We all have ideas that cling to our tongues in every conversation, every dinner, only to fade away as easily as they appeared. It was four years after their idea first emerged that Leonard and Chris finally took action and started Chunky Lobsters.
Being a seasoned financial services manager in the insurance industry, Leonard had started to find work extremely monotonous and uninspiring, while Chris, who was working as an IT sales consultant, had just returned from a business trip in New York. Chris had found a lobster shack during his trip that had an interesting business model, which he felt had great potential and could be replicated in Singapore and Asia.
However, the idea was forgotten and lay dormant until it resurfaced again last year in August when they realised the concept had been introduced to Japan. They decided then to take action and flew to Qingdao and Tokyo to attend the world seafood expo where they sealed deals with food suppliers and also to do in-depth market research on the current concept. By April, Chunky Lobsters was launched.
For the first week, Leonard would walk around the Central Business District area with a billboard on his shoulders, chanting slogans and distributing pamphlets. Within fourteen days they went viral over social media, which forced them to evolve with the accelerating recognition and expectations.
The queues started to increase, business was booming and things seemed to be going smoothly. Or was it?
Before Chunky Lobsters, Leonard and Chris had absolutely no experience in the F&B industry. They had managed to set up the restaurant but they were extremely low on manpower, to the extent that both founders had to stand at the counter to take orders.
The lobsters needed the best spices, buns, cups, bowls, lemons, and herbs but their supply chain hadn't synchronized yet: "Some days, we'd run out of buns, and on other days, we wouldn't have enough packaging. We had to stop sales abruptly midway through the day."
Very soon, they started getting customer complaints. Everything had to be changed: from daily delivery timings to recipes and pricing models.
"Everything seems easy, till you go behind the scenes."
"As consumers, people think F&B is easy because they only see the end product. But there's so many hidden costs that you will not know of till you dip your feet in those waters, and then it might be too late. After that, it's only normal to overthink whether or not you still want to invest in this lucrative-looking business," Leonard shared.
Having learnt things the hard way through the unexpected surge in demand, they're much better staffed now with more stable operations.
This experience forced Leonard out of his comfort zones. Leonard's parents divorced when he was young, so he lived with his mother's family. He grew up in an environment where he was not expected to do much household work - in fact, it was his first experience at getting his hands dirty in 30 years.
"My parents kept asking me if I was sure I could do it," he laughed, "I saw a short circuit for the first time in my life."
He shared how Chris would Google everything and mess around with the wires and his scissors till everything was fixed, just like a handyman.
From electrical wiring to managing staff and marketing, there are a multitude of problems both large and small that are constantly arising. Chris and Leonard have had their fair share of quarrels too, which sometimes includes shouting at each other out of stress.
"It's like a healthy relationship. This is like our baby and we both want the best for it, in different ways. We just need to learn to compromise."
He shared that they patch up all their differences each day and bear no grudges.
"It's important to look at the common goal at the end of the day."
Leonard chuckled when asked how he manages this start-up F&B business with his other work : "I make time for my passion, because, without this, I'm just another financial services manager with nothing bigger to look up to."
He emphasized that he's extremely grateful for his business partner, Chris, who takes over when Leonard is at work, and an understanding director and team player. Leonard is also in marketing which coincides with hands-on and outdoor work, which he's best at: "Appropriate delegation of responsibilities is important."
Leonard is apprehensive of the future trends in Singapore. Out of ten businesses, only two or three may survive. Everything that's currently hyped may go out of business within weeks.
"It's do or die. That keeps us motivated. We are both in our thirties. With a time constraint like this, giving up isn't an option."
Leonard shared that he got his do-or-die attitude from his uncle, who had a fine house and a well-paying corporate career yet he gave it all up, with the support of his family, to start another business from scratch after spending a year doing research.
"To him, it wasn't time wasted." Leonard's eyes sparkled with admiration. His uncle is a multimillionaire now.
The biggest challenge for Chunky Lobsters to face, for now, is stabilizing their business. Now that a lobster shack has been introduced in Singapore with resounding success, there isn't much to stop another entrepreneur from stealing the concept and copying it.
Chunky Lobsters has the first move advantage but Leonard reckons that only gives them a three to four-month headstart, within which they plan to improve their branding, marketing and a possibility of expansion. If the quality isn't top notch or it drops, they're bound to suffer a backlash from the market.
"It's speed with prudence. If we go too fast, efficiency won't catch up." Some F&B businesses became unsustainable in their attempt to expand too fast, which he's wary of falling into the same trap.
He laughed ironically as he added: "I was quite reckless and impulsive when in my youth. I wish I'd been more mature and thought long term, but I now know maturity will come with both failure and success."
Chunky Lobsters' long term idea is to become like a Subway fast-food chain which can branch across Asia and even China, where there is a larger market.
When asked about his personal plans for the future, he let out a sigh. He has been juggling his commitment to his family, work in the insurance industry as well as his start-up.
He admitted, "When you’re comfortable, you don't want to do anything that jeopardizes it. But it’s not easy to multitask. Eventually, you have to choose."
We asked him which he'd choose. He explained that insurance requires him to spread smiles by making good sales and recruitment, while Chunky Lobsters is more passion-driven where he can spread smiles through food.
To Leonard, entrepreneurship is about ideas, timing and luck. Those who have tasted the feeling of fulfilment, but failed, will eventually want to return to the business world and regain the feeling. They might give up late to satisfy their egos, but they always return.
"In entrepreneurship, even if you don't earn as much, your overall satisfaction is much higher. Do I want to be an employee again? I don't think I'd want to work for anyone but myself."
As of today, Chunky Lobsters has confirmed their expansion plans with another outlet opening at Cathay in August as well as a spin-off, Chunky Crabs (selling crab rolls with different flavours), opening at China Square in September.
They will also be taking part in the Singapore Garden Festival 2018 from 21st July to 3rd August at Gardens By The Bay so drop by for a visit to get your hands on their succulent and affordable lobster roll!