When Yummy Bros co-founders launched their business on 1 April 2018, many of their friends thought that it was an April Fools’ joke.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise though.
Gerald Tan and Anson Lim, the first two members of the founding team, are both fitness junkies.
For Gerald, it’s not an understatement to say that he lives and breathes fitness — he even sports a tattoo of a dumbbell!
The 32-year-old majored in Sport & Wellness Management at Nanyang Polytechnic, and has worked as a personal trainer at Planet Fitness Singapore.
After graduating from university with first-class honours in 2013, he started dabbling in business.
His first venture was an an e-learning website that aims to teach his university peers how to pass their economics exams.
“I had a knack for teaching economics that made it easy and fun for my students to understand. We created videos and sold them pay-per-view on a website, and even ran live workshops to help students with last-minute revisions.”
He later tried to build his own fashion and lifestyle media platform startup GetFash for a good three years, which “failed miserably”.
“We had two rounds of funding amounting to S$140,000 (but) bled money till there was nothing left,” said Gerald.
“In hindsight, the major mistake I made that led to the failure was moving away from my true passion, which is fitness.”
While Gerald helmed various business ventures of his own, Anson has chalked up cooking experiences from his stint as a hawker assistant.
The marriage of their two common interests naturally resulted in a healthy meal prep business.
It All Started Because They Hated Dieting
Back in 2017, there was a point in time when both Gerald and Anson felt “super lost in life.”
“I was dealing with the failure of my previous startup, had very little money, and was struggling to figure out (the finances) of marrying my then-girlfriend,” recounted Gerald.
“(On the other hand), Anson was sick and tired of his job and wanted a way out.”
The two decided to skip ‘leg day’ on one particular day and went for drinks instead. Over drinks, they complained about dieting.
“While we loved going to the gym, we didn’t exactly enjoy watching what we eat,” confessed Gerald.
Although he understands the importance of consuming enough protein while controlling overall calorie intake to achieve fitness goals or maintain physique, he lamented that it was difficult to find a delicious and nutritious protein-packed meal.
“We wanted the portion sizes and sides to be interchangeable. I’m an extremely picky eater but I know that it’s important to eat my veggies. However, I only eat certain veggies so I wanted to be able to choose the ones that go into my meals.”
Cooking their own meals was an option, but it can be quite hassling.
When they dine out, food options are aplenty but it was hard for them to know the actual nutritional values of the dishes.
That was when we decided that Singapore needed a meal prep brand that serves authentic Asian cuisine that was reinvented into healthier versions.
It had to be affordable, customisable, and conveniently delivered to our customers’ doorsteps. We wanted our customers to enjoy not just the food, but the entire journey of eating with Yummy Bros.– Gerald Tan, co-founder of Yummy Bros
That was how Yummy Bros came about. While people poked fun at their business name because it had a sexual connotation, Gerald explained that the name simply meant that they were gym bros running a food business.
After three months of research, website development, menu building and internal testing, Yummy Bros officially launched in 2018.
Their gym buddy Ben Leu bought their very first batch of meals, and loved their food and concept so much that he ended up coming onboard as the third co-founder and Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
Pre-Order Asian Healthy Meals
There are plenty of other healthy meal prep businesses in Singapore, but most of them are based on a subscription model.
Yummy Bros on the other hand, relies on a completely different business model: pre-order.
This meant that they sell every meal box that they produce, so they were profitable from the get-go.
Gerald also firmly believes that you should enjoy diets so you can stick to it for a long time.
This “longevity” is what helps people better achieve their fitness goals, and keeps them coming back for more.
I can confidently say that our customers enjoy dieting with Yummy Bros because referrals are our biggest source of new customer (acquisition). We’ve got many repeat customers ordering from us on a weekly basis despite us not offering a monthly subscription.
Our customers actually make the effort to come back to our website every week to order their meals for the next seven days.– Gerald Tan, co-founder of Yummy Bros
He also wants to change the perception that diets suck because they are restricted to only clean and healthy food, which does not always taste good.
“That’s where our menu direction comes in. Our focus is to reinvent beloved Asian dishes into healthy meal prep versions that’s high in protein, controlled in calories, transparent in nutritional values, while keeping them yummy,” explained Gerald.
They wanted to be able to indulge in guilt-free Asian food, and have come up with a menu that includes hot-sellers like Yummy Satay Chicken, Yummy Mala Chicken, Spicy Chicken Lemak, Yummy Curry Chicken, Yummy Thai Fish, Yummy Kung Pow and Yummy Kopi Chicken.
Starting Out As A Home-Based Businesss
The bootstrapped startup started out as a home-based business, right out of Anson’s four-room HDB flat.
His kitchen had very limited cooking tools, so they had to make do with just one stove, one pot, one frying pan, one spatula and one pair of fork and spoon.
