having weekend deliveries, only doing events on weekends or in the evenings, if I’m doing it during the week. And so those boundaries have been really helpful for me to navigate my time, because of course we only have 24 hours in a day.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
I wish we had more. And so knowing that I have a schedule of what I need to do, being able to say no. There may be something that’s really cool that I would love to do, and this is just not the week or not the month for me, being okay with saying no. Right? And understanding that that’s the way I navigate that balance between the two so that they can work cohesively and I can still sleep and eat and spend time with loved ones outside of work in a small business.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. I think that’s great and great advice. There’s a lot of people watching that probably are thinking about starting a business or starting a business, but still have a full time job. I think that’s great advice for them listening as well. Now you have a large following on social media. Talk to us about the importance of that and what else you’re doing to get the word out.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yeah, absolutely. So when I first started Barkuterie Boards, I thought, okay, what do I do? How do I figure out if other people have done this? And so, yeah, I went on the internet, went to social media. I typed in barkuterie, barkuterie boards, various spelling variations. And I saw that folks had been doing it at home for their dogs, but I hadn’t seen any businesses. And obviously social media is not the end all be all of if a business exists or not. But for me, I thought, I am someone that spends time online. I value when my friends are like, Hey, have you heard about this? I saw this on Instagram.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Or did you see this on Facebook? Here’s the link. And so I value that type of connection and I guess influencing if you want to call it that.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
And so I devoted a lot of time, a lot of time on the front end, building relationships with folks through social media, primarily through Instagram, doing my own research. Folks who have dogs and want to spoil them are a certain age range and Instagram is where we go and use …

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
That’s where we spend our time. And so that’s where I decided to focus a lot of my efforts. And so social media has been huge for my business, not just for followers, but really to build that community with dog lovers all across the U.S. And Canada. Of course I’m a small business owner, but I’m also a dog mom. And one of the most valuable things that I have found through connecting through folks on social media is that we can chat about what type of dog food do y’all use? Or my dog suddenly decided to start barking at rabbits in the backyard. Do y’all have tips for that? Right? And so really just connecting as dog lovers with advice and things to share, that has been so valuable for me just as a person. And then of course, tying that into a small business, I think, for me, that authenticity shows that I get it. Right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
I get why we want to spoil our dogs. I get why others would want to do this too, because I’m one of you.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. Right, for sure. Now you’ve just been in business for a couple of years and you’ve already had a feature in the New York Times. Can you talk to us about how that happened and how that affected your business?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yeah, absolutely. So how it happened, I was on Instagram and some of my other small business friends here in the Metro Atlanta area were talking about features and highlights that they received, I guess, in their first few years of business. And I happened to connect with a local Atlanta based writer and decided to follow her Instagram. She posted a lot about food and I’m big foodie. So I’m like, oh, this is so great. I am now going to have recommendations from someone who writes about lifestyle food, all of that. And she reached out to me a couple weeks after we had connected on Instagram and said, I pitched an idea to the New York Times about Barkuterie boards. Would you like to set up an interview? And I was like, what? Is this really happening?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
At first, I’m like, is this real? Is this a spam? Is this how people steal my identity? It was real and we did a zoom interview, and she was like, all right, well, it’ll go on print. It’ll be in the lifestyle section. So stay tuned. And so low and behold on April Fool’s day, so April 1st, 2021, the article goes out digital. This is also when I learn my friends are awake much earlier than I am, because The Times, I think, releases at what, five or six in the morning? And I wake up to a slew of text and missed calls, like, you are in the New York Times. I just read an article about you in the New York Times. And I thought, oh my gosh, it happened, it’s real. It went to print. And so I love telling that story because you literally never know, right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
