Sasha Back

Sasha Back

Show Details

In this episode, we explore Food and Entrepreneurship as I chat with Sasha Back, a 16 year old vegan food blogger and food photographer from Sydney, Australia. Sasha has such an inspiring story about her entrepreneurial journey. She is so passionate about what she does and yet is very practical on how she wants to take this forward in her life. She shares many practical ways other young entrepreneurs can also find success in their own life and career path.

Today Sasha is an incredible photographer and a successful food blogger with a lot of projects that keep her busy. Yet, like any 16 year old she wants to make sure that she enjoys her life. Hanging out with her friends, spending quality time with her family, being outside in nature, and having fun in her business are high on her list of priorities.

Show Notes

Karthika interviews Sasha Back, a 16 year old vegan food blogger and food photographer from Sydney, Australia. Through the conversation, Sasha shares her motivation for starting her business at such a young age, how she balances all the things that are going on in her life as well as her hopes and dreams for her life post-high school. The maturity with which Sasha handles her business is really quite inspiring. She values being able to connect with strangers and making an impact with her recipes and lifestyle, engaging with her audience authentically and having fun doing what she is really passionate about.

Sasha shares such valuable advice for anyone who wants to start a business though their interests and passions and is an absolute delight to listen to.

The Transcript

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

Sasha: Thank you so much for having me on your podcast. I am very excited. Such a pleasure.

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

Sasha: Hi to everyone listening. I’m Sasha and I’m a 16 year old Vegan food blogger from Sydney, Australia. Um, I have a really big passion for cooking and baking a big passion in photography as well. I really liked photography. I’m photographing food. I love to read. I like to go on jogs. Yeah, that’s, that’s basically me.

Karthika: That’s amazing. And you’re 16 years old. I think that’s really inspiring. I was so intrigued when I kind of stalked you a little bit on social media, your pictures that are amazing by the way. I mean amazing photography. So is this something that you’ve always sort of been passionate about cooking and taking pictures and just kind of doing your thing?

Sasha: Well, I didn’t really get into this whole cooking thing until I kind of transitioned into a vegan lifestyle because once I turned vegan I was so much more conscious about the food I was eating and then I kind of grew a passion into cooking and baking and I’m very fortunate to have a supportive mom. My mom is a very good chef and she is a very good cook. So I kind of learned from her and I had her full support and she kind of taught me how to cook. So my passion just grew from there. And then once I went vegan I also wanted to kind of share my whole lifestyle just for fun. I never intended it turnout as successful as it has become. And so I started an instagram page and it was just me sharing photos of my food or what I kind of did in the day and then all of a sudden it’s just blown up to this one big thing. So I guess no, I never really aimed for this sort of thing.

Karthika: That’s amazing. I mean, just one little thing that kind of ballooned into this huge, humongous thing, but let’s maybe take a step back a little bit. What made you decide to go vegan? And the reason I ask is you are, are you a mixed ethnicity or are you Korean?

Sasha: Well my, both my parents were born in Korea but I was born in Australia.

Karthika: And so what made you decide to go vegan?

Sasha: Well, I think the main reason was I was going in the car one day and I kind of passed this butcher and I saw this huge headless pig on the loader going into the butcher. And it was kind of the first time it really connected with me. Like I knew what I was eating. It was an animal, but I just never made that connection. Then I went home and I did a lot of research and it’s just a big shock because your whole life you’ve kind of grown up believing what society tells you, which is it’s fine to eat animals, but if you think about it, would you really like eat your dog or your cat. And so it kinda hit me and I started watching some documentaries and then I decided, you know what? I think I could try this whole vegan thing. I could maybe eliminate some animal products out of my life. And then it kinda grew from there.

Karthika: Now that you bring up a very good point, I mean, I think it’s just when you’re not fully aware of anything you almost take it for granted. You don’t put too much thought into it, but when you get enlightened, for lack of a better word, it’s like you can’t stop thinking about it and kudos to you for making such a huge shift. And that too, at such a young age. I’m really in awe with everything you do if you haven’t figured that out yet, by the way.

