Innovation and enterprise blog

Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

19 April 2021

Meet Chuong Van Dang, founder of Yum Seng

Yum Seng is a successful Dim Sum and Cocktail meal kit business founded by husband and wife, Chuong and Stephanie Van Dang, during lockdown. They have always had a passion for great Dim Sum restaurants and decided to start their own. Let’s hear more from Chuong...

‘When we moved here from west London to be closer to our friendship group, we really missed our local dim sum restaurants! We couldn't find anywhere in south east London that could compare. During lock down, with time on our hands we started delivering some dumplings and home-made cocktails to local friends before Zoom dinner parties, and the response was always great. That's when we thought we might be onto something – if our friends loved it so much then maybe we could deliver this to a wider audience? Dim Sum and Cocktails had a ring to it, and we couldn't let it go. We spent the next few weeks sampling different dim sums and cocktails and then launched the website. We found a great shared workspace nearby called “It’s the Flash Pack” in West Dulwich that we could operate from.

From announcing on our neighbourhood WhatsApp and Facebook group chat, we had over a thousand people visit our website and 80 orders in the first two days alone.

Yum Seng family

My wife and I have both set up separate businesses over the last seven years, but we had never done something together. To be honest, it was something that we both avoided as we were worried that working together might affect our happy marriage! The monotony of Lockdown 3 was affecting our mental health, so we needed a project to distract us. We’ve so far only had one disagreement, and that was about who was putting on our son’s socks! We’ve never had a business that has done so well, so quickly.

SiLL was instrumental in giving us the confidence to flesh out an idea, develop it into a viable business plan and then launch as a commercial business. We’ve learnt a lot from their workshops and were inspired by other entrepreneurs that we had met along the way.

Our local SiLL Champion Rachel Samuels was incredible. She took time to help me with my previous venture, by identifying and introducing me to other council departments that could help. She also helped me successfully apply for grant funding. She gave me the confidence in myself and my idea, which was a massive morale boost.

We still keep in touch with some SiLL alumni, and we keep abreast about how we are progressing. There is a camaraderie amongst local entrepreneurs, who know very well the highs and lows of business! Sadly, COVID-19 has restricted how often we keep in touch at the moment. It’s great to collaborate with local businesses, and we have recently started working with “Letterbox Cocktails'', a cocktail delivery business started by the people behind Bar Three Eight Four on Coldharbour Lane. We will also be collaborating with local breweries in the future, which is very exciting!

We had always toyed with the idea of setting up a dim sum restaurant in our area but were always unsure if there was enough demand to sustain the business. With lockdown, many restaurants successfully pivoted to meal kits and we saw the opportunity for a dim sum version. The huge response we had with no marketing validated our hunch. We have people from as far as Edinburgh wanting us to deliver!

Yum Seng

The advice I would give anyone looking to start up a business is to go for it! The first step is always the scariest. There is the fear of failure and the fear of being financially unstable. There is never the right time, but do your research. Develop your idea into a robust business plan and make a simple financial forecast. Work out how much capital you need to start, and how long can you run the business without taking out any profits. If you are currently on furlough, then now is the best time, as you won’t need to worry about living costs until furlough ends. If your business shows potential, then you can decide to quit that day job and go full steam ahead with your business.

The key things I’ve learnt from starting up the business are don’t give up and don’t be afraid to fail. You learn so much from each experience. Keep humble and listen to others. Keep speaking to your customers in order to refine and better your product. And try not to do it for the money, it clouds your judgement. 

To anyone looking to go to a SiLL workshop or talk to their local SME Champion, be prepared to listen, network and take advantage of all the tools that they are offering you. Starting your own business can be very lonely, and SiLL is offering you a community of support. You never know, you may even meet your future business partner there!’

 

For more on Start-ups in London Libraries and how to register for our upcoming workshop, visit www.bl.uk/SiLL.

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09 April 2021

Jennifer Earle, with her enticingly named Chocolate Ecstasy Tours, founded her business back in 2005 by doing the things she loved best; learning, London, meeting new people and tasting delicious food, especially chocolate! We caught up with Jennifer, a recent graduate of the Innovating for Growth programme, to find out how her business came about and an exciting new opportunity underway.

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What was your background before starting Chocolate Ecstasy Tours?

I ran the tour's business alongside full-time work, including a role as a Food Buyer at M&S and a Food Developer at McDonald’s.  I was already writing about food part-time and from 2006 I started getting invited to speak on the radio, to be on TV, to judge food awards and to speak at events.

I finally began working full-time on Chocolate Ecstasy Tours in 2013 and added more tours, more dates and more workshops and events – including teaching chocolate workshops in schools and running food innovation days for companies.  The tours gradually became premium as the experience and knowledge of my guiding team increased and we reduced the maximum number of guests on a tour reduced to eight.

This commitment to quality was always going to restrict how large I could grow the tour's business. I really wanted to make something that could reach more people and promote more of the amazing food businesses we have in London, but in a way that still hit the core values of quality, discovery, effortlessness and fun.  I’d been mulling over the options for years but the idea for Taste Tripper didn’t all click into place until one evening in 2015. I shared the idea with my husband who was so enthusiastic about it he wanted to get involved.

What makes Taste Tripper unique?

Taste Tripper is – as far as I know – the world’s first self-guided tasting tour business.  Our Explorer Packs are a really effortless and flexible way to discover part of London’s amazing food scene.  The partner locations in the Taste Tripper Explorer Packs all offer something delicious for you, just for turning up! And, like a VIP, you get a special deal on any extra purchases, too. 

What we hope will keep us unique is our commitment to quality.  We will only ever send people to places that we believe are fabulous.

What challenges has the business faced along the way?

