In this episode, Chris chats with Andrew Tsui about creating pockets of green urban farms through Rooftop Republic.
With a mission to bring and regenerative and urban farming to Hong Kong and the rest of Asia, Andrew Tsui and his co-founders created Rooftop Republic. They are city dwellers themselves who saw the impact farming can have on individuals, corporations and communities. Since 2015, they have launched over 80 projects, but that is just scratching the surface. Research suggests that Hong Kong itself has over 6 million square metres of rooftop space that could be utilised for farming, and less than 1% of that was being used. Listen to this episode to learn more about Andrew and his team’s journey and where he thinks the future of food is.
In this conversation we learnt…
– What is Rooftop Republic and how it started (03:18 – 12:41)
– The impact of gardening and being in nature (12:57- 15:12)
– How the team is working with corporations, communities and individuals to drive involvement (15:53 – 19:23)
– Changing mindsets from focusing on yield to focusing on conscious consumption (26:31 – 33:20)
– Andrew’s experience giving a TedX talk (39:11 – 41:24)
“There’s already a lot of research done on how gardening, the act of growing and reconnecting with nature helps us in terms of both our mental and physical well-being” (12:57)
Aside from research, Andrew discovered several benefits of farming through his personal experiences and feedback from participants.
For example, when you are on their rooftop, it’s like time is frozen and you have a bird’s eye view of not just the bustling city, but your life, which allows for a perfect setting for reflection. What’s more, there is a charity aspect of gardening with Rooftop Republic, so you are using your hands to help people who can’t put food on their tables, which also gives you a sense of purpose. But overall, Andrew says it’s really a very relational kind of perspective within a very transactional world.
“One mindset that I would encourage us to break down is that corporations and communities are separate. At the end of the day, corporations are made up of people, and they go back to their home, then they’re also neighbours, they’re parents and they’re brothers and sisters.” (15:53)
As Rooftop Republic primarily has a B2B business model, they work with large MNCs, building owners and building management companies. But at its core they believe they are not engaging the entity itself, but they are engaging the people of the entity. And that is the transformation that they bring in, which will then have a lasting impact on the society and the state where we’re playing a different role.
“The question about urban farming – is it a painkiller or is it a vitamin?” (27:20)
If we bring in urban farming when we’re already in pain – i.e. when we are in crises such as the pandemic, then it’s just a stopgap measure, and might already be too late. Instead, we should increase education and investment in urban farming to build our resilience and ability to face the future. Within the last generation, we have forgotten the process of bringing food to our table, and now just view it as a product. Reconnecting that broken link is what Andrew and Rooftop Republic find to be important.
“The danger of thinking [of food as just a product] is that today up to 40% of food produced is being wasted.” (28:12)
When thinking about food today, it is no longer sufficient to just talk about getting food onto people’s tables as more production ultimately leads to more wastage. A new understanding and education is required to comprehend the importance of food. The fastest or most impactful way to achieve that is to get people to grow the food themselves. Then they understand the time and effort invested into making food and would less likely waste it in the future.
“If somebody gives you an awesome opportunity, and you’re not sure if you can do it, say yes first and then learn how to do it later. And I guess what I would only add is make sure you deliver and make sure you do a great job in the end.” (42:15)
This famous Richard Branson quote is one of Andrew’s favourites. But he also believes that it’s important to follow through and deliver. For the projects he is worried about, he conducts extensive research and analysis, double-checks everything and only then completes the project.
Chris Edwards (03:03)
Hi, Andrew, welcome to the podcast. I’m really intrigued with your story and your business. So thank you for joining me here today.
Andrew Tsui (03:10)
Thank you, Chris. Great pleasure.
Chris Edwards (03:12)
So let’s start off with can you share with our listeners, what is rooftop Republic?
Andrew Tsui (03:18)
Yeah, simply a two way set group of people who identify or discover either spaces in cities, and then we turn them into urban farms. And if we then invite the community to grow food together. So then the most iconic, idle space in cities, most of them are rooftops, is very densely populated cities, we go upwards, right. So that therefore rooftop, and then the Republic is about the community, which we then grow for together. So Rooftop Republic.
