We interview Adrien Desbaillets on integrating green initiatives early on, using data to create strategies and see opportunities, and pivoting during the pandemic.
You are probably already familiar with SaladStop! It is one of the first and largest sustainable, healthy and environmentally conscious food chains in Asia with 70 outlets in eight markets! How did they get there? In this episode we speak to the founder, Adrien Desbaillets. He shares how he built green thinking and initiatives, no matter how small, into their DNA. How important knowing the nuts and bolts of his business has been, especially during the pandemic. Plus, how they managed to not only pivot and survive but also raise 8.8 million USD amidst COVID.
In this conversation we learnt…
– How Adrien built sustainable initiatives and engaged with customers to shift mindset, while still ensuring convenience (04:57- 09:56)
– That the capital spring store in singapore, which is Asia first Net-Zero food provider, was a living lab to create the best processes (10:24 – 13:18)
– Insights into SaladStop!’s series A and B funding. When, how and who that Adrien decided to partner with. (17:36 – 21:38)
– How they used data and metrics to pivot during the pandemic (22:29 – 30:00)
– What community means to Adrien, and how they engage with suppliers, partners and customers (31:34 – 36:03, 40:00-41:06)
“Every store that we renovate to build in Singapore will be net zero by 2025.” (12:22)
Adrien and the team are committed to their sustainability pledge, and their store in Capital Spring has been a big project to attain this goal. Working with the right partners, and truly examining each and every nut and bolt of the business, they were able to become the first Asian Net Zero restaurant. They experimented with everything from taking recycled plastic and turning them into tiles to using fallen trees in Singapore to make table tops to figuring out a carbon neutral delivery system.
“You’re in a way, always fundraising.” (20:28)
Adrien shared how it’s easy for entrepreneurs to get stuck in the daily grind, always hustling and growing the team and the company while not thinking about the NorthStar. He recommends always being open to having conversations about the bigger picture, especially if it is the right partner.
“We moved very quickly, I think we, you know, we took data at heart and looked at every key data point throughout COVID.” (23:25)
Having seen the impact of COVID in Hong Kong early on, SaladStop! was able to adapt and apply their learnings across their locations – moving away from the office CBD crowd to home delivery. A key aspect of their success was analysing the data. They looked at customer addresses, delivery zones, delivery times to quickly pivot and establish cloud kitchens, and found themselves, at times, even more busy than previously.
“Sometimes the jobs that someone holds can support the whole family, and this is something that we care very deeply about.” (40:00)
When talking about community, Adrien discussed the partners, suppliers, workers. Especially considering that they support a whole ecosystem of farmers, they can potentially change the livelihoods of many people. In developing markets, in particular, they are cognizant of the impact on individuals and their whole families and aim to create safety and opportunities for them.
“Build the right fundamentals to make sure you business is solid from the beginning.”
A key piece of advice Adrien gave to entrepreneurs listening, especially if they’re looking to fundraise in the coming years, is to have a solid foundation. This is processes, numbers etc but also your values and your sustainability mindset. This can also be attained through spending time understanding every part of your business. “You need to understand the nuts and bolts. You need to speak to customers on the ground. You need to speak to the team. You need to be able to do the job yourself”
Tools of Titans, Book by Tim Ferriss
Four Hour Work Week, Book by Tim Ferriss
Chris Edwards (02:14)
Hey Adrian, welcome to Good Business. Thanks for agreeing to join me here.
Adrien Desbaillets (02:20)
Thanks for having me, Chris.
Chris Edwards (02:22)
Yes, you’re welcome. I’m so intrigued about SaladStop. I just wanted to, I suppose start at the beginning? How did it come about? And was there like an aha moment for you that triggered the concept and the idea?
Adrien Desbaillets (02:37)
Yeah, I mean, I started the business with my dad. So, you know, I grew up in Singapore, I guess we, this was home for about 15 years. I was working in China, and he was working in Thailand. And, you know, this was just the tail end of the financial crisis. And I got to spend a little bit more time in Singapore, looking around the markets, and really just couldn’t find many healthy options. I think we saw that Singapore was changing quite a bit. And that will, let’s think about what we can do here from a, you know, QSR perspective. And that’s when we started doing a bit of research. And, you know, he had extensive experience in the hospitality industry. So, you know, he had worked a lot in Singapore and knew a few suppliers and had access to locations. So yeah, just sort of start putting a business plan together, we actually wrote out the full business plan with marketing finance projections, and signed on three locations before putting the first one. So we were very bullish.
