Having interviewed many startups since working at Vulcan Post, I’ve come to believe that some people really are born to be entrepreneurs, mainly because they’re ambitious enough to gamble their livelihoods on it.
Shawn Low and Lai Jen Yeh are one such example. The pair left their careers in investment and engineering respectively before coming together to launch a gelato business.
And no, it’s not a home-based brand. The founders of Forest Floor went all out and opened a store in Cheras. But more on that in a bit.
From gaming to business
Jen Yeh and Shawn first met in high school but only got close through Dota 2, where a discussion about starting a business arose during one of their gaming sessions.
Shawn had set his mind on starting a business since he was young. “I decided shortly after PMR not to work for other people forever,” he confessed.
He dabbled in selling food at bazaars in school and wet markets to prove his commitment to the idea. Still, his ambition was set aside for a while to gain some corporate skills, which is when his career in professional investments happened.
But then the pandemic struck, and Shawn lost three family members in a year. “This led me to rethink how I wanted to live my life and whether I would regret not trying.”
Similarly, his partner Jen Yeh grew tired of an engineer’s long hours and “lower-than-average” salary. It was slowly taking a toll on him as Jen Yeh, by nature, prefers livelier work.
He then opted out of the rat race and decided to run a business with other partners. But unfortunately, it turned out to be a bad investment.
“The compensation [he received] was widely different from [what was] initially promised, despite him equally sharing the workload,” Shawn shared.
Hence, when Shawn discussed his search for money to start the venture, Jen Yeh joined as the co-founder.
A softie for desserts
The plan wasn’t always to start a gelato business. Sharing with Vulcan Post, Shawn said he was playing around with a few proposals, from doughnuts to petit gateau. But there was always a common theme—desserts.
At the time, he was inspired by Australian Masterchef’s participant, Reynold Poernomo, and his dish, Moss. The dessert is constructed with pistachio sponge cake, apple sorbet, and pistachio mousse coated in matcha with caramel gel.
This may seem like a mouthful, but Shawn was fascinated by the mix of different components in a single dessert.
The next step was to find a medium that allowed him to do just that. Thankfully, this wasn’t hard. “I chose gelato because my girlfriend suggested it to me as she liked to eat it.”
The move to start with tea-based gelato was a more calculated one. As the couple brainstormed ideas, he decided that the plant’s bitterness offered a good balance to the gelato’s sweetness.
Thus, the idea of tea-based gelato with dessert toppings was born. He then pitched the idea to Jen Yeh, who was fully on board with the F&B plan.
This was also why they launched a physical store instead of having it be a home-based business, and also why the pair chose to commit to Forest Floor full-time from the get-go.
“Because normally online sales would entail only having the tea gelato. We wanted people to be able to customise their dessert,” they explained.
Adapting and re-adapting
It wasn’t until the store launched that they realised a flaw in their hypothesis.
Adapting to this finding, the friends pivoted their focus from the gelato’s sides to the dish’s star, the gelato itself.
About RM20,000 was invested in the machinery to make the gelato from scratch. And even then, Shawn and Jen Yeh explained that their machines had a lower production capacity.
Where others could whip up a full batch in one cycle, they would need to make a couple more for the same amount. But the brand has since been able to churn out all of its gelato in-house, no longer needing to supplement some by outsourcing.
Currently, Forest Floor offers gelato in both Asian and Western tea. This includes Oolong, Honey Lemon Chrysanthemum, and Earl Grey. A single scoop costs RM8.90, whereas a double costs RM15.90.
The gelato is generally served in a cup, but customers can also opt to have it atop a brownie, waffle, or waffle bowl, though, do note that there’s a surcharge.
If that’s not enough, the store also sells its gelatos in pints for RM38.
“As long as we keep focusing on improving our products and services, I believe there will be a market for it.”
This is also why they opted to open a physical store in Cheras, as upon asking around; the duo found that there weren’t many dessert stores in the area. At least, not ones that also offered tea-based gelatos.
The brand eventually plans to offer tea drinks (like matcha and genmaicha) to pair alongside their gelatos. We’ve tried their jasmine and oolong and found that the hot beverages served as nice palate cleansers that also enhanced the experience.
In the long run, Shawn and Jen Yeh hope to expand Forest Floor beyond Cheras’ borders. Which should be easier once they begin the brand’s delivery service within the Klang Valley.
For now, though, the pair are focused on churning out more gelatos and tightening up their packaging and logistics.
Editor’s Update: Information in the above article has been updated to reflect greater accuracy.
- Learn more about Forest Floor here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Forest Floor