By Theodora Yu
The Sacramento Bee
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Theodora Yo sits down for a great Q and A with entrepreneur Puna Folau Makihele. Makihele is the founder of a Sacramento room-and-board business called “Friendly Hale.”
The Sacramento Bee
The number of Asian business women is on the rise nationwide.
A report by the Asian Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship shows AAPI women-owned business grew by between 76 percent to 108 percent in 2017.
As of 2016, about one-quarter of women-owned employer firms were minority-owned, and among them, more than half were Asian-owned, according to a 2018 statement published by the Census Bureau.
This week, we spoke with Puna Folau Makihele, who has been running her room-and-board business, Friendly Hale, for two months with her husband in south Sacramento.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background.
A: Our parents were fine in our islands in the kingdom of Tonga, but there were limited opportunities. Despite the things we had in the Polynesians islands, they made great efforts to bring the eight of us to America. I tell myself: I cannot let their efforts go in vain. We will embrace the opportunities here. I want to keep my open mind and, through my mistakes, continue to seek opportunities to help my family.
I turned 8 when I arrived in Hawaii. My elder brother later got married and we all moved to the Bay Area. Two years later, we came in Sacramento. This is our roots. My parents made this our home.
I became an entrepreneur right out of high school. While in college, my business partner and I ran a creative dating service. We created dating experiences for people to spark up their relationships to do something different. I then went on a 2-year church mission to Missouri in 1993, returned and went back to school in Hawaii in 1995. I didn’t finish school because dad’s health was failing and I took care of him. Six years later, I fell in love and got married, and my husband and I have five children.
In 2000, I bumped into an opportunity called World Market Alliance, now called World Financial Group, to learn how to manage money. From there I got an insurance license. I left in 2005 but returned in 2016 to help people gain financial literacy and put forward financial plans. I believe we have to keep our clients’ interest at the front of what we do.
Q: How did you come up with your business idea?
A: I wanted to create a steady income for our family. My boys will be going on church missions in the future and we want to make sure they can go to college. We want to be able to support that aside from our regular jobs.
So my husband and I decided to take some time off and get into the room-and-board business. A lot of people are displaced and homeless, and we want to be a part of the solution. There is a need for people to be excited to come home, a place they can look forward to coming home to. We found business partners who were happy to invest in the operations. We bought and furnished two houses and the business started in November.
We began by putting ads on Craigslist and check in with people looking for a home on Facebook. We approached people at rehabilitation centers in Mercy or Kaiser who have been moving in and out and looking for something more homey, to let them know we have beds and food available.
Right now we have two homes, called “Friendly Hale 1” and “Friendly Hale 2” in south Sacramento. “Hale” means “home” in Hawaiian. We got the houses as they are close to public transportation, dollar stores, grocery stores and a Walmart. Our boys and girl helped get the house ready and moved in all the beds and drifters. We come at least once a week to clean the house.
The rooms run with a month-to-month lease. Our room and board is more homely, clean and safe. We provide three meals a day so clients don’t have to worry about cooking. We have been fortunate to always have a home and food, and we want to make sure others can, too. It is important for people struggling financially to get coffee and hot toast in the morning and to come home with food.
Q: Why do you like being an entrepreneur and starting your own business?
A: I have always wanted to be free and creative no matter what I am doing, not to be limited by anyone or certain expectations of me. That is why I have been so driven. I love tapping into my creativity. I learned so much from our first business.
I am not a good employee — working for others stifles my creativity. It is great for some people, but not always my thing. There is more freedom than to work for paychecks and be limited to whatever people wanted to pay me.
Q: How do you balance between running a business and a family?
A: There is always a strain when you operate your business. You are the first one there and last to leave. But we also like the flexibility. I don’t have to check in with someone when I want put my family as my priority. That is why I cannot go back to working for other people.
Q: What are the challenges and opportunities you faced as an entrepreneur?
A: It is not easy to manage people of different personalities, to create an environment where people can respect and be helpful to each other. Certain personalities can create different conflicts and we are learning as we go. When people learn that someone cares, they will start to treat the place as their own home and start to clean up after themselves.
Q: Do you have a mentor or a person who inspired you to pursue this path?
A: My mentor is Hong Nguyen, a fellow entrepreneur whom I have known for 15 years. He shared with me what his mentor told him: Winners never quit and quitters never win. As long as you never quit, you will definitely achieve something you’ve set to achieve even though things won’t be easy. I keep that near and dear to me.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: After six months, if the operation runs smoothly, we might get one or two more hales and want to make sure quality care is provided for all clients.
Many people cannot do the stairs, so we found one that doesn’t have stairs. We hope to get that home as well and place people with disabilities there. There are so many things we have to learn in terms of helping others.
If things go well next year, I am also going back to work at World Financial Group to get a security license for my financial business. I want to teach my children to work for themselves and control their own financial future. They’d always have something that they own and control financially, even if they want to become a doctor or a journalist. The hales will be a gift to them.
I think it is important for the children to know they need to be self-reliant and be in control of their futures.
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It is not about being wealthy, but for things that are important, like having freedom. As immigrants, we are grateful to be in this country.
If you have a AAPI businesswoman in mind you hope to read about, please email [email protected]
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