How a S'porean duo found their place on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list with salted egg yolk snacks

How a S'porean duo found their place on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list with salted egg yolk snacks
Christopher Hwang (L) and Jonathen Shen (R)
PHOTO: The Business Times

Just last month, we talked about the 23 individuals in Singapore that made it into this year's Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list.

Among them, the duo from The Golden Duck stood out with their rather unique product - salted egg yolk flavoured snacks.

Food trends like 'salted-egg-yolk-everything' come and go, but what's amazing is that they've not just jumped onto the bandwagon - they've managed to make it timeless.

I got in touch with co-founder Jonathan Shen (27), and found out more about the duo that found gold with salted egg yolk snacks.

When A Casual Joke Turned Into A Successful Business

Having met "quite unceremoniously" with co-founder Christopher Hwang (26) through a mutual friend about 5 years back, their future as business partners actually stemmed from a casual suggestion.

"Back when we met, he was in education and I was in lifestyle events and digital marketing. We both casually joked that we should do business one day, and well…here we are."

But given how similar they were in terms of their business goals and ethics, the partnership wasn't completely unexpected.

Hwang (L) and Shen (R)Photo: The Business Times

With both having been involved in multiple businesses since their early twenties, Shen reveals that they "didn't enter this totally green behind the ears".

"We knew what we had to do from day 1 and plotted out a go-to-market strategy that mainly involved online sales, our own little pop-up stores, and retail partners that believed in us really early on."

Their decision to settle on creating salted egg yolk snacks was also one that came from Shen's prior experiences, having been personally involved in the F&B scene.

The Golden Duck's potato and fish skin crispsPhoto: The Business Times

"I was fortunate enough to notice the massive salted egg craze in it's infancy stages. We were fortunate to be able to put together a solid team for this project and as such, became one of the pioneering companies to champion this flavour, especially in the packaged snacks space."

Thus, in 2015, The Golden Duck was hatched.

On Their Early Days

"We went through multiple names but decided on The Golden Duck at the end of the day because we wanted a cute character to represent the brand. We chose a duck because salted eggs are duck eggs that turn a "golden" orange after months of curing."

Won't its name limit them to selling only duck-origin products, though?

"I don't [think so], and when the time comes, I'm sure our team will be able to work it out as part of our brand evolution process," Shen asserts.

Photo: The Golden Duck

But even with their combined experiences, Shen admitted that the early stages weren't exactly a waddle (pun intended) in the park.

"The early stages of scaling the business were terribly difficult to be honest, especially since we haven't scaled a business in this space before. Lack of staff who were willing to work at a low price and finding proper kitchens to keep production up were a couple of major issues we faced."

To keep up with the demand, the duo needed to get -literally- hands on with the operations of the business - from working in the kitchen during the Chinese New Year period, to driving around doing their own deliveries.

"It takes a special kind of mindset to be able to get down and dirty for the business when required, and do it with a smile on your face. Not many young entrepreneurs possess this kind of grit nowadays."

Peddling A Thousand Packets A Day

When asked to describe the main profiles of their customers, Shen reveals that while they come from "various age groups and all walks of life", they are "primarily avid foodies that are more discerning with their food choices [who] don't want to settle for regular offerings in the market".

The Golden Duck’s semi-circular kiosk at Raffles City Shopping CentrePhoto: The Straits Times

At $7 a packet, their snacks aren't the cheapest around, but snack addicts are more than willing to pay that little bit extra for the guaranteed quality.

Shen reveals that they "currently peddle around a thousand packets of addictive snacks per day" - no mean feat for a company with only 2 options on offer.

According to their website, they have sold 481,277 packets (and counting) so far. And it's not just Singaporeans who are indulging in the snacks - they're popular among tourists as well.

Explains Shen, "We're very popular amongst tourists that come through Singapore, with many of them buying in bulk whenever they visit the country, to bring home as gifts, and even to resell! The salted egg yolk flavour profile is [also] very synonymous with many other countries in Southeast Asia."

They currently ship to snackers not just in Asia Pacific, but those in the UK, US and Canada too.

Getting On The Forbes 30 Under 30 List Asia

This year, the duo's success was acknowledged by Forbes Asia, but Shen revealed that them being on the list was something they never expected, "given the calibre of the people on the list, and hearing about the strict rounds of curation by some of the world's leaders of industry".

As a matter of fact, the news didn't sink in even after the notification email landed in their inboxes.

"When the email finally landed in my inbox in the middle of the work-day, I stared at it for two seconds…and went back to the million things I was handling at the time, and I think for Chris it was the same."

The duo's profilePhoto: Screenshot from Forbes

"It was only later that evening that we spoke about it briefly and it began to sink in that we were honourees for one of the most prestigious business accolades that you can get as a twenty-something. It was a truly humbling feeling, and we took the opportunity to remind ourselves that we would be nothing without the great team of talented individuals that believed in us from day one."

But behind the impressive figures and accolades, Shen credits their longevity past the shelf life of the flavour to a single factor - ensuring quality both in the front and back end.

"Peer past the hype and craze of the flavour and you'll find a polished brand that's selling really good produce. From day one, we've kept to strict standards on both the back-end (product quality and production standards), as well as front-end (branding, marketing, and customer service.) aspects of the business, and we feel that these things are key to success in the consumer goods industry."

Going Beyond Flavour Of The Month

When asked if The Golden Duck has plans to add more snacks to the lineup, Shen could only reveal that "things are in the pipeline for sure", but August will be "an interesting month" for them.

"Keep tabs on us," teased Shen.

And as for his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?

"Dare to fail."

 

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