Together with his mother, 30-year-old Tan Jun Yuan ran Yuan Bak Kut Teh, a Bak Kut Teh (pork rib soup) stall at Toa Payoh in 2013.
Raking in “a decent sum of money each month”, the mother-and-son duo soon made plans for a second stall at Lau Pa Sat, and began their search for manpower to run the new establishment.
But despite offering a salary of $9.50 per hour, there were few takers for the job.
“After six months, we still weren’t able to find enough people to even man a single stall, needless to say a second one,” he said.
Eventually, Jun Yuan had to forfeit his deposit for the Lau Pa Sat outlet.
“(My mother and I) were working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, without leave or CPF. We assessed the labour crunch situation going forward and thought that it would only worsen,” he said.
The stall shut down on Feb 28 the following year, just six months after its opening.
After his short-lived hawker stint, Jun Yuan then found promise in the burgeoning startup industry.
From Ex-Hawker To Entrepreneur
As an ex-hawker, Jun Yuan is no stranger to leftover food.
“When faced with leftovers, you really don’t want to be throwing them away because the costs add up. But keeping them for sale the next day isn’t a good idea either as they are perishables.”
He then tried offering discounts to get rid of the extras, but realised that customers were delaying their purchases on purpose until the closing window, as hawkers tend to sell off remaining items at lower prices.
But having ad-hoc promotions was not a good idea either. Without adequate publicity or a fixed schedule in place, it would be easy for customers to miss out on them.
In response, Jun Yuan created 11th Hour, a platform where F&B merchants can run last-minute promotions to clear excess capacity.
To create a last-minute deal, merchants simply have to fill up a simple Google Docs template. Users then can check the app for available deals near them.
Users also have the option of “following” a merchant, which allows them to receive a push notification whenever a new deal is created.
Building 11th Hour From Scratch
Having graduated with a business degree from the University of Manchester, Jun Yuan admits that the transition from F&B to entrepreneurship “wasn’t that tough”.
But he soon found himself lacking the technical capability to create and run a mobile platform.
In response, Jun Yuan picked up the relevant iOS and web programming courses.
Armed with a new skill set, he created 11th Hour’s website from scratch, and also coded part of the iOS app.
To gain further expertise in designing software, Jun Yuan also took classes for Illustrator and Affinity Designer.
“It helped with our user interface, marketing collaterals, logo, name cards, fliers, social media posts, and presentation decks. It’s easily one of the most useful tool I’ve ever learned,” he said.
“Before I knew it, I’ve completely reinvented myself. I guess entrepreneurship really is a mental game. Once you overcome the initial mental hurdle and resolve to do something, the actual picking up of skills isn’t that hard.”
His story of sheer determination eventually led to his feature as part of the nationwide SG50 campaign back in 2015.
The Daily Grind
With Jun Yuan in charge of 11th Hour’s day-to-day operations, childhood friend and co-founder Lim Ting Hong focuses on its business development front.
“Even though we are working full-time on 11th Hour, we practically work till 1am every day. Yet we still can’t finish everything that needs to be done.”
The duo might be short-handed at the moment, but it wasn’t always the case. 11th Hour started off with four co-founders before two left earlier in the year.
“They were previously in-charge of technology and product development, so I had to shoulder the product side on top of my own responsibilities,” said Jun Yuan.
Despite the daily grind, he enjoys the startup life and the challenges that come with it.
“Every single day is different. You learn a lot more than others, and you get to meet incredible people along the way.”
The 11th Hour app took Jun Yuan and Ting Hong more than two years to develop due to technical hiccups and personnel changes, but since its debut late last year, it now has over 200 merchants and 7,000 registered users on board.
With such a promising start, we can only expect more Singaporeans to pick up the app soon enough.
We know we will.