WOMEN TRAILBLAZERS: As International Women’s Day rolls around, four women show their mettle

The serial entrepreneur

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs it was natural for Cassandra Riene Tan to be one herself.

Cassandra Riene Tan, 32

Founder of The Ritual Café Bar,
Botany and Bitsy

They say it runs in the family and this couldn't be more true for Cassandra Riene Tan, who at 32, has three businesses under her belt.

Ms Tan comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Her mother was a bridal designer who had her own boutique till the Asian crisis in 1997, after which she pivoted into the skincare business before starting a chain of noodle shops. Ms Tan's grandfather's family business is in manufacturing construction bricks and managing rubber plantations in Malaysia. All her maternal uncles are also business owners.

"The exposure to the ebbs and flows of the business landscape such as witnessing the hit of the Asian crisis on my mother's flourishing bridal business or sitting in as a spectator in my father's business lunches or dinners with other CEOs has definitely created a very different exposure and shaped me into the person I am today," says Ms Tan, whose husband is also an entrepreneur.

While still in college, Ms Tan embarked on her entrepreneurial journey, using her savings from tutoring to try different endeavours, from organising parties and blogshops to starting up a gallery.

She originally wanted to start her own business right after graduation, but decided against it. "I felt I needed more experience," she says, joining an advertising agency so that she could learn how to build a lasting brand experience.

Ms Tan recalls that her first year was brutal but she pressed on for a few years. Sheeventually left because she did not see herself in the industry for life.

In 2016, she started Bitsy, a tech startup that connects business owners to short term spaces. The idea for Bitsy came to Ms Tan after a chat with her advertising agency colleagues made her realise how high overheads were such a deterrent to people who wanted to start a business of their own. "If we could solve the problem of long term and expensive rent and manpower, we could really help a lot of people actualise their dreams. This would allow them to test their ideas without needing to burn through their savings or leave their job until they were sure," she says.

Unlike her college gigs, Bitsy required a higher startup and opportunity cost. From a tech platform, it has pivoted into a boutique events activation company where the firm helps local brands to create pop up experiences. From a one-man show, it has grown into a team of six within a year, and was making a six-figure revenue in its second year.

Not one to sit still, Ms Tan looked to the F&B industry. "F&B has always been a part of my life growing up and not surprisingly, it was my dream to start my own restaurant or cafe," she says.

Her foray into F&B began in 2017, when she partnered a good friend to open Dazzling Cafe, known for serving one of the best Taiwanese waffles and desserts in town.

Three years on, when Dazzling Cafe closed due to high rental costs, Ms Tan decided to start her first F&B business, Botany, a cafe at Robertson Quay that serves wholesome food and drinks.

While 2020 was a tough year for many in the F&B industry, the mother of two took a leap of faith and opened a second dining business, when she launched The Ritual, a community cafe and bar at Bukit Timah that focuses on holistic wellness.

"I get ideas for all my businesses through the people I meet and engage with. I guess you could consider that as spotting gaps, since I would be thinking: Wow, so many are talking about this and that, but why is there nothing like this," she says. "It is really about identifying what is lacking, building the right product and team, creating customer experience and building a long-term brand."

Ms Tan says she faced more issues as a female entrepreneur while running Bitsy than her F&B businesses. There were not many female tech founders back in 2016, and Ms Tan had to face lots of "mansplaining" just because she did not look geeky. "I felt the pressure to make sure that I really knew my stuff, the technology Bitsy is built on, and hard questions people threw at me on why it was even a relevant tech solution," she says.

While having your own business may be a dream of many, Ms Tan says frankly, "I don't think entrepreneurship is for anyone. Too many people want instant success and gratification when in most entrepreneurial journeys, success takes a lot of grit and time."

She adds, "I find that most successful entrepreneurs I know personally have these traits - resilience, adaptability, growth mindset and good with relationship building," which she developed early on, thanks to her family background.