Entrepreneur

Radio DJ Turned Serial F&B Entrepreneur - Lessons From Daniel Ong On Doing Business

Daniel Ong is better known among Singaporeans as the radio deejay from MediaCorp Radio’s 98.7FM.

During his stint there, the 41-year-old won the most popular radio personality awards for three consecutive years from 2006 to 2008, and another in 2010.

Beyond the radio booth, Ong also did plenty of hosting and acting gigs for 20 years, so it’s fair to say that he is a veteran in the local entertainment industry.

After his announcement to leave the radio industry at large in 2010, he went on to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams. Since F&B in Singapore is known to be a cut-throat industry, we wondered how Ong has managed to not only survive, but also thrive in this field.

Here’s a timeline of his various business ventures over the years, and what we can learn from him as a successful entrepreneur.

1. Twelve Cupcakes

Image Credit: Seth Lui

Together with his ex-wife Jaime Teo, Singapore’s former beauty queen, the couple started Twelve Cupcakes in 2011.

The first 10, 000 cupcakes were made by the owners themselves, which took a whopping 15 hours – that’s effort and dedication right there!

And in just three years, the duo built Singapore’s largest cupcake empire with 43 stores in not just Singapore, but also in Jakarta, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Manila.

Ong feels that this tsunami of success should be attributed to the quality of their product, instead of the couple’s celebrity status.

While their huge following on social media platforms helped to get the word out, people won’t return to purchase if the products are bad, he reasoned.

“I think the product speaks for itself. From day one, we focused on quality. I think that’s why everyone started telling their friends. You can do all the marketing in the world, but everyone knows that there’s no greater marketing tool than word-of-mouth,” said Ong in an interview with TheSmartLocal.

“I also think I could foresee the problems before they happen. When we grew to 2 stores, I thought we needed an operations manager; when we grew to 4 stores, I thought we needed a warehouse. We were able to survive the logistical nightmare because of the manpower and the team at Twelve Cupcakes, and everyone banding together. I think a lot about being an entrepreneur is about problem-solving,” he added.

Despite the brand’s success, Twelve Cupcakes have since been sold to an Indian tea company for S$2.5 million following his recent divorce with Teo.

Key takeaway: Be a forward thinker and have the ability to solve problems before they arise. 

2. Cookies For Sid and Junbi

Image Credit: kosu0621.blogspot.com

Cookies For Sid and Junbi are one of the very few business ventures that didn’t take off.

Cookies For Sid is a sister brand of Twelve Cupcakes which sells cookies (duh), but that unfortunately didn’t quite work out so it has since been sold to a friend.

On the other hand, Junbi – which means “ready” in Japanese – is heavily focused on the to-go concept to cater to busy Singaporeans. It sold gourmet food such as pastas, salads, sushi, sashimi and sandwiches at cheap prices.

According to Ong, business was “alright, but not great”. They weren’t selling at the volume needed to sustain the venture, and he felt that the location was less than ideal.

Junbi is now put on hiatus, but Ong has plans to reopen the business if he ever finds a suitable location in the Central Business District.

Key takeaway: Don’t be afraid of failure. And if you’re going to fail, fail fast so you can quickly move on. 

3. Dulce And Sucre

Image Credit: TheSmartLocal

Most of you may not know this, but this joint is actually an extension of Twelve Cupcakes.

Pronounced as “dul-chey and soo-cray”, the name directly translates to “sweet and sugary”. As the name suggests, Dulce and Sucre sells sweet treats such as freshly-baked loaves, whoopie pies, push up cakes, parfaits, puddings and tiramisus.

If you’re wondering, why another dessert shop? Well, it’s because Ong feels that he’s good at it.

“I’ve always had a business mantra of “always be good at what you do and success will follow you. Be the best Char Kway Teow seller, or best Ice Kachang seller, and everyone will flock to buy what you have to offer,” Ong told TheSmartLocal.

Ong also commends Teo, his business partner, for having a “very fine palate for desserts”. Apparently, she has the uncanny ability to discern if something’s lacking a certain ingredient!

Key takeaway: Do what you’re best at, and success will follow you.

4. Mischief

Image Credit: NextInsight

Local actresses Cynthia Koh and Michelle Chong have partnered with Ong and the people behind Tab, Rookery and Suprette to open Mischief.

Opened in February 2015, the restaurant at Esplanade serves American street food and alcohol.

“We’ve decided to put up a menu that appeals to the younger crowd at the Esplanade – one that offers the theatre and musical goers something refreshing, a quick bite and a playful vibe. Our patrons also seem to love beer and because of that, we have a wide selection of drafted and bottled beers,” said Koh, according to an article by The Food Journal.

Key takeaway: Know who your target audience is and cater your offerings to them.

5. Brewlander

Image Credit: SG Asia City

Most recently, Daniel Ong and Allan Wu have joined forces to launch their own craft beer label, along with other partners.

Called Brewlander, there are currently four varieties available. 16 more varieties are in the works, with plans for seasonal releases incorporating regional flavours.

The beer is developed by John Wei, an award-winning home brewer and certified judge for regional beer competitions.

“After I tasted his beers, I felt that we needed to start producing his beers commercially. This is one of the best craft beers I’ve ever had. It’s interesting how a Singaporean guy can do quality that’s as high as Belgian quality,” said Ong in an interview with TODAY.

In fact, Brewlander is already a success, selling out before it launched.

Ong attributes this to Wei’s status in the drinks industry, whom he regards a “cult figure in the brew scene.”

Key takeaway: Work with the best. Good quality products always sell well.

Featured Image Credit: National Institute of Education Singapore