Meeta Wolff

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Meeta Wolff
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Show Details

In this episode, we explore Food and Entrepreneurship as I chat with Meeta Wolff a food blogger and food photographer from Weimar, Germany. Meeta started blogging back in 2006 and used her blog as a stepping stone for her business – photographing collateral for clients, sharing her photography knowledge with students and also holding food photography retreats around the world. Through all of it, Meeta remains true to her purpose – enjoying the journey and not focusing too much on the destination.

It was so refreshing chatting with Meeta. When she said happiness is everything for her and her guiding force in how she lives her life, I knew this was going to be a great conversation.

Show Notes

Karthika interviews Meeta Wolff, a food blogger and food photographer from Weimar, Germany. Throughout the conversation, Meeta’s positive attitude and sense of happiness came through loud and clear. She has such a clear vision on what she wants to accomplish in life and it isn’t all skill based. For Meeta, happiness and community is an everyday goal and she values the importance of having a supportive community of friends, well-wishers and family that are share her vision. Meeta’s path and journey are what define everything in her life and is a measurement of her definition of success.

The Transcript

Karthika: Welcome Meeta. Thank you so much for joining me on CulturallyOurs today. I am really, really excited to be chatting with you and cannot wait to dig into your entrepreneurial journey.

Meeta: Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be doing this.

Karthika: Absolutely. So before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about sort of who you are, where you’re from, just to help set the stage for this conversation?

Meeta: Well, my name is Meeta and I’m originally from India. But I have been living all over the world. I was born in India. My mom wanted her first born to be born in the homeland, but otherwise I grew up in the States, in the Middle East and Asia. And I’ve been living now in Germany for a little bit over 20 years. So my father is an hotelier. He is director of technical services for a big hotel chain. And we traveled the world. And then at some point I decided to follow his footsteps and I’m also joined the hotel business. I went to Cornell and studied their hotel management with a major in marketing. And at that point I decided this was not really the thing I wanted to do. So when I came to Germany, I started working in different companies. An IT company, then an architecture company. That’s where I met my husband. Right now I’m working at the university here in Weimar, the Bauhaus University. So there is a big architectural movement, the Bauhaus, I don’t know if you’ve heard about it. That’s one part of my life. The other part is that I blog, I’ve been blogging since 2006. My blog is called ‘What’s for lunch, honey?’ And I’ve been in blogging for years. If you think about it, I’m the one of those blog dinosaurs. I started when there was probably just like a handful of other bloggers in the world. And I have a son, a 16 year old teenager and I live here in Weimar with my husband and my son.

Karthika: Wonderful. You’ve lived all over the place and with what you do at the university and your blog and you mentioned this is not something you went to school for, so I’m just curious, what made you kind of deviate from that hotel management path to blogging and specifically what kind of blogging do you do?

Meeta: Well, I’m a food photographer, food blogger and from that food blogging part, that passion for photography sort of came about. So my roots are actually in food blogging. I don’t know, it’s just at some point I came to Germany to do like a apprenticeship in a hotel because up till then I was working rather in a resort hotel. And I just wanted to know a different business, a different kind of a hotel life. And I thought Europe would be a good place to start. And that’s actually where I came. And as things just happen, you walk a path and then you know, things start changing and you meet different people and you sort of decide, okay, let me try something different. And like I said, at the architectural company is where I met my husband and my husband at some point wanted to come to Weimar to do his PHD here and I sort of somehow got into that world of blogging because I was very keen to take my mom’s and my grandmother’s old traditional recipes, the Indian recipes and change them, modify them slightly, make it more modern. I’m going to tweak the whole recipe, making it more usable for everyday, using the products that you get here in Europe or in the States. And at some point I just started putting that up in a blog. And at first it was just more of a private blog, just open to my family members and some friends and they were like, you know, you should make this more public and, and see how it works. So at some point I did. And the rest is history. I was taking really bad pictures at that time though. You can even go back to those posts from 2006 and 2007, it was at some point I made a click like, you know when you open a food magazine or a cookbook, it’s the vision that you see that really makes the first impact. I just thought, okay, I need to do something here. And photography had always been a little bit of my hobby at that point. Up until that point, it was architecture and landscapes. I was taking lots of pictures of bridges and all of a sudden I thought, okay, now I have to rethink this whole photography thing and more into the food. And it’s very different taking pictures, for example, of a person or a landscape than it is of food because the food is on a table and you have to sort of make it look appetizing. And it took me several years to sort of get to the point where I am today. So photography became a big passion around 2007, 2008.

