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Chua Ee Chien on F&B Overcoming The Pandemic, Building Your Side Hustle, and Rolling With The Punches

· Podcast Transcripts

"Being able to roll with the punches is something that I learned from an early time at Uber. That has helped me ever since in my career and in my own business." - Chua Ee Chien

Jeremy Au: [00:00:00] Welcome to Brave Dynamics. This is your host, Jeremy Au. Leadership is harder than it looks. As a proven founder and Harvard MBA, I interview courageous entrepreneurs, executives and investors every week. I also share my frontline experiences, coaching insights and own professional development journey. If you're stepping up as a new leader, founding a startup, or venturing into the great unknown, this is the podcast for you.

Adriel Yong: [00:00:30] Chua Ee Chien is the owner of Jekyll & Hyde, one of Singapore's premier cocktail bars. The bar has been featured in various publications such as Channel NewsAsia, The Business Times and The Straits Times. He is also currently a Manager in the Investments & New Business team of Grab where he works on special projects for the Grab Financial Group.

Ee Chien was previously the Head of Vehicle Solutions for Uber Singapore, driving the acquisition and retention of drivers. He started his career as an analyst, trading equity derivatives at Goldman Sachs.

Ee Chien has a B.A. in Communications from Brigham Young University. He is passionate about food, finance, technology and travel and is fascinated by how the four subjects can blend and weave themselves with one another in this interconnected world. You can connect with him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/eechienchua

Jeremy Au: [00:01:38] Hey Ee Chien, good to see you again.

Chua Ee Chien: [00:01:42] Hey Jeremy. Good to see you.

Jeremy Au: [00:01:44] I'm super-excited to share your journey as a hustler in so many domains, with the rest of the world.

Chua Ee Chien: [00:01:52] Exciting stuff, and happy to be on. Thanks for taking the time.

Jeremy Au: [00:01:56] For those who don't know you, how would you share your journey so far?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:02:00] Well, that's a very broad question, but let's see. Currently working at Grab, own a bar on the side. Spent the past few years in tech. I was at Uber before that, and then was in finance at Goldman before that. I studied public relations, which is completely unrelated to anything I've done since then. It's been quite the journey. And I guess to mention, since I've been at Grab I've been focusing on their financial group, so kind of taken a full circle back into the financial space.

Jeremy Au: [00:02:25] How did you personally get started in technology?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:02:28] Technology, that was really interesting, actually. I never expected to be in finance and never expected to be in technology. My career has actually kind of taken its own funny twists and turns. I really think it's one of those things where you look back in life and you say, "Hindsight is 2020, or you can only connect the dots backward," like Steve Jobs said. So, jumping into tech was something that I didn't really think about, but happened about four years ago. I was at Goldman in the U.S. and I was actually trading equity swaps and CFDs, kind of realized after a while that this wasn't something that I wanted to do. So, I just started looking at all the tech firms and I mean, by then in 2016, tech was all the rage. I mean, it still is, but especially then.

And so, I started looking at companies like Facebook, Uber, Google, and all that, Pinterest and trying to apply for those companies. But it was actually really hard. Especially when on the H-1B1, it's harder to get companies to sponsor you sometimes. And that's like the visa for working people in the U.S. So, I started looking to look at the same companies, but back in Singapore, and it was also the time for me to move back. My parents were getting a bit older. I've been away for quite a while. So, when one of my friends that I interned with at Bloomberg posted about the jobs at Uber, I applied and went through the interview process.

I was really lucky, Uber hired mostly bankers and consultants. My boss was an investment banker and my boss' boss traded the exact same product by Credit Suisse. His boss was an FX trader before that. So, it was helpful in the sense that people had the same background. And that was helpful when I applied and then got the job, I'm at Uber. And since then, I've kind of stuck in this tech space. Although some people argue that ride-hailing isn't tech.

