Who still queues up for Chatime beverages wave your hands in the air? *does lonely Mexican wave* *waits for more to join so we can do a proper Mexican wave* It has been five good years since Chatime first made its appearance in Malaysia and as of today, we still see loyal customers and patrons coming back every now and then. The secret is simple: it is that good. I mean, c’mon, what’s not to like about a wholesome cup of icy cold milk tea especially in this weather of ours? ROJAK had the opportunity to learn some valuable life lessons from the man who had bestowed us with Chatime in Malaysia. Take note, people.
Tell us about how Chatime started.
It dates back to 5 years ago, when I first graduated from Monash University in Melbourne. I was working in the biotech industry for 3 years. It was stressful with no future prospective. It came to a point where I felt very demotivated and didn’t feel like going to work in the morning. I decided at the age of 24 to come up and do something on my own. I wanted to take charge of my own destiny. I made my first decision in life to venture into F&B because I think that that’s the only industry that could survive a market crisis. So I realized that I had 2 choices – bakery or beverages. I told my father that beverages would be a better choice for the Malaysian market because first of all, we have the weather. It’s hot throughout the year. Cold beverages would be ideal for our Asian market. And when I scrutinized the market, I found out that there was no tea representative in the industry, but on the other hand, when you look at coffee, the brands are plentiful. From there, we decided to go to Taiwan. It was really eye opening for me because I found out that there are bubble tea outlets everywhere – 25,000 outlets nationwide, to be precise. My vision then was to bring the bubble tea culture into Malaysia and be a bridge of cultures. Initially, I wanted to bring the top 10 brands into Malaysia but they all rejected me. I came back and 2 weeks later, my cousin hooked me up with his Taiwanese friend. His friend asked me if I had approach this brand called Chatime. I called the owner up and explained to him about my business plans. The next 24 hours, he flew to Malaysia. Everything went well and I opened my first outlet on August 2010.
As of now, what are your current and future business plans?
It’s ongoing because it boils back to my own personal preference for F&B, as we already diversified into multiple portfolios a long time ago. At the same time, we are still looking at other portfolios.
When Chatime was introduced, it was very famous and after a while, a lot of bubble tea brands started popping up and it became a very congested market. With the many competitors out there, what do you do to ensure Chatime continually stands out from the rest?
First of all, I need to clarify the situation. After the inception of Chatime, 47 brands from Taiwan came to Malaysia 9 months later. It flooded the scene. But 4 and a half years today, there are not more than 4 brands that survived in the market. But I need to rectify that even when everybody was in the scene, they were not competitors. They should complement the industry. Our vision is very simple – to cultivate the modern tea drinking culture. In order for a culture to be shaped in an industry, it has to be sizable. It has to be everywhere you go. Just like coffee, it has a strong culture here because everywhere you go, you see a coffee shop. Same goes to the tea culture. In order to birth that culture, we have to join hands with all the players in the market. We should protect each other to make sure that they survive in the market. The only thing we did to keep ourselves ahead of the competitors is that we believe in our own DNA. We think home branding is the recipe of success.
So, tell us about your collaboration with Haig Club™.
It has been interesting. By far, the most interesting part would be meeting David Beckham.
Yeah I heard about that! How was it? Was it memorable?
Yeah, yeah it was good. We had a very intimate dinner. It was fantastic and the excitement continued all the way to London when I met him for the second time. It was much closer and our conversation turned into friendship. We asked about our families. I told him that I have two daughters once and he actually remembered and asked me how they were. We also discussed a little bit about opening Malaysia’s biggest easy bar in August. We took the opportunity to invite him to Malaysia. I told him that Haig Club™ would be one of the main anchor for that concept.
How did Haig Club™ approach you?
It was quite out of the blue, actually. I had no idea until the day I received the invitation. It used to be a dinner of 10 people and it shortlisted to 2 people who got to go to UK to join David Beckham for dinner and things like that. They wanted someone to represent the industry. It used to start with Jimmy Choo and along the way, they found the angle and target to be young people who appreciates whiskey and appreciate the lifestyle of drinking whiskey. I’m truly humbled that they asked me.
