Travin Singh, founder and CEO of Less & Co, shares his recipe for success: Start at 70%
Join us in a candid conversation with Travin Singh, the visionary founder of LESS & CO., a company transforming food waste into delightful beverages. From crafting beer to soft drinks, Travin’s mission is clear: significantly cut global food waste and create value for everyone involved. In this engaging chat, Travin unveils the real, raw journey of the past few years—a journey far from linear. His authenticity shines as he shares the challenges and triumphs of navigating the unexpected, from launching at 70% to downsizing his team to growing into Japan. Tune in to glean insights from an entrepreneur dedicated to sustainability, honesty, and making a positive impact. A conversation that’s as refreshing as his upcycled creations!
01:31 Travin’s Journey and Inspiration
03:26 Starting Crust and Crop
05:48 Challenges and Pivot during COVID-19
08:38 Educating about Upcycling and Sustainable Products
10:05 Improving Product Quality and Reducing Overhead
12:14 Fundraising and Expansion into Japan
16:22 Reducing Overhead and Right-Sizing the Team
18:46 Importance of Hiring the Right People
22:02 Expansion Strategy in Japan
- Chris Edwards, founder of Launchpad and The Honeycombers, and host of the Good Business podcast
- Travin Singh, founder and CEO of Less & Co
Good Business goes behind the scenes of the leaders of good businesses, who have people, planet and profit at the core of their mission. Follow the show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Chris Edwards (00:02.186)
Welcome to the Good Business podcast. This is a podcast really designed to help you understand how you can create a business that is good for people, planet, but also the profit line. Hi, my name is Chris Edwards. I’m a serial entrepreneur and you may know me from my first business, Anikomas, which is a digital lifestyle guide in Singapore, Hong Kong and Bali. And we’re now in our 15th year of operation.
Or maybe you might know me actually as the founder of Launchpad, which is a community of conscious entrepreneurs. And we have about 600 members in the Launchpad community across Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Bali, and Malaysia and other countries. But yes, they’re my two day jobs, but let’s talk about this podcast. So today we’re going to sit down with Travans Singh, who is the founder of Lesson Co. Lesson Co. produce beer and soft drink from
upcycled products. Travin’s mission is to reduce global food waste substantially while also creating value for producers, consumers and the environment. I absolutely loved this chat today with Travin. He was very, very real and raw and honest about the journey he’s been on for the last three or four years, which has definitely not been a straight line. I got a lot out of it and I hope you do too. So let’s get into it.
Chris Edwards (01:31.406)
Hey, Travin, so great to have you on the pod with us today. I know you’re insanely busy, so I really appreciate your time. So let’s get straight into it. Can you just share with us a little bit about your journey and really the inspiration behind really, I suppose, Crust and Crop and the Lesson Co -group?
Sure. Yeah, I think first and foremost, thank you for the opportunity, right, and to be a part of this podcast. I think generally there’s three things that I really wanted to to live by, whether it’s personal or professional, and it was mostly to create impact in three categories. People, product and systems. So that is kind of like how Crust and Crop and Less & Co. also started. Hmm. And maybe you can just explain to our listeners, what is Crust and Crop and how do they deliver on this mission? Sure. So I run a company called Less & Co., which is a group level. And essentially Less & Co. is a sustainable consumer platform where we create different sustainable consumer brands, focusing on the beverage space at least now and in the next three years. So crust is where we predominantly upcycle like bread and rice surplus into beer. But we have also done a lot of smaller collaborations where we’ve upcycled coffee, quinoa, pumpkin, pineapple, apple, et cetera, into beer as well. And then crop is where we upcycle predominantly fruits and vegetables surplus. So like the skin, the peel, the core, the rind those that are not being maximized into a healthier soda. So it’s clean label and very much reduced sugar soda. Yeah, cool. And so when did you have this moment in life? Or was it a moment or was it a like a, I suppose more of a journey to get to this point where you kind of had the realization that you wanted to do something that was going to have real impact? I will say it’s more of a journey growing up. So I don’t come from much. poor kid said, oh, not me, I said like my parents and you know, they don’t have much, they don’t earn a very high income. You know, so growing up with my mom, when she could sort of family, and if we don’t finish the meal, she will incorporate today’s meal into something new tomorrow. And it was her way of like basically maximizing our resources. It’s not because she was a sustainability advocate or anything, right? She has no idea what that word even meant. Yeah, so just by visually,
Travin Singh (03:53.358)
Seeing that, you know, growing up, understanding that, you know, you, even if you don’t have much, you can still kind of maximize your resource was how it all started in terms of the upcycling side. Um, YFMB, I’ve always been a huge fan of food, how something super small can have so many impact in terms of community. And, you know, you can create something really cheap or really expensive out of it, you know, so I’ve been a foodie all my life. Um, I’ve also loved to be a, like I was sort of home brewing for a while. So all of this just kind of.