Karthika: That’s amazing. Now you said food, blog, food, photography, and I believe you also do like workshops. So at what point did you decide that this was going to be something more than an a hobby? More than just, you know, documenting, like you said, the recipes from your family and you kind of moved it more into a business,

Meeta: The thing by moving it into a business did not happen all of a sudden. I kind of walked this path of what I was doing and I was loving what I was doing. Whenever I needed to adjust my path and move a slightly different way, I just did what was required. I started with the food blogging in 2006, as I said, and then I was teaching myself, I remember very vividly the whole of 2009, I just spent learning light, how light moves, how light reflects the shadows. I was practicing going around my whole house placing bowls of food or fruit and looking at how light would change and the fact that we are here, for example, in the Northern Hemisphere, I was learning that in the winter the sun is different to what it is in the summer. And then at some point my photos started to attract people and I was getting invited to speak at conferences. And I thought, okay, you know, being a self taught photographer, I am able to look into what some of these people are going through. Cause I haven’t been to photography school or anything. So I just learning by doing, I was able to relate to what some of the people at the conferences were experiencing. It was very easy for me to respond to their problems or their issues. And once I got that point where I was thinking, okay now to move ahead, the wisest thing would be to set up my business because at some point you do start making money and that becomes the most logical thing to do.

Karthika: I agree. Right now a lot of the blogging world has changed so much that there are blogs for everything. So how competitive would you say is the space you operate in or does it even matter for you at this point in your entrepreneurial journey?

Meeta: Yeah, there’s always going to be competition in whatever field that we work in. That was something very clear to me from the very beginning, but the only thing that was different at that time, blogging was never like a money making business as it is now. I started probably like all the bloggers back then, just out of the love of that food or photography, or whatever that blogging issue was, whenever that person wanted to blog about. But I find competition for me personally is really good because it’s what keeps me on my toes, and it keeps me moving in that sense and it keeps me motivated to think out of the box. And this week it is actually going to be 13 years that I have been blogging. The basic concept of my blog has always been an extension to my home. It was never about making money, but the blog has been a stepping stone for everything else for the clients that I work for now, the photography jobs, the workshops and last year I even started doing supper clubs. So all these things actually stemmed out of the blog. But even today my blog is that original idea of being that extension of my home. So I like to think of inviting people over there, sharing my stories, my recipes, and of course my images.

Karthika: That’s so beautiful. Meeta. I love what you said, an extension of my home. So is that what you would consider sort of your differentiating factor from the thousands of blogs out there?

Meeta: I don’t know. I hate that idea of, of comparing myself with everybody. I really think that there’s like a piece of cake and the cake is big enough for everybody to have that peace. And I believe that, whether you get to that one piece of cake that’s sort of determined for you depends on the path that you can take. It could be that you think, oh, that chocolate cake is going to be my cake. But at some point you take a detour and well now its a cheesecake that you end up with. Do you know what I mean?

Karthika: Yes Absolutely. And I’m also very hungry right now.

Meeta: Yes. As a foodie that you always sort of compare everything to food. In Germany we have a saying – its not the goal it is the journey that counts. That has always been my defining factor. For me I want to live the journey because I don’t know in the end what my goal is. I have a rough idea, but I know whatever path I take I could end up changing my goal or redefining my goal. I just want to make sure that I’m having a good time on that path, on this journey that I’m destined to take.

Karthika: I love it. You’re absolutely right. It is the journey. You have to enjoy the process of the ways we chased that goal. And if we are only focused on the goal and we don’t enjoy the process then before we know it, 13 years have gone by and we don’t know what exactly happened. So how would you say this 13 year ride has been so far for you?