Chris Edwards (03:54)
Oh, I love it. I love it. And I understand that you have three co-founders yourself, Michelle and Paul, who came up with the idea. How did the idea come about?
Andrew Tsui (04:08)
Yeah, um, we’re actually a bunch of city boys and girls. So none of us actually have agriculture background, we serve in different capacity in corporate and in NGOs. Actually, Paul and I met first over a book club discussing social transformation, building social capital, there was a discussion group about urban farming, and that’s about 10 years ago. And other farming is not new. And then farming, this lot of people have been doing or growing food in their own backyard spaces. But it’s just it’s been done in a very, very, almost like a hobby or weekend hobby style. I came from the civil engineering background with a little bit of real estate experience. We’re just sitting down and trying to extend that imagination. Can we find space? Right? Because if you want to grow for you, in cities, especially, and city space is so precious, how do we identify those spaces? Can we make it into a little bit more? Like? What’s your business model, you know, sustainable business model. That’s I guess that’s how we started the experiment, the conversation and start to talk to friends, talk to different connections to see whether we could locate our first urban space and start growing.
Chris Edwards (05:37)
And so you found your first urban space. I’m interested how this came about, you obviously approached someone and said, hey, you’ve got a rooftop you’re not using? Can we do this on your rooftop? What’s your relationship with the landlord? Are they your customer? Are they your landlord? Or how does it work?
Andrew Tsui (05:56)
I think prior to us farming, mostly I’ve done either in a space that is owned by the person who’s practicing it. Or they will just do a leasing, right, they ran a space with people, either indoor or outdoor, grow food, and then sell to the market. This is very much in a way, transactional kind of model. However, one question, I guess, I’m asking myself or challenging the team is that if we really see urban farming, you know, we really would like to, to grow into a movement, then we need to, fundamentally or radically changed this kind of trend, this type of transactional thinking, instead, could we explore a way almost like a placemaking, you know, as a service, so we help to transform a space well, very boring dowel, you know, gray code, right, forgotten rooftop, or somewhere balcony. And we put idea creativity into that, Mickey green, and then we even invite the owner, we invite the tenants of the building, right to participate and start growing food together. So we provide the knowledge we provide the support. So instead of renting, or instead of paying for that space, can we form a form of collaboration, then get this space free! To start with, right to test the concept, right? And even further instead? Right? If we really do it well, we are really creating value, can we even charge it as a service? Can we start earning some of some income, right to support even employment for people who, who then can be trained right to grow the food for the community. So this little step by step. And that’s how we ended up with our first project with a corporate client who loved the idea, who has some idle rooftops and formed a partnership with us and entrust us with the space and even pay us a little service fee to maintain the space for them?
Chris Edwards (08:17)
Yeah, how interesting. So initially, you kind of have to go in and sell the concept, really, for your landlords to give you the space and even pay you to create what you’re creating to make the economics work. Because that’s one thing that I find really interesting, is because it is a new industry, and there’s probably people who haven’t done this before. There’s no set precedent on the way it works. And it needs to be in a sustainable business model. Otherwise, it won’t work. Right. So you need to, obviously, make enough money to pay for it. Have you got volunteers that work? Or do you have staff that works? What’s the makeup of your team?
Andrew Tsui (09:02)
Well, it started with mainly the founders. So we have a really small core team. We do everything ourselves. And that’s how I guess most of the startups started with the right founders. We have support with friends. So a few are friends, founders, family, and then some fool who puts in some money and says, hey, you know, we like the idea, but we are too busy with our lifestyle. But I would like to see you succeed or even see you fail quickly. Yeah, so we’re really encouraged by them. So we’ve collected a bit of startup, almost like the startup capital, I think. I think the key is that at that stage, it was still proving the concept right? It’s still trying to test out whether the idea works. So we work with mainly the founders and then we have some friends coming up to help. But one thing I think we’re very clear is that we don’t want to stay like that. Or we prefer to test out a model which we can pay out for people’s time and services to really test out. Can there be a business model around that? So I think that it sets us a bit apart from the rest at the early stage is with this consciousness to really test out to see if it can be a business model.