What’s your role in Haig Club™ now?
I would not consider myself as an ambassador. I’m more of a key opinion leader. Opinion leaders have been something that’s quite widely used lately in the PR scene because they want people to represent the industry, they want people that are not celebrities but people who speaks a certain way. Someone to represent the branding of Haig Club™, to carry the positioning and more.
I read online that you used to draw comics and sell them off. Was that an ambition growing up? Being an artist? Have you ever seen yourself being a highly successful entrepreneur?
No, actually, things just happened along the way. It all flows from passion, you see. The business scene was nothing strange to me because I started my own business at the age of 7. There was this very tasty fried chicken sold in the school canteen. It cost about RM3 but my pocket money was only RM1. Then I started to realize that I had talent in drawing as I am an art lover. So I drew comics and rented it out to my classmates for, say, 50 cents per reading. It went well and the business grew. But one day, my teachers found out and they called my parents. I was forced to close down my business. Going back to your question, business is never strange to me as I grew up in a shop lot and my parents sold air conditioning downstairs. I always observe how my parents negotiated with people and how they engaged in services. Eventually, that kind of interaction subconsciously went into my bloodline and I just loved it.
As an ex-college student yourself, do you think college helps in securing a career one day? A lot of people have been saying that a certificate is your passport to education. Do you agree with that?
I absolutely agree. If I were given a second chance, I think I would really like to focus on my studies. When I started working, I realized that education and the knowledge you learn growing up is something that you can imply into your career along the way. My weakness was that I was not the brightest kid in the class but I used that as a strength today to hire people that outsmart me. They help to contribute and expand our company. It’s all about self-realization, you see.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome when getting started with Chatime?
I think challenges are inevitable. It happens everyday. The good thing is, we embrace challenge in such a way that we change our way of thinking to, you know, accept the fact that we can’t avoid it. You have to crack your head on solving it on a daily basis. It becomes a routine eventually and soon, you’ll find yourself in a scenario whereby it’s easier to handle the challenge. It really boils back to how a person looks at a challenge. When you asked how many challenges and what the big ones are, I can’t give you a definite answer because it has not been stopping. When we start to adapt to control our own mind set, we’ll start to see things clearer.
I understand that you have been in the entrepreneurial world for a very long time. What do you have to say about the industry in Malaysia?
Hmm, okay, when I recall to about 5 years ago, entrepreneurship was something that was quite raw. I didn’t see a lot of young people coming out to do their own business, but over the years, the number of entrepreneurs started increasing. A lot of people think that entrepreneurship is a lifestyle. They don’t want to work for other people. I find that so wrong because I always reinstate that entrepreneurship is a true calling, not merely a decision. I feel that there has to be a true purpose behind an action. Which means that before you decide to do a certain business, you have to seek the true reason behind it because that reason alone will sustain your business.
Okay, last question. Who is the one person that inspires you the most?
My dad is no doubt the only one. A lot of people have asked me, “Which entrepreneur do you look up to?” I grew up in an environment where my dad was always my role model. The simple example is that today, we have around 900 staffs and every time my dad visits, he remembers some of the foreign staffs that we have. He remembers their little details like how many siblings they have, what their parents are doing in Myanmar, etc. He puts a lot of care into the business. As we grow along the way, he always reminds us to be down to earth.
Built nearly 400 years ago, The House of Haig traces its whisky producing foundation back to the seventeenth century in Scotland. In 1824, John Haig pioneered the art of producing grain whisky in continuous Coffey and Stein stills – an invention which laid the foundations for the growth and success of the modern Scotch Whisky industry. Haig Club™ is born of that Haig family legacy of innovation and excellence in whisky making.
The Haig Club™ unique bottle design draws on a history of innovative bottles produced by the House of Haig, including the Haig Dimple bottle recognisable the world over. The Haig Club™ brand was inspired in part by archives dating back to the 1920’s where Haig Whisky was advertised as “the clubman’s whisky”.