Ircahn Gunawan // Ep 2 // Instilling Family Values in IRVINS Salted Egg
Welcome to Episode 2 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are extremely excited to have Ircahn Gunawan, the co-founder and COO of IRVINS Salted Egg.
We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
Check us out on Anchor, iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Spotify and more. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave us a positive 5-star review. This is our opportunity to use the voices of the Asian community and share these incredible stories with the world. We release a new episode every Wednesday, so stay tuned!
Ircahn drives the performance of manufacturing, supply chain, and people divisions to delight the customers of IRVINS. Previous to IRVINS, Ircahn studied business and film at University of Southern California and partnered in a photography and videography company in Indonesia.
Please check out our Patreon at @asianhustlenetwork. We want AHN to continue to be meaningful and give back to the Asian community. If you enjoy our podcast and would like to contribute to our future, we hope you’ll consider becoming a patron.
Descript is a groundbreaking new media tool that allows creators to edit audio and video like a text document, and create a realistic clone of their own voice for seamless edits.
#MadeWithDescript #DescriptPro @Descript
Sign up for Descript here: https://descript.com?lmref=AKo2mg
Maggie: [00:00:23] Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast. My name is Maggie.
Bryan: [00:00:29] My name is Bryan.
Maggie: [00:00:30] And today we have a very, very special guest on today’s episode. His name is Ircahn Gunawan of Irvins Salted Egg, and he is the co-founder and COO of Irvins, which is a dangerously addictive salted egg snack made in Singapore Ircahn, welcome to the show.
Ircahn: [00:00:49] Thank you so much for having me.
Bryan: [00:00:52] Yeah.
Maggie: [00:00:53] Yeah. we would love to know, you know, like what your upbringing was like and what it was like growing up with your brothers in Singapore.
Ircahn: [00:01:02] Okay. Well, I got up to pull back a little bit more, more than Singapore. So my brothers and I so it’s three brothers The first one is, is Ivan. the second one is Irvin, hence the name of the name, which we’ll get to later, and I’m the youngest of the three brothers. So my family and I, we were born, we were born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. I was raised there from when I was born until I was about nine years old. Yeah. So you know growing up we have this really strong culture in our family of being very family bonded. and you know, especially having a very big family, either from my dad’s side or my mom’s side.
So in those years, you know, what I really love growing up back then was just this whole bonding in our family and a big family. My grandmother, she used to be the one who is like shepherding all of us, you know, like every single week, the grandkids, you must stay over at my home, you know, and, and we would like play together and all that.
So it’s really you know, I really enjoyed that. And I think it really formed my, mentality in life as well. but we had to migrate over from Indonesia to Singapore. and that was during if you remember the 1998 Asian financial crisis. It was that year with all the turmoil and everything. So we had to move over, like literally in, in those early days and periods of the crisis. And yeah, so then I, I grew up. And Oh, well, we grew up in, in, in Singapore from when I was nine years old until I was 17. And that’s also a very, you know, it’s a huge change especially for me being nine years old, honestly, back then I had no clue what was going on. I mean, I didn’t know what’s an Asian financial crisis, but my parents were just like Ircahn, we have to migrate and board a plane and you know, I’m like, okay, but my, but I just entered a school one week ago I have my shirt and pants, my books are all bought, you know, we have to go.
I was like, what is going on? And I was crying. I remember I was like crying and I’m like my friends, you know, I don’t want to go over, but I think thanks to my parents like they really held on and bonded and really let, let our family and, and, you know, Three boys. I don’t know about you guys, but I think a family of three boys is quite a rowdy and difficult to handle, I suppose.
And yeah, my, my, my, my, my mom and dad, you know, I really appreciate them. Cause you know, my mom was like, basically I’m a solo fighter, really just supporting and. nurturing our family in a new country. My dad for over many, many years, basically had to fly back and forth because of the work he still works in Singapore in Indonesia. but the company also has a branch in Singapore, but as a result, basically in those years, you know, I remember that he’ll basically work Monday to Friday in Jakarta. Flies into Singapore on Friday night, we would pick him up at a Changi airport. Then we would spend the weekend together. you know, sometimes he might have meetings and all that, but we would like to eat together, go out together. And then Sunday night he has to fly back to Jakarta and he had to do that. Every single week for five or six years. So that, that, that, that, that also really Shaped who I am, I guess. Yeah. So, yeah, I was so sorry. I’m like sweating. It’s so hot in Singapore.