kind of fell into place and then yeah, Crust started first. Right. Okay, so Crust was the first product that you kind of came up with. And so how did you come up with Crust? Oh, wow. I failed miserably first. So I have a fail fast motto, right? I don’t overthink. So I think I did two batches. I had some leftover bread at home and I did a couple of batches of beer and it was really horrendous. And then I had
I traveled to California for a month and a half and I was working in different breweries for free just as sort of an internship, anywhere
between one to three days. And I think I got better. I understood the commercial aspect of brewing beer better and came back, did a couple more test batches and with a lot much, much better success rate. And then I launched, before I went and create a company, I told myself I have to launch it on Instagram first.
show my homebrew batches, put in exactly what I’m doing. And if in the first one week, I already had the name crossed in mind. So in the first one week, if I’m able to get 30 followers, then I will go on Acra and set up a company. And I guess, thankfully, we, I think we hit 30 in like two days. So I was like, okay, cool. We were kind of onto something. And how long ago is this? What year was this, Trevan? So this was back in 2019, early 2019. Yeah. So.
2019 was, I would say January to April was when the whole R &D and Instagram and US happened. Then April was when I set up the company. And then April to November was when I was sort of setting up the infrastructure around Singapore, which is a really difficult market to kind of operate in because it’s really high cost, manpower manufacturing, really small market. I was calling different breweries to contract manufacture. I was calling different bakeries to get the off cuts and then just trying to
Travin Singh (06:17.582)
to also build my base within the FMB industry. And September we launched, very small batch. November we had our first hire and then COVID hit. Perfect timing, right? So what did you do through COVID? The Vive, like everybody else. I think when COVID hit, the realization became super quick, right? That we have to pivot because the business initially was focused a lot on B2B. So selling to the bars and restaurants, you know, and…
I had no web store whatsoever, no website. So within, I think, a few days, we had to put a website and a website together. And then we started doing our own deliveries. So I think at one point we’re doing like 18, 19 deliveries across Singapore just to kind of get a bit of revenue in and survive. And then, yeah, a lot of things has happened since. But I would say like moving to e -commerce was our very first focus. Yeah, right.
Wow. It’s so, I mean, I find COVID such an interesting time to have lived through as a business owner because, you know, I don’t think there’s been anything like it in my lifetime, but the markets just stopped. And my business, Honeycomers, was, I think, gosh, maybe in year 11, 12, like we were quite established, but our revenues just stopped from one night, from one month to the next. And at the time I had 30 staff, like it was terrifying. And I’m really glad I lived to tell the tale.
But it really, I mean, that’s where Launchpad for me came from. Like it really made you dig deep and think about what do you want to do and like what can you do, but also what do you want to be remembered for and what, you know, like I had, it was really massive, existential questions that were raised to me. But yeah, it’s, it’s so, like I still.
reflect and there’s so much trauma from that period, but so much growth, you know? But yes, coming back to your journey, when you started in 2019, I mean, I noticed actually on your Instagram account now, you’re still educating people about what is upcycling, but I imagine back in 2019, it would have been even harder. Do you feel like there’s been a big shift and is there like, is there a? a strong demand in Singapore for, you know, sustainable and impact led products? Or do you think it’s still kind of still growing?
Travin Singh (08:38.765)
Well, I’m probably going to be a devil’s advocate for that second question. I would say back in 2019, it was a lot more educating. So we were basically educating more on the sustainability side, more so than the product itself. Right now it’s so much easier because I think through COVID, everybody a lot more aware, not just in terms of
environmentally conscious brands and what needs to be done, but also like what is good for your body and like what to put into your body. Definitely not beer, but then that’s where Crop came in. So, but there’s still a perceived mentality. There’s still a perceived mentality whereby if you tell someone is upcycled and is using like surplus food, more often they will be a little bit hesitant. Yeah. So I think right now we’re doing a whole rebranding where it’s basically just craft beer.
