This is part of the Successful Businesses Interview Series, where I feature successful businesses that are making a difference in others’ lives.
The third interview in our Successful Businesses Interview Series features Udders, a popular chain of ice cream outlets in Singapore. Local ice cream lovers would most definitely have heard of them – Started up in Dec ’07, they have expanded to 5 outlets as of May ’11.
I knew about Udders sometime in 2008, as its first outlet was near my previous workplace. During the period when I was a vegetarian, I was a big fan – its ice creams are rich, flavorful, have a unique twist (all flavors are custom created by them), and not to mention, affordable. The shop was funky in concept and design. It was my favorite hangout spot with my colleagues during breaks or after work. I especially loved their waffle ice creams. Waffle ice cream is quite possibly the best invention in the world of ice cream.
I first met Udders’ owner, David Yim on Channel News Asia’s Blog TV last Dec – we were guests on the episode on bucket lists. I was excited to finally meet the man behind the Udders brand – while we didn’t get the chance to speak much, it was great to meet face-to-face, as his was a business which had touched my life in its own special way. And while I no longer patronize the Udders brand today since I’m vegan now (their ice cream uses dairy), I still wanted to feature Udders for this interview series, as David has a great story to share, and I know for a fact that his business makes an impact in the lives of others today.
Udders was set up by David Yim (who prefer to call himself the Chief Milkman rather than owner/CEO, which I thought was a cute touch, lol! 😆 ) in Dec ’07, with a business partner. He was a secondary school teacher for 6 years, before deciding to leave and set up this business. Reason being he had always wanted to start something that was his own. He felt he was at the point in his life where he said to himself: “If I don’t try, I’ll never know. So what if I failed? At least I tried.”
Udders Ice Cream. Check out their cute name cards! The whole Udders concept and design is very funky and casual, right from the ice cream names, to the name cards, to the store design. Their store is decked with board games and magazines, graffiti walls, cow cartoons and a quirky chalkboard where customers can vote for their favourite flavors. How’s that for a cool ice cream parlor?
Their Waffle Ice Cream With a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was my favorite before I turned vegan. Maybe one day David will create a vegan waffle for me and other vegans here at PE. I shall look forward to the day when that happens.
Interior of one of the Udders outlets
This is the chalkboard inside one of their outlets, where customers can suggest ice cream flavors, and other customers can read and vote for their favorite ones. The Udders team will then review the results, and the most highly voted flavors will be selected as upcoming new flavors to be created!
David worked his ass off to set up the business. In the first 4 months, he basically stayed at home to teach himself how to make ice cream. He was working late nights every day and tasting ice cream at 3 in the morning.
At the end of the 4 months, he came up with the first 15 flavors (together with his business partner and his wife) and launched Udders cafe, putting in a set-up capital of $120,000 USD with his partner.
If you are expecting that business sky-rocketed in the first month and everything became happily ever after, you are wrong. In fact, I’ve never heard of this happening for any business I know of, even the most successful ones today. For the first 6 months, sales at Udders were depressing. David had no salary to speak of – in fact, he stopped earning any money since he quit his teaching job. It was a tough period, and an emotionally down point for himself and his partner.
However, David hung on, driven by the positive feedback from first few customers. During this time, David’s wife was his pillar of support and became the sole breadwinner of their family of 4 after he quit his job (they have 2 kids).
Through his persistence and positive word-of-mouth, the business eventually took off after a year. It started turning in profits. This was the first time when David started drawing a salary, at a fraction of his previous pay as a teacher. But he believed in the potential of Udders, and never thought of stopping. He continued to maintain the highest standards for his ice cream. He also introduced value-added services such as ice cream making workshops-cum-buffets, to teach customers how to make their own ice cream without special equipment.
And his efforts paid off. Today, Udders has grew to 5 outlets in Singapore (which they affectionately refer to as their “milking outlets”, LOL 😆 ), after 3+ years from when it first launched. It’s now a highly popular ice cream parlor in Singapore. It won the Emerging Enterprise Award in 2010. And it’s set to grow further, faster and better in the next stage.