Jeremy Au: [00:04:05] What was your first day at Uber like?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:04:07] I actually started a week early. So, my boss, he was like, "Hey, can you come in a week early?" And I was like, "Yeah, sure." So, I came in a week early and he said, "Oh, the product that you're supposed to be on, or that I want you to work on, isn't ready. Or it's not something we're going to do anymore." So, he's like, "All right, well, you can go and do something else." And he was kind of busy. Eventually he's like, "Hey, we've got this thing hourly rental program. Can you go figure this out?" And I was like, "What hourly rental program?" But it was actually the genesis of what I eventually did at Uber and what I built out at Uber, which was our vehicle solutions team. So that was an interesting first day, an interesting first week, interesting few months. I always tell people, I learned more at Uber in three months than I did three years at Goldman, just because it was such a steep learning curve, as well as so many things that they just wanted you to do at the same time.

Jeremy Au: [00:04:48] What were some things that you learned at Uber?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:04:50] So Uber had these values back then, they've changed it since then, but also what Travis came up with back then, a few of them that really stuck out to me. And I think what I've learned really, are values. I think that's the first bit, but then the second bit is obviously, what skill sets and all of that. But one was, "Always be hustling." And I was just like, "You just always have to be hustling and trying to get things done and get shit done." And that was kind of the informal motto, almost, because you're just trying to get things out as quickly as possible and iterate and test. And then, and we were trying to build to quote unquote, “dominate or conquer the world” back then. So that's definitely one, another one was, "Big, bold bets," which was like always just taking these super-big bets, which cost us a lot of money, but again, it wasn't my money. So, I guess it was okay.

And then, there was one that I really liked. My favorite is, "Be an owner, not a renter.". And that's a really good one that I think I've taken to heart, whether I've been at my current job or whether I actually own a business. Being an owner, just really means doing everything it takes to solve a problem or to get things done. So, I think that's from the value's side. From a skillset perspective, Uber was going at a crazy run rate at that point. We were competing with DiDi, we were competing with Grab. These were all times when Uber had not sold off anything yet. And they were just like fighting in multiple markets. And the main goal was to get market share and to generate as much revenue as possible. So, learning how to test and pivot and iterate, these are all phrases that people use in the tech space, but something that we truly did. We're like, "Crap!" We are not getting enough drivers. We're only getting like 50 drivers a day, we needed a hundred. What are we going to do? Do we throw more money at them? Do we figure out how to retain more drivers? And so being able to roll with the punches is probably something that I learned from an early time at Uber. And that has helped me, I think ever since in my career and in my own business.

Jeremy Au: [00:06:34] Talking about your own business. So, you are the owner of the popular Jekyll and Hyde, which is an amazing place that I love to take my friends and tech acquaintances to as well. So, I guess, it's from my paycheck to your paycheck there. Tell us more about how you got started on your own business?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:06:51] So Jekyll and Hyde, I actually found it online on a website for sale. So, it's on this website called BusinessesForSale.com. I literally was just like scrolling through the businesses are fun. I like to scroll through random pages on the internet, which is probably like a bad thing, because you always spend too much time on random websites or buying random things that you don't want. And case in point, buying a bar that you don't really need. It's an established cocktail bar in Tanjong Pagar for sale. And I looked at the photos and I was like, "Oh, that's Jekyll and Hyde," because it was right around the corner from the Uber office back then. And then, I looked at it and I was like, "Hey, this might be interesting." So back then, I had a business partner. I was like, "Hey, are you interested in this?"

And then, we went and talked to the owner then, found out why they were selling. Basically, there were three of them, but two of them had gone to start this pre-IPO seed funding company called Fundnel. And there was one guy left who was kind of just running the show. And he was like, "I'm married now. And I don't think I should be doing this anymore." So, I bought the business over from him. So, the long short of it was, it was an impulse buy, which was yeah, I'm never impulse buying things like that again. It was not a cheap impulse buy, let's put it that way.

