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"We Welcome Failure": Chatime CEO Bryan Loo On Resilience And Diversification

When failure hits you hard, there are only two ways to go about it: stay on the ground, or get back up again. Many may have heard the saying countless times before, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” As much as that is the right thing to do by the books, it is hard to do so when life hardly gives you a break.

One man who knows this theory well would be Bryan Loo. Today, he is a man who can command a room, but he has met many low moments in life prior to Chatime’s success in Malaysia.

Finding That Defining Moment

Image Credit: Bryan Loo Instagram page
Image Credit: Bryan Loo Instagram page

When Bryan was only 9, his small business of selling erasers he purchased from the Koperasi store was closed down. “You’re not supposed to make a living in school,” Bryan laughed as he relayed his story to Vulcan Post. More than a decade later, he graduated with a biotechnology degree from Melbourne, Australia and again meets another low point in his life because he had no love for his job.

He found himself working as a sales executive, selling baby umbilical cord storage service to pregnant mothers at hospitals for stem cell research. “Just imagine every day, I need to go to Universiti Hospital, and there are 300-400 pregnant ladies sitting there with no knowledge about stem cell and its benefits, and I have to approach them one by one. My rejection rate was 110% because I couldn’t even walk near them without them already rejecting me because they knew I was a salesman,” Bryan said.

Everyday Bryan was pushing himself and yet he wasn’t doing as well as his colleagues. This led to a daily struggle whereby he asked himself if this is the life he wanted to live. One day, Bryan found himself sitting in his car outside UH and he called his dad, telling him that he wanted to resign. “I told him I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew that this was not my life,” Bryan said. It was this defining moment that showed Bryan that he wanted something more for himself.

He spent the next few months travelling to a few countries with his father and after attending numerous exhibitions, Bryan consolidated all the ideas and decided upon F&B as his venture. This was because he realised that F&B was an industry that is more likely to survive all odds since everyone has to eat and drink.

Welcoming Failure And Facing It

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Speaking about the challenges of being a big name in the F&B industry, Bryan said that being in the public eye where everything is placed under the microscope, he found himself in deep waters and sometimes it wasn’t even due to their own causing.

With Chatime, the toughest crises to deal with are food scandals, but in most cases, it doesn’t even originate from Malaysia, it’s always from overseas. These hit us because we are one of the market leaders.” He shared how for instance, it has been a longstanding rumour that the boba (the black chewy tapioca balls) from bubble tea causes cancer.

When the issue finally found its way to Malaysia, it became a huge crisis which affected Chatime, and they had to make a public press conference to do some damage control to explain that the quality between the two is different.

Bryan further explained firmly that they have never once posed themselves as a Bubble Tea company and that they have always wanted to make a name for themselves as a modern tea player. However due to overseas influences, people often misinterpret the brand and their focus.

Image Credit: http://www.youngldn.co.uk
Image Credit: http://www.youngldn.co.uk

“The word ‘bubble tea’ itself does not create a sustainable image in the industry, so I’ve said that our vision from the first day we brought Chatime to Malaysia is very simple—it’s to create the modern tea drinking culture among the Malaysian community, that’s it. Our intention is always to educate people to drink more tea, it’s never about drinking more bubble tea.”

Chatime has since recovered from the issue, but Bryan owes his positive alignment of thoughts to his own father. He noted how his father had not been very over-protective towards him whilst growing up. Bryan’s dad had always allowed him and his siblings to test the waters, and this in turn showed them how to overcome failure.

Image Credit: Bryan Loo Instagram page
Image Credit: Bryan Loo Instagram page

With this, he noted, “I think we (at Chatime) are at a position to really welcome failure. Of course we would want to avoid failure, but we never say that failure is the end of the world. We take failures as a new way of learning.”

Diversification: Now Or Never

Image Credit: Bryan Loo Facebook page
Image Credit: Bryan Loo Facebook page

Truth be told, the driving factor behind the reason he took biotechnology in the first place was because it had less math than most other courses. Even so, he knows that it is a necessary inconvenience at this point in his life to deal with the things that he may not have a particular affinity towards. “I started doing things I don’t like because I know that in doing that, I can bring the company to the next level, and we are at that juncture now,” he said.

That specific juncture is none other than diversification, which he began 2 years ago. Bryan said to himself then that in 3 years, there needs to be a significant change, but in 5 years, there needs to be a drastic change, and that was a personal KPI that the entrepreneur set for himself.

Bryan shared, “Diversification can be in terms of retail expansion or it can be internal diversification in terms of horizontal expansion. It can be in different areas, but it must be in the 3rd year or never.”

Image Credit: Bryan Loo Instagram page
Image Credit: Bryan Loo Instagram page

With that, he went on great lengths to relay that their aim is to become a very specialised small-format F&B operator, “We decided in a horizontal expansion that would gel with our DNA, product-wise it has to be fast moving with an automated backend, and this is the area we continue to invest our interest in.”

In other words, they want to be the kiosk king, which they have done with their expansion with Gindaco and Llao Llao, just to name a few. “Chatime is a very strong structure now so with or without me, it is actually on autopilot, and this allows us to join ventures with Llao Llao and others,” Bryan noted.

For the entity which he has laboured more than half a decade on, it would be an option to build it up to where it is today and sell it off, but that is not within Bryan’s nature. He can’t see himself selling off the company and spending his time lying on an island in Maldives, because he’s simply not the kind of person who can spend time lounging on a beach.

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In fact, he places a chaotic image of city life in his office as a constant reminder of what calms him down—not the idleness of peace and quiet; but the hustle and bustle of his business, his life.

To him, it’s never been all about the money, sitting beach-side thinking what else he could invest in. If anything, Chatime is what he wishes to invest in, and to finish what he had started in the first place. “We hope to bring the company public in 2018, so that is what I’m striving towards and that is my key agenda of the year,” Bryan said.

Feature image credit: http://propertyinsight.com.my

 

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