Being a new concept meant that we had to convince businesses to work with us.  Mostly in principle, this has been easy but, as we mostly work with small businesses that have a lot on their plate, it can take time to get them to send us the information we need and approve things.

We had some dire printing errors which were quite expensive and I don’t think we could have done anything differently to have avoided them.  We also had our trademark challenged by a big company which meant thousands on lawyer fees before we’d even made a hundred sales.  There were tough decisions to make but we are proud that we stood our ground and won!

Through the British Library Innovating for Growth programme we had fantastic, honest feedback and we called our first customers for more of the same.  It’s been so enlightening and inspiring and made us go back to the drawing board on quite a few significant things.  It’s been quite frustrating that it has taken us some months to get the changes ready, but we hope to be bringing these big improvements to market in September and finally start promoting the business again!

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What advice would you give to any small business owners thinking of developing a new product?

The most valuable thing for us was contacting customers and asking them to speak with us and give us feedback.  The sooner you can do this, the better.   Trying to sell as soon as possible will show you there’s a market.  But then you need to ask those people who parted with money if they are happy and how they could be happier.

We probably would have benefited from discussing our ideas with more people and listening harder for their suggestions.  But people will tell you different things so try to focus only on the things that keep being mentioned.  It’s important to have the courage of your convictions over the smaller stuff, especially if you think you know your market well. 

I would also advise anyone that good products don’t happen quickly.  Whatever time span you had planned for launch or growth: double it.  And maybe double it again. 

You grew the business with the help of our Innovating for Growth programme. What specifically did the programme help you achieve?

 The honest feedback from experienced people was invaluable. It forced us to really look at what was working, what wasn’t and what was important.  We got clearer on what we wanted the business to stand for, how we could communicate that and what changes we needed to make.  The technical advice for ensuring we have a watertight business was also brilliant and so useful.

During the three months we decided to change the redemption from tear-off paper strips on the cards to online redemption, whilst still keeping the attractive giftable Explorer Pack (it all seems so obvious now!) and we also decided to add a map to the homepage so customers could create their own London Explorer Pack.  We’ll eventually offer neighbourhood Explorer Packs, too.  It really feels like we have a much more solid business with real potential for growth. I’m so excited!

The retail industry is changing at a very fast rate and so are the services linked to it.  

Approximately 87% of British consumers have made an online purchase in the last 12 months, and the United Kingdom only comes after Norway for buying online in Europe. 

With the increase of e-retailing, the photography needs of a brand or a retailer have changed.  Advertising campaigns for print media, point of sale displays, billboard advertising and TV commercials are now sharing their budgets with the increased needs for a stronger web presence both on the website of the business and on its social media network.  

At Kalory Photo & Video Studio, we have seen a marked change in our client’s requests since the beginning of the year across all the different industries we are working with: multi-brand e-retailers, jewellery, watch, cosmetics, chocolate, drinks, furniture, sports brands, etc.  The same trends seem to be valid for both start-ups and established businesses too.  This is an empirical analysis of our field experiences in the last 12 months. 

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More qualitative packshots

The first trend which seems extremely strong is an increase in the quality of product photography. For many, a packshot is a packshot, but there are actually different levels of quality possible and the quality of lighting and retouching can vary tremendously for the same product, and so does the final image.  The camera used has an impact too.  Since the beginning of the year, we have noticed a real change in the way clients approach pack shots. Budget allocated to this important visual section of the website has been increased and even outside the luxury industry, brands are upgrading the attention to details for all their e-commerce photography: positioning, colour correction, control of the reflections, visibility of the branding, etc. 

Professional Instagram pictures 

The development of Instagram stories allows businesses to keep in touch in a more relaxed and spontaneous way with their followers, while they are paying more attention to the quality of photography posted on their main feed. Instagram stories are perfect for quick snapshots taken by the communication teams to keep their audience posted on what is going on.  The feed is increasingly becoming a visual platform showing what the brand’s values are. The colour tones (cold or warm), the type of images posted (lifestyle, architectural lines, etc.) are key elements to consider in order to create a consistent feed that attracts followers.  Posting again and again about your products is not enough. The trend we have observed since March is to organise short photo shoots of 1h to 4h with a selection of products and props and to shoot a series of creative images with a basic to medium level of professional retouching. This enables us to create a large number of images on a small budget. The images are controlled and professionally lit, but still natural and not overly airbrushed which is the perfect blend for Instagram. This is especially effective when a mood board and a shooting list and schedule have been carefully prepared: it can be interesting for example to create a series of images with a certain colour tone followed by another series with a slight change in colours to create waves on the feed. 

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Videos & moving images

Videos have been growing fast in the past few years: product videos and event videos mostly, but we have recently seen a surge in social media videos (which are usually around 15 seconds), as well as cinemagraphs.  They are mostly visuals without interviews or any sound takes,  and with a simple story, but need to be efficiently edited to get the right social media interactions. 

An increased involvement and commitment from brands.

An increasing number of clients are more involved, prepared and put more thoughts in their photography brief.  This is a clear sign of the importance photography and video has gained in the marketing and communication mix.  A larger number of members of the PR and marketing team is involved and mood boards, stories and precise creative ideas and angles, as well as a good analysis of what the competition is doing, is definitely becoming the mainstream rather than the exception.

The usage of photography is definitely changing fast. Everyone is taking pictures.  The life of a picture is both very short, almost instant, and very long: the image itself has to be impactful immediately, but it is also part of an overall visual display (Instagram feed, Facebook page, etc.) that will remain online, so the thought process when creating it, is definitely key. 

Knowing how fast visual communication and social media are changing, there is no doubt, that new trends will emerge soon, and brands and retailers need to keep a close eye on what is happening in this field of communication if they want to stay on the top of their game.