Jeremy Au: [00:07:52] Yeah. It's interesting, because just this past week, I've had two friends who were interested in exploring what it means to buy a business, kind of like a search fund and then look to turn it around and keep going. What do you think about that?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:08:08] There really is value in that. I mean, it's almost that key where, I guess you're trying to find this is as that could have value or should have value, and it just happened to not have that full value at the moment. And I think when I bought it, I didn't have the intention. My intention was to purchase it as alternative investment where I would get different returns in a different way while having fun at the same time. But it turned into both fun as well as a hellish nightmare depending on the week, or day, or month, or year. And COVID's definitely been a part of that. But that's not a bad idea. There are a lot of businesses that I think if they just had the right management would actually do really well. And I've started to see that, not just with my own business. I mean, being able to figure out how to run it more efficiently and better, but also just once you own a business, you get a lot of opportunities to see other people's businesses from a more granular perspective.

And you see things that you say, "If I ran this business, or if I did this, I could do X, Y, and Z to it, to make it better." So, there's definitely value in it, but you have to find the right operators. And operations is key, I think, to any business. And it doesn't matter how cool or sexy or whatever you are, you'll eventually run out of money. We've seen that in multiple investments by that very big Japanese investment firm.

Jeremy Au: [00:09:12] So would you walk us through it. So, you were scrolling window shopping for businesses and you ended up buying a company that you felt fit your lifestyle and you thought that was an opportunity to take over. And it was nearby. Was that gap between your expectations going in versus the actual reality of running the business?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:09:31] Yeah. I mean, it's kind of like all those memes. it's like expectation and reality are like completely different. You think it's just super-cool to own a bar and then you just go in there and drink and all that, but there's a lot more to it, because when you're actually owning it, you're running the business and got to realize that you're the one that owns it, not your employees. And unless you, even if you give them equity, it might not change it. I mean, at the end of the day, there are people who are working for a paycheck and some of them will go way above and beyond. And some of them just won't. And so, at the end of the day, the only person you can really depend on is yourself. As much as you do depend on some of your really good employees.

But I think that the reality is that running a business is hard. You have to make sure that your revenue is more than your costs. And that's a lot easier said than done, because people don't realize there are a lot of hidden costs. I mean, people think, man, if you go to a restaurant and you get fries for $10 sure, and I mean that there's a larger markup on it, but it's not like the restaurant's making $10. The restaurant's only actually making maybe like a dollar or $2, and you don't realize that you just think, "Wow, that's $8 more than I would pay if I just fried the fries at home." But you don't consider the rental and the manpower and the utilities and the Grab rides home for the employees and the oil they have to buy consistently for the fries. And there's so many different factors that people don't take into account until you actually own a business.

Jeremy Au: [00:10:46] What do you feel are the misconceptions around having a side hustle like this?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:10:52] So, I read an article from Vulcan Post I think, there's something in there about these guys who run Aloha Poke, that they have their full-time jobs, and then the run it as a side hustle. I guess, one thing was that they had a few more people, but I think It really depends, I guess. I mean this side hustle is particularly hard. I think you could probably have an easier side hustle. For example, if you were a really good designer or artist, and you did one project a week it might be a bit easier to manage, because you're able to manage the workflow that's coming in, as opposed to a bar like a F&B business, it has to run, or it will not survive. So, I think side hustles are quite broad. There are very different types of side hustles that you can choose.

Your side hustle can be F&B, your side hustle can be running a construction company. But your side hustle can also just be baking on the weekends. So, I think it really is different depending on how you look at it.

