- Australian businessman Phillip Laskaris and Singaporean copywriter Marc Ashley opened Yu Lian in 2017, a store specialising in Thai durians.
- Yu Lian received great reception from customers since its launch, but closed down within 4 months.
- Ashley has revealed the problems that surfaced and how Laskaris abandoned the business, leaving S$22,000 unpaid.
Back in August 2017, an ‘ang moh’ came into the spotlight in Singapore for starting an unlikely business of selling durians.
The Australian businessman, Phillip Laskaris, had set up a shop called Yu Lian along Queen Street, that drew in customers with its classy Parisian cafe-esque decor, and its specialisation in Thai durians which were less common than the Malaysian variants in Singapore.
The idea of a Caucasian passionate about selling durians was intriguing and attractive to locals, and even garnered a feature on The Straits Times.
But time went by, and buzz about ‘the ang moh who sells durians’ fell silent, leaving people without a hint if the business was still surviving.
On 31 July 2018, Yu Lian’s 550+ followers on Facebook were notified that the shop had ceased operations, but added that fans should stick around in case they return with “something else”.
While the post was published about a year after the business began, in truth, Yu Lian already drew their shutters as soon as four months in.
Laskaris’ business partner, 27-year-old Singaporean, Marc Ashley, came out publicly on 28 February 2019 to reveal how the brand went from its emergence to collapse, in a series of Instagram stories.
We reached out to Ashley today to clarify certain details of his posts.
Strong Connections And High Ambitions
Ashley, who works in a marketing and advertising agency, was approached by Laskaris (married to a close friend of Ashley’s mother) to support the branding and marketing side of his venture.
Although Laskaris took on his help, he told Ashley he didn’t want to hire an agency.
Instead, Ashley worked directly and closely with him, eventually being offered the role of a Director in the Singapore firm, a monthly fee of about S$2,000-S$3,000, and an amount of shares out of “goodwill”.
According to Ashley, Laskaris had reached out to his network of “rich friends” including Earl of Warwick Guy Greville, to invest and help him kickstart the venture.
He further shared with us that Laskaris was pitching to raise US$200,000, an amount that would go towards purchasing vehicles to transport durians from South Thailand to Singapore by land, and acquiring property for the business’ operations.
Ashley also said the plan was more ambitious than just opening a durian stall to introduce Thai durians to Singapore.
He said Laskaris intended to “use profit to monopolise the Thai durian export business”, and make durian “something like a stock or an equity” that could be traded on the global market.
To work towards that goal, Laskaris established three companies—Baan Baison Co Ltd in Thailand, Tha Tip Sdn Bhd in Malaysia, and Luang Thai Pte Ltd in Singapore.
Their roles were for Baan Baison to sell durians to Luang Thai in Singapore, with Tha Tip managing the transportation across Malaysia.
From Rotten Durians, To A Rotten Partnership
Upon launching after months of hard work and preparation, Yu Lian was greeted with a wonderful reception from people who were interested to try the Kanyao, Chanee, and Monthong durians that hailed from Thailand.
“We were closing a couple thousand dollars a day,” said Ashley.
But just as quickly, things got out of hand as their supply suddenly ran low. It turned out this was due to durians getting stuck in Malaysia, as the company was unable to hire any drivers to transport them, but also wasn’t willing to pay freelancers a higher fee to do the job.
“Our durians [were arriving] late and most of the stock [arrived] close to its expiration.”
Durians started to rot in Malaysia.
With the disappearance of durians, Laskaris had also vanished, leaving Ashley with no choice but to close the shop as he had no more durians to sell, just four months after opening.
At this time, Laskaris still owed payment to the graphic designer, a friend of Ashley’s, who branded all three companies. Ashley believes this unpaid amount is close to S$20,000, out of the S$22,500 fee that was invoiced.
It was stated in her terms and conditions that she was supposed to receive S$14,000 up front, and the remaining S$8,500 three months later.
After a few weeks of silence, Laskaris initiated a meet up with Ashley, asking the latter to sign documents that would relinquish his position as Director, and transfer his shares back to the company.
On top of this, Laskaris himself signed an IOU which states he owes Ashley S$2,000.
Although Ashley had hoped they could “figure this out” and salvage the business, he found that their company emails, contacts, and documents had already been deleted.
Months later, Ashley contacted Laskaris when he found out that his Thai-based company Baan Baison became an authorised distributor for a firm called Nano Hair Growth Clinic.
From the image he shared, it could seem Laskaris had clinched a deal worth US$1 million, although Ashley said he is unsure of this. However, Laskaris was still unable to pay Ashley back.
Finally, Ashley contacted him once again, saying it has been “close to two years” and hoping to reclaim the amounts due to himself and his friend.
This was met with an offer from Laskaris, for a final and full settlement of S$500, with the conditions that Ashley had to choose to accept within 24 hours, and that it was non-negotiable—which he didn’t accept.
When asked what his intentions are moving forward, Ashley responded that he has no plans to revive the durian business, but will instead focus on his current job which he loves.
He also added a word of warning, “Young entrepreneurs and everyone [should really] be cautious about the people they do business with.”