Chris Edwards (10:30)
And so where are you in that stage? Where are you on that journey
Andrew Tsui (10:34)
since then? This was seven years ago with about 80 projects in China, around 80, over 80 projects in Hong Kong?
Chris Edwards (10:45)
Wow, a lot of gardens, right?
Andrew Tsui (10:48)
It is, it is in over 50% of them. I will say small to medium size, which owners own the space. That’s about I say around four 30% of them are with corporates. So they are on high rise buildings. And one of them I think is told us in could be in Asia, I will say, yeah, it’s at 1000 feet above sea level, which is 300 meter above sea level. And yeah, those are commercial buildings in the central business districts. So we would typically do commercial buildings and convert those rooftops into farms.
Chris Edwards (11:32)
And those commercial buildings are your clients, the landlords of the building, who want to create the space for their tenants is that the model,
Andrew Tsui (11:43)
We have three types, one, of course, the landlord, the developers themselves, right, so this is clients that own those spaces. But also we have clients who are the key tenants of the building. So International, like MNC multinational firms, who rented a few floors of that building, and then the key stakeholder right off the landlord, we engage them. And they would actually have a good bargaining power with the tenant to be able to transform their rooftop, right, because they lease out the top floors with the rooftop. And that type of client, and then the third tier of the clientele is the management companies. So they manage buildings for the landlord, and as part of the value add services to the landlord. So they engage us to convert those spaces as farms. Yeah, and then provide values for the tenants.
Chris Edwards (12:41)
Cool, I presume, obviously, it’s great to be closer to your food source from an environmental impact. But I understand that urban farming has other benefits. Do you want to share with us like why are people building rooftop gardens?
Andrew Tsui (12:57)
Primarily, I think for us our human needs, as a human being. Naturally, we need sunlight, with fresh air, and accessibility to green, they naturally kind of cheers us up. And there’s already a lot of research done on how gardening or even the act of growing food in a reconnection, reconnecting with nature help us in terms of our mental well being in terms of our physical well being. So the direct kind of impact is from a very personal experience, and all the participants that have shared with us their experiences, when we are attending to the garden, right? Almost like time is frozen, you’re just at this very quiet rooftop, well, the ground floor is very busy, right? It’s very a lot of cars, a lot of people, but the moment you go to the rooftop, you don’t hear the noises of the city, right? But you have this awesome view around right 360, around the lovely city that you are in, you set your perspective and a different level. And you’re able to have a bird’s eye view about your life, you know, it’s a good time to do a lot of reflection as well. And then you’re attending to the garden. Of course, you know, and that in that process, depending on the nature of the garden, some of the garden, we are also growing for the community with a donation so that there’s a charity means so it’s not just about growing food and feed yourself, but also you are helping your city to be greener. But at the same time, you’re also growing the food for people who can’t put food on the table. So there’s a lot of different sense of purpose coming back to life. So I guess, I guess different slides are different parts of that experience for different people. But overall, you know, this really a very relational kind of perspective away from the very transactional world.
Chris Edwards (15:12)
Oh, Andrew, I love that, that is so compelling as an offering that it’s so much deeper than growing vegetables. You know, it’s getting space, getting perspective, taking yourself out of your everyday environment, mental health, and giving back. I imagine that when people hear you talk about Rooftop Republic, that you must get a lot of people in undated on, I want one of these on my Rooftop. And I presume your marketing strategy would be word of mouth is that one of your core strategies?
Andrew Tsui (15:53)
Yes, indeed, through satisfied clients. And our business model primarily is still at a b2b level, although we have a lot of touch point with end consumer or people who are gardening, right, so you can kind of categorise them on the b2b to see, but to us, I think we never see them as a different journey. This ultimately, the way we are seeing it is corporates, or even landlords, I think, communities, a lot of times they see them as you know, on the opposite side of that spectrum. That’s the community and this is another large corporations, by thing, you know, one challenge mindset that I would encourage us to kind of break down is that corporates is made up of people, you know, when when they go back to their home, then they’re also neighbours, they’re parents and they’re brothers and sisters, right. So when we engage corporations, I think we have a very clear mission: we are not engaged during the entity itself, but we are engaging the people of the entity. And that that transformation we bring in, then will bring a lasting impact back to the society and back to the state where we’re playing a different role.
