When a curry puff works - but a croissant doesn't

When a curry puff works - but a croissant doesn't

When Han Keen Juan acquired Old Chang Kee in 1986, blending the old and the new worked wonders. The company grew rapidly.

So, next, he tried blending cultures, and introduced croissants. They were tantalisingly displayed together with the curry puffs, but did not take off. That was when the company realised that while it was the norm to hold a curry puff and eat it on the go, people preferred to enjoy their French pastry sitting down.

It seemed like a bright idea at first but Mr Han, 62, now counts it as one of the missteps he made in his quest to grow the company in the late 1980s. The outcome was the loss of some investment and a little consumer confusion.

Mr Han will expand on this and other mistakes he has made in his 27 years in the company at the Think Big Entrepreneurs Convention 2013 on Sept 17.

Other entrepreneurs will also share their experiences at the half-day event.

Old Chang Kee's iconic curry puff chain has come a long way since, growing from a hawker stall at the former Rex Cinema on Mackenzie Road to a Catalist-listed company with more than 70 outlets here and in Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.

Mr Han said: "To grow a business, you have to be courageous enough to take calculated risks, and making mistakes is part of that."

He recalled another blunder he made as a young entrepreneur in a hurry. After the initial success of Old Chang Kee, he ventured into the dining arena by starting a small kiosk selling authentic Hainanese dishes. It quickly became a hit.

Eager to cash in on the frenzy, he opened another eatery at another location. The publicity and marketing work was hurriedly done without first ensuring that the kitchens could maintain the quality of the fare that was being served up. The result was that diners were disappointed by the quality of the food. The business closed within four months.

Mr Han said: "We were literally inviting the crowds to come and confirm that our food was below standard!" Thankfully, mistakes like these have been few and far between, and Old Chang Kee now has a market value of about $100 million.

Mr Han said: "The most important thing is to glean from the mistakes their valuable lessons - which cannot be learnt from textbooks."

The Think Big Entrepreneurs Convention 2013 at which he will speak will feature talks on how to operate at different stages of a business, relatively new ways to raise funds and engage stakeholders and customers, and the potential challenges and payoffs for traditional businesses that adopt these strategies for higher growth.

Besides Mr Han, the other speakers include BT-DHL Businessman of the Year and executive chairman of Raffles Medical Group Loo Choon Yong; co-founder of online publication SGE.io Gwendolyn Tan; and principal consultant of Strategicom Jacky Tai, an author and marketing and branding guru.

A panel discussion to explore the possibilities of the "new normal" way of doing business will be moderated by Mohan Belani, chief executive of local start-up blog e27.

The convention will be held at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel (Grand Ballroom) from 9am to 12.30pm.

Participants need to pay a registration fee of $10. To register, visit eventreg. asiaone.com/register/thinkbig2013

The convention is sponsored by Canon and co-hosted by Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, and organised by The SME Magazine in collaboration with Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) and SME Centre@SCCCI.

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