Third year anniversary: personal reflection from CEO & Co-founder - Amy Zheng (Part 2)
This post follows up from my previous blog post about the key milestones and lessons learned as we look back at the three years of journey since the birth of Amazin' Graze:
4. Innovation at the core of the Company
We are always brainstorming about new healthy snacks and flavours that we can create. Being proud of our Asian heritage, we also try to integrate local flavours into our products whenever possible. Innovation is the core of who we are. In fact, immediately after we set up the new kitchen at the end of 2015, we introduced a Christmas range of granolas, nuts and cookies on top of our classic range of products. We then repeated this for every Ramadan, Christmas and Chinese New Year.
We didn’t realise how uncommon it was for a company like us to do this because most consumer food businesses focused on producing and marketing a small number of products only - think Cocoa Cola which started off with one drink. This is because a lot of resources are required to introduce new products - R&D, sourcing, training, design and marketing. Every time we introduce a new seasonal range, it feels like we are starting a new business segment. However, by having this innovative and creative approach from the beginning, we got better and faster when it came to new product creation. It's our key differentiator today and definitely a major factor for getting us to where we are today.
Photo: Christmas 2017 Special Edition
Photo: Ramadan 2016 Special Edition
5. Venturing out of Malaysia
We decided to enter the Singapore market less than a year of setting up the business. We were very ambitious back then and quite frankly, didn’t know what it took to enter new markets. Our venture into Singapore was relatively smooth because we found a great country director and also because the two countries was geographically close with similar tastes and culture. However, the differences was also sufficiently large that we couldn’t just replicate what we did in Malaysia in Singapore either. It took the next two years to properly set up a team in Singapore and develop local networks and know-how.
We ventured into Hong Kong around six months after Singapore and we experienced even greater challenges there, primarily because the cultural differences was even larger and the city was geographically further We scaled back our Hong Kong operations after a year of being there because it was extremely challenging to grow our presence in three countries at such early stages of our business. Looking back, I would definitely caution myself to get our home markets right first before expanding further abroad. I was travelling 2 out of 4 weeks every month and found myself feeling exhausted and didn't look forward to upcoming business trips. Our future expansion plans will be more cautious with the necessary condition that we need to find a great local partner .
Photo: first market appearance of Amazin' Graze in Hong Kong
6. Setting up our first large commercial facility
We ran out of space at our first working kitchen early on during our second year of operations. For a time, our operational efficiency actually decreased because people couldn’t move around the facility easily. We were getting orders that we couldn’t fulfil. We decided to invest in a much larger facility that was almost 10 times larger than our then-working kitchen because we were wary of moving too many times and wanted a space that was big enough to accommodate growth for the next 3-5 years.
This was when things became very serious for us because the investment needed for this second facility would be huge. There was no turning back from that point. Even though we have a much bigger facility than what we need at the moment, having this professional and large working facility motivates us to grow the business even more quickly. There was definitely no time to get complacent. We had to forge ahead to ensure that we put these assets to good use. We took big risks because we saw real potential in the brand to become a market leader in healthy snacks locally and abroad.
Photo: granolas baked in the new production facility
7. Finding the Right Investors
We “bootstrapped” for the first two years with Amazin’ Graze. Meaning, we ran the company with our own money until we couldn’t anymore. We looked for investors for our second facility because the investment required was too high for three women who only had a few years savings from their past corporate jobs. We spoke to a lot of different people and organisations, including angel investors, VCs and funds. In the end, we decided to enter partnership with two private investors who loved our products and believed in what we were doing. They treated us as friends and understood that running a business is like a marathon, like a sprint.
There are many other milestones and lessons learned that couldn't be captured in two blog posts alone but I hope that this paints a good picture of our journey in the last three years - the things that we are proud of, our major challenges and what we learned in the process. Looking forward, we have no doubts that the journey head will be even more challenging but we truly believe that Amazin' Graze has a huge potential to make a big impact on the food and snacks industry and we're excited to be part of this journey.