Jeremy Au: [00:11:42] That's true. I mean, for me, my side hustle's this podcast. And for you, side hustle is this incredible community and convener. And more recently you've been on the news for going through the death and resurrection story for Jekyll and Hyde, which it must have been incredibly difficult. Could you share a little bit more about the trial and adversity there and how you overcame it?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:12:04] Yeah, I'll try and keep this concise. Jekyll and Hyde was always doing okay. It wasn't doing amazing. But I think people always think, "Oh, it's busy on a Friday or Saturday." And I'm just like, "Man, if it was not busy on a Friday or Saturday, we would be dead," and then people don't look at the Mondays to Thursdays where you're actually not as busy. So, I mean, the point around that is it was going okay, but nothing amazing. And then COVID hit. And when COVID hit, it was a very quick succession of crazy things that happened. First, they were social distancing, then all bars had to shut down, then everything shut down. And so, being able to figure out how to survive through that was, I have to say the tech background is what helped, because at Uber it was that if something failed, you had to try something the next day, it wasn't you try something in two weeks, you just try something the next day to try and hit those same numbers that you want to.

And so for us, it was like, "Okay, let's make sure that we have the requisite food requirements so that we can stay open even though we're a bar, but we're also a restaurant," and then when we shut down completely, it was like, "We have to go to bottled cocktails. If not, we just don't have any revenue." So, when we were doing that at the same time, we had issues for our landlord where basically the landlord wanted us to continue paying the same rent. Eventually they got it down to 60% of the then current rent. And then, we were going to go ahead with that. But when we asked for a bit more favorable terms and conditions, they were like, "No, you have to sign a personal guarantee if you want to do this with us."

And I'm like, "No, I'm not signing a personal guarantee." Like I'm not stupid. I did it back then, because business was fine, but I'm not going to do it during this COVID. And at the end of the day, you have to, I guess, at a certain point, cap your losses. And I think they didn't expect us to do that. And that's just like, "Yeah, no," can I swear on this podcast, I'm like, "F you." So, in the same way, I also went back and was like, "Okay well F you." And we decided to terminate the lease. And I think when that happened, I didn't have any energy left to a certain extent. But if you wanted to find a new place at that point, you need capital. And I didn't want to inject any more capital. And obviously you weren't going to get any investors right at that point, because everyone was trying to just keep their heads above water. So, you're like, "Okay, we're going to shut down."

But when the news article from Channel NewsAsia came out, that said that we were going to shut down, we've got a huge outpouring of support where people were just like, "Oh my God, that bar's closing. We love you. Or what can we do?" And all that. And people started reaching out. We want people ordering our bottle cocktails more, but more importantly, people were like, "Hey, do you want to collaborate with us? Do you want to work with us? Do you want to rent this space?" I mean, it's going to give us a lot of opportunities where we could find better landlords and better people to work with to be able to do that. And that's, I mean, as it continued on, I think the journey was how we were able to get out of the particularly deep rut that we were in and actually survive the day.

Jeremy Au: [00:14:46] So how did the press article for Channel NewsAsia come out? Was it you reaching out or was it somewhat of a story?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:14:53] My friend runs this other F&B called Ka Soh, but his friend was a reporter. She was just trying to find articles about businesses that were closing. So, I think ours was interesting, because it wasn't just closing because of COVID, but it's a combination of COVID and like a shitty landlord. So, I think it became a more interesting story for her. And I think people also felt for us, because we were in that situation. And I mean, people, when they see other people are getting shafted, they generally are pretty supportive. Even if you don't know the person or business.

Jeremy Au: [00:15:22] How do you feel about that? Because many businesses, they're not sure about press, right? Obviously, press about a good story that's good, but you were sharing a story about impending/failure of the company, and the bar. Was it scary? Did you feel like people are going to say like, "Oh boo, you're a failure in Asia.”? Were you worried about that?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:15:45] No, not really. I mean, at the end, at that point I was just like at wit’s end. It's like, "What else I'm going to do?" I mean, it's that whole thing whenever you ask someone something and the worst is, they say, "No" and I think for me, it was just like, yeah, it's a learning experience for people anyways. That's a good question. I guess, not really. I'm not very shy about my failures or shy about my experiences, and it's not just a matter of sharing. I'm just like a sharer. So, I guess, I'm not shy about that.

