Failure is inevitable, any entrepreneur will tell you this. Indeed, failed ventures serve as lessons for greater things that lie ahead.
Many entrepreneurs have actually built successful business empires despite losing a lot of money in the beginning.
If you ever feel exhausted or intimidated by the thought of failure, take a look at these six Singaporean entrepreneurs who failed before you made it big.
Golden Duck – Jonathan Shen and Chris Hwang
The gourmet snack brand Golden Duck was founded in 2015 by Jonathan Shen and Chris Hwang.
Their salted egg yolk snacks became so popular that they “sell about a thousand packets of addictive snacks every day”.
The founders of Golden Duck were subsequently placed on Forbes’ acclaimed 30-under-30 list in 2017.
Chris Hwang (left) and Jonathan Shen (right) / Photo credit: Golden Duck
Golden Duck wasn’t their first venture, however. They had previously opened a nightclub called Vice in Clarke Quay in December 2014.
A legal battle later forced the club to close in just four months. Although it was a short-lived endeavor, they lost a whopping S $ 1 million.
“It was beyond our control when the company holding our lease was forced to close down,” said Jonathan.
“It was through that failure that I got close to Chris (my then investor) and after a period of thought and recalibration, we formed The Golden Duck.”
Yummy Brothers – Gerald Tan
Gerald Tan and Anson Lim are fitness junkies who go to the gym a lot.
One day the duo decided to skip “leg day” and went for a drink instead. Over drinks, they complained about dieting.
While they enjoy going to the gym, they don’t particularly enjoy watching what they eat. As a result, they decided to open a meal preparation business in 2018, focused on converting Asian foods into healthy meals.
Anson Lim (left) and Gerald Tan (right) / Photo credit: Yummy Bros.
In less than three years, Yummy Bros has achieved seven-digit annual sales and increased sales by over 400 percent compared to the previous year.
However, it was not the first time that Gerald founded a company, as he had previously tried for a good three years to set up his own startup for the fashion and lifestyle media platform GetFash, which “failed miserably”.
“We had two rounds of funding of S $ 140,000 (but) money bleeding until there was nothing left,” said Gerald.
Irvins – Irvin Gunawan
Irvins was founded in 2015 by Indonesian-born serial entrepreneur Irvin Gunawan.
He first moved to Singapore with his family in 1998 and has worked in various F&B companies over the years.
His first project was Cocoba, a play on chocolate bars. Unfortunately it never started so he went back to the drawing board and found this [his] The family had a couple of recipes of Indonesian food. “
This led to the opening of his first Chilikong restaurant in Tanjong Pagar in 2007. It was never balanced and closed within two years.
Despite the failure, Irvin opened a few more restaurants in 2008, namely Irvins Seafood Cze Char in 2008, Irvins Live Seafood House in 2011, and Leban HK Café in 2012.
Photo credit: Peter Gast via Nikkei Asian Review / ChinaHao.com
The Zi Char Restaurant in the River Valley did well until they had to move out after their contract ended. The landlord increased the rent by almost 50 percent so they had to start all over again.
Despite moving, the fish house was not doing well and was “deep in the red every month” so they had to find a way to increase sales.
As a result, after several rounds of experimentation, they sold salted egg snacks to get the perfect recipe.
They saw immense popularity in Singapore and also launched their snacks overseas. Today they are available in nine countries including Dubai, USA, China, Japan and Taiwan.
Kueh Ho Jiak – Sandy Tan and Elizabeth Chan
Sandy Tan and her daughter Elizabeth Chan are the co-founders of Kueh Ho Jiak, bringing old-school confectionery up to date.
After running a home business for some time, they decided to open a physical booth in the Ci Yuan Hawker Center in 2015 and moved to the Tanjong Pagar Plaza Food Center in 2017.
They then opened a café outlet in the East Village in Bedok in 2019, which unfortunately turned out to be a “mistake”.
Photo credit: Kueh Ho Jiak
While they received crowds on weekends, business was not so good on weekdays.
Eventually they felt that they couldn’t justify paying the rental costs for just two good business days a week.
The failed company cost her “six-digit numbers,” but it was the breakthrough for her to better understand her audience and focus on things that worked.
They saw a “40 to 50 percent” increase in sales during the breaker period, while most F&B companies struggled during the breaker era.
The soup spoon – Andrew Chan, Anna Lim and Benedict Leow
The soup spoon was founded by Andrew Chan, Anna Lim and Benedict Leow.
They invested S $ 250,000 in their first store in Raffles City in June 2002 and were aimed at professionals on the go.
Image Credit: The Soup Spoon
Due to the positive feedback from customers, they were motivated to open a second outlet on United Square.
However, it was a huge failure as it closed after just 1.5 years due to a mixture of poor planning and bad luck. Business declined due to the SARS pandemic.
Two years later, they closed their United Square branch, losing S $ 100,000.
They also scaled down their 2,000-square-foot kitchen to 500-square-foot and took care of survival.
Unimpressed by this setback, the trio expanded their business in 2005 and, following market research, opened a new outlet on Raffles Place.
The Soup Spoon learned from the downturn in the Novena outlet and focused on attracting its main customer base of working adults.
Raffles Place proved to be a strategic location as the area is full of health conscious and time hungry Singaporeans.
In 2008, its sales were $ 7.29 million. Today they are the largest soup chain in Singapore.
Noosh Noodle Bar & Grill – Ummi Abdullah
In 2010, Ms. Sa’adah Jan (who goes by the name Ummi Abdullah) suffered a failed conference management business with a partner.
That setback earned her S $ 100,000 in debt, and she had to sell her four-bedroom apartment, have her car repossessed, and even let her maid go.
Her family of five then had to move into a one-room apartment with her sister and her cancer-stricken mother.
They also lived on a very tight budget of just S $ 300 a month as most of their husband’s salary was used to pay off their debts.
Photo credit: Ummi Abdullah / Parenthetical Pilgrim’s Kitchen
To make a comeback, she decided to start a homemade meals business. Her business immediately started delivering to 300 families a day.
After two years, she opened a booth in a coffee shop on Kelantan Lane before moving back to Tanah Merah Country Club in November 2012.
Business was so good that she took the plunge and opened a 60-seat restaurant called Ambeng Cafe in Bedok. Ummi was soon nicknamed “Queen of Nasi Ambeng”, but she did not rest on her laurels.
She made her way in the industry with various F&B projects – Tiffin Club (a coffee shop for The Esplanade’s staff lounge), Noosh Noodle Bar & Grill, and Anggerik Bakery in 2016.
Failure is the mother of success
Successful entrepreneurs often speak of the need to pivot and use mistakes to help shape future decisions.
Virgin’s Richard Branson once wrote: “Nobody does everything right the first time… Successful entrepreneurs are not afraid of failure. they learn from it and move on. “
Almost every successful entrepreneur has failed at least once. Whether the business idea is turned down, the wrong decision is made, or the changes are not responded to quickly enough, running a business is never easy.
Some of the most amazing business owners out there have encountered bumps on their way, but they ultimately get it done with grit and perseverance.
Selected image source: Irvins / Golden Duck / Dapur Ummi Abdullah / The soup spoon / Kueh Ho Jiak / The matching locomotive