You never know. Anybody that you have a conversation with, that could be a connection. It could be a friend. It could lead to a New York Times feature. And so I am forever grateful to Leah who’s the writer of that article who got published in The Times for really connecting and taking a chance on a fun, innovative idea for pet lovers. And so, yeah. So, that’s the story of how it happened. In terms of the aftermath, quite frankly, that amount of press really forced me to think about a bigger audience. At that time, I was still only doing local deliveries in the Metro Atlanta area, and I was getting emails from people in Colorado, New Jersey. A lot of folks from New York were like, I just read your profile in The Times. Do you ship? And I had to email all these folks, “At the time, no, but I’m working on it.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
And I’m working on it turned into a very, very intense two months studying what I wanted to do. How do I ship? How do I make a perishable version, non-perishable? What are all the things I need to do in the back end as a business owner to make sure I’m doing this correctly? And then I launched nationwide shipping June 2021. So the feature, April, shipping, June. Had I not had the feature in the New York Times, I’m sure I would’ve taken a little more time, but I really credit that press and publicity for helping me go to that next step.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. It’s nice to have those things to catapult you a little quicker sometimes, right?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
A hundred percent. Yeah.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So we talked about this a little bit before the interview. Now that also helped you decide how to tell your employer, okay, now I’m doing this. How’s this going to fit in? Make sure that they understand what you’re doing so that it doesn’t interrupt your day job? Talk to us about that conversation.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yeah, absolutely. So when I started this small business, I had and still have a full-time job. So it was really important to me, going back to the conversation about boundaries, is that I have these two separate things. They’re very different anyway and so what I do at my full-time job and what I do for Barkuterie Boards is very, very different. And so I reached out to my folks in HR and I basically said, for the New York Times feature, they interviewed me and asked about employment and I gave them my place of employment. So I basically asked HR and I said, Hey, I got interviewed. I might be featured in the New York Times and I’m requesting permission, or if it’s okay to mention that I work here, I work at Emory. And HR said, yes, there’s no conflict of interest. Thanks for checking in. You’re not doing your small business during your job or doing your job during your small business.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
It’s fine. You’re fine to do that. And so I thought, okay, great, that’s wonderful.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
And I also have a lot of other small business friends who are in the same boat as me, where we’re working our full time jobs and then we’re hustling when we have other free hours to work on our small business. And so it’s a very real thing that I think a lot of people navigate. And I’ve been thankful that HR gave their blessing and also understood that there wasn’t a conflict and that because I set the boundaries that I do, there’s really not much interaction unless someone at work happens to want a board for their dog at home.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. Yeah. Right. Great. No, I think that’s great. We had an employee recently in the last few years that came to us who was very transparent like you were. I’m working on this on the side and one day I’d like to make this my full-time gig. And she was very upfront. She said, I’m going to give myself a year here. She was with us for five years, so we had a good trust factor there. And she said, I’m going to plan on being out of here in a year just to continue my business. And she wanted to make sure everything was cool with us. It was, and she laid out her plan and she did just that. She gave us plenty of notice, the year. And then she also said, okay, that year’s here now. Next month I’m going to be … and as an employer, and as you have employees, we appreciated it very much to have that transparency from the person working for us, so there’s two sides to that. So I’m sure they appreciated you going to them and talking to them about it to make sure that there were no issues, so that’s good.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yeah, absolutely.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Now there are a lot of women watching, thinking about starting a business. What advice would you give them?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
To just do it, which sounds so cliche. I know when I first thought about, am I going to make this a small business or not? I did a lot of research of my own, and there’s so many videos and YouTube videos where people are just like, believe in yourself, just do it. I’m like, that’s so easy to say, but that’s really the fact of the matter is, had an idea, enough folks in my life whose opinions I really truly cherish and value said, I think you should go for this. You’ve got something going on. And so I don’t come from an entrepreneurial background. I don’t come from a family of small business owners. This is a very far left in my typical knowledge of what I know and what I went to school for.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