Sasha: Haha. But you it’s not like I hate all the non vegans because I’m the only kid in my family who is vegan. Everyone else in my family eats meat. So you kind of have to be very open minded about it. It’s all about everyone’s different positions. You have to consider everyone in that they have different perspectives and they are in different positions. You can’t expect everyone to suddenly go vegan. So you kind of have to be understanding too. It’s all about compassion.

Karthika: That is absolutely a great point. Now you said it’s just sort of happened. It just sort of kind of ballooned. But what was maybe the turning point. You said you always loved to cook, you like taking pictures. You started an instagram page. When did that sort of shift to be more of business. When was the turning point?

Sasha: In all honesty, it came very slowly to me and I think that’s because I was never aware of where I was going to go or what else was there. It was never a goal of mine, but I guess the turning point was about a year ago. It’s been a solid year since I started doing a lot more sponsored posts and kind of growing as EarthlingSasha into a business and something that I can kind of work with and create a brand with.

Karthika: So how long before that did you start? You said this is full blown, but how many years or months before was it that you started?

Sasha: I started the page when I was around 14 and so I got to admit I grew quite fast. It was about a year of just doing it for fun and just being like, oh this is cool. I can share my photos, meet new people. And then in the past year I was like, wow this is really speeding up and I can really do something with this.

Karthika: Thats excellent. Now how is it in Australia and in Sydney specifically? How is your industry in terms of bloggers and specifically as maybe food photography. Is it very competitive?

Sasha: I’d say it is very competitive in Sydney especially because social media has just blown up all of a sudden and especially even companies have started jumping on and realizing that by advertising via social media they can get enriched with so much more customers. So I’ve definitely seen a lot of bloggers and even food bloggers in the Sydney scene and I guess it’s quite competitive, but everyone has their own little niche in what they do.

Karthika: Okay I guess that leads me directly into my next question. What is unique about your business that you think has given you this opportunity to be so successful? And like you said so fast.

Sasha: I definitely think one factor is because I’m so young, a lot of people get drawn into that fact that I’m only 16, which that’s pretty amazing. I like being just recognized for that. And I also think another thing that makes it unique about my business is that for me it’s never been about making money or the profit. It’s just the joy of sharing and making connections with people all across the world, you know.

Karthika: Thats so well said. And for a 16 year old, you sound very mature in the fact that you know this. I think as businesses we do put that pressure on ourselves for making a profit right off the bat. I’m not saying money is not important. It absolutely is. For a lot of us, it pays bills and it helps us in the lifestyle that we want. But I think just having only that as an end goal can be detrimental to growth and just enjoying the process. You started this because you enjoy it. You love cooking, you love photography, and to just now suddenly put shackles around, I have to x or I have to do with this sometimes takes the joy out of it. I feel like sometimes as people, as a culture, we don’t really celebrate successes. We are so focused on either the monetary aspect or just getting to the next step that we don’t celebrate our successes. So maybe before we sort of go deep into the interview, can you share with us some of your proudest accomplishments, things that really have made you feel like this is good. I am happy doing this.

Sasha: Haha. Well! Definitely doing this podcast. This has been my first podcast. I also love meeting some of the people that I’ve talked to online and when they come up to me in real life, that’s a huge wow moment for me. I feel so proud that I’ve been able to kind of inspire or help other people. That’s definitely one of the proudest accomplishments, but also if you look on more the other side, I guess having seen one of my recipes in the magazine that’s also very proud for me.

Karthika: Oh for sure! Thats awesome. Now just like anything in life, we all have ups and downs. So what are some of the challenges you faced and more importantly, how do you overcome them?

Sasha: I’m pretty lucky in that I haven’t faced too many problems or challenges. However, I definitely do come across sometimes when I’m working with a company and it’s just been super difficult to kind of communicate with what they want and what they want from me kind of thing and usually it gets quite stressful because I’m still in school. I try to get everything planned out weeks ahead so I still have the time to do my studying and to get all this work done so when one thing kind of doesn’t fall in place, then the whole plan kind of topples and then I get very stressed. I’ve been very focused on trying to control my stress and just move on from it and take it as a learning thing because some things just out of my control. So I have to learn to deal with it. I just can’t avoid it. I have to face it.