Adrien Desbaillets (03:37)
And also, I think we, you know, at least for me, it was something I grew up eating healthy. You know, I was in a pretty much a vegetarian vegan household. So it came quite naturally to me. And I think, with his operational experience, obviously, we were able to, you know, work out the systems from day one, and make sure that we started off on the right foot.
Chris Edwards (03:59)
Wow! That’s very bullish. So you had the three locations before you, you opened the first location.
Adrien Desbaillets (04:06)
Yeah so we opened 5.
Chris Edwards (04:08)
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Adrien Desbaillets (04:13)
His retirement savings were on the line. So yes, we really took a bold step. And I think, that just you know, we but at the same time, I would say we, you know, we had done our homework, right. So we spent a lot of time scouting the market, going through basically an entire feasibility study on our own and knowing very well that this was a time in Singapore where things were starting to pick up, you could see the momentum, and a lot of companies are moving back to Singapore. And then we knew that, you know, we needed scale, and that the model wouldn’t work with one store, or it could work. But that was not our ambition, and that we needed that these five, so you know, those three locations just happened to come up at the same time. This was again, where landlords had quite a few available spaces, rents were lower. So we just realised there was a window there, and we jumped straight into it.
Chris Edwards (05:05)
Wow, I mean, it’s nice that you were able to do it with your dad, but that’s very brave. What was the biggest,in that first year that you got going?
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Adrien Desbaillets (05:13)
I think it was just sort of keeping the operation together. You know, trying to open five stores in 12 months, I think was, you know, without SOPs in place without a central kitchen. I still remember vividly asking all the store managers to bring their dressings, you know, to the office. And, you know, we saw that, you know, all 20 dressings were different in color different in tastes. And you know, you gave everyone the same recipe, but somehow they still managed to kind of have, you know, deviance across all of the recipes. So, I think for us, that was probably the hardest part, we’re kind of running around between five stores, just making sure that things were staying consistent. And, and that was also the fun part. I mean, we were really hustling, we were on the ground, we understood. I guess the business inside out at that point, because we were living and breathing that every day.
Chris Edwards (06:06)
And how many stores have you got today?
Adrien Desbaillets (06:09)
Today, we have 70 stores in eight markets.
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Chris Edwards (06:13)
Wow. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. And, you know, what I find really interesting is that you’ve always had, I suppose, a real sustainable approach to what you’re doing. And I really want to know, like, it’s quite expensive or is the wrong word. But you know, there are more costs involved when you want to do things in a more sustainable way. And what were the costs that you saw that you weren’t expecting? Or you know, like, one of the big costs now to make sure it is sustainable?
Adrien Desbaillets (06:39)
Yeah, I think you know, from day one everything that we did was pretty much baked into the DNA. I think that, you know, the whole concept was built around sustainability. I mean, even it was built around local sourcing and reducing our carbon footprint. So even before, you know, the whole farm to table movement, even before, people were talking about packaging, and the environmental impact of that, I think we just baked that into kind of the company and how we, we kind of put the whole product together. So we looked at that very early on, we sort of built that into our margins. But I think, you know, as a small business, we started off as a family business, and, you know, put everything on the line here. So we had to be very careful with costs and think about it very much in terms of, you know, what could we provide customers in terms of baby steps? And that could mean simply saying, Look, do you really need a bag? You know, can you bring your own bowl, we will incentivize you. So not necessarily things that cost a lot, but just trying to frame them. And trying to engage customers, I think that’s we’ve always seen that as our role, you know, being a little bit of a platform and trying to educate and just making, you know, small little sustainability initiatives just a little bit more convenient. So from day one that was always looked at. Today, we can take much bolder steps. I think we can start looking at producing our own bowls in terms of packaging, we’ve got the volume now. You know, I think we’ve, we’ve always and again, this comes back down to how we looked at the business from the beginning, right, we always believe that scale comes to impact. And that’s, you know, not just in terms of sustainability, it’s to everything we do. You know, within the first few years, we were able to go to a chicken farm up in Malaysia and say, “Look, we, you know, love your product, but we needed to be antibiotic hormone free”. And that was something that we were able to do, because we were you know, we had the scale at that time.
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Chris Edwards (08:38)
Huh, that’s pretty cool. And I love your business motto being ‘Eat Wide Awake’. And yeah, that’s a model that you’ve had for quite some time.
Adrien Desbaillets (08:46)
Chris Edwards (08:48)
Right and tell me about ‘Eat Wide Awake’. Like, tell me the philosophy behind that?
