To Joseph Poh, entrepreneurship is a delicious undertaking as he has become one of the bold names synonymous with the exciting startups currently in the dynamic food and beverage industry in Malaysia. Born in Ipoh and raised in a family running its own business, Joseph Poh did the rebellious by forgoing his family business. Instead Joseph chose to work for others in diverse industries such as investment banking to broaden his business perspective. Before venturing into his own startup, Joseph was the franchise manager for the largest lifestyle food chains in Southeast Asia named Secret Recipe and responsible for overseeing over 200 outlets locally and globally. In 2016, he moved on and became the first franchisee of the renowned Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart brand in Malaysia. With an appetite for challenge, Joseph recently launched WonderBrew Kombucha with two of his co-founders in November 2018. It has been an incredible journey that has seen the expansion of this unique beverage into different parts of Malaysia under his tutelage. Today, we have the honour of inviting Joseph Poh to share his journey and experiences with us.
What is WonderBrew and what sets it apart?
WonderBrew is a lifestyle beverage brand that is more than just selling healthy beverages. It is also a company with a big dream to empower people to become a healthier, happier and better version of themselves, all starting from a healthier gut! Besides, WonderBrew is also very much about a better environment, sustainability and minimal carbon footprints. All these are evidenced in the ways we conduct our business. For instance, we only support and source our ingredients from organics farms and sustainable sources. We also encourage and reward consumers who recycle used bottles with us and we compost our used tea leaves properly to minimize wastes.
What led you to start WonderBrew?
It was purely by coincidence that I learnt about Kombucha in September 2018 from my friend and now partner, Adam, who had a very positive feedback after trying it in Bali. Didn’t know much about it but I was hooked on the supposed probiotic benefits that Kombucha has that could potentially improve my poor gut health.- One fine day, I happened to stumble upon Kombucha while shopping at a local grocery. I decided to try one and instantly fell in love at first sip with the surprisingly good taste!
After much online research, I signed up for a Kombucha brewing workshop conducted by my second partner, Boon, who has a good eight years of experience making Kombucha.- I started drinking for a week and felt great with enhanced energy level and better bowel movements. That gave me confidence and intrigue me to delve into Kombucha.
Along the way, as a consumer, I discovered three key paint points in the market that have been deterring the growth of Kombucha in Malaysia. It is really difficult to find 1)value for money and 2)great tasting Kombucha, as well as 3) lack of easy access to Kombucha in general. There are not many places offering Kombucha and in groceries, one can only find a handful of brands of which majority is being imported from countries like Australia and USA. Most brands are priced steeply at RM15.00 and above for a bottle which is a great turn-off for many first-timers. Lastly, many have recipes and taste profiles developed for foreigners which may not be tantalizing to local taste buds.
Centering on these three key factors, I founded WonderBrew with Adam and Boon in November 2018 hoping to solve these problems for the all the existing and upcoming fans of Kombucha in Malaysia.
What was the process of setting up WonderBrew?
Before starting, it was really about what sort of brand we want to build for the future which requires a clear brand vision, mission, values, principles and image.
Then, there came the typical start-up process that involved setting up a company to run a business. We started from scratch from thinking of the brand name to designing of brand logo, from sourcing of bottles and raw materials to costing of products, from developing of recipes to planning of production.
Initially, we started brewing from home but soon moved out to a proper commercial kitchen for better hygiene, standards and safety. We now have a proper facility where we produce our bottles of Kombucha and store our raw ingredients. – We have a clear understanding of our own roles and responsibilities from the very beginning. That was immensely helpful in allowing us to focus and move forward to grow the business quickly.
As a start-up, we didn’t have much resources to be invested into marketing. Hence, we started social media marketing all by ourselves from taking attractive photos to posting amazing contents with creative captions.
We let our family and friends try our products and garnered feedback to improve before the final launch in January 2019.
We planned for and filtered our distribution channels with specific target on places patronized by our target audiences.
What were some of the difficulties you faced?
As a new start-up, we are greatly restricted by the limited resources we have to grow our business. As a result, we are more cautious when it comes to spending our resources albeit the many plans we have for WonderBrew. We plan and prioritize our goals to achieve a healthy and sustainable growth. We are very much about self-sustaining from cash flow generated from sales.
Another big challenge that we face, just like in many traditional businesses, is our cash flow. Being in the supplying business, our payment from cash sales may not be immediately available especially in the case of consignment which often include our cash being tied up for an average of 30-40 days. Hence, this makes planning ahead even more important to us.
