Entrepreneurs of Bentley is an article series profiling the latest innovations and startups from the Bentley University community. Know someone who should be featured? Tell us about it at Bentley.edu/story.
Name: Erika Rouleau ’17
Hometown: Barre, Vermont
Business Major: Marketing
Liberal Studies Major: Media Arts & Society
Minor: Entrepreneurial Studies
Company: SOOSHAY, fast-casual sushi on-the-go restaurant
Since I was 7, I’ve only wanted to do one thing — own my own restaurant. I used to pretend that I had my own cooking show and would talk my way through making dishes! For me, working with food has always been about bringing people together; when everyone is eating, that bond is something that is shared.
When I was deciding between culinary school and business school, I ended up choosing the business route. As I have pursued my restaurant idea, I’ve quickly learned that entrepreneurship is a constant battle against the wind, including red tape when starting a business and finding the funding to get it off the ground. But I love the freedom and the opportunity to make an impact. With entrepreneurship, you don’t really know what tomorrow is going to bring and so there is this excitement and rush about it. The cool thing is if you build something that works, you can use it to make a really positive impact.
How and when did you come up with your idea?
In my course “Planning and Financing New Ventures,” we were challenged to go out into the real world, find a problem and then create a business solution. I explored the food industry and found incredible growth in the fast-casual and build-your-own model food segment. I remember thinking, “How come no one is doing this with sushi?” I found that there are actually really few quality options for sushi on-the-go for people who don’t have the time and money for a sit-down Japanese restaurant, and a majority of people either choose something else to eat or settle for pre-made sushi from a grocery store or café. The problem is that pre-made sushi rolls are often made with low-quality, unhealthy ingredients, and they can sit out for up to 10 hours a day. They also lack personalization or fun.
How would you briefly describe your service to others?
SOOSHAY is a fast-casual sushi restaurant creating high-quality, made-to-order sushi using local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. Think Chipotle but with sushi. We have a focus on sourcing sustainable fish and ingredients (locally whenever possible) so that people can get energy from their food while treating their bodies well. That conscious focus makes a more positive impact where the company, customers and community all win.
What makes your service so valuable in today’s world?
People are busier than ever, grabbing meals between meetings or after yoga class. Fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle and Panera realized this years ago and have since built successful models to give customers quality food in a more convenient way than a traditional sit-down meal, which can be lengthy in time and more expensive. This is the key for millennials — and all generations — who value convenience settle for low-quality like fast food. Enter fast-casual. Millennials also eat out more than any other generation ever before. So for these urban professionals who want to grab high-quality sushi that they can even personalize as they run from meeting to yoga to class (etc.), they’ll gain that convenience.
What have been some of your biggest challenges in becoming an entrepreneur?
A not-so-surprising challenge is with money. Being a college kid with a big idea and little money is a tough story to sell. The first reaction from someone at a bank is to roll their eyes, but you have to understand where they’re coming from and let your research and passion do the talking. On the same note, you have to really know who you’re talking to before walking into a room. For instance, if you’re talking to a bank, spend a good amount of time with the numbers and when they’re getting paid back. If it’s a VC, sell them on that 10-year vision and how your operations and financials are designed to get you there. Details are always important, but sometimes you have to lead with a different focus based on who you’re talking to. This is why having mentors is so important.
What motivates you to continue to work on your business?
The potential to make an impact. I love the buzz and the creativity around the food, but those are all happening “during.” The end goal is that impact. I think of how many people we could bring together to share a bond over meals, how many jobs that we could create and how many young people we could motivate. We could support regional farmers and fisherman, and serve better and healthier ingredients for customers. When the dust settles, entrepreneurship isn’t just about money; it’s about what kind of impact you made along the way.
How do you feel overall about raising money through crowdfunding? Have you ever contributed to a crowdfunding campaign?
I think it’s an awesome opportunity at little cost. For a 3 or 4 percent fee, people can launch an awesome campaign and fundraise some money for a product, event or cause. It’s definitely taking advantage of technology for the better as people from all over the world can support something. I have contributed to friend’s events on platforms like GoFundMe even when I’m in other states . . . it’s a cool way to support.
What qualities do you think successful entrepreneurs possess?
Some sort of fearlessness. If we fail, we do it flat on our face but the word “no” doesn’t really resonate with us because we’re probably already searching for another path. I look up to people like Howard Schultz, who was turned down over 200 times by banks and investors while he tried bringing a new coffee experience to the United States. That company is now Starbucks and is worth over $80 billion. You’re going to hear “no” a lot, but if you really believe in what you’re doing, you will go to great lengths to make it happen.
There are so many new ideas being developed every day. What do you feel sets a successful product/app/service apart from an unsuccessful one?
To me, I think you just have to be different in every way and be successful at telling that story. Warby Parker is a great example. Selling designer eyewear at lesser prices with a huge emphasis on socially conscious behavior is different, but they created a bigger story that people got behind and supported. Simon Sinek [author and motivational speaker] is famous for his line, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” It’s entirely true.
What are your plans for after you graduate? What kind of career do you see yourself having?
I am planning on going after SOOSHAY full-time when I graduate. I hope my career is one where I truly enjoy it and laugh every day. Last summer I listened to the head of HR at TJX answer a question about why she came back to the company after leaving them for a few years to work elsewhere. She said, “That’s easy. I laugh harder here than anywhere I’ve ever worked.” That moment kind of resonated with me and I’ve kept it close ever since.
In what ways has your Bentley education uniquely prepared you to become an entrepreneur?
As much as Bentley’s general business courses are a lot to handle, they prepare you in all aspects of business — accounting, finance, marketing, management, economics and so on. When you get to the higher level GBs you piece all your knowledge together to take on a more managerial role. I think the way the curriculum is designed is so helpful and makes the exit into the real world, starting with internships, that much smoother. I also am extremely proud of Bentley’s triple bottom line approach to business. It has guided me in building ethical values and skills for life.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as you have developed your business?
I keep two pieces of advice close to me. This first is by [Bentley’s Director of Entrepreneurship] Fred Tuffile. He says, “Do what you’re best at, then hire the best for the rest.” No one is good at everything, so don’t waste precious time trying to be. Hire out your flaws. Even when money is tight, you save time and can move faster to being profitable. The other piece of advice that was given to me was by another Bentley mentor of mine, Mike Payne. He told me, “Make yourself uncomfortable at least once a day and you’ll grow faster.” Whether it’s calling up a stranger in my industry or pitching to a group of people, I gain something every time and get stronger.
What advice do you have for other young people, especially college students, who want to become entrepreneurs?
I’m a big believer in learning by doing. Research as much as you can and be a sponge . . . but go do it! Find mentors because you can’t buy experience. I am constantly learning and to have someone who I can call up and ask a question to is invaluable. Don’t work hard, work smart; hire your flaws. And have fun. You’re going to put a lot of time into building something so enjoy it and don’t take it too seriously.