Karthika: I repeat myself. I am really so inspired with you as a 16 year old. I hate throwing age as a number around but you are so inspiring and so mature in your thinking of what you like and don’t like. Now let’s talk support. You mentioned earlier that your mom is a chef and she’s really super supportive and sounds like you have a great family that supports you as well considering you’re the only vegan around. But who else is your go to in terms of support. Like when that stress does get too much, who helps you out? Because I think having a reliable support system is very critical for anything. Especially entrepreneurs.

Sasha: Yes, it is very important. I have a really good group of friends and they totally understanding when I tell them, sorry I’m busy. My family too. They support me so much and I’m just so grateful for both my friends and my family because I used to be scared of telling strangers like my friends that this is what I kind of do because I was scared of being judged. But then over time I realized, you know, you got to be proud of the issue. You have to accept compliments, you know. So now I understand that its not like they will judge me, they all support me which is great.

Karthika: Yeah. That’s amazing. Now what about in terms of community and do you guys have government programs for entrepreneurs or do you have access to mentors? How is the entrepreneurial landscape like I guess is my question where you are.

Sasha: Um, I guess the community is quite big in Sydney and the whole entrepreneurial community. It’s quite big, but I don’t know if we have a lot of government programs or mentors or kind of things. But sometimes you will find that being in groups like Vegan in Sydney is good. There’s a wonderful page Sydney vegan guide. Renee, the lady who runs this page and in 2018 she kinda started bringing together all these vegans in Sydney and we would have dinner at a restaurant and you kind of get to chat with people who have so much in common with you. It is great to be surrounded with all these other bloggers and other food photographers and other vegans.

Karthika: Yes thats amazing. What about school? Does your school have any mentors or business sort of classes that give you an opportunity to take this up a notch maybe?

Sasha: Well right now I don’t think my school knows.

Karthika: I’m a very introverted person and I kind of prefer it if they don’t know. Sometimes I feel very awkward if I tell people about it, but that’s just me and sometimes I’ve just learnt to break out of my shell. Be proud of what I’ve done. And that’s why I kind of asked the question earlier. You have accomplished so much. But most of us are extroverted – introvert. It’s kind of universal. I don’t know why, but it is.

Karthika: Let’s talk motivation. That’s the mindset. You talked a little bit about learning to tone down the stress, but let’s kind of expand it a little bit more. How do you keep yourself motivated and how do you keep yourself excited? You are still in school, you’re juggling so many balls, what keeps you going when it gets tough.

Sasha: I get a lot of questions about this because I have a lot of young kids in my following and they’re always like Sasha, how do you manage to stay motivated and kind of keep on doing what you’re doing and you know, for me it’s also still a learning curve. When I lack motivation I just take a break. I love nature. I always go out for a walk and because I’m so keen on photography, I usually find if I take my camera and go out for a walk, snap some photos and my creativity’s just all of a sudden just sprouting again. But sometimes that’s not always the case because especially during school times and we’re not having exams and I’m just so stressed and so tired and I just don’t have the time. And I’m like, how am I going to do all this. If you asked my mom, I get stressed very easily. It’s probably not fun for her when I get that way. So once again, that’s something I’m still trying to kind of learn to deal with, but I definitely love just going out in nature, just taking a break, you know, a social media detox is always a good idea.

Karthika: Oh, social media detox is always good. How do you balance like school, business, work? You said you organize weeks in advance. Do you have like a planner? Do you do everything online? I guess I’m trying to understand details because you are juggling so many things and school sounds like is a priority and it should be definitely. So how do you do it all?

