waacow aaron yeo
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Aaron Yeo’s adolescence was marked by a relentless struggle with both depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). School was an uphill battle, with a persistent inability to concentrate leading to falling grades and frustration.

The constant cycle of trying various methods to regain his educational footing, only to lose momentum again, defined his “start-stop” educational journey.

The academic setbacks had profound effects on Aaron’s self-esteem and confidence. The labels of being “playful” and a “troublemaker” from teachers further exacerbated his internalisation of these negative perceptions.

Consequently, he faced a painful distance from his friends as they heeded the advice of their parents to create some separation. The isolation and self-doubt only deepened his internal struggles.

Amidst the struggles, Aaron’s determination shone through. Despite scoring straight Ds for his A levels, he defied expectations by securing a spot at SIM University, where he blossomed into the top scorer of his cohort.

The birth of WaaCow!

While undergoing his undergraduate studies, Aaron experimented with finance internships but soon realised that a career in banking was not his calling. His inclination towards food and a desire to create memorable experiences through culinary delights propelled him toward the world of entrepreneurship.

WaaCow! emerged as Aaron’s first business venture in 2016, inspired by the desire to “democratise Wagyu beef”, a luxurious and prized ingredient often reserved for high-end restaurants.

As a child, beef was reserved for celebratory occasions and was not something we would often eat. I guess this idea stuck with me, and I wanted to start a “perpetual celebration” of sorts.

– Aaron Yeo, founder of WaaCow!

Aaron and his team saw an opportunity to introduce Wagyu beef to a wider audience, breaking down the barriers that had previously confined its consumption to celebratory occasions.

waacow wagyu beef bowl
WaaCow!’s signature flame-torched original wagyu beef bowl / Image Credit: WaaCow!

While the food and beverage industry might seem like a natural choice for someone with a passion for food, Aaron’s perspective extends beyond mere sustenance.

He believes that F&B is about selling experiences that bring joy to people’s lives. This philosophy resonates with customers who leave WaaCow! happy, a testament to the satisfaction that comes from offering culinary delights that go beyond taste.

Furthermore, Aaron acknowledges that entering the F&B industry, especially for someone without extensive industry experience, offers a more accessible path compared to fields that require highly specialised skills. The familiarity with the product and the immediate ability to assess quality give F&B entrepreneurship a more approachable entry point.

WaaCow! has established a distinctive identity within the F&B landscape of Singapore. Positioned as Singapore’s first flame-torched Wagyu beef donburi concept, the restaurant prides itself on its unique cooking method — flame torching — which imparts a delectable sear and char flavour to the dishes.

The name “Waa Cow!” encapsulates both the essence of the restaurant’s offerings and its bold character. The use of “Waa” directly references Wagyu beef, while the colloquial expression “Wa Kao” signifies a sense of awe. This clever interplay of words captures the essence of the restaurant’s goal: to offer Wagyu beef that leaves diners amazed.

A distinguishing feature of WaaCow! lies in its commitment to crafting in-house sauces. These sauces, meticulously handcrafted by the same team for seven years, underline the restaurant’s artisanal roots. This dedication to maintaining quality and authenticity even as the brand expands into a chain restaurant concept sets WaaCow! apart from the crowd.

They only earned S$53 in sales on the first day

waacow nus u-town
WaaCow! outlet at NUS U-Town / Image Credit: NUS UCI

The choice of NUS U-Town as the first location for WaaCow! was a stroke of serendipity. Aaron’s connection with a friend in the private equity sector paved the way for a pop-up opportunity at the NUS Shaw Foundation Alumni House.

Within a short span, the school recognised the potential of WaaCow! and invited them to participate in a tender for a space at U-Town.

However, the 34-year-old recalls the initial struggle of starting up, as the sales on the first day amounted to a meagre S$53. Doubts started to creep in, making him question the decision to take a break from his Master’s program.

Fortunately, a student food blogger stumbled upon WaaCow! and gave it a positive review, sparking a surge in sales over the next few days. Yet, as success came knocking, so did a new set of challenges.