Chris Edwards (17:10)
I suppose. To your point, then do you feel like people think of corporations differently from small businesses? And don’t treat them with the same values? Or the same impact? But, you know, people make up corporations? Is that what your point is there?
Andrew Tsui (17:26)
Well, I think there is a growing, I would say feelings, I guess this polarisation in terms of, of community building, especially I think in big cities, like Hong Kong, or even Singapore, right, the city that I also live in for 20 years. So naturally, people feel this disconnection with cooperation and community. But when we, as we are learning over the past seven years, when actively engaging corporates, and in the partnership, we also see ourselves as that bridge to breach in different perspectives coming in. And I think we’re beginning to see the change. I give you a very concrete example about seven, eight years ago, when we approached corporations and we talked about space, and all that the space at the rooftop on their buildings, I think naturally, they will see those spaces as a very privatised space that is owned by the landlord. Right. So there’s a lot of focus in the conversation about ownership, right. However, over these years, we hear much less about that ownership, but so much more about utilisation, so much more about engagement, so much more about inviting the wider community to be able to come in and enjoy the space. So that, at least from our perspective, is is we see a transformation as well. From the mentality. And I think that part of the active engagement is always creating some positive impact.
Chris Edwards (19:23)
Hmm. Wow, that’s fascinating. And so powerful to think that your company is bridging the divide between yeah, like I suppose it’s an us versus them kind of mentality. I want to ask you, how do people get involved? Like if they wanted to have a rooftop garden or even have a garden themselves? Like what do you say to people who are inspired by what you’re doing? And like, I’d love to grow my own veggies, but it’s hard. What would you say?
Andrew Tsui (19:57)
Yeah, we get that a lot. Hong Kong is well known for its shoe box size apartments, right? And everybody’s just stacking up on one another. And buildings are so close together, you almost can shake hands with your neighbour, or, like, during a pandemic, you can just fly a wire and yeah, share a cup of noodle, you know, that kind of thing. So space is, I think it’s a mentality or concept that we need to kind of break or we have, we need to help people to see the potential of unlocking right, those spaces. Even without a balcony, or without a backyard or front yard, right? How can we, as a neighbourhood, you know, identify those, either spaces? And once we identify those spaces, then it’s all about pulling in people together, right with the same mindset. So I think the first step we do is we put like minded people together, right? By ourselves, I think, we walked through the journey as a city boy and girls, as I was mentioning, right, without knowing how to grow food, we went through the journey ourselves. And I think that’s also part of the mission of Rooftop Republic is to make it really accessible and simple. I’m not saying easy, right, and never use the word easy. It’s not easy, it’s tough work. But it can be simplified. It can be when developing that playbook, right to enable people to do that. How to identify the space around your community, right, and then how to share your thoughts. Share your ideas with other people and invite them to form groups to help one another. And at the end of the day, right? They are still Rooftop Republic or I mean, many are our friends or partners, right? Who are practising urban farming, and we are very happy to help out and provide support. And one key element I would strengthen or stress on is still the local farmers. And I think a lot of times when we think about the local farmers to city people, probably they’re just you know, very hardworking a group of specialised skillful person who has been practising this trait for years for generations who are growing food for us, by thing their role could extend so much more with urban farming – they can be our mentor, right? They can be the person who’s also the carer for the farms, they are the specialists actually. So, in a way, we also see the importance of elevating that row of farmers to a skill being a very skilled professional, who are the steward right, who are who are actually our master to support us, then we can be the person who have our professional job who contribute to our economy, but at the same time, we are also very connected and have the ability to grow food during our spare time. So, that is a way of collaboration or I would say a new way of thinking or collaborating, reconnecting back to the community farmers that are around our neighbourhood, they may be living in the fringe of our urban cities depend on makeup of the city, right, they could be in the suburb, they could be in the rural area, but with urbanisation, we can we are also seeing that cities are expanding. And a lot of times they are also their land to be disrupted or their lifestyle to be disrupted by this entire development right of our urban lifestyle. So instead, we with urban farming, then be more inclusive and find a new role or find a new opportunity for them as well to develop this entire new economy right with the farmers, right and elevating that professional skill set. So that’s a little bit of that community, local support economy around where we are experimenting as well. Moving forward and in the next few years, I will say we are putting more energy or resources into thinking how our cities could be more resilient, you know, even in terms of food, not just production, but come in community capital, social capital community engagement. How our City on its own, you know, on this resilience and on livability on these two key issues.