Bryan: [00:06:24] It’s quite hot today in Los Angeles.
Ircahn: [00:06:27] I was like, Oh my gosh. It’s morning right now. And I’m like sweating really hard.
Bryan: [00:06:33] Okay. I mean, we appreciate you taking your time out to do this podcast. You know, obviously you have a large fan base in the United States. We want to learn more about you too because you’re such an interesting person, you know, like we all know your product and we liked the newer generation entrepreneurs too, not just in America, but internationally too. You’re willing to put yourself out there and become the brand itself. We love that, you know, cause we need to see more Asian entrepreneur entrepreneurs walk down that path. And it’s really awesome to hear that you’re bond with your brothers feels all the way back to, since we were, since you were a child, you know, and that, the time that you spent together, like help you guys work so cohesively together right now? You know, I wish that honestly, I had that kind of bond with my siblings, because I tell my brother started the company all the time. He’s like, no, I don’t want to.
Maggie: [00:07:28] I think it’s super rare to see, you know, all the brothers get together to start a business. I think that’s something. You know, one person should really cherish because you rarely see that. And I think that a big part of that is because you guys all saw how your father had worked and flew back and forth from Jakarta to Singapore, every single weekend and those values and those habits, and that mentality really trickled down to you and your brother’s mentalities.
And I think that’s why you guys are so close.
Bryan: [00:07:57] Did your dad help you install some of the values to become an entrepreneur. It’s just something that came by accident, or you guys talked about it before, how this all happened?
Ircahn: [00:08:07] Yeah, well that’s, interesting. So, you know after, that period in Singapore, my Ivan and Irvin, they went over to Australia to study college myself. after I graduated from I guess what you would call a high school. So I have the opportunity like you mentioned just now, too, study at USC. And I lived in LA for five years. Worked for one year. Study for four years. So that’s why having Irvin’s and being able to bring back up Irvins to the USA is such a dream come true to me.
You know, I’ve been back home to Asia for seven years now. And you know, I’ve only been, been back to, do the States twice for holidays. So yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s something that I really it’s a dream come true for me. And I hope that you know after all this period is over. I really want to fly back over to the States, you know to really connect, we have our customers and connect with you guys as well.
So the thing about entrepreneurship and our story, right? It really, interestingly enough, I think the really. The one true entrepreneur among the three of us is really Irvin. So when, when he’s done with his college in Australia, he’s, he’s a true-blooded entrepreneur. He’s got a lot of ideas. So he loves food. So one of the first things he wanted to do was, Hey, I’m, you know, I want to make a chocolate business. So I don’t know whether that’s an excuse or not, but he, you know, he flew to Europe and Japan on a food tour to study chocolate and things like that. Wow. And that’s why until today our company name, our brand is Irvin Salted Egg, but our company name is actually a Cocoba private limited. COCOBA. So Cocoba is basically a chocolate bar. So that’s yeah, so that’s why our company is named that way, you know? , but when he came back after research, you realize, Oh, you know what chocolate. Business is really tough. so he pivoted and he started, you know, going back again to his love for food. So, he tried a fast Indonesian food restaurant in the CBD area. One of his gimmicks is like, you know how Indonesians, we love to eat with our hands. So he was like, if you eat with your hands, I’ll give you a discount. This is one of his givings. He’s like, you know, this interest that he’s, he’s got his unique ways of running his business. He really enjoys it. But, after that he, that restaurant was really hard to, to, to pull off and then he had the opportunity to open Irvin’s life seafood restaurant at the cross junction of a, quite a good place in the, in the city called River Valley road.
So his specialty was Salted egg crap at only. $18 and 90 cents Singapore dollars. So that’s, that’s really, really affordable compared to other seafood restaurants. And he was really well known for it. he has, his marketing was Irvin’s life seafood, the most handsome restaurants in Singapore.
That really you know, I always knew from Danny, you know, because he, he loves, he loves design. He loves marketing. I think that’s why our customers would see our, in our branding, our snacks and packaging, and just the amount of love that we put into this, our snacks. Right. you would see I’m not having to be me right now, but if you notice the bottom of our pouch, it also has a design.
