A New Adventure – Fluff Bakery KL

Yesterday we opened the doors of Fluff Bakery KL for the first time to customers as part of our trial run. Alhamdullilah it was met with great response. It’s humbling to see how much support we get from our friends, family and the public in bringing this cupcake shop to life, bringing them from Jln Pisang in Singapore to Jln Tun Mohd Fuad 2 in TTDI, KL!


Fluff Bakery KL is led by 5 entrepreneurs – Syaira & Ashraf (Mrs & Mr Fluff respectively), Nina, Alia and myself.

I wrote before how in the many things I learnt being an F&B entrepreneur, one of it is that you should have multiple partners to manage the workload. This venture is a validation of that – 5 entrepreneurs with varying business experience with complementing knowledge of business and networks working together.



I long believe that you should be conscious of learning something new everyday. That is how you know you’ve made the most of your day. Any entrepreneur who have had a physical shop will tell you they will have wish lists for their next shop – most likely lessons learnt from kinks from the first shop! Fluff KL is it for me – a second shop where I am able to make sure things work better, aesthetically and most importantly operationally.



I once told Alia that as a fellow Taman Tun boy, I would love to have my next shop in TTDI and it’s with great satisfaction that I am able to open Fluff in TTDI!

It’s been a great journey getting the shop from bare to what it is today. Thank you for the support, from the pop ups to our first shop sale and we are excited to be able to fully open to the public! See you then and do say Hi when you come 🙂

6 things I learned after 2 years as an F&B entrepreneur

I became an F&B entrepreneur slightly over 2 years ago, when my wife and I decided to open Double A Cafe.


As an introduction, my experience in F&B are with cafes – dealing with coffee, cakes and hot kitchen. Cafes are increasingly becoming popular here in KL, you hear a new one opening almost every month. Owning a cafe is exhilarating and it’s like street-cred, it’s the new cool. What people don’t tell you is that, if you are small business with limited cash and you plan to be hands on, owning a cafe involves being exhausted a lot (imagine being on your feet for 10 hours a day for 6 days a week). It is your passion that will drive and sustain you. What people don’t tell you is that while new cafes open every month, cafes close down every month too. If you plan to open a cafe because you want to create a hang-out spot for your guys or you want to look cool and not because you have a genuine love for coffee or cooking, my advise is: Don’t Open A Cafe.

Here it is, six things I learnt:

1. Buy things second hand. Some things you can upgrade.

For a small business where cash is limited, you need to be aware that cafe business requires somewhat large capital (a good estimate of a set up cost of a cafe in a shop-lot would be ~RM250,000). Because many cafes close down on a monthly basis, always be on the look for good bargains for equipment. Coffee and kitchen equipment have a lifespan of 5-10 years and many cafes don’t get far past their 1 year mark before closing down hence equipment should be in good condition. Often, when cafes close down, you can get bargains of up to 50%.

In Malaysia, you can find bargains in Mudah.my (search for Coffee Machine) or on the Facebook groups Barista Club Asia or Malaysian Chef Connection for notice of cafe closure.

2. Don’t rent a place thinking it will boom. It is better to rent in a mature area with proven traffic. 

Rent will make up a significant portion of your monthly fixed cost. It is tempting to tell yourself to rent at a relatively new area as it has a slightly lower rent and telling yourself it will be a matter of time before this place will boom (the common lies you will tell yourself include thinking occupancy of condos above are picking up, your shop is near LRT/MRT etc). My advice is to not fall into this trap – yes perhaps the place will boom but you won’t know if it takes 6 months or 6 years and you won’t last that long. It is better to pay RM10k rent for a mature area with strong purchasing power for your products than going to A new development and paying RM7k. The absence of traffic will kill you.

3. Don’t rely on traffic as a revenue. Supply. 

Relying solely on foot traffic is one major reasons why many cafes fail. Traffic is unpredictable and the cafe game is a volume game – if any given day you have no traffic, you make no revenue and you are still paying for staff with low productivity. Whatever it is you choose to be known for, may it be coffee, cakes or food, create a new revenue stream by supplying – you can get a head start marketing this by having a good social media account. Getting your staff out to deliver to nearby offices makes more money than them just sitting in the shop.