Chris Edwards (25:05)
Yeah, wow. And I suppose COVID was a really good little bit of a case study of crises that are going to keep coming. Right? And with COVID, we saw that actually having a local food source is wildly important. And I know, in Australia, we all went straight to our veggie patch. And literally, you went to the gardening store in Australia, it was all sold out, like everyone was gardening madly because we were panicking, that it was a really big wake up call that we do need to be more responsible for our food source could cause food shortages can happen really easily. And the world’s only gonna get more turbulent with global warming and the climate crisis.
I suppose what’s holding rooftop Republic back right now? Like are you growing rapidly? Or what are the challenges that you’re facing right now? Well,
Andrew Tsui (26:31)
I think pandemic, interestingly, like what you say, right, it’s a wake up call to a lot of people. And so those who are really fortunate, right, and now we see this really fortunate, right, you have a patch, you have an open space that actually could be used or utilised as growing food, right. But I think at the same time, it’s also a wake up call for many cities if we look left and right and suddenly realise that not so many people know how to grow food, we kind of lost that skill set, right? With one generation. And it’s forgotten, right. And we’re so used to food being outsourced. We’re so used to food being just a well packaged product on the shelf. Right? And not forgotten about this whole story about that, and the whole process of how it actually comes to our table. And I think it is very similar to many things right? Like once because this current lifestyle that we are living, we outsource our education. We even outsource parenting a lot of times, I think that without going into those deeper issues, but I think it’s a very similar thing is the kind of mindset that we are challenging ourselves or, like when you say, the kind of gravity challenge that we are seeing with our generation is food is being outsourced and being seen as a product. How then, through this type of activity, or through this type of conversation, we reconnect this broken link? Why is it so important? I think, during a crisis, we understand the importance of resilience, right? The importance of the capability of growing food right within that vicinity of the community. However, during peacetime, how do we build in that mechanism? Or how do we groom the generation that’s able or have the capability to be able to respond to that crisis? is almost the question about is urban farming a painkiller? Or is it a vitamin, right? So if it’s not a painkiller, it’s not something that will help you to relieve your pain, you know, but you only think about it when you’re already in pain. And by then it’s already too late. So that I guess it’s not only just a challenge, but I will say I will put this challenge for free to all of us to think about how we can help our community to build up that resilience, how we can rethink resources. But also one more important question that we need to ask is, is farming or is growing food all about productivity, all about you? Because I think out of the 10 investors you talk to that are interested in farming. The first thing they will ask probably is what is the yield of your production method? What is the yield technology that you are using, what is the yeild of the seed? What is the yield of the fertiliser? Right? What is productivity? The danger of thinking that way is today, in our world today 40% of food is being produced. So it’s almost like we can, we can simply just say that more production today leads to only more wastage without the proper education, or reconnection of the end consumer with food, without the new understanding, right, renew understanding of the importance of having food. And the single thing we see as the most impactful or powerful, aha moment for people is by putting them into a program or into activity to grow the food themselves. And once they’ve gone through that action, they realise that, oh, food takes so much time, so much effort, right? That will come to me. And TAs, I will need to treasure it. Without that change, or the resource capital that is pumping efficiency into you is only leading to waste. But at the same time, those methods are having a devastating effect on the land. And it’s causing the land to be infertile, which is basically pumping Botox into that land, causing longer lasting damages. So when it comes to food, our food system is really a complex kind of issue. And it takes probably years of practising, understanding. And this is like our journey, right. But I think for us for Rooftop Republic coming back is that we see the importance of dissecting that into very simple, doable steps and experience engaging, whether it’s adults, whether it’s youth, the next generation, to really allow our city dwellers to have this journey of rethinking and rediscovery themselves. And without that enlightenment, right or without that awakening, the status quo will only lead to a very unsustainable system that way, apparently.