Meeta: Oh, it’s been a rollercoaster ride. I’ve had ups and I’ve had downs. I’ve gone sideways and I’ve done my loops. But every single bit has been a lot of fun. I’ve really enjoyed those highs, but I’ve learned a lot from my dips as well.

Karthika: So I feel like as people, as a culture, sometimes we don’t celebrate our successes. We are so focused on like the next goal, the next task. So maybe before we go any further, let’s maybe take a moment and celebrate all your successes. What have been some of your proudest accomplishments, either through the blog or through your workshops or your photography?

Meeta: Well, you know, I really liked that question because I think success is something that we can celebrate everyday regardless of how small that the success is. Whether it’s at the university or like you said, my blog and my photography, the workshops that I do, every little thing I would come back home and I’m always really happy that I was creative. I think being creative for me is a very important thing. I’m producing. I’m not just consuming. So that for me is one success is that I really try to celebrate every day. The problem for me is because I really love what I do, whether at a university or all the other stuff so I sort of forget about all the bad things. You don’t focus on the bad things. You put that in the box and you focus always on the good thing. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Sometimes I think it’s not always a positive to not focus on the bad things because you might miss something. Do you know what I’m saying? Like, you know what it means? And the proudest moments, those are accomplishments for me in the beginning when I started blogging and I would write something or I would post a picture, and people would come back and said, what you wrote or that picture that really gave me something. I went away with that picture that you took and I was able to think about where the light was coming from or how you styled it. And it helped me come out of my low and I’ve been taking pictures. And the same thing with the workshops. I meet such amazing talented people at my workshop. It’s always like a two or two and a half day, like a retreat. And we’re really focus quite intensively on everything that has to do with photography and styling. And when I meet a person who comes to the workshop and has a specific goal in their head and they’re stressing that they might not be able to meet that goal because they just don’t have the tools or the talent or the knowledge. For me, I think everybody’s got a talent. Everybody’s got a creative core. It just, you know, some people need a little bit of a bigger push, a bigger kick in the butt to get to get that creativity out. And then I follow these people after they’ve gone away maybe for half a year or a year. And then I see the point that they’ve come to their blooming, they’re progressing, they’re doing things. All of a sudden it’s like the focus of their lives or their goal. It’s sometimes  different. They are like working with food clients or on food projects in a totally different way, but they’re doing the producing and that is something is very satisfying for me.

Karthika: Oh, I can imagine. You’ve attributed your accomplishments with the success of  your clients and the people who you teach. And I think that’s such a beautiful way of looking at it. Right?

Meeta: That’s one of the most important things. I mean, I never ever thought that, you know, I would ever take on like a teaching role. I mean, you are Indian, I’m Indian and you know, for us we think teachers are very important in our lives. They’re imparting this knowledge to somebody else and just seeing them take it and run away with it. It’s very satisfying.

Karthika: Oh, I can imagine. You said something earlier too. You said every day is a success. I look at everyday as a success. And that’s again, such a beautiful way of looking at not just work but life in general. And when you do that its like you don’t let the negative and the down get in your way. Right?

Meeta: That’s right. I am a very happy person. I focus very much on my happiness because I think when I’m happy I have that extra energy and I’m able to give this energy out to not only my family, but the people who are around me, my friends and, and my colleagues, and even virtually. Over Instagram when I’m doing my stories, I get a lot of response saying that, oh, we see and we feel your happiness and how you sort of impart this happiness. And that’s very important for me that people realize that it doesn’t take very much to be happy. You know, every day I wake up and I meditate and I try to focus on my core and sort of go out and be a good, happy person. I have my moods too. I can be very nasty and very down. But being down and being low, I then work extra hard to come back to that happy place.

Karthika: Right. I mean, recognizing that being happy is where you’re at your best is a step in the right direction. So then when you get down, you’re like, nope, I don’t want to be in this place, I want to be in my happy place. It’s just not my best self.

Meeta: Yeah.

Karthika: Right now as an entrepreneur, a creative and as somebody who has their own business, we often find ourselves alone. Sometimes we were out and about, but still we might feel a little alone, both mentally and physically. Have you ever felt that way? And if so, how do you find your support system? Who are your support people?

