Bottles of Beer might not be based in Singapore, but given the proximity of Bangkok and Singapore, and our frequency of travel there, it might as well be.
Led by Singaporeans Ruan and Jason, Bottles of Beer (B.O.B) is a brand that serves the craft and artisanal beer market in Bangkok, and its founding story sounds like a dream come true for beer lovers.
Knowing Your Market
B.O.B actually began as a restaurant, Ruan shares, but the food they made was unsuitable for Thai tastes.
“In order to balance our concept risks, I suggested adding craft beer as it had sparked a small growth in our early days.”
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But business was slow as they did not understand their product well.
They only knew how to drinks loads of beer, Ruan laughs, but with his thirst for knowledge, he did not consider that a setback.
“The number of brands and types of beers I’ve drunk in the past year puts me in with the geeks. I’m pretty sure I’d be able to differentiate beers on a blind test and immediately know if it’ll sell in the market now.”
In addition, the men were “very lucky” to meet pioneer importers in the industry.
“They helped us with events and promotions and the initiatives propelled our awareness to the craft beer communities.”
Although they declined to reveal investment numbers, the capital was “pretty substantial,” says Ruan.
“Jason and myself did not get paid anything all the first 6 months, which was tough. We are lucky we had reserves and supportive families.”
We had to pour in funds again to keep the ship sailing but it paid off. Now, we are setting sail in much more favourable winds.
No Advertising Allowed
“One of the biggest challenges in Thailand is that you are not allowed to promote alcohol, in any form. My biggest weapon is in Jason and myself being the friendliest beer dudes in the industry.”
Love is easy to give when you are drinking beer.
“So, we did it the hard way – events, public relations and good service.”
“At B.O.B I was painfully stubborn about not having TV screens or entertainment. I believed the products we had gave us the opportunity for customer interaction.”
“I believe that regardless of tech distractions, many of us still want to directly communicate with one another. To friends who ask for the sports channels, I’d suggest for them to hang out at the communal long table.”
Many people have made friends and business partnerships at B.O.B.
“People who choose to drink alone are lonely, bored or just trying to escape the grind. Upon a few drinks, many open up and all they need is a good listening ear, not advice.”
“I’ve listened to many awful life stories, relationship problems, and the most amazing life experiences in this year.”
And that was how they converted people into loyal customers one by one.
“It took us a year of smiles and knowing how to listen.”
Bangkok vs. Singapore
There are perks to setting up business in Thailand, Ruan reveals.
To begin with, they already had the business network in the country.
Both men are serial entrepreneurs, but Ruan’s Made in Candy business was the one that laid the foundations.
“We were invited by TOPS supermarket at Central World, and it turned out highly viable and we recovered our investment in 3 months.”
More importantly, his foray into Thailand let him make many friends in media and business, and it transformed him from a “withdrawn business person into a media savvy guru”.
Secondly, Thailand’s market size also factors in the scaling up of their business(es).
“In Singapore, SMEs have difficulty hiring upper management to ensure that the business is well managed as it expands.”
“In contrast, Thailand’s market size enabled me to find and hire talents quickly. Most can communicate in English, so there are no language issues.”
The people are cool and startup cost is lower. In Singapore, if you don’t shell out $120k, it’s impossible to open even a small store. There’s no allowance for a learning curve and parents can see their retirement go up in smoke.
However, the Land of Smiles does come with its own downers.
“Red-tape is crazy cumbersome”, sighs Ruan.
“Everything is largely on paper and each application requires a lot of documentation.”
“Translations are a challenge, and rules for foreigners aren’t clear, resulting in stalled initiatives and changing rules all the time.”
They’re In It For The Long Run
Starting a business is one thing, but sustaining it is another.
“Today, competition comes faster and knowledge can be attained quickly. More people are willing to start up and they have very little to lose.”
“Before you enter the market, know that you have a million other competitors. You’d better know your market well, or be outsold and out-priced before you can even figure out why.”
With the Internet, bullshit stinks from thousands of miles away.
“Also, don’t reject technology. Embrace it, otherwise your complaints will only make you look stupid.”
“If you are willing to learn, keep an open mind and respect each others’ specialties instead of thinking that you are smarter because of your age.”
“Only then will you be able to learn continuously.”
Featured Image Credit: Ruan Lim