Chris Edwards (32:30)
So do you feel like we’re in the middle of a food revolution?
Andrew Tsui (32:34)
We are, we are definitely I would, probably wouldn’t, would not be able to pinpoint where we are now. But I think with COVID, and the new normal, the awakening has happened. Of course, good and bad, the good is many people are looking for a solution, many people are aware that our current system is broken. But i guess, the bigger question or what we need to act fast now is how to help each other to find out a way which is the true solution rather than a problem which, or longer term problem, which is seen as a shorter, shorter term solution.
Chris Edwards (33:20)
It’s such a big topic, isn’t it? And I love the fact that as an urban farmer, you’re holistically looking at not just the production of food, but also the education of consumers and the waste of food. You know, that percentage that we waste is horrific. And I do think if people understood how hard it was to grow, they would have a different attitude or a different approach to not wasting those resources. So I think that’s a really important part of what Rooftop Republic is doing. Just going back to my question earlier, like, what is the biggest challenge right now for Rooftop Republic? What is holding you guys back from growing faster? Is that a goal to grow faster to create more farms? Is that something that you’re trying to do? And are there limitations with funding or with awareness? Or what is holding you back at the minute?
Andrew Tsui (34:18)
I’ve actually probably touched on a little bit along the way, again, it’s not as straightforward as it is because I like the word that you use faster, right. So speed, I think in the traditional or startup sense, it is how to speed up that scaling up process. Right? But interestingly, there’s a little part to it in community building or in the journey of building social capital, right what we’ve realised this time is the currency of that relational transformation. And a lot of great things take time. So, in Chinese, there’s a word called Kung Fu, right? Probably a lot of people have heard about kung fu. And straightaway, they probably think about martial art, right? But in the philosophical term, Kung fu is time is the amount of time you spend in developing the art. So it’s almost like an artisan practice. And, that is where you spend Kung Fu. If you spend time into Kung fu, practising the martial art, then you become that kung fu master, not because you are very skillful, but because you are the one who spent the most time right thinking about that, practising that and building it into your life daily. So I’m trying to see whether there’s a simple way of putting in everything, but because it’s actually there’s so much thinking and philosophy at the back of what we’re doing today, right. So what we’re trying to do again to develop is how to build in such a mindset of Kung fu, of time, the essence of time into making urban farming a lifestyle of city lifestyle, a new city lifestyle, and I think when sustainability or green lifestyle is no more something you only do at your convenience, but become a philosophy become a daily live right become something that you practise every day. So, the way we are hoping to see we have high hope, or we have a huge vision is that urban farming will almost or Urban farms will almost become like a gym, like a, like a swimming pool, in all our future city development plan, you know, that, that there won’t be a hotel? Who’s five star without an urban farm? It becomes that fabric. Right? And I think that is the journey or that is the the division that we have, or the the success, right? The or the milestone of success, when we see a man farming really become that that very fabric of urban living. So where does speed or or fast is that language that we need to use? Probably but at the same time, how do we go deep? How do we really develop that on a horizontal scale? We form collaboration with others, we have this speed up that knowledge transfer process. We speed up the development of the story, the playbook to enable more people to start doing it. But at the same time, I think we also need to go deep and really spend the Kong Fu. Right. And develop this into the Kung Fu farmer.
Chris Edwards (38:22)
Oh, I love it. I love it. I love it. And I think, you know, when you’re trying to change culture, it’s going to take time and it’s a very big ambition and I love kung fu. I love it. It’s a new word I’m gonna add to my repertoire, but you’re right and if we had as many urban farms as what we did gyms, we wouldn’t need as many gyms right? People go to the gym to make themselves feel better. So many, so many questions for you, you did a TED talk. And I wanted to just ask you about that. I know lots of entrepreneurs will be listening to this podcast, but I wanted to ask you, how was your experience? What was the impact that that TED talk has had on you and your business?