Being a start-up means sometimes you may have to do everything by yourself even though you are not an expert in it. Currently, we are running on a 8-men team and despite each of us having our own role, we do not mind to go beyond that to help each other out. Personally, I enjoyed and learnt so much from my partners when we were working together.
How have you guys been developing WonderBrew?
Since the very beginning, we have a goal of reaching 100 locations by 2019 of which we are still working on. We focused on reaching out to different retailers including groceries, organic and health stores, cafes, restaurants, fitness studios, yoga centers, pharmacies, offices, co-working spaces, etc as a mean to grow.- In the meantime, we are developing our online stores via our own website to deliver products directly to end users. Also, we are looking into partnering with reputable food delivery services locally including the likes of GrabFood and FoodPanda to increase sales.
Due to popular demand, we started having pop-ups at food bazaars and other events selling Kombucha in bottles and on tap. In fact, we are the first and still the only player selling Kombucha on tap in public events today. For special events, we cater both Kombucha in bottles on tap with special flavors requested by our clients.
WonderBrew is very much about unique blends and varieties when it comes to flavor. We are strong in local tastes and have always been doing our own R&D to come out with new flavors. In fact, we have just launched our limited seasonal flavor, for example, Puteri Blush for the upcoming Hari Raya and two more new flavors for the rest of 2019.
Despite everything going on track, we have not ignored or forgotten about product quality and safety which are always of paramount importance to us. In addition, we are in the midst of the application process to get Halal certified by this year with the local authority. With that, we hope to give consumers more confidence and a piece of mind while consuming our products.
What sort of market feedback have you had?
Since a mere four months ago, we did a soft launching of WonderBrew in the local market. To our surprise, it was really well-received and we have seen a double digit month-to-month growth in the first three months after which we upgraded our production capacity in April and May.
We started seeing repeated customers and many gave us feedback saying that they love the taste and packaging of our WonderBrew Kombucha
We believe our price points are consumer-friendly as evidenced in increasing sales and positive feedback from customers. We justify our price with wonderful taste, great quality ingredients, handcrafted process, efforts and creativity behind the brand.
How do you guys approach competition in the Kombucha industry?
There is always competition but it got more intensive in recent years with more new brands emerging. However, we always see competition as a way to keep us on track, improve and excel in what we do. We welcome competition and not let it distract us from growing WonderBrew brand in our way with our principles and values. At WonderBrew, we always remember why we started the brand and stay true to our belief and vision for the brand. We always strive to bring the best quality Kombucha with unique, localized taste to our consumers by investing heavily in quality ingredients, production equipment, in-house R&D, safety and hygiene.
Beside ensuring a solid foundation for the brand, we are aggressive in expanding our distribution channels and brand presence in the market. Just over a span of 4 months, we are present in 29 locations already. We want move fast so that WonderBrew can be accessible to more people quickly.
To bring our products to the next level, we are also getting halal certified by local authority so that consumers will be more confident in us as well.
Tell us more about the industry in Malaysia.
Despite being around for more than a decade, Kombucha in Malaysia is still relatively unknown to a lot of people. Many have not tried or even heard about it before. The industry is characterized by a lot of small players of which many only started and continued as a passion or hobby selling online. It is hard to buy Kombucha conveniently in the market especially in public places like groceries. The brands are limited and mostly are imported Kombucha from overseas charging at steep prices.
However, things started to take a sharp turn in the last few years when awareness of Kombucha started growing with more people jumping on the bandwagon. – As we grow WonderBrew, we noticed that a lot of people actually like the beverage for its taste and many continued for its health benefits. As evidenced in our growing sales, we can foresee a huge potential for Kombucha to be a mainstream and lifestyle beverage in the near future, confidently comparable to coffee or bubble tea bu as a much healthier alternative.
The group of customers for Kombucha is very diverse in background but you could generally group them together as people who are health conscious and enjoy a refreshing, good tasting lifestyle beverage. Despite not something that would appeal to the youngsters traditionally, we encountered a lot millennials who actually enjoyed WonderBrew Kombucha a lot.
Do you see an encouraging future with the industry?
We strongly believe in the bright future of Kombucha especially in Malaysia. We are in the right health trend with more people becoming health conscious and looking for natural products to incorporate into their healthy lifestyle. Leveraging on the government’s initiative to encourage healthy lifestyle among the citizens, we believe more people will start to appreciate Kombucha and its health benefits.