Meeta: Well, my support person or people are definitely my parents and my family. But also I have a very close knit of friends and it’s not just friends who are here with me in Germany and Weimar, but it’s also a lot of friends that are virtual or are that I met actually virtually. And then at some point, we met in real life as well. Because you know, you get into groups on a virtual level on this social media platform. It’s a wonderful thing because all of a sudden you have all these wonderful creative people, talented people that are out there. And since 2006 through the blog, I’ve met such amazing people, and some of them have actually become really precious friends. And I share my talent with them, I share my successes with them. And when I’m not feeling so good, I know I can always count on some of them to say, Hey, you know, I’m having a little bit of a dip. How do you go about this and that. Or I’m stuck on something. Whether it’s the html on my blog or whether it’s a specific vision that I have for a client that I am not really being to see it. Or I can’t really put it onto paper or put it into camera. Then I know who to call or who to talk to. And just by talking, it helps. Actually, I was in London this weekend and the people that I was with, they are actually people that I first met online through my blog through different photography projects and then a few years later met them in real life. So we’ve been friends like for over 12 – 13 years.

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Karthika: Wow, that’s incredible. That’s amazing to have that kind of a connection, especially when it’s just online and then you actually meet and you connect.

Meeta: It can be a very lonely thing, but it just basically really depends on how you get over that lonely thing. I mean, sometimes when I have the moment for myself and it is lonely, I don’t mind it that much because it just allows me to think and put things down on paper. I love writing. I have a journal, so whatever I’m feeling I try to put it down on paper because on paper it just makes more sense.

Karthika: Yes. I’m right there with you. I’m a paper and pen person as well. As much as I love having my phone around, it’s just when I sit and I write, I need to have that paper and pencil and words flow. Now, let’s kinda talk a little bit about  community and where you. I don’t know how it is there and so I am asking the question. Do you guys have a lot of community support or organizations that you can go to from an entrepreneurial standpoint. Maybe it is help in accounting or helping all the legal aspects? Because here in the States we have lots of organizations that help small business owners. There are different facets and I’m just curious if in Germany do you have things that you can take advantage of.

Meeta: Oh yes, of course. You know, the entrepreneur here in Germany, is someone who is very respected and so the government supports us. You have all these organizations, there are lots of different programs and workshops and everything that you can take courses on and ask advice for. So yes, they really fund these kinds of things,

Karthika: That’s wonderful. That such good support. Let’s talk specifics. We have spoken about this a little bit. But let’s get some specifics maybe. Because I think when you know people who are aspiring food bloggers or food photographers or just people who are looking to start a business, a lot of times you have the questions about profitability, how long it’s going to take and stuff like that. So I just want to get a little bit specific if that’s okay. How long have you been in business and how long have you been profitable?

Meeta: So I started the blog in 2006. And then at some point I started getting invited to speak at different conferences and that was in 2009, 2010. I think it was about 2011 and 2013 between that time that I said, okay, I’m going to really, that’s take that step and set up the business. Because I was getting clients, I was being invited to speak more and had already developed a concept for my workshops. I was giving my first couple of workshops and it was just a good point to start and become profitable. Pretty much a year later I started getting a lot of big projects. The Ministry of Tourism here in the state that I lived in, they hired me and I’ve been with them ever since on a foodie lifestyle kind of acts aspect. So they send me off to two different places here and I do interviews and I take photos of whatever there are manufacturing or producing or are making in terms of food and I write for them. So they are one of my biggest clients. And then I started making money.

Karthika: Now from 2006 to where you have come now and who you’ve come, have you ever pivoted? So at what point do you sort of ask yourself, what’s next and how does that ideation process for you? Is it just something that comes to you or do you sit and think about it, do you kind of sketch it out? I’m just curious of the creative process of ideation for you.

Meeta: For me, I ask myself is this something that I would feel comfortable doing one year, two years from now? I do not have a five year plan. I’m just a bad person that way. I don’t have a five year plan, I don’t even have a three year plan. I’m more like Oh I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it because if I start stressing about it today, maybe my path will take me to a totally different direction and we will never get to that bridge. It’s like what I said in the very beginning. It’s the path, my journey really defines everything I do. And I’m not scared to change my path because I don’t really care what my goal at the end is. It’s just has to be something that at the end I’ll be happy doing.