Andrew Tsui (39:11)
Yeah, um, that was a TedX, and compass. So it’s together as part of the environment movement. And I think the focus was very much in terms of climate issues, or climate change. And I think, as an entrepreneur, what I’m learning myself, is really about sharing your idea is really about not just, you know, mumbling about your idea, but trying to dissect it or trying to simplify is such that it captures the audience’s imagination. So I hope I’m doing an okay job for now. Sometimes, you know, I think, I love your questions, and they’re really, really sent me into a deeper thought and reflection as well. But ultimately, how do we share our idea, you know, with a very simple form, or using an energy that really people understand. So in the preparation of the Ted talk, I did so much research. I practically have a renewed understanding of what I have been doing for the past four or five years, right. And through that Ted talk, it kind of helped me crystallise a lot of things that even for myself, so I will really, really encourage all the entrepreneurs out there or, or even anyone, right, who has the opportunity to, to go through that Ted or TedX, or any type of experience, or even just public speaking, or even podcast, right, or interface like this thing. Every time, I personally when I went through sessions like that new ideas come in a new consolidation of thoughts sets in.
Chris Edwards (41:24)
Isn’t that great. And isn’t it so powerful? Just the practice of trying to articulate what it is that you’re doing, and why you’re doing it in a really simple format, very powerful for yourself and for your ability to communicate who you are. Andrew, I want to ask you, we always close out our podcast interviews with some rapid fire questions. So I want to know, do you have any mantras or business advice that you roll around in your head and that you live by?
Andrew Tsui (41:55)
I think, for us, when we were when I personally started doing urban farming 10 years ago. , as we were chatting and talking about it, it wasn’t really a thing yet it was really a hobby. And I think when we have our first client, and when the client offers us a fantastic rooftop, it’s actually a helicopter landing a decommissioned model. So there’s no more helicopter landing, the city has developed so much. Yeah. And there’s tall buildings around it, so they can’t land helicopters anymore, but it’s actually very exposed. And there’s a typhoon in Hong Kong. So it’s different from a country like Singapore, right? Different, different kinds of climate are better. And with really just very new, and with it is an awesome, fantastic opportunity to us really, you know, to have a concept being proven or being tested on a rooftop like this. But at the same time, there’s also a lot of fear. There’s a lot of different advice coming in, you know, from the experienced grower from the farm from the people, you know, we consult our friends. Although I studied civil engineering, but still, you know, we consult advices and that there’s a lot of good advice, right to say, oh, there’s a huge grease in it, you’re putting a farm, you know, loading in onto a rooftop and at the same time, so expose, things might not grow well, and this this lot of, I guess, different voices and created a lot of self doubts in your heart, and there’s this constant battle around. However, I like Richard Branson. This is almost like a role model of entrepreneur to me, one of one of the many great entrepreneurs. And I remember one quote that he mentioned, like, if somebody gives you an awesome opportunity, and you’re not sure if you can do it, say yes, first and then learn how to do it later. And I guess what I would only add is make sure you deliver, and make sure you do a great job in the end. So I guess, that project, looking back, right, with all this race, and we take really cautious, very cautious analysis, we employ that professional to do the calculation for us. With us, then we double check on the wind loading and all this and make sure that it is a successful project. And since then, I think that really helps us to prove the whole concept to the city, not just to us to ourselves, but really, really share that with a lot of corporate clients and through that give us a lot of media exposure. And then when we are able to have a much faster traction then where we are so I think it’s a quick learning myself when another opportunity seemingly would be very challenging, and I might not know how to do it when they come along. I guess I will be able to do that with much more confidence.
Chris Edwards (45:35)
Nice. And I’m gonna guess the answer to this next question. But which of these expressions resonates most for you? Luck favours the open mind or fortune favours the bold
Andrew Tsui (45:46)
Yeah, I think I think the second one.
Chris Edwards (45:50)
Yeah, I felt so. Yeah,
Andrew Tsui (45:53)
But the first one is important too.