Adrien Desbaillets (08:54)
Sure. So this came also at the very early stages, where we started seeing customers asking us a lot more questions, you know, where the product is from, was it an antibiotic hormone free. And I think we realised that actually, for us, again, our role in this whole ecosystem was about education. And we wanted people to ask questions, simply, you know, it was just about saying, Well, you know, we will be as transparent as we can be, whatever information we have. We’re open and honest about it. But it’s up to you to challenge businesses’ demands more. And that’s even more relevant today. So it’s interesting, because, you know, we’ve, the slogan, I guess, resonates not just in Singapore, but across all the markets. And I think, you know, for us, the way we translate it by the week is slightly different. In every market at different time periods as well, it means something a little bit different, but I think it’s just been very relevant throughout the last 10 years.
Chris Edwards (09:49)
Hmm, cool. And have you seen a big shift in the awareness? Particularly in Singapore? And, are you seeing a wave of people who are more conscious with their choices? And are looking for help not just to healthier but more sustainable businesses to buy from?
Adrien Desbaillets (10:08)
Definitely, definitely, I think it’s, it’s still quite a confusing space. I think there’s a lot of mixed messages. There’s a customer’s need to try to fend off what is real, what is not what, what a company truly stands for, what their sustainability journey represents? I think that we’re just in the early stages of that. But for us, we’ve definitely seen customers being a lot more engaged, challenging us as well, criticising us. And we’re very open to that. I think we’re always, you know, looking for that feedback. So I think it’s great, it’s great to see that people are taking more proactive steps, that the one piece, I guess, that we’re still seeing a bit of a gap in is for them to actively participate. I think we’re, we’re seeing customers sort of supporting brands that are more sustainable, but for them to really engage and be proactive about it. That’s the part that even for us, we’re trying to figure out, right? How do we redesign our stores a bit differently? How do we communicate with them online? How do we try to capture their attention for those few seconds when they walk into a store? So all these things are actually what we’re in the midst of working on.
Chris Edwards (11:25)
Oh, that’s very cool. And you have actually received quite a lot of media coverage about your net zero store in Capital Spring. So congratulations.
Adrien Desbaillets (11:35)
Chris Edwards (11:36)
But one of the interesting comments I read was that even before your net zero journey, your outlets were already at 30% of the industry benchmark in terms of admissions. So how have you been able to accomplish that?
Adrien Desbaillets (11:49)
So yeah, Capital Spring was actually a two year project in the making. It was, you know, a combination of all of our sustainability initiatives. And at the same time, I think what we wanted to do is work with industry leaders and experts here that could help us not just validate all the data, but also make sure that we were building, you know, a roadmap for the long run. Right, and I think, the store Capital Spring, we look at it as a living lab. And we were able to experiment, you know, with recycled plastic, turning those into tiles, we were able to look at fallen trees in Singapore, and upside from those into table tops, finding recycled chairs, working with delivery on a carbon neutral delivery. So these were all initiatives that we had sort of been working on on the side, and, you know, being able to source those partners, but then this was an opportunity to bring that together. And in order to do that, I think we number one needed someone who could help design it. So we worked with a firm called Pomeroy studio, they actually are a sustainability sort of focused architectural firm, and they looked at all the materials we were using, and how we could, you know, to not just reduce the carbon footprint of the construction, but also the operations, right? So the type of lighting, the aircon, everything that kind of runs the day to day operation. And then we worked with a company called unravelled carbon. unravelled carbon helped us map out our entire supply chain. And that’s obviously a huge project looking at, you know, every single SKU and figuring out what the carbon footprint was there. So once we had all that data, we then had two partners there that would be able to bring that together in a store. And like you said, you know, we were actually able to bring that down to 22% of the industry average. And we were able to bring down the carbon footprint of an existing store to this new store Capital Spring by another 30%. So, you know, what’s obviously interesting is through that whole journey, we were able to then see, okay, well, these are the other parts of the supply chain or the other parts of the construction process that we can bring down. So again, it’s net zero today, every store that we renovate to build in Singapore will be net zero by 2025. And so that we know all the progress that we can keep making and where else we can bring that down.
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Chris Edwards (14:15)
Yeah, great. It’s great. And I mean, it really helps that you found partners that can help you because it’s a big job, right? Understanding how to get to net zero and what initiatives actually move the needle. And it’s pretty exciting to see so many more of these, I suppose specialist consultants in the market that are helping businesses reach this goal.
