Lou and Thibaut Built the Ultimate Good-Mood Boosting Franchise: Funky Music, a Friendly Staff and Delicious French Tartes
What’s your story?
Our story is simple and short. It’s the story of two best friends who couldn’t find a good French tart in Hong Kong, so they decided to open their own tart shop. We were both French, under 30, and we thought anything was possible in Hong Kong.
What excites you most about your industry?
Two things: First, the cake retail industry is all about happiness! You don’t see grumpy customers all day. Whether it’s your birthday, or you’re just in for a treat, for yourself or your friends and colleagues, buying a cake is usually a happy moment.
Second, people are usually very expressive when it comes to food. They love it, or they don’t, but they will tell you about it. Getting very precise feedback from customers, even without asking, is one of the things we love about this industry because it has been very helpful to us in improving our recipes, delivery service, and overall customer retail experience.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I have been living in Hong Kong for 8 years. I landed here for an internship and never left. For a few years, I worked as a buyer in a design agency. My partner, Lou, lived in Japan for 5 years and worked in a Pastry School for famous chocolate brand Valrhona. He was later moved to Hong Kong where he trained pastry chefs in the Asia-Pacific region. He knows the area extremely well.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong, all the way! Setting up a business here is fast and easy but it’s a very unforgiving market. If you’re wrong about your business model, you must adapt quickly. We always loved that about Hong Kong. We’d rather be wrong, fail, and try again than struggle with a bad business for years, just because the market allows it. Another thing we love here is the fact that this city is a melting pot of many Asian cultures, with a large European and American community. It’s a great first place to build your brand if you plan to franchise.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
THINK BIG. It’s cheesy and it’s one of those stupid inspirational quotes you find printed on mugs and t-shirts: “Think Big, Start Small, Act Now!” but, in many ways, those words resonated with us. Up to this day, everything we do is aimed toward building a strong brand, and opening franchises around the world. We still only have one single small shop, but thinking big was, and still is, what drives us.
Who inspires you?
We disagreed on this one, so here are two:
- Regarding Business: Oussama Ammar, a French business genius, taught us a lot about scalability.
- Regarding Pastry: Frédéric Bau and the Valrhona school chefs, inspire us with their mind-blowing creations.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
At Tartes & Pop, we are all about learning new skills and DIY, but we recently realized that there are things that are not worth doing yourself. It was online advertising for us. We took a 20 hour online training course, read a few ebooks, allocated a budget, and started a target marketing campaign. After a couple of months, we analyzed the results and… it was a huge fail! We were literally throwing money out the window. That’s when we realized that we were just not equipped to do our own marketing. Ad agencies have direct access to a dedicated Google rep, beta functions, industry benchmarks, etc. One ad dollar was simply not worth the same in our hands as in theirs. Once we agreed that DIY marketing was not a profitable path, we began outsourcing more than just digital advertising. It was a game-changer for us! Don’t waste time learning how to become a mediocre designer, or a below-average advertiser, it’s just not worth it.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
We would do it again, with a tiny bit more budget, to keep the stress level as low as possible. We had no ‘Plan B’ when we started this cake shop, so we poured all our savings, as well as some loan money, into this business. It left us with no buffer and we went through hell when sales were not initially taking off. My partner and I worked 12 hours a day, Monday to Sunday, with no staff, only because we did not have the money to do otherwise. That’s a very good example of what NOT to do. Directors have a responsibility to keep a cool head and to make the right decisions. Waking up every day thinking today might be the last day your business is open, is not recommended.
How do you unwind?
Nothing crazy, we go to the gym (well…one of us hits the gym a lot more regularly than the other!) and we play a lot of video games together. As a matter of fact, a lot of our directors meetings are done while playing video games. We realized that we tend to spend more time on the phone if we are playing together, than if we are simply discussing problems, so we discuss problems while playing and don’t stop until we have a solution. Probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but it has worked for us!
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Kyoto. It is calm and peaceful.
Everyone in business should read this book:
“Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” by David Allen. This book basically teaches you how to take to-do lists to a whole new level.
Shameless plug for your business:
Loving this part of the interview — Tartes & Pop, best farewell tarts in Hong Kong, 散水餅 specialist. www.tartes-pop.com
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connects’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder and CEO of MBH Corporation PLC. He is the author of three best-selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’, ‘Agglomerate’ and ‘Entrepreneurial Investing’.