Chris Edwards (45:56)
It’s a hardcore. Isn’t it like they’re both important, but obviously, bold moves have worked for you. And I mean, the whole business is bold, to be honest. And tell me, what is community I know, rooftop Republic like part of how you explained what rooftop Republic is, is community. That’s does Rooftop Republic stands for. So how important is community in in your business model?
Andrew Tsui (46:19)
Is the very much DNA in, in what we’re doing? Yeah. I think if, you know, you look back to our conversation, we didn’t talk much about you, we didn’t talk much about different, you know, growing techniques or, you know, what’s right, it’s all about the engagement. It’s all about changing the mindset. So we were primarily a lifestyle company that provide the service, right? To enable a generation who is disconnected with food, to experience that, that process of growing, and that that is the maker of the people. And, and so in our logo, the rooftop, interestingly, right, the rooftop is on top, and then the Republic, right, is the foundation. So there’s a little little line, right? That’s the corner of that rooftop design. So it’s a very simple typographic design, that just means that n the Republic is the community. That is the foundation of a vibrant, transformed space of our city.
Chris Edwards (47:37)
I love that. I love that. Tell me, do you have a favourite business book or podcasts that you recommend?
Andrew Tsui (47:44)
Well, I would be able to mention a few, but also from Richard Branson, basically, right? That whole series of his journey of entrepreneurship, I think it’s great. But there are few books, I would absolutely recommend. If you are thinking or starting up your business, or even trying to start a project, right? I would totally encourage lean startup. Lean startup is really that mindset help us to stay agile, help us to rethink of that model how to be resource light, and to be able to form collaboration. So that you know, we don’t we don’t have the burden of a lot of financial burden before we test out the attraction. And some of them from actual folks from Jim condenses is great, that is built to last, and good to great. So these are the few books that greatly benefited and many more many more about regenerative agriculture and all this I have a long list.
Chris Edwards (49:01)
I love that I too love a business book or seven. But yeah. And finally, we believe at Launchpad that a rising tide floats all boats. And I’m wondering if you have an entrepreneur who think we shouldn’t interview on this podcast who would like to who be inspiring to listen to when it comes to talking about people, planet and profit.
Andrew Tsui (49:24)
One thing one, one of them is closer to us is Pakistan. So I’m not sure if you have you known or you have heard about the initiative. It is what it’s almost like a select celebrity chef. I think she’s in Australia now. Yeah, she’s traveling. And she’s she’s a vegan chef, or Yeah, a ton based sorry, not vegan. Yeah. So she’s she’s very specific about about her cuisine. And recent years, she’s advocating regenerative agriculture. So she’s doing a lot of great work. She’s engaging the local farmers as well. And she has, I think, a Candice zero footprint initiative from, I think, from UK, and then she’s currently actively promoting it in Hong Kong, and also trying to bring it to different parts of the cities. So we’ve known Peggy for with Nan Peggy for over 10 over years. Yes. And so from from a chef now she’s she’s she’s still do consultation for menus for restaurants for FMB groups by the same time she’s also trying to bring the importance of sourcing from local and encouraging more farmers to practice regenerative agriculture. So that is one of it. And there’s a few that close to us. Also, that I’ve known through our community, the impact community, we have an impact community called the dream impact. So it started off as a co working space for impact business. We are one of the founding member. But with within the network of the dream impact community, there’s many, many great impact entrepreneurs. Yeah. And also also impact funders. Yeah, I’m happy to I’m happy to bring the connection. If you. Yeah. So the one of the co founder is is Dorothy. Yeah.
Chris Edwards (51:59)
Thank you, Andrew, thank you so much. I could talk to you for hours. I thank you so much for your time today. We didn’t get through all questions, but it’s very inspiring what you’ve created, and I can’t wait to come and visit a rooftop Republic garden next time I’m in Hong Kong. And I’d love to also explore whether we could do something with our Launchpad community to come and experience a garden and we need to hear your TED Talk in English. Thanks so much for joining me here today, Andrew, very inspiring story.
Andrew Tsui (52:25)
Thank you, thank you.