But on the label, on the label, we will put in how many grams of food saved and we do the storytelling on the label. But first and foremost, try the product and then you let me know if it actually tastes like an upcycled beer because nobody has that perspective. So that’s really interesting. So you’re actually thinking that actually being, I suppose, it’s not a USP to say it’s upcycled. In fact, you kind of need to tell people after they’ve tasted it.
That’s super interesting.
And quite, I can imagine quite a big shift in strategy for you guys.
100%. I think when we first entered the market from a commercial standpoint, I don’t think our product was good enough, but I’m also usually the kind of person where I believe in bringing a 70 % product into the market, not a 100 % product. Cause I feel like if you, if you bring a hundred percent product into the market, you’re too late. So the idea was bringing a 70 % product into the market and let the market tell you exactly what it needs and what needs to be improved.
So we did that and I think after about two and a half years was when our product hit really high quality and consistent. And then we also reduced our costs. And I would say that started really shifting the entire dynamics of the company and where it could really go towards. And we started building.
Travin Singh (10:51.086)
a little bit more on the branding side of things and we know we were not too worried about the upcycle side anymore. And then one year ago, we had another whole restructure altogether. That is so interesting.
And I just want to go back to that 70 % perfect analogy, because I actually think this is something that a lot of entrepreneurs get wrong. I think a lot of people want it to be perfect and they don’t want to go to the market with something that’s, you know, I suppose, half -baked or not good enough.
But I 100 % agree with you, Travin. It’s better to get it out there and improve and learn and grow and get the feedback, but get some runs on the board and get some revenue, right? And improve as you go, you know? And people like to see products evolve and get better and, you know, they can be part of the journey with you, right? But I just think that’s a really, it’s great to hear you say that. And I don’t.
I reckon a lot of people aren’t even brave enough to say that actually. I think they don’t want to, I want to confess that it was only 70 % good or, you know, cause everyone’s just trying to say the right things about their product or, you know, but yeah, I really appreciate your honest and I suppose it’s like that, you know, constant improvement kind of ethos. I totally agree with it. So tell me about day to day life now at Lesson Co. Like you mentioned.
off air that you’re fundraising. And I know you’ve launched into Japan. I’d love to dig into that a little bit. But like, if you could share with me, what are the biggest challenges in your business right now? Like where are you spending your time and energy?
The fundraising market right now is brutal. So I think it’s something that and I think it’s especially more brutal for consumer brand and one that is based in APEC. So I mean, it’s not too different in the US and Europe, but I think in Asia, it’s definitely getting a lot tougher.
I do spend a lot of time on the fundraising side of things. I would say in the last one month plus, we have had a lot better traction than before. I think, and that came with our restructuring and right sizing of the company. But essentially, a lot of my day -to -day role, first and foremost, is fundraising, but it’s also to constantly try and look around how we operate and build efficiency.
Travin Singh (13:06.574)
within every single model, whether it’s in manufacturing or marketing or manpower, for example. And I’m also setting myself up so that I will move to Japan right after the fund raise. So I’m actually going to move to Japan once the fund raise is successful. I’ll move there for two years. And my executive team will also move with me and focus on the Japan market because I’m Singaporean, born and bred, right? Love Singapore, but it’s one of those markets where it’s really good to have your group level.
there and focus on investor relations and build the brand and a bit of credibility. But the main revenue generation has to come from other much larger markets. And Japan and on similar markets to Japan, right, where they have a super vibrant like farming and manufacturing culture and community. I would say we have way bigger impact in such markets versus Singapore. And so the fundraising will help get you your
Well, you’ve already expanded into Japan, right?
So in the last two years, we’ve been doing a lot of groundwork. So Japan is the market where it’s really difficult to go from zero to one. But once you hit that one, then one to hundreds is a bit more exponential. So in the last two years, we have actually already secured manufacturers, distributors, clientels, and we have had quite a number of inbound. That means people want the product. But there was one thing that was lacking, an alcohol license.
which is again, brutally difficult to get in Japan. If I’m not wrong, I think about one or two companies will usually get it every year. We were trying for two years, 18 months basically, couldn’t get it. So finally last year we got it. I think when we got the license and we realized, okay, that was the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, right? So now we can fundraise and go to Japan and scale the market there.
Wow, wow. And how do you overcome…
I suppose the cultural nuances of Japan, I mean, Japan’s a very insular culture. Are you going to be proudly Singapore brand or are you going to be proudly made in Japan or how are you positioning the product?