And I thought, okay, what’s the worst that could happen? It doesn’t work out, but I won’t know unless I try. Right? And so getting over that hump of, but I don’t know what I’m doing, so why should I do this? To there are so many resources, right? Whether the resources are online, in your library, with friends, with small businesses in your community who are so willing to help each other out, to brainstorm, the number of small business owners that I have as friends now, where we can consult or grip if something bad is going on or shipping takes forever. And having that network has really built my confidence as well. And so the advice as cliche as it sounds never in my wildest dreams that I think that this would be the outcome of an idea I had sitting on the couch. Right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
And then here we are. And so without getting over that fear of the unknown, I would’ve never really had these opportunities.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
And so if someone’s out there and they’re sitting and thinking, or if they’re thinking, oh, someone else is already doing this, figure out what makes you unique, figure out what makes your products unique and then just go for it. Right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
We are all unique individuals. And sure, I started this business, but now there’s other folks in other areas of the U.S. that are doing their own thing as well. And we all have our own unique spin, right? I’m not saying go and copy someone else, but figure out why you want to do something, what your unique addition to whatever field and industry you provide and then just go for it.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. I love that. It sounds like you jumped in so hard and fast that you didn’t allow yourself time to be afraid of anything or overthink anything. So I think that’s good advice too, because we can slow ourselves down if we have an idea to do something, because we start thinking logistically and about all the things that could go wrong and not just go for it and do it, so that is great advice.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yeah. That’s a really great way to reframe that. I did jump in. I dove in and was just like, all right, we got to figure it out. Exactly. Yeah. So I’m like, I guess we make this happen now.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right. Yeah. I love that. Now you talked about your support group. Do you have anybody that you look to for advice in business or a mentor? Anyone like that?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yeah. So I have a couple of small business friends that I have connected with over the past year and a half in business. I have a friend named Rachel. She’s the owner of Botanical Bones, and she’s based out of Asheville, and she makes lovely little dog treats with amazing, clean ingredients. We align a lot with our business models, just who we are as people, our values and our mission. And she and I have had some similar opportunities in the past where we could really go to each other and be like, in this specific situation, what are you thinking? Or what would you do in this situation?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
I have a couple of other friends as well, who I bounce ideas off of to be like, all right, does this sound good? What are you doing? What’s it look like in your market where you are? But having those folks to really lean on has been such a lifesaver because as I said before, if there’s something, you don’t know what’s happening, or you don’t know what to do, it’s always good to have that support.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Outside of the small business world, of course, having my family, my loved ones and friends, even if they are not into the business side of things, they’re really supportive as friends and they can sometimes provide ideas or they’ll send me things from time to time. Like, “I saw this dog thing and I thought of you.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
“I don’t know what you can do with this, but here’s something fun that made me think of you.” And so having that personal and professional funnels of support have been really major lifelines for me.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes, both sides are so important.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Now, do you think there are certain characteristics that an entrepreneur has to have?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
That is a great question. I think a little bit of self-confidence is important. It goes back to knowing that your product is great and knowing that you are the right person to make that product, right? There are probably countless times where I’m sure when I first started this business, I thought, am I the right person to do this? Yes. Yes, I am. This is a good idea. I believe in it, and if I believe in it, others can believe in it too. Right?