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Chris Edwards (14:36)
I wanted to ask you, we recently had your Chief Brand Officer, Catherine come and attend a launchpad event, which was fantastic. And the topic was all around greenwashing, which I just like to get your view on it. You know, like, I feel like there’s a lot of greenwashing going on. It’s difficult for consumers, right? Also, difficult for companies now too? I’ve heard of a new thing being Green Hush, where people don’t want to talk about their sustainability initiatives, because they’re frightened they’re going to be shot down. Because potentially they’re not doing enough. But yeah, I’d love your view on the current state of play when it comes to, to greenwashing and the green hush.
Adrien Desbaillets (15:19)
Yeah, I mean, I definitely see it as the process and a time that we’re in where customers are even themselves trying to figure out what it means for them and what they want to support. And, and I think, you know, what we’re seeing is just the hard questions being asked, and I think that’s what is obviously pushing a lot of businesses to position themselves in terms of being green and trying to find an angle. And I think the, you know, the, what customers will increasingly look for is that level of transparency and sort of, you know, being able to make up their own minds about what is really green. And so, I think it’s going to be you know, a few years. And and I think, for us, you know, because it’s been part of, you know, our processes and the way.
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Adrien Desbaillets (16:12)
We’d built a business from the beginning, I think we, we just don’t feel that we need to make much of an effort. I mean, we’re quite fortunate in that sense that we also obviously have a product that allows us to source locally, and allows us to work with local farms. But I think for a lot of the big corporates, not only is it you know, what is it going to mean in the customers mind, but I think what they need to all figure out right now is, well, how do we incorporate this into the organisation. and I think for us, we believe very much that it needs to start within the company. And once you have people believe in it, and you’re able to identify what sustainability means to you, then it actually feels real and can actually resonate with a customer. So that’s, I think, where a lot of companies are, and I can understand, you know, for a lot of the more mature businesses, it’s tough, right? They have very fixed supply chains, they, they might not have the innovation to necessarily turn this around just yet. So they’re all trying to figure out which I think customers, some customers are willing to give them the slack, they need to figure this out now. But I would say in the next few years, you know, there’ll be enough options out there where what people will be able to choose.
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Chris Edwards (17:25)
Yeah, so in some ways, it’s actually easier as an entrepreneur coming into a new business now, because you can have, you know, sustainability baked into your core. And you know, what’s challenging, and where people are getting criticised is where they’re kind of tapping in on, you know, as a modification, that doesn’t come across as genuine, but comes across as marketing spin. But yeah, I suppose as an entrepreneur, you, it’s great. You have the opportunity to start that, what’s that saying? “Start as you would like to finish”. You know, like, set it up, right. Yeah. Cool.
Chris Edwards (18:01)
All right, I want to ask you a little bit about funding. Last year, you completed a round of investment raising 8.8 million US, 12 million SING , so congratulations. That’s a pretty large number. It’s very daunting for entrepreneurs. And I’d love to know, like, how did you know when it was the right time to bring in investors? And I suppose how did you work out who would be a good investor partner for you?
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Adrien Desbaillets (18:27)
Sure. This was our series B, actually. And it was about five years after our Series A, our Series A was more around bringing on to VCs that were strategic value add, I think, at that point in our journey. You know, we were a family business, and we were starting to scale internationally. We needed a little bit more corporate governance with a bit more structure. And, and also an opportunity to bounce off ideas.
Adrien Desbaillets (19:00)
I think that’s, you know, that’s if you find the right partner, I think and the right investor, I think it’s, you know, even at the board level, I think it’s very valuable to have, you know, people that you can exchange ideas with. Our series B was quite different. I think we started seeing that we were sort of playing in an ecosystem, where we were the customer facing side of, you know, agri tech, food tech. And, and I think now with the power of technology, and the way we see it sort of overlay on on the business, I think we see that. And we needed investors that would understand that landscape pretty well. So you know, that’s where we sort of knocked on Temasek’s door. Obviously, you know, they’ve invested a lot in this space agri and food tech. So we actually fall under the agri business umbrella of Temasek. And it gives us an incredible lens into that future food really, right. And that’s for us what we’re incredibly excited about. They obviously believe in sustainability and all the initiatives we’re doing, but it translates into that whole investment strategy as well. So, you know, for that was our lead investor. And then we also added, you know, a few more key strategic partners in there that, again, we’re focused on tech or consumer products. You know, East interest, is obviously very heavily involved in Indonesia. And we have a big presence there. So, yeah, we were really able to find a great set of investors for that round. And that, yeah, we’re just excited to keep building the business.
Chris Edwards (20:33)
That was a series B that ran with 10. Sec. Yeah, right. I just saw on taking it around a diagram of how many startups they’re involved in. And it’s pretty incredible. And, you know, I suppose I think part of what’s exciting would be, obviously funding is good, but just having that knowledge base would be a bit of a game changer.