Based on the research and observations that we’ve had so far, I think so less than coal have two brands. Everybody knows exactly what those two brands are, but we have subsets of those two brands. Basically what.
Travin Singh (15:28.948)
What do I mean by that is across Singapore will be different from across Japan because the whole ethos here is to come into a market, work with the government officials, work with all the large corporates, work with the farms and the manufacturers and say that we’re here not to sell you sort of that Singapore story, but we’re here to help Japan reduce waste. And this will be cross Japan or crop Japan. And if we enter Australia, we enter Korea, we enter Indonesia, we will do the exact same.
So it’ll be localizing the brand. Yeah. Correct. Okay. And tell me about your fundraising so far. So where are you at? Is this round number two or three?
So we have done a pre -seed friends and family. We have done a seed one and seed two. So this is our pre -series A. It’s the largest one and the first one we are focusing mainly on institution or family, office or CVCs versus like…
mostly angels of smaller VCs before. Yeah, so that’s what we’re doing. It’s not a big round because we have managed to build efficiency in our models. So we’ve actually reduced our manpower burn by three quarter. So, and our revenues are stating as with when we had the previous team. So we, again, as we’ve growth, right, you also need to think about path to profitability, especially in the current climate.
So that’s something we’re trying to do together for both Singapore and Japan.
And so how did you reduce your overhead? That’s kind of unusual in the stage you’re at, isn’t it? Was that a bit of a correction? Was there an overspend there that you realised that you’re not going to get to the profit point fast enough?
I would say it’s a combination of a few different things. So one is, of course, this is my first time running a company.
You know, so I’m still on this journey to learn myself and how best to be a CEO. So that’s one. Second was some of the members not being the right fit. And then third was, I would say a lot of focus before was also in Japan, but when without the license, it became really difficult for us to scale. We could only do smaller proof of concepts. And when we constantly got rejected, we were like, okay, I think we have to really come back to basics.
Travin Singh (17:46.926)
and focus on getting the basics right and then the license. And then we can start thinking about how to build a proper team. So we basically in the last one year, focus a lot on restructuring and right sizing the way we function.
And do you have advisors? Who’s helping you understand what is the right size? Like who are you? Have you got a board of directors? Yeah, we do. Yes. So we have people from Coke, from Tyebev, Heineken Asia, Marina Basins. So we have really great people on our board.
who really help us understand and they’ve been really supportive of some of the difficult decisions I’ve had to make, you know, just for the survival of the company. So yeah, we do have really great people.
And what’s been the biggest learning for you personally? It sounds like it’s been a wild ride, but yeah, what have you feel like has been the biggest personal step up?
I’m going to be super honest right now, but I will say I’ve had a lot of people come to me and tell me that, you know, people are your best asset.
I think in my journey so far, I’ve totally disagreed with that fact or with that comment. I think the right people are your best headset. That’s the difference that I’ve learned so far. You know, so we were hiring people without really understanding what their character traits were, you know, if they could be a good cultural fit, or even if first and foremost, have we even built a culture within the company yet? You know, so then that became a little bit more tricky over time. And right now, so I had 13 people in the team before.
We have four right now and it’s been the same four in the last one year and all of us are super aligned and we’re bringing the same amount of revenues as before, the 13 combined and we’re doing so much more because we are really aligned with one another and we have complementing, we complement each other skillsets also. So that’s something that I’ve learned over time.
I really appreciate that honest share and I can absolutely relate. I mean, at Honeycomers, we used to have a team of seven salespeople and now we have a team of three.
And our revenues are far higher. Right. And it doesn’t make sense on paper, but it’s like what you say, you know, it’s not actually about people. It’s about the right people. And I think until you have experienced the right people, you don’t actually know what the right people are. You know, it’s like you’re kind of blindfolded until you get someone who’s just amazing at their job. And then the biggest challenge.
Chris Edwards (20:12.974)
which you might not have, but then the biggest challenge is then how do you hold on to those people and keep them engaged and get them to feel like the company is their company as much as it’s your company, right? Like I think that’s, that’s, that’s one of my big focuses, but yeah, I really love that, that insight from you because again, I don’t think it’s something people talk about very much because you know, I suppose it’s a…
a very honest and frank conversation that you have made mistakes and that, you know, you have worked through hiring people that were good, but not good enough, right?
Yeah, I think maybe on that point, I would like to bring up again, part of a memory that I just kind of recalled. So before when I told people in the company, I was the founder, I was very much the founder, and that’s how everybody saw me.
