Asia can be a hard market to crack. Introducing an entirely new concept to a market that is defined by tradition, custom and convention may be incredibly difficult. It requires a generous amount of insight, tenacity and adaptability to meet such challenges. Adam Chen is one of the founders of WooGo Juice, a popular American(Californian)-style juice-bar based in Taiwan. Despite being, perhaps, the first of its kind in Taiwan, WooGo Juice has been very well received locally. Today, the Asian Entrepreneur has the privilege of speaking to Adam Chen about starting the business and his insightful experiences developing and managing it in Taiwan.
Adam, tell us a bit about yourself and how you found your way to starting WooGo Juice?
I grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and one of the most multicultural places in the world. I grew up surrounded by friends from a diverse mix of ethnic backgrounds. Our school and community offered us a chance to showcase our cultural differences through art, music, theatre, and food. It was through these events that we began to build a sense of community and pride in our own ethnic identity, as well as an appreciation for others. I believe this was one of the greatest merits of growing up in Canada.
In High School, I took a course in World Issues. This course opened my eyes to the harrowing issues facing many societies in this world. I felt compelled to learn more. I made it a personal goal to take advantage of as many opportunities as I could to live in different societies across the world. By the time I completed by BPAPM (Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management) at Carleton University, I had spent time living and working abroad in Ecuador, Rwanda, India, Mexico, and the United States.
I had one of the most impactful experiences while completing an internship with a Genocide prevention non-profit named Aegis Trust in Rwanda. I spent that summer working with a group of women who were widowed and often infected with HIV-aids as a result of the genocide. In order to relieve the financial burden placed on these women and their families, I was tasked with working with them to create new income generating projects. This was when I began to learn what it takes to put together a new business from the ground up. In order to garner financial, media, and organizational support, I created partnerships and held events with local government, non-profits, and businesses. I was determined to give the project a running start. By the time I had to leave, I felt confident that I left the projects in capable hands.
Once I finished university, my brother and I decided to move up to Taiwan together. This time, I was travelling to another country without the support of an organization or program. My father and his family immigrated to Toronto from Taiwan more than twenty-five years ago, and as a result almost all their ties with the country were cut. So we were left to fend for
ourselves. After a year of studying Chinese and immersing ourselves in and around Taipei, we finally began to feel at home. But I was looking for a way that I could utilize my background in community development, non-profit management, and business building. Luckily, that’s when the opportunity to start WooGo came along.
What’s WooGo Juice all about?
WooGo Juice offers a genuine American juice bar experience. Our first and main product line, California-style Smoothies, are made with the same recipes from back home. We blend together handmade yogurts, sorbets, and high quality Taiwanese fruits together using the same recipes from back home. But we aren’t afraid to play around a little. The great thing about smoothies is that, once you have the basic recipe ratios down, you can start to add in your own flavors and ingredients to make a truly unique taste experience. This allows us to create little off-menu ‘secret’ recipes and tailored flavors for our customers as well.
We realize that Taiwan offers a very competitive drink-environment, so when we heard about the high amount of competition in Taiwan, we decided we needed to make our product, and our company, something special. First, we decided to experiment with many different flavors and possibilities. We knew that if we could create a product that had a unique mix of traditional with new flavors, people would enjoy it.Secondly, we immersed ourselves in the production. We all learned how to make our own sorbets, yogurts, and unique recipes.
Finally, we wanted to bring together a community of passionately driven and creative people. We want to hold events, including our opening event this month that will showcase the incredible local talents that the foreign and local community can offer itself. Hopefully, with these events and our constant support, people will see our genuine love for Taipei, and California style smoothies shine through.
How did it all begin?
My two Californian partners, Sagiv and Robbie, moved to Taiwan escape the routine life of America and start something of their own. An idea finally hit one day when they went to the gym for a routine workout. When they finished, they realized there weren’t any places in Taipei to find their favorite post work-out boost – a California Smoothie. This came as a surprise, as other American-style frozen treats, such as self-serve frozen yogurt shops and gourmet ice-cream parlors, had become wildly popular around Taiwan. It seemed like it was just a matter of time before smoothies followed course, and they decided they would be the ones to do it.
They knew I had a knack for networking for networking and connecting communities. They also knew my brother, Jason, was a fantastic manager. At the time, he was managing the staff at a local bar he part-owned. Finally Tim, our Taiwanese partner, had some insightful experiences opening up a Sushi restaurant in Mexico. We were all young, passionate people looking for a project we could all immerse ourselves in and dedicate ourselves to. We decided to start a super team of five, and named ourselves WooGo, which roughly translates into “Wu-Geh”, or Five Brothers.