Karthika: I love that mindset Meeta. I really do. I mean, You know, it’s funny I have an MBA, so I’ve learned all these things. The right way to do business. But then as a creative, I’m kind of a complete flip to everything. I kind of like you. What is it that I want to do and does it make sense? And will I have fun and you know, can I see myself doing this and I go for it. So I think there is really no right or wrong answers.

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Meeta: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t sit there and I don’t make plans. I always wanted to do these workshops. I thought, okay, I’ve been to all these conferences and I stand in front of the stage and there are about 100 150 people and you know, I have 90 minutes to speak. Are they really taking anything with them? Then I thought, okay, I’d rather do something more specific, something more exclusive where I have maybe only 8 to 15 people where I can focus on these people and just spend two days with them in some kind of a retreat kind of atmosphere and just talk to them and show them how it works. Being a self taught photographer, I can relate to a lot of problems that some of them are having and not having in terms of photography and learning. I don’t force myself or that knowledge on people. If somebody says, okay, but I’d like to do it that way and I’ll be like, okay, do it, you know, the rules are there to be broken. You know, you might find a totally different way to work. You know the thing, as long as you feel good with it. So just go for it. I have a masters in hotel management with a major in auditing. So I am not I’m not doing what I learned.

Karthika: I know. Isn’t that always the case? So where do you invest most of your time in your business. Is it in the marketing? Is it in the production or creation? Is it the financial? Where do you find yourself spending most of your time?

Meeta: Definitely not the financials. There is stuff that I have to do every month. It’s something that I procrastinate quite a lot on financials. I spend time on marketing for sure and I also make time for production and creativity. Even if I don’t have a specific job or a project that I’m working on, then I’ll just say, okay, that’s good. This week is just going to be stuff that I am going to do maybe for my blog because my blog forces me to put something up, to create pictures to make things. And that’s the time that I really use for learning new things. I also have an online course. So I always have a couple of students that are asking questions and everything. So if I’m at home and I’m taking pictures and I try to use those pictures to demonstrate to them. Where’s the light coming from, where to use the shadows, reflection, that kind of stuff. So I am a consumer, but I tried to make sure that I’m not consuming much during the day that I also tried to create and put stuff out there. That’s very important for me.

Karthika: How do you stay motivated? You talked a little bit about meditation. But maybe let’s spend a few more minutes. And as an entrepreneur, how do you keep the motivation going? How do you keep your mindset positive and you know, that creative flow? What do you do?

Meeta: Meditation is very important. And I like to work out. So when I’m on the treadmill or on the stair master, I have a lot of time to think about what I want to do. Is it this what I’m doing, is it good? How can I change? And the adrenaline motivates me. But I think the most, the biggest motivators in my life are the people who are around me. So, you know, I’ll have a person telling me while we were chatting on whatsapp or telegram, make sure your creative keep being creative and you know, focus on what you are doing and we can feel your energy. So those kinds of things from friends of mine or my mother and my father and even my brother. When that comes to me I’m doing something. You know, even if it’s just three people who are telling me we love what you’re doing, that’s enough for me to keep going forward. And of course my students when I’m teaching online or the workshops when they come back and they’re like, oh, thank you. You did this and I was able to overcome my fear. That’s also a huge motivator for me.

Karthika: Absolutely. And you know, you’re right. You just need that one person or in your case, three people to tell you that yes, what you’re doing is good. I like what you’re doing. Sometimes that’s enough. You don’t need hundreds and thousands of people kind of idolizing you and fan following you. It doesn’t matter. It just the people who care about you that what matters.

Meeta: That’s right. Let’s go to the social media part, why I love things like Instagram and everything. It’s one of my most important social media platforms. When I hear people telling me, Oh, I didn’t get enough likes or something, and I’m like, why? That’s so empty. Go back and go into your personal messages and look for those messages for that one person or that to the second person who said, I really liked this photo because you know, it did this or, or, you know, it helped me think about something different or that thing that you said on Instagram. It’s not just the picture, but the words that you wrote, they motivated me today to try something totally different. And you know, that’s important. It doesn’t make a difference if you’re getting 20 likes or if you’re getting a thousand likes, who cares?

