A brand new series. The Hotseat features local businesses in Singapore, celebrating their entrepreneurial spirit and contribution to the vibrance of Singapore.
First in the hotseat is serial entrepreneur, Lai Zi Jie. He is the proud founder of Wax & Wash (a mobile car grooming service), and also known as the Pudgy Busker (street musician & wedding singer). From washing posh cars in Good Class Bungalows to being featured in the news and the radio for his music, Zi Jie has done it all.
During the circuit breaker, Zi Jie’s businesses have had to take a backseat in view of the social distancing measures. Never one to rest on his laurels, he has quickly pivoted and opened his third business, selling wagyu beef burgers. In less than a month, Pudgy’s Grill sells out every weekend.
Enjoy this interview as we ask for his secrets behind business and his passion for burgers.
What made you decide to start selling burgers?
Actually, I would say it was something fortunate that occurred. With two of my other businesses coming to a complete standstill due to the Circuit Breaker, I had a lot of time on my hands to mess around in the kitchen (which I had zero prior experience with).
After watching YouTube videos and reading up, I managed to whip up a pretty decent burger. From then on, it was about practicing non-stop and relentlessly to perfect the burger.
What makes your burgers special?
Firstly, we really use only premium ingredients.
Secondly, our sauce. It’s a homemade recipe which many customers have been raving about.
Thirdly, we are small and every single burger is done by myself. And I am able to ensure consistency in the quality of the burgers we put out.
What do you love most about running a business?
The challenges. It’s never the same every day. The need to innovate, to create, to expand, to learn, in order to better ourselves and to catch up with the market trends.
Now with Phase 2 coming in, the amount of deliveries and take-outs will drastically decrease and Pudgy’s Grill will have to find a way to stay relevant. Good food is only half the battle won, the business side of things is the other half.
What do you hate most about running a business?
Ironically, it would be the same answer as above. The challenges! Especially when everything is going smoothly and a curve ball is suddenly thrown in my face.
The security you derive from the past few weeks of thriving business is all just washed down the drain. Being successful for one month, doesn’t necessarily mean being successful for the next month.
What advice do you have for a young aspiring entrepreneur?
The first step is to love your product or service. Believe in it. If you don’t, your business will never take off. “Smoking” people would never work in the long run.
After that, it’s about running the business. Learn how to market your product effectively. There’re 1001 ways of doing marketing, you’ve got to find the right one for your business.
Customer service is KING. Admit your mistakes if you’ve made any. Any defensiveness sensed by the customers isn’t going to be good for your business. At the same time, don’t let the unreasonable and exploitative customers step on your head. Be humble with dignity.
Don’t be stingy when it comes to running your business. Be it advertising, getting good products, hiring good help, logistics etc. Money out first, then money will come in.
How do you keep innovating to stay ahead?
Running a business is a long, long game. One bad month and you are going to hear people say, “You sure this will work? Stop throwing your money into something that won’t work.” It’s going to get you down.
But as I said, you’ve got to love your product, believe in it and thereafter, you’ve got to innovate and address the issues.
“Am I targeting the wrong audience?”
“Are there other advertising platforms I can use?”
“How can I improve my product / service?”
Listen to what the market wants. That’s number 1. And tailor your product and service according to their needs.
For example, Singapore’s market isn’t big on burgers. So, Pudgy’s Grill came up with a wagyu garlic fried rice! And the fried rice now contributes to 20% of our sales! But prior to putting fried rice on the menu, I had to cook 20 to 30 plates of fried rice before perfecting it. Only then did I believe in it enough to start selling it.