Jeremy Au: [00:16:10] Why do you think you're not shy about sharing about your failure, because you and I both know that that's not common in Singapore, Southeast Asia?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:16:18] Yeah. mean, probably a combination of background and personality. I mean, if you want to believe MBTI ENFP. So, this is quite extroverted anyways already, more of a feeling more of receiving than just like, kind of... I'm not a very logical person. So, I'm a more emotive person. So, I guess that's one deep part of it. But the second thing is, I guess my background. I was in local school for years, but then I went to the American school here for high school and then was in the States for another seven years. So, I think that culture or that community is more open to people sharing those kinds of things. And I guess, since I was used to that, and then you've been at work back at Goldman and at Uber, I guess, I just felt relatively comfortable with sharing these things.

Jeremy Au: [00:16:58] People get scared about sharing their failure, because they feel like people are going to judge them. Interesting, because you're saying that you don't feel that same, your wit's end. So why not? But there's still that granular of fear. Have you seen any benefits, I guess? Let's say you feel the fear less, but do you see any benefits from sharing about failure?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:17:18] I think people are willing to help when they see your failure. The only person that's being affected is you. It might be eating you or it might be depressive for you or whatnot. And I think when you share it, not only is it an outlet, I mean, different people have different outlets. For me, it's an outlet. But secondly yeah, you do get people who are willing to help. And that you do have people who are willing to be encouraging and then cheer you on. And so, for me, it's never been something that I've been uncomfortable with, I guess. I mean, I don't know. I guess I've failed enough times where I don't really care.

I mean, for example, I did so badly in the local school system, I had to go through American school. It wasn't because my parents were like, "Oh, let's go and pay a crap amount of money for him to go to that. It was because I was like failing. So, I think I've had enough failures in my life where it's not a sense of pride, that's for sure. But it's not a sense of shame either.

Jeremy Au: [00:18:08] What's interesting is that out of this, you've also been someone who has organized a lot of community. So, I'm part of multiple WhatsApp threads that you've created for technology people, for people interested in current affairs, for people who want to invest. And it's interesting to see that focus you have around community. What do you think drives that, and your informal leadership in the tech scene here?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:18:35] To be honest, the reason why it started, the group chat originally, was because I wanted more people to come to the bar. It was one of my pivots or one of my tactics to strategize and see if I could get more people to come into the bar. And the first few months it was actually very quiet. And I think, I started the chat. And then, the first time people came, we had four people that came. And that was a total of five of us. And the next month, it was at 10 people. And then, some people were like, "Why don't you just share this with more people?" And I was like, "Oh, okay. Why not?" So, I just said like, "Hey, anyone in the chat, please invite your friends." And then I post it on LinkedIn and stuff like that and all that.

And we started getting a lot of people to join until the group was full enough, I was like, "Oh, crap!" But it was really interesting, because the thing I like about, and what I eventually really liked about building these communities, is you get to meet a lot of people. I mean, I recently met you through that too, I think. And also, I'm a member of this organization called Straits Clan and they do something similar. And the genesis was like half of the idea to reignite the really small group that I had was that. I was like, "Oh, people like talking about tech and talking about food and all these different things." I was like, "Why can't we do this with Jekyll and Hyde too." And then we had a colleague from Grab come and speak and all that. 60 people came at that point. I was like, "Oh, this is really cool."

This is more than just like trying to get customers to the bar. It's about trying to connect people and bring them together. And I think people do want to have those outlets. They don't have a formal one and you don't want to go to one that their company has organized. They want to do it casually. And I think this is a very good outlet for people to kind of casually network and get to know other people. And it's been fun. My food group, they organize themselves and they're like, "Oh, who wants to go try this?" I think they had a couple tables of people that were eating Eurasian food at some restaurant the other day. And it was great. It was just like fun and something and become really good friends with each other because of that. So, I think it's been really interesting and cool to see.