David’s persistence, hard work and faith is a learning point for all of us – that as long as we commit ourselves, work hard and never give up, we’ll achieve what we set out to do. That while others are pondering and wondering whether they should do something about their goals or not, we can be making leaps ahead just by taking the first step and committing ourselves to our goals.
It’s been a long time coming for David, and I’m excited to have him here at the blog today. I hope you find something for you to take away from his story and from this interview. I now bring to you, David Yim, Chief Milkman at Udders Ice Cream:
Q1) Tell us more about you, David – Who are you and what are your passions in life?
I’m just an ordinary guy on a journey to make people happy by creating super yummy ice cream. I was a secondary school teacher for 6 years before I started Udders with my business partner, Lillian. Passion in life? Making people happy 🙂
Q2) What is Udders?
Udders is about making the best ice cream we can, especially liqueur ice cream. We create high quality ice cream with care, dedication …. and a personal touch. In a world hurtling toward the mass-produced, we’d like to bring some intimacy back to one of life’s simple pleasures.
Our speciality is ‘adult-rated’ liqueur ice cream, with names such as Cherry Bomb, Lychee Martini and Rum Rum Raisin.
Q3) Who do you target?
We target just about anybody, as we keep our prices very affordable.
Q4) How long has your business been around?
We have been in business for 3 year and 5 months! (as of May ’11) At the moment, we have 5 outlets (in Singapore).
Q5) How did you first come up with the idea for Udders?
I was a schoolteacher for six years and my business partner was a general manager in a cafe chain. Although I loved teaching, I didn’t think I would adapt well in the civil service and wanted my own space for creativity. I always wanted to do something that was my own. That was why I quit.
[The idea for Udders] was my wife’s actually. We were toying around with a few business ideas, and ice cream was like our fifth idea. It was either that or hamburgers. We decided to experiment on ice cream first, and before we knew it, our first cafe was opened 6 months later. Ice cream was an obvious choice because it’s a ‘happy’ food and you’re dealing with cheerful people mostly, plus I’ve always been a foodie.
Celes: For those wondering why Udders is called Udders,
here’s a graphic from the Udders website that explains why 😆 :
When we were brainstorming the name, we wanted to call it ‘The Big Udder’, but male friends rightly pointed out that with such a label, people will come expecting to see waitresses with… you know, big udders. (Celes: LOL!)
Q6) After you came up with the idea, how did you get started? Please walk us through what the first 1 year of your journey was like.
We pooled the money from our savings, and my partner and I experimented with ice cream-making for 4 months, doing our own intensive R&D.
I basically stayed home [during those 4 months] to teach myself how to make ice cream. I am fortunate to have a supportive wife – she’s a lawyer – who was the sole breadwinner for our family of four while I worked my butt off to set up the business. I was working late nights every day and tasting ice cream at 3 in the morning. Weight gain was definitely a job hazard.
In between all the experimentation were discussions with Lillian, my business partner, and my wife, Peck Lin, on the branding and the concept of the business.
After that 4 months, we came out with our first 15 flavours and started our cafe with that. We wanted a casual and funky feel to the shop, so we provide board games and magazines, graffiti walls, cow cartoons and a quirky chalkboard where customers can vote for their favourite flavors.
We were very depressed for the first four months because being new, no one had heard about us and sales were bad. It was especially since we didn’t do any marketing. It was tough hanging on, but we got by on the positive feedback from our first few customers.
We depended on word of mouth to spread, and it did, but took about 6 months before we reached a tipping point. (Celes: It took Udders about 5 months before it first broke even.)
I only managed to draw a salary after the first year, and it was a fraction of what I was earning as a teacher previously.
Q7) How long did it take (after starting) before you experienced the first signs of success? What were those signs of success?
From the start, we had very encouraging comments given by our customers. On our third day of business, there was this man who came in, tried the ice cream, and said in a very loud voice that it was the best ice cream that he had eaten! He then went on to tell this to the next customer who walked in. Although sales were discouraging during the initial months, experiences like the one mentioned above helped me realise that I was on the right track.