The surge in demand led to extended wait times for customers due to the kitchen’s inability to cope with the volume. This prompted the team to grapple with food preparation predictions and order management.

Challenges continued to evolve over the years. Self-doubt, a common companion of entrepreneurs, proved both motivating and emotionally taxing for Aaron. However, his reliance on a skilled team and the unwavering support of his business partner – his wife – provided a steady anchor.

Furthermore, the F&B industry is notorious for its dynamic nature. Rapid shifts in competition, costs, and consumer preferences create an environment that demands adaptability.

I think all businesses have to deal with this in one way or another, and the only thing we can hold on to is the fact that we must absolutely and unquestionably bring value to our customers — that is the only way the business can move forward.

– Aaron Yeo, founder of WaaCow!

WaaCow! confronted this challenge head-on by focusing on value creation. New menu items and technology integration to optimise costs became their compass, guiding them through the ever-changing landscape.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, disrupting industries worldwide. The F&B sector took a hard hit, forcing WaaCow! to reimagine its approach. In response, they pivoted from a CBD-centric restaurant model to e-commerce and islandwide delivery. Despite the initial uncertainty, this change introduced WaaCow! to new customer demographics, leading to an outpouring of support.

“Our pandemic success was truly a stroke of luck. For Christmas the year prior, my wife and business partner Diana had insisted that we set up an online ordering platform to accept Christmas orders. So when the pandemic hit a few months later, we already had the infrastructure to pivot to deliveries. In fact, our backend URL to our website is still “xmas-test -store”,” said Aaron.

The power of product and people

A noteworthy aspect of WaaCow!’s journey was its swift journey to profitability. It took just six months for the brand to break even, and it’s now raking in eight-digit annual sales.

Today, it helms four outlets in Singapore, coupled with a cloud kitchen, and a yakiniku concept.

waacow yakiniku
WaaCow! Yakiniku / Image Credit: WaaCow!

This quick turnaround was a result of their dedication to keeping costs manageable and focusing on delivering quality without compromise. It wasn’t a smooth ride though, as every startup faces its share of funding challenges and uncertainties. However, WaaCow!’s ability to adapt and innovate allowed them to surmount these hurdles.

In a sector where rapid expansion can sometimes lead to quality compromise, Aaron chose a different path for WaaCow!. He emphasises the brand’s commitment to two key “P”s – Product and People.

Rather than chasing fast-paced growth, they opted for cautious expansion to ensure that their product standards remained consistent. This approach resonated with their belief that maintaining quality in the face of expansion is vital for sustainable success.

For Aaron, people include both the team and the customers. The brand’s ability to listen to both parties closely has been pivotal in their growth. WaaCow! has an exceptional strategy of integrating customer feedback and insights, as well as fostering a team that feels valued and empowered.

As WaaCow! continues to evolve, Aaron envisions an exciting future. The brand’s expansion plans span both local and regional fronts. Their ultimate goal, however, is not just about numbers; it’s about creating an umbrella of brands and concepts that consistently excite and serve their community.

The focus remains on delivering memorable experiences to customers, reaffirming their commitment to putting joy and satisfaction at the heart of their offerings.

Aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those who have encountered challenges, can draw inspiration from Aaron’s wisdom. His foremost advice is to have a passion to serve.

You must take joy in bringing a smile to others, both customers and staff alike. In many ways, this is a business of the heart — it is a people’s business.

At the end of the day, what you are selling is not just food. You are selling satisfaction, smiles and kinship amongst your diners. Likewise, the people that you lead are not robots in a production line. They must be attended to with care and compassion. I believe that if your team has a positive energy, that will translate into your food and ultimately, positively influence your customers as well.

– Aaron Yeo, founder of WaaCow!

Aaron’s words are a reminder that the pursuit of joy and service should be at the forefront, and success will follow as a natural consequence.

Featured Image Credit: WaaCow!

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)