To Fly By Jing founder and CEO Jing Gao, the mission behind her viral brand goes far beyond food. It stems from the magic of abundance, curiosity, and the ability to inspire change.
While Gao is recognized as a chef, entrepreneur, culinary sensation, and renowned expert on Chinese cuisine thanks to her now ubiquitous brand of Sichuan Chili Crisp (and other pantry staples inspired by the legendary flavors of her hometown of Chengdu, China), she is also a trailblazer, celebrated for bringing these uncensored flavors to the mainstream.
That was part of Gao’s initial goal, after all — to turn chili crisp into a universal condiment (à la parmesan and ketchup), eradicating the wildly outdated “ethnic” aisle and making it front and center.
Today, Fly By Jing and its “not traditional, but personal” Chili Crisp (and other ‘fire’ sauces and pantry staples to electrify your food) can be found everywhere from Target and Whole Foods, to Amazon and Costco, as well as its own direct-to-consumer site (which also features a membership-based Tastemaker Club for special offers and free shipping).
For Gao, it is personal, which is why she wrote her debut cookbook, The Book of Sichuan Chili Crisp: Spicy Recipes and Stories from Fly By Jing’s Kitchen — which is part spicy recipes, part memoir (and already a #1 New Release on Amazon, since launching this week, on September 26).
The cookbook is an ode to the journey of evoking memories and dreams of the future through flavor and, ultimately, reclaiming identity through food (this is something deeply personal to Gao, who reclaimed her birth name ‘Jing’ after going by Jenny for most of her life). Rooted in tradition but adapted for the modern kitchen, the cookbook contains 85 recipes that invite readers to explore the nuances of Sichuan flavors and experiment with new ingredients.
For Gao, having an appetite to taste new flavors and allowing different cuisines to pique your curiosity is a way to expand both your palate and mind.
“It’s about being open-minded to try new things or see something in a new way. Hollywood is exposing people to Asian culture through film. We’re doing it through flavor,” Gao explains.
This is also what drives the purpose statement of Fly By Jing: “Evolving culture through taste, and elevating consciousness by expanding palates and minds.”
“In the tech and fashion industries, there’s been more advancement in the representation of Asian voices and founders, who are evolving culture. We’re just one form of evolving culture. Many other companies are doing the same.”
After attending the natural food industry’s biggest trade show, Expo West, back in 2018, Gao identified a glaring gap in the market: there wasn’t a single Asian food brand at the show. Equipped with a background in business (as a brand manager for accounts like CoverGirl and Gillette, while at Procter & Gamble), tech (while working at Blackberry) and even food (as the founder of the restaurant Baoism in Shanghai), she made it her mission to introduce the world to Sichuan flavors and create a mainstream brand, defying the naysayers who said “her vision was too niche.”
When there was no table, she created her own — and made sure to welcome other Asian founders to join her and take a seat.
That’s why she cofounded the Asian Founders Collective (AFC), whose inaugural AAPI Consumer Founders Summit, “The Rising Tide of Consumer Brands,” took place last May in New York City. AFC is a newly formed coalition of AAPI founders and leaders created to support and empower each other through each other’s growth journeys.
Gao cofounded the Asian Founders Collective with three other Asian founders: Kevin Lee (cofounder of immi), Sahra Nguyen (CEO / founder of Nguyen Coffee Supply), and Danny Taing (CEO / founder of Bokksu).
The event brought together the leaders of the AAPI business community, emerging founders, investors, and more, for a day of education, inspiration and relationship building. Through curated panels, workshops and fireside chats, attendees gained insight and participated in thought-provoking discussions on the state of the market, growth opportunities and current challenges for consumer businesses.
“It’s really the idea of a win-win mentality. It’s not a zero-sum game,” Gao shares. “By creating a space and opportunity for more founders to come in, you are expanding the pie for everyone. And then each individual can gain more when the collective gains more. I think that’s the guiding philosophy that all of us go by. It’s proven to be really effective in driving our own growth, and driving change within the culture and within the industry.”
Fly By Jing and the AFC’s mission statement are rooted in an abundance mentality, proving that the pie is expansive and large — there is room for everyone and there is power in numbers.
“To have these world-class operators and entrepreneurs come to one place in one day, and give attendees all those gems and insights? I would have loved to have that while I was building my business!” Gao shares.
The four cofounders of the AFC had connected and started a group chat, where they regularly share information and lean on each other for advice — essentially like having a personal board of directors.
“Sometimes we lean on the group chat for venting about something or on the flipside, celebrating each other’s success. Sometimes it’s sharing information and problem-solving. And sometimes it’s a gut check, like a new product launch or handling a situation. It’s a brain trust, in a safe space.”
It’s about information sharing and paying it forward — there’s no gatekeeping over here.
We could say that the AAPI Consumer Founders Summit is the real-life manifestation of the group chat, with other founders in attendance.
“We believe in the power of sharing knowledge,” Gao continues. “Gatekeeping is the result of a zero-sum mindset, one brimming with fear and lack. Information sharing stems from an abundance mindset.”
This mindset inspired the theme of the first AAPI Consumer Founders Summit.
For Gao and other Asian-based CPG brands, the proof is in the proverbial pudding. As a result of Fly By Jing’s launch and subsequent success, other Asian founders have sent Gao direct messages saying that her vision and unapologetic audacity gave them the conviction and permission to launch their own brands — and at 2022’s Expo West there was a clear indication that the tide had turned, with a significant increase in Asian brands. And of course a Fly By Jing booth, serving dumplings.
The landscape had changed so much that at 2023’s Expo West, Fly By Jing hosted a “Rising Tide Happy Hour” — with attendance so high, the traffic was blocking the hallway.
“We’ve seen the effects that our work has had on the way that people eat in this country,” Gao continues. “When we go to Expo West now, it looks very different.”
“When you believe in abundance, you don’t see anyone as competition. Abundance leads you to see the concept of ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ When you think with abundance, you think of collaboration versus competition.”
Today, between a bestselling cookbook and an AAPI-founded brand that has been blazing a new trail in the world of DTC, and retail food and beverage, Fly By Jing is soaring to new heights.
“Going back to the fear-based mentality,” Gao continues. “People are uncomfortable with change. So when you bring about change, there’s going be a lot of resistance. I think anything that is changing culture — anything that’s revolutionary — will always have detractors. When you get that sort of resistance, it’s usually a sign that you’re on the right track. The work that we’re all doing is helping us get there faster.”