4. Work on your marketing early. Build social media influence.

Unless your cafe is situated in a heavy traffic area, it is a good idea for you to work on your social media presence early – even before you construct your shop. Malaysians are heavy users of Facebook and Instagram and these platforms play a big role in influencing customers / foodies to come to your shop. If it’s possible to get some, endorsements by instafamous folks will carry a long way.

5. Sometimes, putting yourself in your staff’ shoes is not a good idea. Someone needs to clean the grease trap.

F&B is a physically demanding job – it involves a lot of standing, discipline to come in on time and doing the kind of cleaning that you usually don’t do at home (like cleaning the coveted grease trap). One trap I see many owners fall into is letting things slide with their staff – the ‘kesian’ mindset. You may think you are practising empathy when you tell yourself, wow they work this much and get paid so little, let’s not be so hard on them – empathy has a time and place and this is not one of it. Your business is not a charity, it needs to make money and people must do what you expect of them for your business to thrive. Yes you will have rebellious staff who do not want to do what they are told – my advice is one bad apple spoils the vibe for everyone. In a small business where many legal aspects are not well understood by staff, it is a good idea to explain to your young staff the grounds for you to terminate them and do not be afraid to issue warning letters and firing them.

On that note, F&B is the kind of business where you should trust in your hiring instinct and give trust to your staff first, until they break it. Else you will be checking the cctv every 10 minutes. People have the capacity to perform and impress you given the right conditions.


6. Have multiple partners. Having 50% in a successful business is better than 100% of a failing business.

As much as you are passionate for your cafe business, you still want to have a life outside it. Putting “everything you got” for something like a cafe, where returns are not guaranteed, is not a good idea – both in regards to time and money. It is much better if you can find partners and friends to do this with you. If you have 5 partners, what this means is you spend 1/5th of the expenditure and if you negotiate right with your partners, you work 2 days a week and not 6 or 7 days a week full shift. It is better to have a small share of a successful business (and retaining your sanity) as opposed to full ownership of a failing business. If you are telling yourself on the get-go “I have a good idea for a cafe and I don’t want to share the profits of this brilliant idea”, tell yourself it’s all a big IF.

As a final word, if you are set on having a cafe, it already means you are an entrepreneur which means you are driven. The key thing is to be prudent and execute.

Double A on BFM 89.9

As a corporate guy, one of the things I do to pass time while commuting to work is to listen to the Breakfast Grill on BFM 89.9. It is a treasure chest of executive experience which any  corporate executive could benefit from.

It was with great excitement that I was contacted by my former university mate to come speak on BFM about Double A Café on the Open for Business segment.

It’s a thrilling thought, to be playing a different role in your own daily ritual. Instead of listening to an interview, I’d be the one speaking and thousands (tens of thousands?) would be listening.

The beauty of overthinking is that you tend to be more thorough. “What am I gonna say?” “I don’t want to sound silly on Live radio…especially when they save a podcast!” One may think that since you are talking about your own business, you can technically goreng your way. Yes you can, but you can still sound silly.

I learnt how live interviews are conducted. They give you a skeleton of questions in advance so you can prepare (I guess so they can prepare too). You would be invited to arrive 30 minutes before air time where the host would prep you by running through the questions – this is good as you get to plan the words you want to say. The Live session is somewhat of a recap of the prep session, albeit Live and recorded and everybody is listening.

Double A has had interviews before but few such as BFM, where we would go into the Whys of the business, Live.

Interviews are a great prompt for personal reflection. As a person, I’m a firm believer on the importance of reflecting on one’s experience. I believe reflecting helps you to rationalise your day, it helps with your stress levels, it helps you to better learn from an experience and most importantly, it helps you to grow and to learn what kind of person you are.