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
So being able to sell that product, I think, is a part of being a small business owner, especially if you’re product based, and even service based as well. For me, I’ve worked a lot in my life in general on confidence and knowing my worth and knowing that if I have an idea and I really truly believe in it. And as I test things out that’s validated by those that are external to me, knowing that at least for me, I still believe in this product, this is valuable, then this is how I move forward. Obviously saying that, it’s easier said than done. Be just like, just have confidence, but that can be very difficult.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
It’s necessary, right?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
But it’s so necessary. Right. And so whether you’re a small business owner or you’re thinking about starting a small business, know that you are capable of handling those challenges. Right? I didn’t really even give myself time to think about if I could handle the challenges. I jumped in and was like, oh, I guess now I have to figure it out. So whether you want to do it a little bit chaotically like me, or you want to really sit through and think about things, you have that capacity to do it. And those fears and the second guessing, I think that’s part of human nature and what sets small business owners apart is making that jump.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, for sure. Now let’s talk about the boards a little bit.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yeah.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Where do you get your inspiration?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yeah, absolutely. So heavily inspired by the charcuterie boards of the human variety.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Okay.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
I read a lot of food styling, food trend tips. So anything that I see in the human food world, I see if I can replicate that for dog friendly. So for example, on my local boards, I do little cucumber roses. I am not the inventor of cucumber roses. You’ll see those on charcuterie platters as well. And so I thought, well, I did a little bit of research, talked to my vet. Cucumbers are good for dogs and so let me add that on the boards. When you think about a human charcuterie platter, it’s a lot of meats, cheeses, you’re sampling a lot of different things. And so that’s a similar concept for me. So I’m not trying to do a baker’s dozen of baked goods. I’m really trying to focus on high quality, novel proteins for dogs. It might be things they’ve never tried before.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
For example, I have New Zealand green lipped mussel, right? I’m like, who eats that? Do I eat that? I’m like, I eat mussels, but do dogs? I did some research, really good for dog joints. I thought, all right, I’m going to source that. From time to time, I’ll have duck, venison. I have coastal Georgia shrimp.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Right? And so I often joke the dogs are eating better than I am these days. So I source local when possible, and I source from other small business owners. So that is something that is really important for me. I really want to create or continue that cycle of small business support. And so all of the snacks that I support or source, if they’re not local, then they’re small business. If they’re fellow female founded or owned businesses, that’s even better.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
I’m trying to think of everything on the board that I have today that I brought to the studio is sourced from women known businesses.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
So, yeah.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice. That’s great. So you have this size that we see here. Do you have other sizes and other varieties to order?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
So if you are throwing a party or if you’re a business and you have a corporate event or you want to do an appreciation for employees or even residents in an apartment complex, I do have a standard board, but I also doggy grazing tables.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
And so if people are familiar with the concept of those charcuterie grazing tables, like at weddings where it’s just this big, long table of stuff, I do a similar, scaled down version for dogs. And so I’ll provide the high quality proteins, I’ll have doggy treats and snacks. The cookies that I use again are sourced from fellow small business owners and they’re short ingredient lists, right? So filled with ingredients that you can pronounce versus maybe things that you see in the stores that you cannot pronounce.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Yeah.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
And so I’ll do a nice spread. In the human charcuterie world, salami rivers are very popular. So my alternative to that is I have these little pieces of steak with Lotus root, and so I’ll make that in a little river shape. I’ll do the cucumber roses. I’ll cut names out in cheese letters and display in a way that it looks like one of those grazing tables. And so that’s for parties. I do little snack packs if someone’s like, oh, I’m having a dog birthday party.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Aww.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
And instead of having maybe one board, I want little to go pecks for all my friends and their dogs that come. So I’ll do things like that, so there’s a scale. There’s another product I have that I really love is a doggy dim sum steamer, so it’s a nod to my culture. Being Chinese and Cantonese, I grew up going to dim sum and loving the food, and it’s a similar concept. You pick and choose what you want to eat and you sample. So the doggy dim sum steamer I have, it includes duck foot, which is what you have in dim sum. There’s also beef tripe and there’s also a little doggy friendly fortune cookie. So it’s a fun way to connect, yeah, my identity with one of my products.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
I love that. Now, if someone’s looking to order a barkuterie board from you, how would they get ahold of you?

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Yeah, absolutely. So I have a shop and it’s just barkuterieboards, all one word,.com. If you’re really interested in the social media side of things, I post a lot of sneak peeks, tips, upcoming events and things like that on Instagram and on Facebook. And again, it’s just all @BarkuterieBoards.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Amanda. It’s been wonderful having you. We really appreciate you being here.

Amanda Yu-Nguyen:
Great. Thank you so much.

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