Adrien Desbaillets (20:52)
Chris Edwards (20:53)
Yeah. Cool. If you had your time again, with the investing experience or getting investors on board, would you do anything differently? Any advice for people who are thinking about getting funding?
Adrien Desbaillets (21:05)
Oh, good question. I think we’ve, you know, we were fundraising in the middle of a pandemic. So, for us, it was, it was sort of hard to obviously be in full survival mode. And in some ways, right? I think we really had to manage a business that was international, and that was going through so many ups and downs, and then at the same time thinking about the big picture. So I think it is about timing. It didn’t seem like the best timing to do so. But at the same time, it was because, you know, 2021 was actually a great year for a lot of startups in terms of fundraising. So I think we, yeah, we did, we did time it right. So that’s one piece. And I think it’s, it’s also just to always have these conversations, right? I mean, I think, you know, even us now, so we’re, you know, a year after our series B and, and we keep sort of thinking about all the other opportunities that are sort of on the table. And I think it’s, it’s that kind of mindset to get into that. You’re in a way, always fundraising. And not necessarily that you’re approaching funds from that angle, but that you’re always having conversations, and there’s-
Adrien Desbaillets (22:14)
You know, always going to be opportunities to come about, and we can’t necessarily predict all of that. So it’s a fine balance, like you need to obviously focus on the core business growing that, making sure the fundamentals are right. But at the same time, it’s always good to keep looking at the big picture. And I think as entrepreneurs, sometimes it is a little bit hard as you can get quite kind of buried into, you know, just that kind of hustling and making sure that you’re growing the team, scaling the company, but then you need to still always look at your Northstar.
Chris Edwards (22:50)
Yeah, yeah, totally.
Chris Edwards (23:17)
And I’d love to know about your experience with COVID. I mean,a pretty terrifying time for most entrepreneurs. But what happened with you guys, like, obviously, lots of restrictions? And how did you cope?
Adrien Desbaillets (23:29)
So we, I guess, got to see the very early days of COVID, we have all sorts in Hong Kong. So it obviously kind of started trickling into Hong Kong in February 2020. And so we prepared all of our other markets, and really seeing, you know, the impact that it had on Hong Kong. So even Singapore, we only saw the impact in April 2020. But we already had two months to prepare for that. So after that, I think it was, you know, pivoting the business. So we were fortunate that 50% of our business was already online. So we were able to then transition, you know, onto all the delivery platforms, and even through our own app, so our operation was built for that.
Adrien Desbaillets (24:12)
We definitely lost a lot of our customers, you know, in the central business district in Singapore, and a lot of the office areas and other markets, but we were able to get them back in residential neighbourhoods.
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Adrien Desbaillets (24:25)
So we moved very quickly, once things opened up a little bit more than that, you know, was, for example, in Singapore, we saw that, you know, we were delivering to certain pockets of the islands that we went in, and we basically moved equipment around the islands to open cloud kitchens. And that really helped us because we were able to, to look at the delivery radiuses that we were operating in and all the data we were getting in and then just popped up all around the islands with new cloud kitchens. So though some of those are still operating today and actually turned into some of our best performing stores. But yeah, we moved very quickly, I think we, you know, we took data at heart and looked at every key data point throughout COVID. When borders opened, then we finally got to travel again and reconnect with the teams. And then it was just that the last six months have been more of a rebuilding phase. I think just you know, trying to look at how the market has changed because each of these markets has also changed quite considerably. The behaviour is not necessarily the same across markets. And that’s what we have really built the roadmap towards and I think next year is where we’re able to start growing again.
Chris Edwards (25:44)
Yeah, right. And when you say, looking at the data, what kind of data metrics are you studying to look for opportunities or look for areas that you need to focus on?
Adrien Desbaillets (25:55)
We were looking at just delivery zones and where those orders were coming from. Because during COVID, a lot of the delivery companies then opened up the option for restaurants to deliver islandwide. And in order to deliver Island wide you, you took on the delivery yourself.
