Some people dream of going out with their crushes, or driving a sports car, or the winning 4D numbers.
But for 25-year-old Asaph Teo, business ideas, like a lifestyle event app, come to him in his dreams.
When it didn’t work out, he co-founded Hashbrown Media, a social media agency, together with his business partner, 26-year-old Bryan Khoo, in August 2017 when they were still undergraduates at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).
Only just over a year old, the company has already clinched clients like Tsuta Singapore, a Michelin-starred ramen restaurant, and homegrown FMCG potato chips brand F.EAST, who had captivated Singaporeans with their Chicken Rice and Laksa potato chips.
This is impressive considering they had just graduated with a BSc in Marketing this year, so I had a chat with Asaph to find out how they did it and their journey so far.
From Students To Startup Owners
As far as their work experiences went, Asaph shared that he had worked in the digital marketing field for a renowned hotel in Singapore while Bryan had a stint with another social media agency.
“During this time, we had extremely good supervisors who were able to teach and guide us on the fundamentals of social media marketing,” Asaph shared.
He told me that Bryan and he had been talking about starting a social media agency for some time already since they met each other at school, but they took a while to get things moving.
“[A] close friend of mine [said to me], ‘Aiya, you always talk about your ideas, but you never really get down to starting them anyway,'” he recounted.
“At the same time, I was also a regular customer of Wang BBQ Lok Lok, who is our first client, and I spoke to the boss of the store.”
“We were conversing about how I was doing social media marketing for a hotel in Singapore and he asked if I could help him with marketing for his store. That was how it all began.”
Hashbrown Media primarily works with F&B businesses to grow their online presence, Asaph told me.
They take care of everything from content creation to campaign execution and campaign management.
The company focuses on targeting F&B businesses because they noticed that they “still do not know how to harness the power of social media to their benefit” in spite of how ubiquitous social media is.
“We saw […] many F&Bs [that] are forced to close down because of a lack of marketing/advertising know-how, [despite serving excellent food],” Asaph explained.
“[Even though] many Singaporeans today, especially the younger generations, use social media so regularly, many F&B companies still do not see the value in investing in social media marketing.”
Applying What They Learnt
But starting a social media agency wasn’t their first idea.
Asaph said that he had always been “interested in entrepreneurship” and remarked, “[Business] ideas just appear to me in my dreams – [which is] quite scary, really.”
One of the ideas was to create an app that notifies Singaporeans about events that are happening islandwide.
“We also thought of starting a mobile laundry company that [would] help to pool all the laundry together at a central location to help Singaporeans save cost on laundry.”
These ideas did not materialise as they found that they didn’t have the experience and knowledge necessary for the industry.
“All the observations we made were from a user’s point of view, which may or may not have been accurate,” Asaph said.
“Starting a company without knowing what the actual demands of the market are would be very risky.”
“Essentially,” he added, “We succumbed to the sheer amount of red tape and the potential risks that came with starting these businesses and kinda put them off.”
But he didn’t rule out the possibility of working on them in the future.
Still, I was curious as to why they eventually started a social media agency when they could have chosen to open other types of businesses since their initial business ideas were not marketing-related.
“The other ideas required help from external parties, like app coding, for example, which would have been a bit of a challenge.”
“Besides, we both majored in marketing, so it was really something that was in line with what we liked to do,” he explained.
This lets them be independent and not rely on any “external help”.
Their previous jobs equipped them with practical, technical knowledge on managing social media pages and helped them gain an understanding of clients’ expectations and needs.
These experiences taught them about highlighting the important and relevant points in their pitches to their potential clients.
F.EAST-ing On Their Successes
As fresh graduates and fresh-faced entrepreneurs, they had to learn and do everything on their own, like contributing CPF and recruitment.
Despite not having enough revenue, Asaph remembered having to hire staff to support the operations.
“The [initial] few months were extremely tight, financially, because we started the business with zero capital and worked our way through with the money we were getting along the way from our clients,” he shared.
“Since we were also still studying at that time, we also had to juggle between running the business and handling our school projects and exams at the same time.”
Like how most agencies started out, they send cold emails regularly to reach out to potential clients before meeting them and pitching to them.
But all their efforts paid off, as that was how they landed Tsuta and F.EAST as their clients.
Asaph shared that both these established companies have their own agencies but were willing to give Hashbrown Media a chance.
Working with F.EAST to launch their third and latest flavour was “one of the more memorable projects”, he said.
“Since we have a huge thing for local food and flavours, working with F.EAST was extremely fun.”
“We planned a few months ahead on how we were intending to build the hype to launch the new flavour,” he continued.
They organised contests and created teasers which garnered interesting responses, Asaph recounted.
“F.EAST also gave us lots of room to be extremely quirky and punny with their posts, so we really had an awesome time coming up with ideas and concepts.”
From Real-Life Intel To Artificial Intelligence
In hindsight, Asaph said he was thankful that the investments were “non-fiscal”, making up of personal sacrifices that involved a lot of time and effort.
“[The] easy part was thinking of entrepreneurial ideas. The hard part was actually getting down to start them,” he said.
“When we started the company, we did all the work on our own [which took up] a lot of time especially since we had to juggle between our school work and the business,” he recalled.
Bryan was involved in graphic design and photography while Asaph did content creation and copywriting.
“Our rates were also much lower at that time, considering that we had (a lot of heart but) almost no portfolio.”
Now, their team has grown from two to five people and they service social media accounts of 10 different brands and more, including Koka Noodles.
Asaph is happy that Hashbrown Media is the first of his business ideas to be successfully implemented, incorporated, and to generate a steady flow of revenue.
He is confident of the company’s growth in terms of client base and manpower.
They see social media becoming a more attractive platform for businesses noting that social media marketing is “overtaking mainstream media” like TV and newspapers as it is accessible and affordable.
“In the next five years, Hashbrown Media also seeks to leverage on future digital marketing trends such as artificial intelligence to explore more ideas on how we can capture the interests of people,” Asaph revealed.
He can’t confirm details on the development on the AI front but only said that the idea is to tap on it to garner greater engagement on social media by “encouraging greater interaction between end-users and the brand”.
Eventually, this will help them move away from traditional marketing where messages are typically one-directional, from the brand to the end-user.
Featured Image Credit: Hashbrown Media