“We didn’t want to spend money on more equipment because we were pretty broke at the time. All we spent on was ingredients, packaging, and the occasional gas bill,” said Gerald.
They also received their food safety and hygiene certification for free thanks to SkillsFuture.
Sharing more about their struggles in the early days, Gerald said that they had to learn the hard way that cooking for 10 people is vastly different from cooking for two.
“10 orders of 5 meals each meant that we would have to produce 50 meal boxes. With the limited (resources) we had, it took us two sleepless nights to prepare, cook, pack and freeze so that they’ll be ready (in time) for delivery.”
It took a lot of time and effort on their end just to produce that few meal boxes, and they also personally conducted deliveries to their customers.
Anson in particular, spent a lot of hours in the kitchen because he was in charge of the meal box production.
He was juggling a full-time job at the time, so it was extra exhausting for him and he often missed several days of work each month.
Since he took so many unpaid leaves, his company ended up letting him go. Gerald was devastated when Anson told him the unfortunate news because they weren’t making much from selling meal boxes.
The costs we incurred on ingredients and packaging were relatively high because we were buying them at retail prices.
Furthermore, we only took a salary of S$50 each in the first month of operations.– Gerald Tan, co-founder of Yummy Bros
Gerald decided to pull his weight and bring in customers for the company.
However, since they were operating from a home kitchen, they had to adhere to regulations under HDB’s home-based business scheme.
“One of the bigger challenges was that we were not allowed to advertise our business, (both) online and offline,” said Gerald.
“I hustled by going to different gyms in Singapore to workout, make friends, and share about Yummy Bros with these new friends. I would carry business cards in my pocket and hand them out whenever I made a new friend.”
This on-the-ground approach helped to raise awareness about Yummy Bros and grow its social media following.
Their orders also started to snowball, from 50 to 300 meal boxes per week. As sales increased, they reinvested their earnings to buy more cooking equipments and scale up their operations.
Yummy Bros operated as a home-based business for almost a year, and storage was fast turning into a problem.
They planned to raise money to rent a retail space, but couldn’t find any interested investors.
Unfazed by the setback, they later teamed up with a catering company that operates from a fully-equipped central kitchen with several staff and an established supply chain.
Today, the two entities work hand-in-hand to develop new dishes for customers, run the production line and explore viable business opportunities.
While there was a small spike in orders when the circuit breaker took place, Yummy Bros also faced some supply problems.
Prices for ingredients rose sharply and there was also last-minute news that some items were unavailable for us to order. As our customers pre-order our meals, this meant fulfilment problems because we didn’t have some ingredients needed for their orders.
Thankfully, our customers were very understanding of the situation and were happy to let us switch their items with something else.– Gerald Tan, co-founder of Yummy Bros
Their packaging supply was also indirectly affected.
When foreign workers were quarantined in their dormitories, the government appointed food caterers to pack meals for them.
Their packaging supplier had to allocate stockpiles of their bento packaging to these caterers. This included the double compartment meal boxes that they use to separate the meats from the carbs and vegetables.
Their supplier was short on these containers to cater to both the caterer and Yummy Bros, so the latter compromised and opted for single compartment ones instead.
“This was obviously not ideal as the sauce from the meats would soak into the rice, which some of customers wouldn’t like. But we believed in playing our part so we informed our customers about the change and thankfully, they were understanding enough,” said Gerald.
Additionally, since social distancing was required at all workplaces, they had to cut down on their kitchen manpower at any one point of time.
7-Figure Annual Sales In Under 3 Years
According to Gerald, while their net profit was initially small at the start, it has since grown as they moved operations to a central kitchen.
In under three years, Yummy Bros has achieved seven-figure annual sales and grew over 400 per cent in revenue from the previous year.
They also acquire about 100 new customers weekly, and deliver orders to about a thousand locations every week.
Sharing future business plans, Gerald shared that they are planning to launch Yummy Bros in Bangkok, Thailand once the pandemic is over.
“We also intend to create more customer engagement campaigns like events and meet-ups, where customers can try yet-to-be-launched menu items, mingle with other like-minded fitness enthusiasts, and more importantly, for us to know our customers at a personal level,” he added.
Looking back on his entrepreneurial journey so far, Gerald said that it’s important to focus on creating an enjoyable product and great brand when starting a business.
To do so, it’s critical to be passionate about your business product or service. It’s only when you are passionate will you then be able to fully empathise with the customers and deliver on what they truly want and need.
I believe that true passion for the product is a key ingredient for success. If we didn’t enjoy working out and figuring out how to eat right, we wouldn’t be able to create the Yummy Bros of today.
You also don’t have to do everything yourself. You can partner up with people and other businesses to bring more value to your customers. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But, if you want to go far, go together.”– Gerald Tan, co-founder of Yummy Bros
Featured Image Credit: Yummy Bros