Adrien Desbaillets (26:18)
So, delivery, for example, would hand over the customer address to you. And then you would then fulfil the order. So we then were able to see, okay, well beyond the three kilometre radius that we usually operate, we’re now delivering to the east, to the north, and where, where, you know, some of the gaps will be and over time, we basically saw enough of a concentration to say, look, if we were to open a cloud kitchen around there, we would be able to capture already, you know, 100 customers a day, and that justifies a store. So, you know, we were able to, to kind of build our strategy that we would use data points. And then, you know, we were also able to do obviously, during that time as things we opened, starting to speak to customers, and, you know, just understand where the market was headed. No one was going back into the offices. So we roughly knew where most of our customers live. And, yeah, just kept pivoting the business. And it’s still continuing today. I think, you know, that the landscape is just different and will be different moving forward. Work From Home is real. I think the way customers find our product, what they expect from us in terms of an experience, you know, it has to be an omni channel one. And if it’s done through our own technology, I think, you know, the expectations, and the standard is, is as high as it has ever been. So that’s what we’re very focused on now is how do we bring a whole online offline experience moving forward?
Chris Edwards (27:51)
Yeah, and that, that percentage of 50% of your business is that it’s still today? It’s 50%. Online and 50%. in store, is that right?
Adrien Desbaillets (28:00)
Yeah. A little bit more than 60% online.
Chris Edwards (28:03)
Wow. Is that happening in QSR everywhere? Or is that unique to you guys?
Adrien Desbaillets (28:09)
It is happening for most US operators. I think you speak to McDonald’s. And those guys, I think they’ve they’ve just seen even their own proprietary technologies, I guess really take the forefront? I think the McDonald’s apps I have forgotten 20-30% of the business that now gets generated through that.
Adrien Desbaillets (28:27)
But yes, I think, you know, we, we probably have seen the restaurant industry split in two ways. One is pure convenience, which we fall under. And I think we’re trying to also bring back customers and distort because we believe strongly that if you’re operating purely online, with our product, it’s a little bit dangerous. So you need to provide that in store experience and connect with the customer. But then we need to just, you know, be super strong on the convenience factor, because I think for the rest of the industry, they will be more experienced-led. While, you know, a lot of the fine dining restaurants that went online, have gone back purely offline. Right. And I think they don’t pay for them, operating in that environment is just too complicated.
Chris Edwards (29:11)
Yeah, right. Right. Oh, that’s fascinating. And, you know, going to your consumer. Is your target audience or your current consumer, do they consume unhealthy food as well? Or are they a different group to those who would dine at Mcdonalds or KFC?
Adrien Desbaillets ( 29:2)
Oh, they definitely do. And I think I mean, a big part of our sales still comes from the chicken Caesar wrap, which I wouldn’t say it’s the healthiest. It’s sort of an introduction, I guess to SaladStop. So we, you know, we, ultimately, we want to still appeal to as many people as possible while staying true to our beliefs and the core offering, right. So, you know, we have two other brands, one is called Heybo, the other is Wooshi. That’s a rice roll brand. And both of those, you know, are just a little bit easier as an introduction into healthy food. So we generally push those out a little bit more in terms of, you know, unhealthy sides or just things that may be a little bit more naughty. I think that’s where we find customers, gravitating towards but then I think, you know, we try not to, again, preach health to our customers. I think it’s you know, we want to make it again as easy as possible for them to navigate through that if they feel like adding bacon to their salad. Well, you know, that’s obviously their choice. I think we’re just, you know, focused on a few fronts, I think with salad stop. I think a lot of this again, revolves back to sustainability. You know, from more plant based options, obviously making everything from scratch, no preservatives, you know, just a few fundamentals that are always there. And I think that’s what customers can trust us with.
Chris Edwards (30:54)
Yeah, right. Cool. And I wanted to ask one thing that’s really unique about your business, I think is that you started the company with your father. And now you’re running it with your sister and brother in law. I mean, does that make Sunday night dinners tricky? Like, is it hard to separate, you know, work and play?
Adrien Desbaillets (31:15)
Not at all. I mean, I think we’re all so passionate about this business. I think we, you know, we share, I mean, a lot of our common interests revolve around the business. And I think we, you know, we have young kids. So I think it’s, no, it’s a fun time. I think my dad is no longer involved in the day to day, which helps, I think there probably be too many voices around the table. But I think you know, we all have different skill sets and different areas that we focus on. So I think that helps as well. I think we all realize kind of our role within the organisation. And even when it comes to the office, I think we sort of have our own teams, we travel to different markets as well. So we get sort of a bit of time apart as well.
Delete 32.03 -32.04 chris repeat thats twice
Chris Edwards (32:03)
Well, that’s, that’s, that’s healthy. I’m pleased to hear about that. And how big is the wider team now? How many staff?
Adrien Desbaillets (32:10)
At the corporate office, we have about 35 people in Singapore. And in the operation, if you count, even our franchise markets will be about over 2000 people.
Chris Edwards (32:20)
Wow, wow. So that must be one of the hardest parts of the business is managing the human resources and managing the, you know, getting everyone and getting all the salad dressings, right? So how do you get around singing from the song sheet?