You can listen the full interview here:

http://www.bfm.my/open-for-business-ala-carte-double-a-cafe-aiman-syed-jaafar-alia-ishak.html

The interview was conducted by Freda Liu and being the cheerful conversationalist that she is, she helped tremendously in making us feel comfortable and have a great interview. Thanks Freda and Jermaine 🙂


(this is not the interviewer) 😀

“Do not become the person you dislike”

On Saturday 5th December, I attended the inaugural Lean In Malaysia Summit. For many years I have been part of Young Corporate Malaysians (YCM) where we too organised summits. With that in mind, I know the challenge of organising a summit of big speakers and I must say, I was very impressed with Lean In. From the format of the opening sessions (no seats, TED style), I was impressed with the combination of the speakers’ charisma, the format and the quality of the participants where the energy of the summit was well retained throughout the day.

The speakers were great and speaking on the topic of women empowerment, all raised very valid points which made great points for reflection, especially for men.

One of the points that I felt worth discussing was a point raised by Raja Teh Maimunah, which was “Do not become the person you dislike.”

This point may sound like common sense but unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to succumb to this trap given the environment.

I recall speaking to my colleagues who handle clients from private companies and authority bodies on unreasonable demands. Stories that came out include how a breakfast meeting arrange for 2 people had the client inviting his whole department forcing my colleague to pay for them, another was how when my colleague visited the client, the client announced to the department “Ok kontraktor dah sampai, bolehlah dia top-up Touch N Go kita” (“Ok the contractor is here, now he can top up our Touch N Go cards for us”). A more common one was how clients who are invited to workshop (read: going to the workshop is part of their work), can demand business class travels and 5-star hotel rooms as ransom to not going.

One thing that fascinates me is how people think and how people, over a course of time, can change in their thinking and behaviour. Naturally, I asked my colleague, what triggers such an extortionist mindset? My colleagues unanimously agree on this point: it’s what their bosses do and it becomes validation for them.

I believe fresh graduates new to the workforce are impressionable and the younger generation have a default strong sense of justice and what is right and what is wrong. However, when one enters an organisation and remains for a long time, the values of the company (both positive and negative), what is perceived to be acceptable, overwrites one’s own values. Here, the fresh graduates and younger staff see the act of bullying contractors for personal gain as a perk of a senior position. Even if they may think this to be a dirty thing to do when they were younger, when promoted to positions that be, they tell themselves “my bosses did it and everybody is doing it anyway, when am I going to reap this benefit?”

While the above is about professional conduct, another point worth mentioning is on religious observation. A colleague told me how in his early days of working in a non-Muslim majority company, because he feared justifying long lunch for fear of being thought lazy and incompetent, he simply did not go to Friday prayers, which in hindsight, he regretted.

I personally believe that the workforce should not force you to change your beliefs. There are many underhanded values in the professional world today and if the young professionals turn out to be just like the past generation, what hope is there for all of us? If you look at your bosses and you cannot see yourself becoming like them in their professional conduct, you know it’s not the right place to grow and it’s about time you think of leaving.

 

 

 

6 things I have learnt after 6 months as an F&B entrepreneur

Twelve months ago I was working a corporate job, working in the CEO’s office of a large organization based in Johor Bahru. It was then that I decided to venture into F&B by opening my first café, Double A Café. When the café opened six months ago, it was timely and opportune for me to leave my corporate job and I did so.

I was formerly a management consultant who later transitioned into the oil & gas / real estate industry managing from the CEO’s office. I believe in hard work, proactivity and high performance. At the same time, I believe in humility, empathy and doing the right things the right way. Given what I believe, as a food entrepreneur for 6 months, I have learnt much – about the industry, about the social situation in Malaysia, about jealousy, about friends and most importantly, about myself. The following are the six I want to share.

  1. The F&B business are filled with people generous with advice

When I started my business, I approached it like how I approach my work in the corporate world. All aspects of the job needs to be identified so we may manage risk. I started my business not knowing many things –  I didn’t know how contracting work works, I didn’t know different types of wood, I didn’t know what a greasetrap was and hey, I didn’t know how to cook. I had friends who have friends in F&B and I was pleasantly surprised how the café fraternity in KL and JB are generous with their advice. (To those who want F&B advice, you can come see me at Double A :D)

 

  1. Don’t let business affect friendships

In starting a business, it is tempting to take comfort in the fact that you have friends here and there who you may rely on. Friends who may be your customers and friends who may be your suppliers. One of the things I have known about money, even before I started this venture, is that money can destroy friendship, maybe even change that friendship into unnecessary feeling of hate and anger. You may learn that your friend who becomes your customer is a consistently fussy and complaining customer. You may learn that your friend who is your supplier may choose not to supply to you anymore because it is not convenient for him. When you are in business and you are stress about managing costs and maximizing profits, things like this may make you feel bitter about your friendship. Take a step back and I tell you this: your friendship matters more than such squabbles, just because they are your friends does not mean they need to support your business. It is not their job to make your rich.