It’s got our dangerous stripes at the bottom and that philosophy to him and me because we just love the design so much. It really came to Apple’s mindset of like the back of our Mac is nicer than the front of our competitors, something like that. So we just love the design and that’s why we. Make our snacks what it is today, but anyways going back to the question so yeah you also, from there that, F&B business also in, in, in Singapore, it’s really, really tough.
So after river Valley, he had to move location to a much harder location that had a much smaller crowd, but because of that, he really had to push himself and his team to innovate whatever it takes, you know, to survive as a restaurant. So he had to do like catering. You had to do like a food package for students and all that.
And one of the innovations that finally pulled off was salted egg. So from our salty egg crap, he diversified and experimented with many, many, many Salted egg dishes. Yeah. And as a result of that, from our observation he saw the salted egg potato chips, salted egg Fish skin was really popular, and that’s why we, we are who we are, today. We pivoted from a, from a seafood restaurant into a company. So where I, where I came in was, five years ago after I graduated seven years ago, I came back home to Indonesia. I did my own a photography company because I, I, my background was I studied business and film. So I did that.
And then, you know, I wanted to try out how to build a tech company. So I built a minim viable product of a tech platform in Indonesia. You know, I build the supply, I build the demand for a few months and that gave me some experience as well. And then Irvin Irvin began to call for help cause I, Hey I need help, you know, to move from a restaurant into manufacturing. So yeah, so I, my wife and I, we, we just jumped in it just, it’s always in my head,. that family has to come first. Not the individual dream or our, our ambition you have. So I’m like, you know what? Irvin works like crazy. He works from 9:00 AM to 1:00 AM every single day of his life running his restaurant.
So I’m like, you know what, I‘m all in. Let me help. my wife also jumps in, she, her background was fashion design in LA, but then she jumped into lead our HR built up the factories with me. So that’s interesting. And then finally Ivan, my eldest brother, his, his background, actually, he was doing banking for many years, but a couple of years back, we like he does, Hey, Hey, Ivan, we really need your help as well to, you know, to lead our finances and all that. So he also jumped in, you know, and my father’s role in our company is really to guide us with this wisdom. We face people’s mentality of how his ideas and values and building a company, all that. And so we, we listened to a lot to him. And for the three brothers, I think you just, you mentioned like, what is it like working together? I think it’s tough, you know, it’s not all rosy of course. It’s not like we all are always in agreement. I think even brothers, I mean, brothers play video games, you know, when growing up, right? So we were always competitive or like playing against each other. So we will always have disagreements and whatnot, but it’s always important to remember our family values, firstly. And secondly, to always remember Our roles. Right? So Irvin is the CEO. So he sets the business direction. Ivan is the CFO. So he has to lead our finance and I’m the COO, you know, so I have to be responsible for a to Z in operations of our company. So with that mindset we always remember, you know what, let’s debate let’s quarrel, but let’s focus on building this company together.
Bryan: [00:18:46] That’s dude, that’s, that’s an amazing story.
So inspirational. I say, you know, it’s so many good points too, because you guys essentially are afraid to take risks. That’s and that’s the main [inaudible] the main key to success, you know, you have to keep innovating and, you know, sometimes you think you’re in a bad spot, might be the best thing that ever happened to you because now you’re forced to think outside of the box, you know, and the fact that. Yeah, I love, I love the marketing stuff that you guys brought up, you know, it’s so different. It’s so confident, you know, and I think it really plays to like how Asians feel about ourselves right now. Like, we’re very confident of who we are, you know, we’re only out to your heritage right now. And I think with the marketing message, like, you know, the most hands, so the restaurant really plays into that message that we feel like, Hey, it’s our turn now, we can be just as influential and just as powerful. I really, I really liked that a lot too. And you know, I really liked the family values that you guys have, you know, and you guys found a role for everyone.
And as you mentioned before, this is what I love about talking to you versus like talking to US entrepreneurs for the most entrepreneurs would be like, yeah, like I’ll find people that fit around me and it’s not so much about family, you know, for it, from the statement that you said during, during this podcast is you know, a family told us first, it comes before the individual and that that’s powerful. You know, we don’t hear it all. We don’t hear that a lot over here. In fact, we barely hear it all. We hear, you know, and that, that makes one heck of a difference too. I really want to point out that, you know, as your, as anyone starting out their career, as you’re working different jobs, starting different things, it all ties into when you start your company, or when you work in a company, all these different experiences that you had in life somehow ties together, all come together in some way in some form, it doesn’t matter what role or what title out that was. You’re going to reach out to those experiences that you had. As your leading people as recruiting companies in order to direct them correctly.