Moving forward, we believe that flavored Kombucha will play a big role in growing the industry especially flavors that resonate with the locals. Hence, we are very committed in our R&D to develop recipes that are suitable for the locals. For instance, WonderBrew’s Markisa Breeze (passion fruit mint) and Purple Pari Pari (bluepea flower & lemongrass) which are infused with cold pressed juices have huge following among the local customers.
Started as a brand using only natural, fresh and organic ingredients, we aim to continue that brand principle and become more creative in our experimentation with ingredients.
Other aspects we emphasize are our product safety, quality and consistency. We strive to sustain good quality products that are always safe to consume to give our consumers a piece of mind. We also want to ensure that the WonderBrew you tasted today is exactly the same in taste as the one you have later.
To stay connected and relevant to today’s consumers who are increasingly environmentally friendly, we will continue and double up our efforts in recycling and reducing production wastes.
How is it like pursuing a business in this part of the world?
While I don’t think it is fair for me to comment on Asia, starting a business in Malaysia has been very encouraging so far. There are a lot of initiatives and supports from the government as evidenced in their SME policies, tax incentives, start-up grants, accelerator and incubator programs. Indeed, the Malaysian government supports have been very helpful to many budding entrepreneurs to kick-start and grow.
There are also plenty of social networking events connecting entrepreneurs and the business elites. These events have been critical to the growth of the local entrepreneurs community.
Furthermore, Malaysians are very supportive of local brands which gave us a boost a confidence to continue our business.
In general, there is a strong culture of starting your own business and being your own boss especially among the Malaysians today. In fact, the number of people starting their businesses in Malaysia is on the rise in recent years.
As a whole, the start-up ecosystem is very conducive to new businesses that I have really been enjoying my entrepreneurial journey so far.
What is the ideal success you aim to achieve with WonderBrew?
One is only truly successful when others have benefited and become a better version of themselves because of what you do. Not so much about the fortune and fame you have amassed along the way, but more so on the values and impact you bring to society. Also success become more meaningful and powerful when it is achieved as a group instead of an individual.
For instance, at WonderBrew, we are ever so motivated by the fact that our handcrafted organic Kombucha brings joy and health to people. Every time when we hear positive feedback from customers who enjoy our drinks or have experienced improved gut health from the probiotic benefits of our Kombucha, it really motivates us a lot.
At the corporate level, we aim to create a supportive and positive culture for our employees so that we can all learn and grow together. The sense of belonging and togetherness is so critical for us to succeed together.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship has always been in my blood and that makes starting a new venture of my own something natural to me when the timing is right. Besides, I enjoy the process and challenges attached to creating something new and seeing it coming to fruition. Personally, it is also very fulfilling for me to have a positive impact on our economy and society.
In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
In my humble opinions, I believe in four key factors to being a successful entrepreneurs including 1) Belief, 2) Passion, 3) Dedication and 4) Action
It is true what they say about an entrepreneur being a lonely person because they are the ones who often have the courage to start something first and had to grow it alone from there. This makes a strong belief in the vision, mission and business itself indispensable if the entrepreneur were to be able to carry on the long journey to success.
Passion serves as a fuel to excite and power you up as an entrepreneur. Without passion, an entrepreneur will lose interest too soon before seeing the business through and becoming successful. Passionate entrepreneurs are great influencers too and often easier to gain followers and customers for their business.
A new business does not go far without the dedication from its founder. Commitment in time and effort growing the business is just as important as having belief and passion. “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, a successful enterprise can only be created with dedication over time.
Nothing can be materialized without this key ingredient of entrepreneurial success called action. Action is what brings your belief, passion and dedication into physical reality. Action is what make things happen which could lead to success eventually. Being able to get your hands dirty and take actions at the most basic level including going out there to meet and talk to people about your business is a great start.
Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?
Firstly, entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Do no become one just because your friends are diving into it. If you have decided to become one, then your expectations and mindset need to be right. Many were an employee before they became an entrepreneur and it is extremely dangerous to run a business with an employee mindset. There is no 9-5pm routine, clock-in/clock-out, off on weekend or even a fixed salary each month for an entrepreneur. You may often have to do it all by yourself and not even get paid until much later. Do not expect stability and comfort while running a business. You cannot just perform with the average of your abilities because it is whatever it takes to succeed in your own business especially when your investment and future are at stake. So, if you are ready for the above, then you will have a better journey as a budding entrepreneur.
Behind every successful business, there is a group of people who work relentlessly to make it a success. Make sure to find and assemble a good team of people who resonate with the brand vision and values. Learn to identify and acquire talents into your team so that as a whole, the team becomes stronger.