 

  1. The reality of F&B – our national leaders need to do better with cost of living

As a former corporate person who was interested in current affairs, discussion on how the economy is poor, how income levels are poor and how the poor is poor is common. All this is done amongst groups of people who are paid well above urban poverty level and these concepts we discuss about, have no face – we actually know no individuals who fit this bill. We talk about ‘urban poor’ but we actually know no one who is an urban poor who we interact with intimately on a daily basis. Being an employer in the F&B world, I was taken aback by F&B industry standards on pay, how low the salaries are and what they are to poverty levels. As my staff explains to me the realities of their lives, the hardship they have to accept to be their life, part of me is angry and disappointed with our national leaders for not managing cost of living better.

 

Examples would be recent policies – GST, toll revision, public transport price hike. All done while income levels stay stagnant. The salary they earn is worth less as they can buy less things and what it means is the poor gets poorer.

 

  1. People: Hire everybody on probation and put everybody on contract

People are not your best assets. People in the right positions are. Even though budget is tight and timing is crucial, putting together a team that is aligned towards your vision is and should be your priority. When I interview people, I always set my expectations upfront. I tell them that I want them to be happy at work, passionate about F&B, show initiative and proactive. Truth is, just because you clarify expectations upfront and just because they say “yes sir, I can be all that”, it doesn’t mean they will be. Also, never ever give people a higher starting salary thinking that they will be more motivated to work – it doesn’t last and eventually they will just be costly. People who are a right fit will ease your stress and those who are not, will drain the team’s motivation and affect your establishment’s ambience and for a shop that depends on customer service, that is crippling. Firing of course, is a difficult process – mentally for both you and your staff. My advice is, start everybody on probation (long, like 3 months) and hire staff on contract.

 

  1. Starting a business requires great optimism

I started this business using money that I saved and there wasn’t much float or working capital left when the business is launched. I was fortunate as the business was launched to a great success. Traffic was good and we received great attention from the Instagram community and mainstream media. However, over 6 months, it wasn’t all that rosy. Some days are slow to a point where you wonder if your competitors are stealing your customer and some days are so slow you wonder if your projections to break even is realistic. I learnt that you need to teach yourself to be optimistic (if you already are, be more optimistic) and you should always remind yourself of the enthuasism you had when you decided to start this project of passion.

 

  1. If this business venture is meant to be a side project, get a manager on Day 1

Before I started my venture, I read an article about succeeding in F&B start-ups. One of which is the need to have a few co-founders. Having a few co-founders means you can be assured that motivation among manpower is always high and depending on how each are empowered, decisions can be done fast. I started my venture knowing this and knowing that I do not have the luxury of having multiple co-founders. Its just my wife and I. We also started this venture knowing that we would eventually go back to full time corporate work.

 

As people with no experience in F&B, we figured processes ourselves (e.g. how cash box, floats and accounting works) and we manage all ad-hoc emergencies ourselves, from not having enough milk to suppliers not delivering on time. I took 5 months off work and my wife took 1 month off work to get this venture started. It is stressful. There’s a lot to figure out and some things you would only know work after rolling it out and making mistakes. My advise would be to hire a manager with experience running an F&B outlet from Day 1. While this may sound like a costly option, I sincerely believe this option works best. It works with the seniority complex among staff (i.e. I’ve been here longer, I know more), it works at freeing up your time and it works at enabling you use your time strategically – instead of calling up the milk man, you can call your leads on a potential collaboration.

 

Ultimately, I have learnt a lot over these 6 months and these are only some that I feel worth sharing. Like many things that involves your passion, my last advice is simple. If you are already thinking it, do your feasibility study and if it works out ok in your head, go ahead and do it.