Maggie: [00:20:56] Yeah, I totally agree. And I was, I felt very inspired by that story. Like my inside, we rarely hear about people in the US say like family comes first. That’s why I appreciate, you know, what you just said about, you know, family comes first and that just goes to show that, you know, your brothers were willing to drop, you know, what they had because they believed in the vision and they believed in the company, you know, and to kind of give up, give up everything to, you know, put in 100% into, Irvins just shows so much about, you know, family values and, you know, your father being on board with it, it, it goes to show that there’s a lot of family values involved in there and you know, the marketing strategies, I love the eat with the hands thing. You know, those are just so like such simple gimmicks that actually work, right. Because people start talking about, and they’re like, Hey, like, did you hear about that restaurant? That like, you have to eat with your hands and you know, that sort of stuff. It just works. And I love that.
Bryan: [00:21:54] Definitely. We want to like jp into, like, after you guys to sign the rules into your brothers, how do you guys scale that team? You know, obviously your team has grown tremendously. We talked about this before to you, how you use the power of LinkedIn to far more qualified people. Like what was the hiring process like to build the culture that you wanted? You know, Cause I know that you guys set the culture among brothers. So when you bring in other people, how was the process like?
Ircahn: [00:22:18] Yeah. Yeah. Like yeah, honestly yeah, it’s, it’s definitely a, a process, you know, that I, I particularly really enjoy building this company for the past five years. And I, you know, I really saw it flowing through in, in, in those phases, you know, like the first two years I would say is really our super startup years when it was just, it was just Irvin. And then me and my wife jumped in and we’ve just I think it was like two employees or something, you know? And the startup years is all about, you know, Hey, we’re, we’re trying to meet demand, you know? Cause we’re like, like none of us is, has a background of manufacturing, has a background in building a snack company.
So everyone has to just like to learn on the job and, and just like do whatever it takes to continue to build our operations, our, our eCommerce, our Mac differential order. So you know, we had a very small team myself, I was like doing the operations, the delivery the pick and pack. and even answering every Instagram message or comments that ever comes to that, I would just like to spend every waking hour during lunch or restroom break, just like, let me, let me, reply to my customers and all that. So that’s, that’s like a, I would say the first two years of like 2015 to 2016 is really the. They’re really a start-up year. So like super hustling and like, you know, like hold the fork, everyone helps each other, you know, like everyone’s problem is our problem and just help each other out, . Then as we do with the company, so then yeah, we, we were very fortunate. Like we, we, we didn’t have any LinkedIn presence. Like you mentioned just now I think, building a stronger corporate branding really came to be around 2018 until now, but like 2017 to like 2018. I would say it’s like our scale-up years. So we, like you mentioned, we grew our headcount grew our, manufacturing team grew our HQ and our overseas office and so on but I think we, we, we really, you know, continue to instill the same values that we had I, I think, it comes back from Irvin and our upbringing, you know, and, and the, the values cultivated in us about family. So we still we, we do that as well. In our company. So like, like for example, in our manufacturing, when we finally, built our first big factory in 2017, we really wanted it to be different, not just a normal factory, but to really be a, a place where people would be happy to work at. Do you know? So we, we. We colored the walls and the rooms and all that with our corporate colors of like yellow rather than the standard factory color of like grays and so on. So we make it yellows and whites because we really want to be able to, Hey, you know what Irvin’s is all about happiness, happiness, not only to our customers but happiness to our family members as well, you know, to all Irvin’s family who joins in our journey you know, like, thank you so much for being a part of our journey and contributing you know, to the growth of the, of the company. And, you know, we want to make sure that, you know what We are here. Of course, it’s business. We are here to contribute to the company, to the brand to serve our customers. But don’t forget as well about, personal growth building a happy culture and building a, a, a family culture. Yeah. But of course now as, as we grow even more right. The thing that I’m really enjoying now in the, in the past one or two years, and I think especially this year as well is like, okay, how do we continue that family culture and the values we have of, integrity, excellence caring for one another, but also realizing that we are a fast-growing company.
