Episode 172
August 22, 2023

Sacrifices, Successes, and Sauces

with Vanessa Pham, Co-Founder and CEO of Omsom

About this episode

Today, Lee sits down with Vanessa Pham, a first-generation Vietnamese-American and the Co-Founder and CEO of Omsom, a loud and proud Asian pantry staple brand. In this episode, Vanessa shares her journey from growing up with her sister (and business partner) Kim, and their Vietnamese refugee parents outside of Boston, to attending Harvard, working in consulting, and starting Omsom after being inspired by the 2016 elections to build something that would shift culture. Tuning in, you’ll find out how her father tried to escape Vietnam seven times before he was successful, the pressure Vanessa felt to honor her parents’ sacrifices and make them proud, and how she bootstrapped the business for the first year by offering SAT tutoring services just to make rent, plus so much more!

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In This Episode You’ll Hear About:

•   [03:16] Ways that Omsom’s proud and loud ethos is a response to growing up “othered.”

•   [07:52] What Vanessa wanted to do and how she was motivated by her parent’s sacrifices.

•   [10:20] Insight into her career trajectory and the pivotal conversation with her dad that helped her let go of external pressure and expectations.

•   [14:09] A look at her journey toward taking more risks and her desire to influence culture.

•   [16:48] How food (and particularly ready-to-use sauces) aligned with Vanessa and Kim’s mission to celebrate Asian stories.

•   [27:20] How they navigated launching Omsom during the early days of the pandemic.

•   [30:27] Vanessa’s advice for community building, marketing, and fundraising.

•   [34:18] Her relentless commitment to personal growth and how it benefits her as a CEO.

•   [41:26] Reflecting on some of the biggest surprises that came with building a business!

•   [46:42] Why Vanessa encourages fledgling founders to be authentically themselves.


To Find Out More:


Vanessa Pham

Vanessa Pham on LinkedIn

Vanessa Pham on Instagram

Lee Greene on LinkedIn

Stairway to CEO

Stairway to CEO on Instagram



“Omsom in Vietnamese means rowdy, rambunctious, riotous. Our ethos is all about being proud and loud. In some ways – reclaiming our narratives and telling our stories loudly and proudly is our way of pushing back on that initial experience we had in that small town outside of Boston.” [0:04:22]

“Building a proud and loud brand was when I learned to be more true to myself, be [comfortable] in my skin, and be more authentic about who I actually am.” [0:06:07]

“My dream for most of my life has been to honor my parents and their sacrifices. Nothing has been more motivating to me than that.” [0:07:56] 

“There’s not enough Vietnamese-American women that are seen as thought leaders. I felt really called by that.” [0:15:29]

“After the 2016 election, Kim and I wanted to build something that could influence culture, narratives, and dialogue at a national level.” [0:15:40]

“Food – has been such an incredibly meaningful part of our lives and a way for us to connect to our culture and our identities.” [0:17:59]

“What we’re building is in service of giving people a sense of home and a sense of joy. In [hard times], they’re actually going to want to engage with a brand like ours. What we stand for is relevant and timely.” [0:28:40]

“There was this flywheel that we created by building and fostering a community that understood our values, saw what we [stood for], and that really resonated with them.” [0:29:53]

“[Ask yourself]: Is my story and my brand story authentic? Because consumers’ bullshit meters are higher than ever. Same with the press. Beyond that, does it parlay into broader dialogues that are happening at a national level?” [0:31:12]

“I dedicate so much of my time and mindshare, and emotional energy to evolving my worldviews and my relationship with myself – so that I can navigate this journey with grace, trust, belief, and conviction. Those are so important for getting the job done.” [0:35:21]

“My advice would be to continue to show more of who you really are in the [CEO] journey.” [0:46:53]

Read the transcript

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