Celes: When setting out for your goals, you don’t normally get an immediate clear-cut point that tells you “OMG you’ve achieved this goal and you’ll never be the same person ever again!!!”. Rather, results come in via little waves and ripples, like little signs from the universe. It’s important that you keep your eyes (and ears) peeled out for such signs, and use them as guiding points on whether to continue with your current course of action, or whether to switch them out with a different modus operandi. You don’t want to be blindly pursuing your goal with a course of action that isn’t working out for you. That’ll just be wasting your time.
Q8) At which point did you know with certainty that it had taken off?
After we had opened our first cafe for a year. We were featured in the Straits Times, and the business took off after that.
Celes: Straits Times is the largest newspaper dailies in Singapore, with a circulation of nearly 400k. Personal Excellence has been featured before on ST as well.
[That said,] we did not take things for granted. We started offering other value-added services such as ice cream making workshops-cum-buffets at $35 per person, to teach customers how to make their own ice cream without special equipment.
Celes: The ice cream making workshops is a very distinctive offering by Udders. To date, no ice cream brand in Singapore does that, not even the famous Haagen Das or Bens & Jerry. This helped to drive a point-of-difference for Udders and strengthened its positioning as a unique and different ice cream brand.
Q9) What would you say are the biggest drivers of your success today?
The staff that we have, and our commitment to high standards.
Celes: In the interview with Salad Stop, Adrien also mentioned the SS staff and high product standards as the key drivers to Salad Stop’s success too. If you’re running a F&B or retail operation where your staff serves as the frontline between your business and your customers, it’s especially important to get the right staff, because they are the ones creating the first impression in your customers’ minds. Nothing drives a customer away faster than a shop with poor customer service.
Commitment to high standards will always be important to succeed in any business. Remember value is the key. Where you stop providing high value, customers will lose interest in your product/service. They will only pay you for your product/service if you’re offering them the best value they can get with their money.
Q10) Looking back, what were the biggest obstacles you faced in your entrepreneurship journey to date? How did you overcome them?
Surprisingly, one of them is being emotionally stable. There are so many ups and downs in the business, it takes effort to not be emotionally swayed by whatever the current issue is, and just work through it to the best of my ability. It’s an ongoing struggle.
(Celes: When starting your business, you have to be highly resilient in your pursuit. If I were to put it very bluntly, you should expect to see no results in at least the first 18 months. That’s how long it takes for the average business to take off. This way, it saves you from jacking up your hopes and sabotaging your own efforts, and lets you commit yourself fully to your goal instead.
When I started PE/my personal development business, I went in fully expecting to see 0 results and earn nothing for the first 2 years. That helped me maintain a level head and focus on purely on the things that matter in getting things up and running. As it turned out, results started rolling in after a few months.)
Another obstacle is finding and retaining good staff. The F&B industry does not pay that well, and staff has to work weekends and public holidays.
(Celes: This was the same obstacle shared by Adrien from Salad Stop. The way SS addressed this is via using different recruitment channels, providing attractive benefits, and creating a strong and fun company culture for the staff. They have regular company outings with their staff as a way of cultivating a positive, fun SS culture.)
Q11) What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned in this journey?
First one is to commit to high standards in whatever we do.
Second is that people are important. Without our dedicated staff, we wouldn’t have been able to grow the business.
Q12) If you are to start all over again, what are the top 3 things you’d do as you start your business?
- Find the right people to join
- Maintain our commitment to high standards
- Be a bit more savvy about marketing : )
Apologies if I seem to be repeating the same points, but those are the things that I feel matter the most!
Q13) How would you advise someone who is just starting his/her business and wants to bring it to the million-dollar mark and beyond?
I would recommend that they read 4 books:
I have built Udders based on the lessons learned from these 4 books.
Q14) What’s next in your plans?
Hopefully, we will be able to bring our ice cream overseas!
Special thanks to David for taking time for this special interview feature at PE. 🙂 David is the Chief Milkman and CEO of Udders Ice Cream, a popular ice cream parlor in Singapore, with 5 outlets and counting. To find out more about Udders, visit www.Udders.com.sg.
This is part of the Successful Businesses Interview Series, where I feature successful businesses that are making a difference in others’ lives.