Jeremy Au: [00:20:19] Now, one thing I've noticed is that one of your passions has been good food and the community around food. I was just kind of curious how that got started?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:20:28] I mean, I just like to eat. I mean, I enjoy food. My parents have always been relatively adventurous. I've eaten most foods. As part of that, when I was in college, I had to fend for myself, I had to cook for myself, because I wasn't living. I wasn't living in the dorms, which were apartment-style and not like the dorm food, which is both good and bad, I guess. And so, it's like, it becomes interesting. One, you want to be able to cook cheaply, but you want to cook interesting food. I mean it's a whole plethora of things, but I think for me, food is two things. One, I just enjoy to eat. And then the second it's a good way to bring people together. And I really enjoy communing with people over food that one's just natural me.

Jeremy Au: [00:21:06] You make it sound like you bought this a Jekyll and Hyde bar as if you made it as a window shopping impulse purchase. But it's interesting that at the end of the day, it still synchronizes with two of your passions, which is food and beverage, as well as the transport community and bringing people together. So, how do you feel about that, buying a business that is a passion?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:21:31] I've never thought about it that way actually. That's a good question. Maybe that was part of the original goal, being able to just hang out with friends at a bar that I own. But I think it became more than that. And I think to your point, it became more of a community thing. And being able to meet people. I guess by default, I am a generally extroverted person that wants to meet different people from different walks of life. And it's interesting to me and all that. So, I mean, it was an impulse buy. Heck I've done an impulse buy that was cheaper, I guess, so like I could have started a hawker stall or something like that. I don't know. Another way to build community around it, but it just so happens that it happened that way. So, one of the things that I'm probably good at, and the reason why I do what I'm doing, is I'm comfortable with ambiguity.

And I think a lot of people aren't. My dad is, but my mom is very rigid, like she wants to work at a certain company and blah, blah, blah, and stuff like that. I remember when I told her that I was quitting Goldman to work for Uber, she said, "You're what? You're quitting, to join a taxi company?" I mean, she didn't know much about Uber back then either. And still doesn’t, I think. But yeah, I think it's, the ambiguity actually makes a big difference. Being comfortable with ambiguity makes a big difference. And I think that's why a lot of people stick in their careers or their jobs or whatnot or their lives, because they're uncomfortable with having things not happen the way that they want it to. Whereas I think for you and for me, we're more comfortable with that kind of feeling or that trajectory.

Jeremy Au: [00:22:54] Trajectory, that's such a hard question to everybody, thinks to themselves, which is like, "Am I on the right path? Am I going to keep going? Am I going down? Am I going up?" I'm sure you've met a lot of people, who will ask you that question, in their jobs, they're thinking about exploring new side hustles. How do you respond? What advice do you give to them thinking about that trajectory?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:23:17] To caveat and to be upfront about it. I have no idea what the hell I'm doing with my life right now. I'm having this existential, mid-life, or I don't know, whatever you want to call it. I'm not 40 yet, I guess, midlife crisis of trying to figure out what I want to do. And honestly, I don't think Grab is the end all be all. And I don't think the bar is the end all be all either. And I'm trying to figure that out. But to answer your question, to people who want to change trajectory, or they want to do that, I can't give you a blanket answer. I've been blessed in the sense that I think my background is comfortable, and so, if I've always wanted to try something, I know that even if I fail completely, I can get like three square meals and a roof over my head. Which I think different people, if they're in different walks of life for stages of life, if you're working and you're 40, and you've got three kids that you needed to put food on the table for, and you're the breadwinner, it's very hard to say, "Why don't you take a 40% pay cut from Goldman and go to Uber?" But I think my answer would be this. If you don't try to do something that you're really passionate about and it could be as a main job or as a side hustle, I think you'll just hate your life or hate yourself after a while. And you will just be miserable and that's not good.