Everybody saw me as the founder, CEO, right? I make the decisions whatsoever and it was the wrong people, wrong faith, wrong culture. And I was plenty of times I felt like I was alone on that journey. Like nobody could really understand, you know, where you’re heading towards. What’s the vision, where this can go, right? And you have to always rah -rah everybody, inspire everybody. And on the other hand, it’s like you going through your own brutal days, right? But then you still have to come to office and try to inspire people on top of that.
But when we ran down to four people and we’re all super aligned and then we transitioned to less than co, right? I think one of the things that I’ve mentioned before also is like, I am no longer a founder. I’m a co -founder of less than co alongside these three other team members that I have. And because they’re all aligned, I don’t have to inspire them. Right. There are moments where they are also inspiring me like through this journey, right. And it’s like, we’re all there for each other and it makes the journey a lot less brutal.
And so are they equity holders in the company? Just out of interest.
Some of them are.
That’s really interesting. Like you need people that own it as much as you do. Yeah, it’s really clever. So Japan’s next, big move to Japan. And basically, I mean, I can see why Japan makes sense. I imagine there’s a lot more beer drunk in Japan than Singapore or other places in Asia, right? Like it’s a big, big culture, but you’re up against Sasahi really, aren’t you? Like, and what’s the other big?
Chris Edwards (22:32.334)
They’ve got some very strong heritage brands, right? Part of their national identity. How are going to crack into that?
Collaborate. I believe the future of food should be more collaborative and less competitive. You know, so such brands have been there, been there, done that probably 80, 100 over years. But Japan is an aging population, but they do have a really big young population still that are
shaping a lot of how consumption is done. So they know these guys have been around for longest time, right? They know they’re not exactly the most sustainable and they’re looking for more better alternative, whether it’s socially, environmentally, etc. So my plan is to not go around taking market share from these big boys first, is to of course take market share from the other craft players, whether it’s beer or soda for example, because it’s a huge soda drinking market.
And then slowly start, you know, being a little bit, showing a bit more awareness of what we can do and what we’re doing for the Japan market. And then hopefully collaborate with one of the big boys.
I love it. I love that your core strategy is collaboration. That’s very inspiring. Travin, what is one piece of advice that’s guided you on this journey? This massive, massive journey.
I think that’s a saying that I sort of live by from day one. So it goes by.
The smaller your reality, the more convinced you are that you know everything. Essentially, the only way to know more is to basically open up your own reality. That means you have to learn, you have to collaborate, you have to listen a little bit more.
Yep. Oh, beginner’s mindset. Have you heard that expression? Constantly learning. I love it. Travin, that was just a delight. I’m very inspired by your journey. I appreciate your time today and also that we went completely off cuff there. So…
A lot of lessons to take from this conversation. I wish you all the best with your fundraising and also the move to Japan. And I look forward to having a crust beer in Japan the next time I’m in Japan.
Yeah, hopefully by the middle of this year. Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate this.
Chris Edwards (24:54.734)
Oh, I just loved that chat with Travin Singh from Less and Co. I just wanted to share my three big takeaways from that.
chat, there were so many, but some clear standouts for me was I loved the way he talked about bringing a 70 % perfect product to market instead of 100 % perfect and that if you wait for it to be perfect, it can be too late and it’s better to get it out there and reiterate and improve as you go. I really enjoyed that piece of advice. The other thing I found incredible was the fact that he downsized his team.
from 13 people to four people. And the quote that stuck in my head is that people are not your best asset, but the right people are your best asset. And then finally, when I said to him, how are you gonna take on asahi in Japan, his answer was just one word, collaboration. And he is really, really certain that the future of food should be collaboration.
And I just thought that’s such a nice message because no matter how big or small your business is, anyone can collaborate. So that’s something that every business owner, it’s a tool that every business owner has in their toolkit. I absolutely adore this conversation. I’m so
inspired by Travin. And if you enjoyed this chat, please share this episode on your socials.
And please follow us and like and comment and share and spread the news about good business podcasts. We really appreciate your support. That’s all from me for today. And I hope to have you here for our next episode. And finally, I just want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, which I record this podcast today. It’s the Arakwal people of the Bundjalung nation. I pay my respects to elders past, present and future.
and I extend my respects to all traditional cultures. My name is Chris Edwards and I hope that this interview leaves you inspired as I am to grow your own good business.