Adrien Desbaillets (32:38)
So Singapore’s HQ. And I think that’s where, you know, everything starts from sort of Singapore. So, you know, the sort of culture that we’ve built here, the processes just, you know, 13 years of being consistent, I think being family led, and being very passionate about maintaining those standards in Singapore, I think, has, has held them, especially for COVID. Actually, I think, you know, we had set up all of this prior to COVID in our international markets as well. You know, Singapore becomes the training ground. Also, If we work with international franchisees, they spend some time here, they learn about our operation, they interact with the team. And, when we expand abroad, we also spend a lot of time finding the right partner. And that, you know, has been, I guess, a big key to success, because we know that we will not be able to fly solo in a place like Indonesia, or the Philippines, we need people on the ground that understand the local market, that speak the local language. So that is a big part of also, just the way we grow is that we’ve, you know, for example, Thailand was probably one of the more natural markets to enter early on. But you know, we’re opening them in five weeks. And that’s because for the past 13 years, we were just not able to find the right partner. It just didn’t gel, and we are coming into the market a little bit late. But at the same time, we were very confident that the part that we have, and that, you know, we can do well in a market like Thailand. So yeah, I think that’s, that’s really, you know, being the key to success, and just making sure that we we really spend a lot of time in Singapore, as much time as possible, and that this still becomes, you know, our shining star and where we set standards and where the culture is built..
Chris Edwards (34:37)
Yeah. And what a great country to do it in.
Chris Edwards (34:40)
So I’ve got a couple more questions. Is franchising your growth strategy from here on in? Or will you grow into new markets with your own stores as well as franchise stores?
Adrien Desbaillets (34:52)
It will be a mix. So we actually are in a joint venture in Hong Kong, a joint venture in Indonesia. So if we find that we really value add to that market and that partner, we’re happy to go into a joint venture. I think if we feel that there’s, we, as a franchisor, is a more natural route. I think we’re you know, we’re very happy to kind of operate that way. So part of it is bandwidth. Part of it is getting the strategic value we bring to that partnership.
Chris Edwards (35:20)
Yeah, right. Right. And what’s on the horizon? In the next three years? Do you have a roadmap of countries you’d like to bring SaladStop to.
Adrien Desbaillets (35:28)
Yes, so we’ll still be very focused on this part of the world. I think, you know, part of the opportunity we see is actually just deepening our footprint. So it’s not necessarily going off to Europe or the US. And spreading our wings too wide. I think it’s actually more about deepening that footprint. And, you know, we have new brands that we’re launching in Indonesia and the Philippines that actually have even more scope to grow tha salad stuff. And this is in secondary cities. This is in the B-grade malls. This is appealing to just a much wider audience. And, you know, we have an infrastructure built, we have central kitchens teams on the ground that this becomes much easier to roll out. I’d say probably the, you know, the be the last few markets like Thailand, which we’re opening, and then maybe Taiwan, Malaysia, and hopefully Australia one day.
Chris Edwards (36:20)
Oh, that’d be great. Come to Australia, for sure.
Chris Edwards (36:23)
And I wanted to ask you, like reflecting back on the journey, what do you think’s been the hardest thing for you personally, like?
Adrien Desbaillets (36:30)
COVID was the biggest challenge, but also the most rewarding, I would say, you know, you, we were all in the trenches, we we had to pivot the business so much in such a short period of time, I think it demonstrated how resilient the business was, how resilient the team was. I think we were incredibly proud with, you know, a very small team at that time, we doubled the size of the team, mainly because we fundraise that recently, but before that, we were about 12 people in the office, right, so to, to kind of shift the business at the scale that we did with, with the limited resources. It’s something that we’re definitely very proud of. But it was a frightening time. I mean, you know, I, we were one of the essential services in Singapore. So we were allowed into the office. And so five of us could come into the office every day. And it was just an absolute ghost town out, there was just no one on the streets. And it was a very weird feeling. And, and but to still see orders coming in, and actually some stores being busier than ever was just strange.
Adrien Desbaillets (37:34)
It was just a very strange time. And, and we didn’t quite know, obviously, in the early days, how all of this would pan out. So, you know, trying to keep all the teams motivated around the world. Was something! Yeah, that was an interesting experience. I think, you know, I think we’re stronger than ever because of it. But when we’re right in the midst of it, it was definitely a stressful time.
Chris Edwards (37:59)
Yeah, pretty, pretty hair raising, I can imagine. And tell me, what do you do to cope with stress? Do you have any practices?
