Young men in an old man's trade

Co-founders of snack startup The Golden Duck say it's time for the F&B sector to make a huge impact in the e-commerce scene.

DESPITE having only two products, The Golden Duck has made quite a splash so far. The gourmet snacks startup came to be just two years ago. Salted egg yolk was a trending wave that everyone wanted to ride - from buns to salted egg chicken. Even McDonald's had salted-egg flavoured burgers. The startup's products are salted egg yolk potato crisps and fish skin crisps.

"It was Jon's idea and he pulled together a team of us and said why don't we do it on a snack, nobody's done it on a snack," co-founder Chris Hwang recalls, attributing partner Jonathan Shen's innovative thought to a businessman's intuition in spotting upcoming trends. Both co-founders have had experience setting up companies on their own as well as collaborated on a few together in industries such as nightlife, restaurant bars and media. It is, however, their first time venturing into the food manufacturing industry.

With The Golden Duck growing at such a fast rate, they have had to invest all their time and energy into the business, thus passing the baton in their previous startups. Naming the brand The Golden Duck was a balancing act between preserving the culture and nostalgia surrounding salted eggs and appealing to the millennial audience. As a young company, they wanted a cute symbol that people felt was approachable, thus settling on a duck as their ambassador.

"I think the 'gold' part is very important because all around Asia, it is a symbol of wealth and we are selling very premium-priced products," Mr Shen, who takes charge of the more creative aspects of business, explains.

Apart from branding themselves to be easily remembered, the company prides itself in giving their consumers a good experience; from getting the actual product to engaging and interacting online through emails as well as on Facebook. "This salted egg thing has been going around for about three years, it's a very saturated market. At the end of the day, the winners here are the players that actually focus on the consumer," Mr Shen adds.

Tough times

Success does not come without failure. Despite having their fair share of experience with setting up new companies, they faced obstacles as well. Being in unfamiliar food and beverage territory, the two co-founders vividly recall underestimating their costs as they were starting out.

"The tough financial perspective of this business is, how do you scale the business when machinery is the only cost-effective option long term, but manpower is the only cost-effective option in the short term," Mr Hwang explains, further commenting that they would eventually have to find the right time to make the switch in order to expand the business.

Their solution to their money woes was a simple one, but a solution most people would be reluctant to accept. As they were starting out, the duo paid themselves smaller salaries in order to make sure there was always enough money for the company to keep growing at the fast pace it was and still is.

Spending was carefully controlled and money leaving the bank had to be helping the company move forward and not spent unnecessarily. Having started with a capital of S$30,000 further drove home the need to be frugal.

With progress, their challenges have also changed. At the moment, The Golden Duck has 25 full-time employees and it is on the hunt for more talents to grow the team. Finding the right people to hire has presented itself as a hurdle, given that food manufacturing might not be everyone's cup of tea. After all, as the two co-founders describe it themselves, it is an "old man's business" because of its domination by decades-old snack corporations such as Tong Garden, which was established in 1963.

Recently, the duo was featured on Forbes' 30 under 30 Asia, under retail and e-commerce. For many, this would be a huge feat, but the pair thinks they still have a long way to go.

"Just as how quickly a business can go up, we also recognise that in a flash, it can also go downhill," Mr Shen says, and thus they keep looking for ways to improve and further their reach. Expansion of their product line is something that fans can also look forward to but not just yet.

Firm foothold

As an infant company, most of their efforts are focused on stabilising their foothold in Asia - especially here at home, and ensuring the high level of consistency of snack deliveries. However, they also ship to 17 markets, including Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Another goal that they have is to be remembered as Singaporeans who have made a mark in the local market as well as internationally. They acknowledge all the other startups but notice that the food and beverage industry have yet to make a huge impact in the e-commerce scene.

That is exactly what they plan to change, as Mr Hwang aptly expresses: "It's time for a shake up."