Karthika: Yes, I absolutely agree. Social media is a necessary evil. Oh yes, it has replaced so many of the traditional forms of marketing. And I know you and I have both studied marketing and it was so different when we went to school versus now when you know the environment as it is today. But the key is to not let it get to you.

Meeta: Absolutely. And it really saddens me sometimes when I see people get really depressed or go get down because you know, a picture is not getting that many likes or they’re not getting that much of response. There’s always dips. You always have dips in life. It’s more important to focus on getting out of those dips and on the positive things because that’s where we are at our best selves and write and use whoever you need to use to get out of that dip. If you are feeling low and are not managing to get out of it, then call your mom, call your best friend, call your virtual buddy on telegram or whatsapp and say, you know, I need you. Can we talk? And that’s all you need.

Karthika: I absolutely agree. We assess those connections that really matter. Let’s perhaps start to wrap this up a little bit in the interest of time and just a few more questions. What has been the most important part of your entrepreneurial journey?

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Meeta: Learning. Learning every day, learning, learning, learning, and like I said before, I hope I am not done with learning because that’s really shaped how my business has grown. I smirk when I say business because it sounds like I have a hundred people working for me. But it’s just me, myself, and I. But yes, it’s the learning because that always has like a domino effect. You take something you’re inspired by, you put it into effect and oh, I learned something new and then you can take it from there and build up on that. That’s the most important thing for me every day.

Karthika: Wonderful. And I completely agree. Learning is something that we should all do.

Meeta: You learn something and it is important to put it into effect and be creative and produce something. I’m very particularly about that. I even tell my son. He is 16. I tell him it is okay to hang out on Instagram and do your stuff. But don’t only consume. Come back and create. Ask what have I taken from what I saw today and create something, make something, do something with it.

Karthika: Right. Absolutely. Now, if you could go back in time when you first started knowing all that, you know, would you do it all over again? Would you change anything? And if so, what would that be?

Meeta: I would do it all over again and if I would change anything, I don’t think so. Of course, there might be that one to two little things that you did that perhaps you would not do. I would try to figure it out. But even that dip has taught me a lesson. So I would say no, I wouldn’t want to change anything. Because even in the bad experiences you learn something, you learn something more than all the good experiences.

Karthika: Oh, absolutely.

Meeta: So no, I would do it. I think I would do it all over again.

Karthika: Wonderful. Now what lies ahead for you? Meeta. I mean, are you fully living your dream or what comes next? If it’s okay to share?

Meeta: Haha. I told you I don’t like that question because if I told you I’d be lying to you because it could be that tomorrow  I wake up and I think, I’ve had a dream and I want to do this other thing. But I am a dreamer. I don’t think it’s a dream. Its like a feeling I can envision that I’ve wanted to do and that I want to be. I want to be my best self and just do whatever. Whatever comes my way. We talked about it. Whatever is thrown my way, I will think about it. Is it good for me? Is it good for my family? Can I do it in the time that I have? Is it something that I really want to do in the time that I have? And if I can answer all those questions like with a positive yes, then I’ll just go for it. And my path, like I said, it’s never like a straight line. It’s winding and going ups and downs. I hope whatever lies ahead for me that I can still keep my core happy and just do that, do whatever lies ahead, whatever comes at me. So life can throw everything at me and I’m ready. I’m ready for it.

Karthika: Yes. And I think you will be absolutely fine. You have such a positive mindset and a positive attitude towards everything. Like you said earlier, you said happiness is what drives me. And I think not too many people say that. So I know that Meeta, whatever life throws your way, you will be fine and then I will be there by the sidelines cheering you on.

Meeta: You better be. I want you there.

Karthika: Thank you so much Meeta. This has been absolutely phenomenal and I really loved every minute of it.

Meeta: Thank you so much for thinking of me.  Today I am going to go to bed and say, this was my success today.

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