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  • Writer's pictureJenyfer Maisonneuve

The Poke Girl

How I became the Poke Bowl Girl in small and remote village, 5 hours drive away from Panama City.

This article is based on my own experience and what I have learned in the last year (2019) especially in Playa Venao (Panama) by starting my little home business: selling Tuna Poke Bowl to the local people of the beach. These two months in a remote area and this incredible experience of making food for amazing people helped me (surprisingly!) make peace with my past entrepreneur adventure "échec". It also gave me the opportunity to regain confidence, learn more about myself and seek a purpose before money itself.

One year ago, December 2018, I moved to Israel, the so called "Startup Nation". The path of adaptation was not an easy task. You are being help by the government and different agencies to make your integration as smooth as possible, but still remain the feeling being a stranger at home.

The language is important to run easily into the ecosystem, the society and so I decided to attend one of the best Ulpan (a school that enable new immigrants to learn Hebrew in a few month with intensive classes) in Jerusalem: Ulpan Etzion. Amazing teachers, amazing environment but living conditions we're quite difficult for a 33 years Montrealer like me that was used to lived in the old port in a nice and new apartment. It was not the same at all. I almost freaked out when I entered my room. First challenge : review what you are ready to give up for your goal.

I had Hebrew lessons everyday at 8 am for 5 hours straight. INTENSE! -Last time I did this was 10 years ago...- While working ( on contract) and planning my wedding in a country where I had NO idea who was who and who we're the best suppliers. Ask me in Montreal and I know everyone! Easy task. Thanks G-d, the wedding went amazing well and indeed was one of the most beautiful day of my life! Second challenge: organize well your time to reach your plan.

Third challenge: be ready to step out of the box (part 1). The whole concept of this life change made me step outside my comfort zone at every level. Not a bit, a humongous step outside the F*** box! As an entrepreneur we are being demanded to think outside the box, to be creative, to not be shy to ask for help and work hard hard hard. But is it the only recipe? What are the best ingredients? Are all entrepreneurs the same? I believe that everyone has its own way to deal and survive the entrepreneur path.

The end of an adventure...

Have you ever experienced a failure with your business? Lost your faith in entrepreneurship? Or maybe you are still recovering from a failed project, a company or just even being tossed away by a partner? Have you been trying for a while to become an entrepreneur, but you feel you do not have the top 10 idea to quit your job and launch yourself? I did.

Two and half years ago, I faced a failure: my first entrepreneurial experience lasted about a year. It was quite an adventure that I shared with an amazing team and partners. Still, I felt so bitter when we decided to stop the adventure. My dream fell in front of my eyes, like a ice castle breaking into millions pieces. I was heartbroken. I had to digest this failure. I used many ways to overcome the feeling of failing. My advise?

Let your fears guide you and do not try to kill them. Live with them and use them to think and act differently. Many people around us tell us too often to keep the positive mindset when you are an entrepreneur or just "start something new". Just that? Sometimes, you face challenges that put you down or people that literally want to screw you. It is part of the game. You have to find strength within you and keep your vision focused.

...the beginning of a new journey.

Almost 5 months ago, a 1 month after my wedding, my husband asked me to follow him in Panama as he had to work on a project with his associates.

We had not yet found our nest in Jerusalem that he was asking me to go travel with him. We were living at his parents house, like a 20 years old again ( for me, after leaving almost alone since my 25 year old). I was freakin' out! After 7 months of struggle since my arrival in Israel, I was just starting to feel a bit more home and well surrounded with friends and his family. But no, that was not what G-D has decided for us. Another trial for me, get a little bit more outside the box. challenge yourself and put fears aside. What about my career? When will I be able to start working on my startup nation ecosystem and make my name known in Israel like I did in Montreal? I had no clue... I was scared and somehow sad or even mad.

Nonetheless, on the 30th of July we were on a plane to #Panama. Panama city is quite disturbing in a way as it is quite different from the rest of the country. The city looks like a mini New York or Miami. It is a very active city. The Canal of Panama business counts for most of the country's economy and businesses activities in the city. Without of course forgetting banks ecosystem that have made their home in the "city of knowledge". I was ready to get out of this town.

Just go to Playa Venao and find yourself.

A month after we arrived in Panama, we decided to move away from the city and we continue the adventure to "Playa Venao", a little surf beach heaven 5 hours away from the big center. Almost nothing around beside a few hostels, restaurants, a mini market ( like a dépanneur) and wonderful people. My moral was a little down as I was feeling a bit useless since we were in Panama... working remotely as a #digitalnomad, doing ecommerce contracts - my forever passion - but still not feeling I was working on the pursuit of my career, neither on my new life I had just started in Israel. I was in a negative mindset. And everyone could feel it around me. Until one day, I decided that no one can help me, but myself.

After letting myself get bored on purpose and doing the back and forth walk on the beautiful beach of Playa Venao, I decided to try something new. Find an opportunity that would challenge myself again beside my LELA contracts. Let time do his work and the opportunity will be in front of you...

I decided to make POKE BOWLS. Why? One day, I wanted to eat one and there was none of this meal in any restaurant around the beach, not even the sushi place. I went to the specialized store back in the city ( 5 hours away) and bought everything I needed with a small investment of $300 and decided to immerse myself into the Art of POKE.