And even if you're 40 and you have three kids and you have to put food on the table, if you have the energy and the tenacity, you will find a way to do that side hustle that might bring you more happiness. And then hopefully that becomes something that is full-time or something that can sustain you after it, I guess.

Jeremy Au: [00:24:35] So for people who are trying to reduce how much they hate themselves, and so, I think they explore new side hustles or start looking for businesses to run or start, what advice or resources do you feel are good steps for them to access?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:24:54] Good question. I mean, it's talking to people. Talking to people who have done the same thing. So, talking to you, talking to me. I mean, I don't do this all the time, but I take calls from people, random people. Someone that I was doing one of those, I think, like a Zoom things with General Assembly, a month or so ago where they were talking about the bar industry in Singapore, and one lady reached out after that, she's also in finance and she's like, "Hey, how do you move to tech? And how do you start your own business? I've been thinking of starting my own business too." So like case in point. So honestly, reaching out to people it's the best, or go and read a ton of ink articles or wired articles. I mean, read things that are going to inspire you one, but also give your ideas of what you can or want to do.

But second, I think the only way you can do it is by two things, either you get the experience yourself. So, you dive in headfirst, or you ask someone, and you just try and get a bit of their input and advice. Because it's those real-life experiences that will make the difference, not the textbook learnings that you might try to do with this. It's very different from studying accounting or engineering and whatnot.

Jeremy Au: [00:25:55] You've had some experience buying a business. What tips would you give for people who are putting together search funds to purchase new businesses?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:26:04] Accountant is the most important thing, both with acquiring the business in terms of really understanding what the business is going through, and then second also understanding what you want to do with the business. So, as a small-time entrepreneur, I think the number one lesson was, you need to know your numbers, and you need to have an accountant. You need to have someone that can help you. If you're not already an accountant or whatever, or have the expertise, you want to look at the numbers, because that's, what's going to make or break your business. It's not about how cool your business is or how much money you can raise or what you invest in. It's at the end of the day, very black and white. You have to make more money than you spend. That's the only way to run a business in the long run.

And so, I would say that's the number one thing. I think secondly, it depends on if you're with these search funds, are you buying it as an operator or are you buying over someone and having them operate it? Then at the end of the day, that's about how much you believe in that person. Whether you can keep that person out and put in someone that you think can run it. So that second point is finding the right person or the right operator. Because again, that's going to change the trajectory for your business. So, one, knowing the numbers and then two, it's the people. And then after that, everything else doesn't really matter, because everything will come together if you've got the right person running it and you know what your bottom line is and not going below your bottom line.

Jeremy Au: [00:27:16] And just last night, I was discussing with a friend who was also exploring the idea of pursuing a search fund. And she was framing it up as a two by two matrix. One axis being a stability of the cashflow that's going to help the business, and the other axis is your belief in your ability to turn things around and improve it versus the current trajectory. What do you think about that framework?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:27:42] Stability with cashflow? It depends. I mean, I don't know what your friend is looking at, but it depends on what your returns are. I mean, if it's stability of cashflow could be like running a print shop and just knowing that everyone goes there to print paper. Stability would be great. You'd be making like $500 a month maybe, and then maybe you just pay, I don't know, $10,000 for the business, because in 20 months you'll get your return ROI. And then you just make money off of that. But if you're looking for a search fund where you want to scale and build a business and maybe not billion-dollar company, but even maybe a $10 million or $20 million company, then that's different. And then you have to look at the possibility of growth. I mean, for what it's worth there aren't printing chains in Singapore.

So, your friend could try and do it. I just realized that there are no like big printing shop chains. So maybe that's a good one. Right? I don't know. I think stability is important depending on how much you want to make and how much you want to grow and scale a business. That question needs to be answered before you can decide what kind of business you want to buy. If you want to make a lot of money in F&B, don't buy a bar. I mean honestly, the way I think about it and I should have just bought 50 hawker stalls. I'm not kidding, because if you buy 50 hawker stalls and you become the meatball king of Singapore, the chicken rice king of Singapore, then your cashflow will actually be a lot better and your cashflow will be better because one, you would have scale. Two, you would have a bigger customer base to be play around with. Three, you'd be the only person selling chicken rice in Singapore, I mean, as an example. So, that's my really long answer to your question.