What was your approach to marketing at the outset?
Due to our limited marketing resources, we used mainly our personalities to push the marketing. That meant a huge focus on social media and word of mouth. We did this by engaging with every customer who came in our door, and doing whatever we could to make sure they felt at home and well pampered. It also meant focusing on making our store, product, and people big appealing for the Instagram and social media crowd.
However, we realized this type of approach is limited in its growth potential. We began to have a very strong and dedicated following, but the numbers weren’t adding up. Since then, we’ve begun to seek out consulting on how to appeal to the local Taiwanese consumer. We’ve put much more emphasis on education and awareness of what makes Californian-style smoothies a unique and premium product. We are restructuring the store to make it into a more visually welcoming and informative experience for the first time customer.
What is the biggest challenge so far for WooGo Juice?
The biggest challenge so far has been outreach to the larger general Taiwan audience. We are a smaller organization, and we don’t have the budget to spend on the excessive PR budgets usually used in Taiwan. These larger PR firms usually guarantee coverage across many forms of Taiwanese Media.
And how have you guys worked to overcome this?
We are using the best of our abilities to make a big presence in our local community in our own way. Take our grand opening last month. Whereas these things usually attract about 50 somewhat friends and family, we made it into a big community event, where we had a partnership with a local charity, along with several Taiwan local bands, and 10 professional painters and artists, all come together for an afternoon live art and music festival in the streets of Dongqu, right outside of our shop, more than a couple hundred people, and is really helping people challenge the way that businesses can interact with their communities, charities, customers, and staff.
Our event drew more than a couple hundred people, and is really helping people challenge the way that businesses can interact with their communities, charities, customers, and staff. Although we are just starting out, we are working every day to make a lasting impression and gain a valuable reputation as community organizers who are following their passions to achieve their dreams.
And how did you guys approach the marketing of the site?
That is an interesting question and in reference to the question just asked, I think this is the major obstacle for us. To answer you, I would say we are taking marketing in an organic and piecemeal way. We believe there is real value of the site, and we truly believe that it is something that will grow once more and more people try it. So we aren’t taking the paid approach and spend big bucks on press releases or launch parties. As I’ve told you earlier, we are in our soft launch now, so we have been spreading it on our social networks at this stage.
Tell us about food and beverage in Taiwan.
Along with naps, playing candy crush, and online shopping, trying out new foods is usually one of the favorite past times of a Taiwanese person. Many people in Taiwan pride themselves on being open to having a taste of interesting foods.
There are so many tea and coffee shops around town. Maybe people often warn us of how saturated the beverage industry is in Taiwan – it is the birthplace of Bubble Tea after all. However, the great thing is that there is a large community of programs, blogs, and online networks that are always on the prowl for something different.
At its essence, you guys were importing a taste that is foreign to Taiwan, did you guys have to do things differently?
There are several cultural factors we’ve had to account for – the general Taiwan consumer is very sensitive to seasonal changes. While the smoothie industry has taken off in places with much colder winters, such as Canada, England, and Australia, Taiwanese people area much more likely to avoid frozen treats in during colder seasons. The people in Taiwan are also hesitant to drinking cold drinks in the morning, which they believe will upset their stomach and digestion. However, people love to have a nice afternoon drink, and thus we have tried to tailor or store hours and marketing to fit those considerations.
How is WooGo Juice managed?
With five owners as equal shareholders, we have gone through many evolutions within our management structure. But we knew this would happen coming in, so we’ve learned that trust, and proper delegation of duties is the best way to keep our management moving well.
My brother Jay is the in store manager. And he’s done a fantastic job. It’s at the point where many staff just hang out at the store, even during their off days or after their shift has ended. He makes sure the staff are keeping up to snuff, doing taste testing, and doing the proper procedures to ensure we are getting information for our marketing metrics.
The marketing and PR team’s duty is to harmonize in store and online experience, to make sure our marketing projects are tracked and followed correctly, while keeping our message consistent between the marketing and PR.
Robbie runs our infinitely complex production system. Created from scratch, he has made it possible for us to serve the Taiwan community handmade yogurt and sorbets, all done by hand in our home factory. He also coordinates and manages our supplier relations. All purchases and financial decisions have to pass through our financial team, who will approve larger purchases and budget proposals. It’s a complex system, but its constantly evolving and we are dedicated to making it work.
Faced any let downs so far?
With every closed door, you can always grab a hammer and smash a hole through the wall. Or you can go Shawshank and dig a hole with a small pickaxe. I believe that to perceive of an issues as a major disappointment is to take on the wrong sort of perspective. We have had substantial issues with ordering, finances, grant applications, you name it. But to be disappointed means you must have set expectations, and in a fast-moving business, that is a death wish.