Sasha: I’m a huge planner geek. I need to have a physical plan out diary with me. Most of the time I can’t do online but always have my planner with me and I’m always writing down everything. And if I have an exam in like four weeks, you know, I’ll have it logged in like 5 to 10 times before it comes up. Go to study. You go to finalize that and I kind of rely on it a lot and I guess you could say that’s basically how I balance school mostly with my work in my business and I just mentally try to make sure I space everything out so I have my own me time in so I don’t burn out because that’s the worst thing. So yes, I could say my planner is like my best friend.

Karthika: Oh! I’m right there with you. I think I have posted notes all over my house. I like my planner and I get so excited in the new year starts and I’m looking at a new planners that can document all the exciting possibilities of a new year.

Sasha: And the satisfaction of just taking it off is just the best.

Karthika: Yes for sure. Let’s talk specifics a little bit because I think people always like details and especially like you said, your audience is a lot of young people. You are so inspiring. You have this inspiring story. So if you don’t mind and feel free to share what you are comfortable with, no pressure, I’m just going to ask a few specific questions and we can kind of take it along. How long have you been in business and more importantly, how long have you been profitable as a blogger?

Sasha: I can confidently say I’ve been in business for about a year. I have had my instagram for more than that, but in the past year I’ve just really grown ‘earthlingsasha’ to what it is now. I’ve never really kind of focused on the money side, so I wish I could give you an answer about how long has it been profitable, but I, I just really don’t keep track of that. I probably should but I haven’t really thought about that before, but I’ve seen a huge spike in the money I’m earning through earthlingsasha and I think has been quite profitable in the last few months.

Karthika: Okay. And have you sort of pivoted in what you do, like since you established? You said you had your instagram page before that, but that was just kind of you having fun and you exploring your creativity, if we could call it that. Have you pivoted to other things and if so how and why?

Sasha: Definitely I have pivoted like throughout my whole instagram. At first when I was very new to it, I was very open to all the companies and all the services that approached me. Now I really take into consideration the whole background of how they operate their products and the ethics. And if their products would really attract to my audience because I want to give my audience genuine things that does it. So something that they would be interested in and maybe possibly go buy. And this is definitely in the past year or so. And I’ve also started exploring kind of other mediums of social media, like Youtube. I never thought I would do that sort of thing, but then I realized, the more, the merrier.

Karthika: Thats great! Now this might sound weird, but do you employ others or even bring on your friends maybe to help you and, or is it just you right now?

Sasha: It’s just me, but if you ask my mom, she would say that she’s my head model and unpaid employee. Sometimes when I take my family or even my friends to a restaurant, which they’ve invited me to have a tasting of the menu. I mean I kind of torture them into sitting there getting that perfect shot while they’re all starving for that.

Karthika: You mentioned photography, so are you self taught or did you go for classes or just something you picked up?

Sasha: I’m definitely self taught in photography. I always love painting, drawing. But trust me, I am very bad at it. So I was always looking for that creative outlet that I could put my creativity into and I kind of fell in love with photography and I was like I’m going to invest in a camera and a good DSLR camera because I kind of knew that this was something I was going to really benefit from, so I got a camera and then it took me about six months until I was really confident with all the settings and how to use it. And then just from there I just learnt, I mainly got all the information online and from youtube tutorials and just reading a bunch of articles, learning about how to take better portraits, how to take the best settings in different lighting and everything.

Karthika: Excellent. Now where do you as Earthlingsasha, as a business, as a business owner, where do you invest most of your time? Is it in creating recipes, photographs or marketing or reach outs or promotions? Where do you spend your time?

Sasha: Definitely. I guess it’s an equal tie between the photography and the recipe because when I create a recipe I want it to obviously make sure it tastes really good, but secondly, I want it to be visually appealing and that’s also a lot of effort because you’re going to have to go out source ingredients and you’re going to have to figure out how to make this look good and I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve made a dish and it just has not turned out the way I want it, so I’ve just had to remake and until I’m happy with it. And then with the photography side, it’s because you know, the lighting’s always changing and you just have to kind of work with what you have in. I don’t have a proper studio. I make my own backdrops and I saw these props from around my house and so I also spend a lot of time with that. Most of the food that you see is usually cold. I just have to reheat it so I can actually eat it after because the photos take a lot of the time. So I invest a lot of time in the production and just like the photographing and creating the recipe.