Delete 38.08 – where chris says “oh”
Adrien Desbaillets (38:09)
So for me, I guess my constant is sports and runs and just going outdoors, you know, that connection to nature, because it’s a big one for me. So that’s what I try to sort of sneak out from two very young boys that, you know, I guess running around after them is also the better. Switch off mode. But yeah, I think it’s family time. It’s just spending time in nature, travelling. That’s really what keeps me going.
Adrien Desbaillets (38:40)
And I think, you know, especially through COVID It’s good that a lot of this is surfacing now, and more people are talking about it, but I think you know, for for entrepreneurs especially, you need to take that time away, and be able to find your balance whatever way you do that. I think it’s just becoming increasingly critical.
Chris Edwards (39:00)
Yeah. 100% Okay, um, to wrap up, I’ve got some rapid fire questions. Firstly, do you have any business advice or any mantras that you live by?
Adrien Desbaillets (39:12)
One is build the right fundamentals to make sure that your business is sound from the beginning. And especially I think this is going to be even more relevant for anyone fundraising next year. That’s what investors are looking at. And number two is really, in the early days trying to understand every part of your business, you know, not we talked about being data led, but at the same time, you need to understand the nuts and bolts you need to speak to customers on the ground. You need to speak to the team and you need to be able to do the job yourself.
Chris Edwards (39:40)
Ooh, love that. Next one, luck favours the open mind or fortune favours the bold?
Adrien Desbaillets (39:47)
OOF, tough one! I would say the bold. I think we need that in today’s world. We need people that are going to take bold steps. I think the sense of urgency especially around climate change is real. I think we need bold minds. We need people that are going to take a bit
Chris Edwards (40:05)
Yeah, totally. And tell me what does community mean for you and your business?
Adrien Desbaillets (40:10)
It’s a great question. It’s something that, you know, is always sort of at the forefront for us. And what we think about community is we think about the partners we work with more than more than ever, actually. So it’s the farms we work with, the people we employ, that was so apparent during COVID, you know, where, unfortunately, some people had to leave us in markets that were very hard hit like the Philippines. But that is, you know, one of our roles, right, because we support sometimes a whole ecosystem of farmers, we can potentially change lives, you know, people’s health and impact that, you know, their own life. Right. And, you know, we’ve realised this, especially in the developing markets, is sometimes the job that someone holds supports a whole family. And that’s, that’s huge to us. And that’s something we care very deeply about.
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Chris Edwards (41:05)
Totally. Have you got a favourite business book?
Adrien Desbaillets (41:09)
The one recently I read was Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. So that’s a pretty short read. I think. I try to keep my books short these days or, you know, just little snippets, but it’s great, because it gives you such a wide perspective on business. I mean, it’s not just business, obviously, it’s about life as well. But yeah, some great insights in that one.
Chris Edwards (41:30)
Have you read The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss? That’s his most famous book.
Adrien Desbaillets (41:34)
Not yet actually. Thats next on the list.
Chris Edwards (41:40)
Yeah, um, yes, I love Tim Ferriss. But yes, he’s very well known for the four hour workweek. Okay. And last question, we believe, at Launchpad and at honeycombers, that a rising tide floats all boats? So I’d love to know. Do you have an entrepreneur that you think we should invite onto this podcast?
Adrien Desbaillets (41:54)
Delete adrien silence from 41.54 to 41.56
Adrien Desbaillets (41:56)
Yeah, I think there are few young entrepreneurs in Singapore that I think are trying to solve some big problems. I would say probably one that is really going to create a lot of waves in the sustainability spaces is Grace Sai? She is someone who has,
Adrien Desbaillets (42:16)
You know, I studied the whole climate tech space quite well, and I think is onto something that is very scalable. And I think that’s what we need, right? In that space. I think we need people that are going to try to solve a very big problem, and it can solve it for SMEs. Because again, we all obviously, immediately think about the resources we have and, and how we will to get something like that done. She’s setting up a platform that I think is going to be very powerful.
Chris Edwards (42:48)
Oh, awesome. I will hunt down Grace Sai and get her on the podcast. Adrian, it’s been a delight. I’m totally inspired by your story. Thank you for sharing it with me and with all my listeners here today. And we look forward to following your journey and seeing SaladStop go deeper in Southeast Asia. So thank you very much.
Adrien Desbaillets (43:08)
Thanks so much. Hope to see you in Singapore soon or back in Singapore.
Chris Edwards (43:12)
Yeah, back in Singapore for sure.
Adrien Desbaillets (43:14)
All right. Thanks.