Some of the major curveballs we’ve had thrown our way have been, for example, making a non-refundable order of 60,000 cups, and realizing upon delivery that they did not turn out at all as expected. We’ve since been developing ways to encourage rapid use of our recyclable cups. Just try to think of how many amazing social media campaigns one could come up with having 60,000 cups at their disposal?
Would you do anything differently, if you had a second chance?
Being so tight on start up capital has made it sometimes a struggle with balancing personal finances. It’s been difficult to manage our Facebook account while still using an IPhone 3, but there are always ways to make things work. If I had a second chance, I’d try to reach out for more initial capital investment to ensure that both the business and personal finance don’t become major concerns during the beginning stages. That being said, having a tight budget has really helped us exercise our creative juices and dip our hands into guerilla marketing, which I believe has been great for out-of-the-box thinkers like us.
What does the future hold for WooGo Juice?
Well, we are in the midst of developing our winter line of products. If people are looking for heart-warming fuzzy winter treats, that’s what we’ll offer them. But of course, we’ll ensure it’s done in a WooGo style – we won’t compromise our dedication to staying unique, premium, and fun.
We are also going to introduce what I personally believe to be the most interesting and appealing part of the American smoothie experience – boosters (nutritional supplement boosts that people can add to the drinks)! It has been difficult finding suppliers, but we will soon be launching them as available add-ons to the already premium products we serve.
We are also in constant communication with local community organizations, universities, and businesses to create new projects that will offer a service to community, while also spreading the message of WooGo smoothies across Taiwan. Our dedication to the local arts community is still in full swing, and we plan our next event to be more musically focused.
What are you guys currently working on?
We have a couple of tricks up our sleeves that we are holding close to our belts for now. The great thing about having a group of five energetic and determined young people running the team is that we are able to hold an extensive network that would allow us to do some pretty fun social media (Flash-mobs, etc) and in-store projects (public painting events, smoothie flavor testing events). However, it is always best to plan these things out strategically.
Our new products will also be attempting to challenge even the conventions of traditional American smoothie chain products, and integrating some Taiwanese influences into the drinks. One things for sure – it’ll be a taste adventure. Check us out on facebook for the latest updates!
What are some important entrepreneurial lessons you’ve learnt working on WooGo Juice?
Try to avoid looking at things retrospectively. Face the situation as it is. A start-up will be told that 90% of anything is planning, you must always plan out every contingency, and be ready for changes. However, a consequence of this is that your contingency planning will lead to expectations, and expectations can lead to disappointments in a quickly shifting environment.
If your working in a big group with equal shares, know that marketing and image will likely be the most hotly contested issue. Don’t allow the inevitable differences of taste, beliefs, and experience become a force that limits your creative ability or organizational harmony. Instead, make sure decisions and the creative direction of the company is left to a trusted source for a final say.
In your opinion, how can entrepreneurs out there achieve better results?
Don’t let sub-par results let it instill fear or discouragement – those are weeds that will grow if ignored. If you find that the results aren’t exactlywhat you expected or desired, don’t be afraid to take a hard look at why. Adjust your path, adapt to lessons learned, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Why do you do what you do?
A sign on my friend’s door states: “A fearless adventure in knowing what to dowhen no one’s there telling you what to do.” Another friend of mine told me “This store is your laboratory. Experiment, learn, trust your instincts, and grow from these experiences.” Its no coincidence that both of these friends are also owners of their own start-ups. WooGo is something we’ve built from the ground up. It has immersed me in an environment with limitless growth and ever expanding networks. What can I say, I live to learn.
Tell us about some principles that you hold dear.
For me personally, the guiding principle in life is empathy. It allows your to step into the shoes of your customers, staff, partners, investors. It’s a crucial aspect of marketing, networking, and management. This is especially important when working in a foreign environment. And in order to achieve empathy with these different people, communication and immersion are key. Also, one of the best lessons I ever got was passed on from my father. Don’t offer excuses and questions, offer results. If results are not an option, present alternatives and contingencies. Make life easier for everyone around you, not harder.
Any words of wisdom for our readers out there?
Yep. Usually, you have to make the choice. You decide who to listen to, who you surround yourself with, and what choices you will make that define who you are. That is an incredible power that, as an entrepreneur, you cannot put into someone else’s hands. You can prioritize your social life, money, and your dreams in whichever way you desire. If you really want success, it’s your choice.
Connect with Adam Chen and WooGo Juice today