Karthika: I’m right there with you. I don’t do a whole lot of food. Like I said, I’m a terrible cook but when I do try to take some photos of whatever food I make, it’s so time consuming. I would so much more rather go outside and photograph landscapes, portraits and weddings!

Sasha: Oh! I just love your photography.

Karthika: Oh thank you so much. Now how important is social media for you and I think I know the answer but I’m going to ask it anyway just because you have kind of been on instagram and you’ve got these successes. Is Social Media King for you or are you kind of using or maybe dabbing into other forms of marketing yourself and earthlingsasha?

Sasha: Oh, social media is everything. To me. It’s basically what backs up earthlingSasha through social media. I can connect to people all over the world – companies, people and that that’s basically where I get most of the marketing through instagram and youtube.

Karthika: And do you reach out or do people reach out to you? Or is it a combination of both?

Sasha: I haven’t really done a lot of reaching out to companies. I usually get lots of the companies that will reach out to me.

Karthika: Let’s talk Instagram specifics because you’re so good at it. Could you give our audience maybe a few tips on how they can up their instagram game so that they can kind of start to see results if they are looking to get into something like this or if they already in a business and they’re trying to figure out how to use social media effectively?

Sasha: Well, my top tip, the first one is definitely always engage with your audience. If when you engage with your audience, they know you’re there and they know that you’re reading what they’re writing and that you value their feedback. It just lets them know that you actually care. And that kind of builds connections. And I guess that’s where, that’s how I kind of started by engaging a lot with the community on Instagram, especially the Vegan community, making a lot of friends. And then from there you start to grow because you start to make more connections. My second tip is always produce good content because that’s what people are there for eye catching content that will make people say, Oh I want to follow this person. Because if they keep producing the same content, this is what I’m after. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be pretty good. So people like what they’re seeing.

Karthika: I agree – especially since Instagram is so visual. But I love the fact that you’re stressed, you know, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be good and you have to engage. I think together that’s a winning formula.

Sasha: If you scroll all the way to my first post and you compare it to my most recent post, the photos are quite horrible, but you know, that’s kinda like the whole process you learned from that. I’ve definitely learned so much with food photography through instagram and you can kind of see that when you scroll down my feed, how I started pretty much just taking photos with my phone camera and then now you can see it’s so much better.

Karthika: And you do everything right? You photograph, you edit and you engage.

Sasha: Yes – I do everything with earthlingsasha.

Karthika: Lets maybe backup a little bit. What has been the most important part of your entrepreneurial journey so far?

Sasha: Oh, well, I think the most important part was probably just the whole like growth for me, just learning about myself, learning my skills and also meeting people. It sounds cliche, but definitely I’ve met so many wonderful people through this platform and that’s the most important thing to me. Making those connections and being able to kind of share and spread what I do to people and influence a lot of people. That’s probably the most important thing for me.

Karthika: Well! I have to tell you this. I have never met you but through your work online, you come across as very sincere and passionate about what you do. And now when I listen to you speak and hear your voice, I think that sincerity comes across even more so. I’m not surprised. I guess when you set your heart out to engage and when you connect with people, people respond to you, so kudos to you for that.

Karthika: If you could go back in time when you were 14, when you first started getting interested in this and knowing what you know now, all the ups and the downs that you’ve had, would you do it all over again or would you change something and if you would, what would you change?

Sasha: I found this whole, this whole journey, so fun, such a big learning curve and I’ve loved it every second, but I, I think I definitely would change somethings. I would make myself say no to certain things. Sometimes I just took on too many projects at the same time and that just makes me to stress and I just am not producing good enough content or the content that I want to be producing because I’m just overly overbooked with work and I’m just so stressed. But in all honesty, I think if I went back that would be the only thing I would change. The whole big learning curve has been so beneficial for me.

