Tee May Yee is the founder and co-owner of The Last Polka , an ice cream brand based in Malaysia. With many outlets carrying The Last Polka all over Klang Valley, Malaysia, the Last Polka has been met with much local appreciation and acclaim. The brand prides itself in making great tasting ice-cream with natural ingredients, combining a french-style textures with regional Asian flavors.
The Asian Entrepreneur has the pleasure of speaking to May Yee today about the ice cream brand she started and her experiences in starting up such an unique venture.
May Yee, could you tell us abit about yourself?
Certainly. Well, I turned 30 this year. I’m a Kuala Lumpur kid through and through, and my childhood here in the 90s shaped some of my most important cultural and social references. The music, tastes and smells of the city; Metrobus rides and the nine ringgit cinema experience and the after-hours mamak. After completing an Arts degree abroad, I returned to Kuala Lumpur and landed a gig with a big multinational company. It was a whole new world, I went places and met people and moved up the proverbial rungs of the corporate ladder. It was exciting, heady stuff, but four years on in the summer of 2009, sitting in my apartment in London, I’d been sent there for work, I knew it was time for a change. That’s when I traded my Blackberry and corporate Amex for a whisk and an apron, and a shot at chasing a dream. I felt that Kuala Lumpur was the premise of that next big adventure, and it was time to return and bring it to life.
So tell us about the team behind The Last Polka and the inspirations driving it?
The Last Polka is me and Lee Ee Vee, an old friend from university. We’d bonded over KFC, John Mayer and a love for the good life. In our late twenties we bonded once again through a collective need to solve our quarter life crises. We had a passion for food and a desire to create, and it seemed an effective enough catalyst to get us started.
Inspired by the nostalgia of Kuala Lumpur in the 90s, The Last Polka is about recreating our favourite memories through taste and texture. Featuring ice cream flavours such as Salted Gula Melaka, Teh Tarik and Pandan Kaya, the brand continues to excite food lovers and critics alike. With an emphasis on natural, locally-‐sourced ingredients, we dedicate our energy towards building a product repertoire that balances the classics with the experimental. Our mission is simple, to reinvigorate palates and to make Kuala Lumpur a more delicious place.
What was the reception like when you first introduced the Last Polka to Kuala Lumpur?
It was actually overwhelmingly positive. A good product is a given, but a combination of timing and circumstance were a big boost. The artisanal food scene was burgeoning at the time, and no one was doing what we were doing. The novelty and a the community’s openness to and appreciation of the idea of small-batch, handmade products really helped.
Did you guys employ paid advertising much to garner the reception?
No, initially, we marketed through social media and word of mouth. At the outset, we didn’t and actually we still don’t really have a marketing or advertising budget, so it was Facebook and Twitter from the get go, just me and my partner sharing our experiments, failures, discoveries and mainly connecting with our customers. The food blogging community were also one of the first folks to pick up on The Last Polka, and we have them to thank for their enthusiasm and honesty with our early flavors.
So did you guys face a lot of challenges in the beginning, if so, what sort of challenges?
Lots! But generally, inexperience, a lack of know-how when it came to the F&B business. I must say though that these were also blessings in disguise. If we were fully aware of the realities of running The Last Polka we might have let our fears get ahead of us. Plunging into it head first had its charms.
How did you guys overcome those challenges?
I think it was a combination of many things. Primarily, reading, listening and asking questions. We’ve also been very fortunate to be surrounded by informal mentors, peers in the F&B community who’ve been so generous with their knowledge and time. Where you lack experience and expertise, you are twice as eager to learn, I think.
Do you think it is generally hard to implement startups like yours in Kuala Lumpur?
In some senses, yes. Besides the general, universal challenges of starting a business anywhere, we could do with better institutional support in terms of finance and education. I think the increasing support for SMEs is encouraging but there’s much more that could be done by both the private and public sectors.
How is it like being involved in the F&B industry in Kuala Lumpur?
It’s a tough but definitely fun game. You just keep playing! Mostly fun. Routine is always balanced by creative challenges. Managing the brand is amazing, there’s hardly a dull moment around here because of the people we meet and the projects we take on.
If you could start over again, what would you do differently?
I probably would not, save for a few niggly details. This might come off as a bit of a cliche, but the big mistakes teach you big lessons, and I think we’re better off because of them.
What development plans do you have for the Last Polka?
New distribution channels, an extended range of frozen desserts, perhaps a new retail project. There are crazy new plans at every bend, but we try to prioritise so that only the best ones see the light.
What is your definition of success?
To me, it is when you get to a point where purpose, passion and satisfaction meet and resonate in a meaningful way, and where you are able to positively impact the people and communities around you.
In your experience, what are 2 important things that entrepreneurs should keep in mind?
Tenacity and humility. Staying on course when things get hard, remembering that there’s still so much to learn no matter how far ahead you’ve gotten in the game
Connect with May Yee and The Last Polka today:
Email: [email protected]