If you’re a reality TV buff, you might remember The Apprentice Asia, which ran for one season in 2013.
The Asian version of the popular American show The Apprentice, instead of Donald Trump (who was then just known for his real estate empire), contestants competed for the chance to work with AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes.
Every week, the panel analyses the strategies and pitches of the contestants, and decides who should be ‘fired’ from the show.
The winner gets ‘hired’, and gets to work with the host – in which the winner of The Apprentice Asia, Jonathan Allen Yabut, won a 1-year contract and a six-figure salary position in AirAsia.
French corporate high-flyer (then based in China) Alexis Bauduin wrestled his way and clinched 3rd place, but his potential was spotted by Fernandes, and he was offered a position as the Head of Business Development for his Caterham Group.
He also has fond memories of his brush with TV fame, and revealed to us that he was “happy with the result and how [he] came through, as you never know how the edit will be done (on reality TV)”.
And in spite of losing 7kg in 3 months while filming, and feeling the stress of having no days off and being “surrounded by 15 cameras”, he learnt “a lot about [himself] and [his] key assets”.
“I was very fortunate to then work with Tony Fernandes himself and have him groom me for a year and half. I still use some of his advice on a daily basis!”
Since then, he has since grown beyond his association with reality TV and Fernandes – and is now the boss of his own Singapore-based healthy food business, YOLO.
From Corporate High-Flyer To F&B Entrepreneur
Bauduin’s decision to venture into healthy food was something that crossed his mind when he was working at LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, French multinational luxury goods conglomerate).
During his many business meetings out of office, he realised that the food he consumed when he dined out was often “a little bit too rich or oily, which isn’t very good for the body in the long run”.
I started to look into healthier options but felt that it wasn’t for me as everything was about salads – bland and very expensive. I just felt that the healthy eating places out there were lacking the fun, the experience factor, and tastiness that I usually go for.
However, since he was still on The Apprentice Asia, he had to put this idea on hold.
But it was actually working with Fernandes that served as the catalyst for him to ditch the corporate world he was already making waves in to venture out on his own.
“Working for Tony Fernandes gave me a taste of a hybrid between the corporate and entrepreneurial world. Speaking with him convinced me that I had to follow my gut and my heart as I had been working on the YOLO concept for a while,” said Bauduin in an interview.
I got really inspired by not only his story, but also his drive and grit on a daily basis.
“It was really a no brainer for me at that point, I just knew that it was my calling.”
Singapore As A “Great Springboard” For Brands To Go Global
“I decided to start YOLO in Singapore because this is one of the most challenging markets for F&B businesses, and also a great springboard for brands to go global.”
As much as Singaporeans have decent exposure to ‘healthier choices’, Bauduin still finds that “most equate salads to eating healthy without a comprehensive understanding on the nutrition composition of what’s in the salad”.
Thus, he wanted to set out to create healthy food that are not just nutritious, but also delicious and most importantly – “accessible and exciting for the masses”.
“Dining at YOLO goes beyond food to the overall dining experience. Our restaurant has a great upbeat vibe with house music, fun décor and tasty, healthy food!”
If YOLO can make it here, then there’s a high chance that we will also be able to successfully expand the brand overseas.
In 2015, he opened the first YOLO outlet, and has not looked back ever since.
“It Is Very Hard To Find Motivated Staff In Singapore”
While he has held very impressive positions in the corporate world (can you believe that he is only 32?), starting up on your own is a whole new ball game, and Bauduin soon hit a roadblock – manpower and management.
“I faced staffing issues as the F&B industry is one that has big human resources problems.”
I also underestimated the aspect of company culture, which is so important when you start, but also something that you kind of take for granted when you are in larger corporations.
Even until now, he still finds that the number one challenge is staffing.
“It is very hard to find motivated staff in Singapore,” he sighs.
Starting up also means having absolute control over your finances, and he also had to learn how to spend his budget as time went on.
“When you are a corporate, it is all about making sure you spend all of it, but when you are an entrepreneur, every dollar is crucial.”
Tapping Into The Halal Market
Earlier this year, in March, they proudly announced that they’re now halal-certified.
Getting the certification was actually stemmed from an Uber ride that Alexis was in.
I was sharing about the restaurant with the driver, a Malay uncle, and he was asking me why YOLO isn’t halal, and shared that halal healthy food is few and far between.
“For our concept, we pride ourselves to do healthy for everyone so it was crucial to become halal-certified. I also think there is a huge opportunity for healthy halal food in Singapore and the response we’ve received from our customers have been very positive.”
In fact, he states that feedback from the Malay-Muslim community has been “great”, and even though the halal application was a long process for them on a business level, it’s something that he thinks is well worth it.
They’ve also recently launched a daily meal plan service, which curates meal combos according to desired calorie intakes to help with weight loss.
“We want to make it convenient for people who didn’t have time to meal prep, and also take the guess work out of eating healthy.”
According to Bauduin, those who have followed their meal plans on a weekly basis have lost an average of 1.3kg per week!
“That makes me proud,” he beams.
On Entrepreneurship: “It’s Not For Everybody”
While his brand is centred around making healthy food for everyone, he states that entrepreneurship is a hard pill to swallow.
“I think entrepreneurship is very trendy at the moment and as a consultant, I see a lot of businesses and young entrepreneurs fail because of a lack of preparation and commitment to this new life they are facing.”
When you are a business owner, it’s just you and your business, 24/7, when you wake up, when you eat, when you go to bed, and when you dream. The pressure is there all the time because it is so personal.
And albeit the name of his brand being “YOLO”, he believes that aspiring entrepreneurs should be more prudent about their choices, and not rush into starting up if they lack relevant experience, and to have, at least, “a few years of experience to build some strong business foundations.”
“Ultimately, energy, grit and having no ego comes to play. The energy is important because it fuels the business, grit is everything as you need that resilience to keep pushing, no matter how tough it is.”
The zero ego is also important because entrepreneurship is a learning curve, and if your ego is in the way, you won’t be able to make the changes you need to make in order to grow and evolve your business.
With a new central kitchen to cater to wider delivery areas, as well as a new outlet at Star Vista, ‘YOLO’ may be a tad outdated to use as a term, but his venture is anything but.