Karthika: I think it goes back to something that you said way earlier. You said all of this is for the joy of sharing. I am exploring my creativity, not about the money and I think when you come from that mindset, it is a journey and it’s a journey that we all kind of go through like life, right? You are such an engaged, motivated, 16 year old. What do you do for fun?

Sasha: Well, I really like reading books. I recently have been really into rock climbing. That’s really fun. I love being active. I used to do a bunch of sports when I was young. I used to swim, I used to do ballet, I used to play soccer. But recently I’ve kind of stopped all the sports, but I still like occasionally go out for nice jogs or walks for fun I guess you could say. I  just really like being with my family. I always dragged them to like in cafes and restaurants, quality time with them is always so good.

Karthika: Now you said family, you said you talked about your mom. Who else is there at home?

Sasha: So there’s my mom, my dad, my twin brother Louis. And my grandma lives with us too.

Karthika: Oh wonderful. And so do you do get a lot of cooking tips and stuff like that from your grandma especially like traditional Korean cuisine.

Sasha: Well my grandma kind of passed it down to my mom and now my mom kind of teaches it to me and it’s very interesting because she’s so knowledgeable of this stuff and whenever I talked to her she’s just saying all these things that I’ve never heard of and all these little tips. And I ask her, mom, where did you learn all this stuff? But yes, she’s definitely a huge inspiration for me. She instilled the whole ethical kind of side too. She eats vegetarian but she still has to prepare meat for my family. But ever since I went vegan, she is definitely eating more vegan foods with me.

Karthika: Excellent. Moms are always good in terms of supporting us no matter what crazy ideas we have. So in perhaps in the interest of time, I’ll ask you a couple more questions and we can kind of wrap it up. What lies ahead for you? I know you’re in school and you have a business and both are going successfully, I’m sure. Are you fully living your dream? Whats out there for your next?

Sasha: Oh, that’s so hard to say. In a few weeks I am starting year 11 and 12 in school. It’s kind of that time in school where you have to choose your subjects and you’ve got to kind of have to look into university courses too. And I’m just sitting there like I have absolutely no idea what I want to do. And you know, I really 16 and I have my whole life ahead of me and I don’t even know what I want to do after high school or what kind of career path I want to do, but right now all I know is that I’m going to take a gap year once I finished school and I am very keen in traveling the world, going to as many countries as I can. That’s basically my dream right now. But I guess right now I’m very satisfied with what I’m doing. I really enjoy what I’m doing and because it’s a passion. I don’t think I would ever like let it go because I just love what I do so much.

Karthika: That’s fantastic. And you know, as a 16 year old not knowing what you’re going to do next, I think that’s a pretty good place to be because it just means you have so many options, so many possibilities. A gap year sounds pretty awesome where do you want to travel to?

Sasha: Honestly, I just want to go everywhere. I really want to go to Europe. I really want to go backpacking around Europe, Asia. I also want to go around Australia to. It’s because I haven’t really been overseas. Well I’ve only been to Korea and that’s the only other country I’ve been outside of Australia, so I’m really excited to just travel.

Karthika: Are you going to travel with friends or go solo?

Sasha: I feel like I would prefer to go solo, but you know, I don’t know what will happen between there. Then I might find some friends or someone to go with. I probably feel safer if I didn’t go alone.

Karthika: One last question. What inspired the name ‘earthlingsasha’?

Sasha: It was because I created the account just after I went vegan and I wanted something that kind of represented that too, but also still kind of represented me who I am, Sasha. And I thought earthing relates to the whole nature concept tying the whole Vegan thing together.

Karthika: No its definitely catchy for sure. Well! thank you so much Sasha. This has been such an amazing conversation. Like I said earlier, your story’s so inspiring is so mature for a 16 year old. I really wish that all 16 year olds could listen to you. I really do appreciate you coming on and sharing your life with us. So thank you so much.

Sasha: Thank you so much for having me. I had the best time and I can’t wait to share this with my family and friends.

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