Jeremy Au: [00:29:11] Some people think about digital and digitization of the business they're buying as one of the key things they need to do. Do you feel like there's a big lever of growth or reduced costs from your perspective?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:29:24] It can be. I mean, I'm very fixated right now on F&B unfortunately, to get out of this thought process right now. But I mean, even with F&B, yeah, tech can help. I mean, if you can automate how you do your chicken rice or be able to cook in scale. And when we see tech, it's not even tech in terms of ordering systems, but tech in terms of scalability of how you cook your chickens or how you sous vide your meat or whatnot. I mean, that definitely does make a difference. I mean, I've seen, there's one restaurant or I guess, take-out place called Chalong at Guoco Tower.

They have two or three locations now and I've seen how they do it. And I'm super-impressed. They have a bunch of Anova sous vide sticks and they sous vide the meat, and then they stick it in the grill, and then they season it and that's it. And it's amazing. I'm like, "Wow, I should've thought of this."

But they're using a simple technological advancement. And maybe 10 years ago they would never have been able to do it, because a sous vide machine was a few thousand dollars. But because of Anova came as a technological advancement and made a sous vide machine 200 or $300. Their startup cost is now $3,000 to $4,000 for those four sticks, as opposed to buying three or four machines that might cost them like $20,000. So, I think technological investments, a lot of the time people think it has to be cool and sexy where you build the latest app, or you changed your world. But there's so many little technological advancements that you can make or invest in that can make your business, or a business so much better and faster and efficient.

Jeremy Au: [00:30:46] How do the two worlds collide? Because you're at Grab you're launching financial products on the national level. And you have such expertise there with the great wave of FinTech and a team that you lead for Grab. And then how does that intersect with your life as the owner of Jekyll and Hyde?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:31:05] I have to say, I've been lucky. I've been blessed. My teams have been quite understanding and supportive of me having the bar at the same time. And they've never really faulted me for that. So, they're actually really supportive for the bar and all that. I mean, at the same time also, I just to make sure I'm doing my work properly and doing it enough, which means I just have to sleep less, and even if I sleep the right amount, just be like working from the moment I wake up until I'm done in the evening or at night. But I don't know. I think I like being stimulated that way. I like that mental stimulation. And so, being able to think about it. But I mean, for what it's worth, when you're at Grab, when you're at a company, you're always going to be stifled to an extent, because there are various sort of boundaries that you have to be constrained by.

But when you're doing your own business and your own side hustle, the world is your oyster, at least from an imagination perspective. The bar has satisfied that half of my brain, as opposed to the other half, that is like, "Oh, let me figure out how to build something at scale." Running a bar that has a million plus turnover over versus like trying to help a business that is trying to do a hundred, 200 million or $300 million turnover is a very different story.

Jeremy Au: [00:32:02] Amazing. One last question. If you could go back 10 years in time to visit your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?

Chua Ee Chien: [00:32:10] Oh, just buy Amazon and Netflix stock, and then be done with it. Dude I'm telling you, I'd be a multimillionaire right now, if I just put all my savings into those two stocks, which I had, I bought Netflix at 60, sort of at 70 was like, "Wow. I made 15% awesome." And this was even before the stock splits and all that. That is my advice. I would've given myself that advice, put my money in Amazon and Netflix stock and Apple stock. And then just enjoy life. I would have retired by now and then like chilling.

Jeremy Au: [00:32:37] Thank you so much.

Chua Ee Chien: [00:32:39] Thanks Jeremy. Appreciate the time. Always a good chat.

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