I have never been a chef ( or wanting to be) nor even touched the art of sushi nor raw fish before. Everything was new and I had to find a way to sell my POKE around the beach without having a restaurant... CHALLENGE!

Think outside the box part 2. Again? How far I need to step outside this damn box in the last year? How far I have to challenge myself and control my fears? I have fears and way more than I thought. At 33 years old you have more habits that you thought. I was more complex than I thought. In Montreal, I used to be like a fish in the sea: getting around my network and ecosystem so easily because I knew very well the formula. And then, oops a big black whole. Like if all of a sudden your are blind. How do you deal with that feeling?

Think outside the box part 3. Being a digital nomad or being able to travel around the world without having a fix income can be quite stressful. You have to work harder and smarter. You also want to enjoy the travel has it is the reason why you are doing it. But still there is like this big coconut just pending on top of your head, ready to fall any minute and knock you out! Be ready to face many challenges but trust the most powerful help: the humans relationships. Open yourself to the people you will meet around they are also part of the equation.

How I regain my entrepreneur mindset?

Making POKE Bowls helped me regain my trust into entrepreneurship. I had found an opportunity ( I decided to surf the wave) and the demand for poke in my first week of opening went beyond expectation. The second, third weeks, more and more orders came in as I was also gaining recurring customers. #beautifulpeople

I worked hard on the product taste and made sure I was respecting the art of the tuna poke. Every 3 days, I was buying tuna to the local fisherman and my vegetables from the locals farmers here in Playa Venao. I even supplied from the city my second order of specialized products required for making the best poke in Playa Venao. I have never done something like that before... It is like all of sudden, I became The Poke Girl. One of the entrepreneur of the area (there are a few) was opening a small food court on the beach asked me to rent one of the space available to sell my poke. Can I tell you how honored I was to hear that? I declined the offer. But just to know that I had catch the interest of some of the investors people here gave me the feeling I succeed (in my own terms). Thank you Scott for offering me that chance! I even started a group where tourists and locals can make their orders. They literally shared the love for it and this was pure joy!

I started to feel happy again has I had a purpose on the beach: making poke bowls, making people happy with good healthy food. It is a small place, thus a very small market, but I was known as the "poke girl" and the people do the words of mouth as it is common in small village. This personal experience as small as it sounds just made me regain trust in my entrepreneurship skills thanks to the people, but also myself. But this trial, this beautiful journey was not without risks. I had to be careful about one important thing: the freshness of the food ( the tuna had to be fresh and I threw a lot of them), the presentation of the dish and more important making sure I was available to deliver my clients on time.

Many times, I had to deal with their hunger. :-) As much as you try to plan the number of orders per day you may have, it is a very very unstable business. Plus the fact that I didn't have a official restaurant or selling point made it challenging to grow my business with tourists. Locals knew me. They spread the word about the Poke Girl, but still how to reach the others? Some days, I had more orders than expected and could not deliver as there was no more supplies ( the tuna for example) for the day. I was literally loosing sales at the end of the day. With time, I started to understand how it worked for my little home business. I learned how to manage my risks, but also how to think in advance.

How small things can change your vision about being an entrepreneur?

Risk management is one of my favorite values in doing business. It is always important to know how much you can afford to loose or risk. It can be money, time, friends, network, etc. Anything that has a value for you that can be at risk when you decide to dive into your project. Learn how to surf the wave.

Sometimes, you feel you're a step forward and the next day you moved back 2 steps. One step forward, 2 steps back... it is frustrating and can use a lot of your precious time and energy.

That is why small gains are very important. They place themselves in a long term benefit more than a short term outcome. If you celebrate ( positively rewarding yourself by acknowledging it) your small wins or battles you will get the habits of it. The sums of these smalls wins (or quick wins) will eventually surpass a big win ( that can also just fade away as fast as it came) and will compensate for the time you felt your were stepping backward.

In another words, the risk for me to accept the food court offer and sell my poke bowls there was to sign a year contract (we planned to stay only 2 months ) + renting the space + employ staff and then accept to loose money at the beginning to find my best formula to make benefits or just be breakeven. I was not ready for 2 reasons: 1) Staying one year on the beach of Playa Venao and develop this small business bigger and more officially. Time will tell if it was a "mistake" or just a good bridge for another idea back in Israel. 2) The money made out of selling poke bowl was our cash on the beach. There was no cash withdrawal in the village. Only a few kilometers away and we had no car. So every poke bowl sold was for my husband and I our pocket money. For groceries, for going out, for a drink here and there. These were my small wins every time. Make people happy and earn ourselves money to live on the beach.

In the end, do not be scare of testing yourself. Find an opportunity and test it. See yourself immersing into it, visualize it and just try. Calculate your risk, how much can you afford to loose and again try.

For the anecdote, I stopped doing Poke bowl two weeks before we left. And one of the new beach restaurants added a poke bowl recipe to their menu. I was so happy to see that starting something can also inspire others to continue what you started. They grabbed the opportunity and it is just fine.

Being an entrepreneur it is a mindset. Never think your idea is too small.

  • Believe it

***I am back in Israel. Continuing my journey with extra energy and lots of ambition. Thus, if you are aware of a company looking for a digital /ecommerce services with a passion for organizing corporate events or thinking outside the box let them know about me. Thank you!

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