We are a global company with operations in 10 markets and so on. Right. We need to also be more. rigorous in our analysis, be more rigorous in our coordination, our teamwork, our results, our performance. Yeah. So what I’m enjoying now is, is that part really how to synergize the values and the family culture together with, performance management training, developing our managers to become excellent managers in the context of, of Irvin’s. and so on it’s working. Work in progress, I would say.
Bryan: [00:28:58] Well.
Maggie: [00:29:00] That’s amazing. I totally agree. I feel like I was really able to connect the dots with, you know, the values that you’re incorporating with Irvins about, you know, family culture, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with Asian hustle network. First, it’s really important for our consumers and customers and members to feel like they’re a part of a family. Right. And I think that you know, we see that a lot with Irvin’s cause, you know, I think Arvis just blew up in the US and a lot of people, it kind of felt like people were smuggling chips of Irvins salted eggs from Asia to the US back to their friends and family. And it was so rare to get your hands on Irvins before you guys came to the US so it kind of created like this very like family culture, like, Oh, I have Irvins, I’ll share it with you. You know, and on top of that, it’s, you know, I think you hit the nail on the head that it’s very important, not only the family side on the culture side, but we have to think about how to move forward, right. About performance and training and manager excellence. How are we going to move one step ahead so that we grow together as a company? , I think that’s really important.
Bryan: [00:30:09] I really liked the fact that you guys really care about your employees. You know, I, I think. More so than building a great product is building a great team. You know, sometimes the team helps to build a great product. And to be honest, as you’re building a scaling company that that’s growing so fast, like Irvin, you can’t be everywhere. You can’t do any, you can’t do everything. You know, you need the people to represent you well, and you want people to be able to put in great work when you can’t even see them, you know, and that’s building the happiness culture that you guys are doing.
That’s super crucial. You know, there are so many great companies out there that unfortunately have a horrible work culture, but they have a great product, but the trend is like, you’re not going to maintain a level of excellence forever. If your culture is not doing so well, you know, that’s really a really strong point to emphasize too. And, you know, as, as you were scaling out your company, did you guys bootstrap everything or do you guys taking the best things at a certain point in order to grow quicker?
Ircahn: [00:31:16] So it’s, it’s, it’s really, totally bootstrap. That’s why many people like saw us as like, wow, this Irvin’s is really fast-growing.
Like, you know how explosive it is, but, you know, to be honest with you from my perspective internally, I mean, yes, it was really hectic, but, you know, I kind of saw it as a very gradual growth, to be honest with you. Like I guess if, if, if I were to compare to say if we were to back then you know, raise money or like other similar startups who generally raise money, right. we probably would have built our factories a lot sooner because you’d have the money to do that, right. But in our case we didn’t you know maybe I think it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s Irvin’s entrepreneurial journey as well. And the struggle he, he faced through from like 2008, until 2015 and in a brutal F&B industry.
So I think from there really came the prudence and be, be careful, be slow and steady. Yeah. So for us, our growth was really, it was just from cash to cash, really, you know, Hey now we have enough money. Okay. Let’s open our first proper store in Vivo city mall. So, and then that worked out okay. Let’s open our second store. Hmm. Nine months later in a West gate mall in Singapore, you know, it was just one they’re just like, okay, let’s, we ready? Let’s open another one. The same goes for our factories, you know, at first all of our like manufacturing or, cooking and all that was done in his, in his restaurant.
Right. In the early part of Irvin’s in 2014, 2015, and so on. And then we had enough cash flow. So when I jumped in, literally my first assignment, besides running the social media and doing the picking bag was, or Chan, I need you to, open offers first. Central kitchen. So that was my first class, with my wife, Keshia, we like Shelby because of her fashion design. She used Photoshop, you know, and then we will just spend the days at the empty site and just like draw out. Okay. I think the machine is like, 1000mm by 1000mm, and we would like blocked out on like Photoshop, build the floor and all that. and then from there we just like built our, our central kitchen team. we hired our first manager hired our first factory crew and it was like, okay, you know what? Let’s, let’s take it at a time because of Mmm. How we do Irvin’s in our snacks is really completely different than how other snacks do it, you know, like typically mass market snacks that you may find and enjoy in, in a, you know, in the supermarket zone that is more of ’em a powder base. So you have like flavorings, right? You have your barbecue flavoring, you know, Chili flavoring, and all that. but for us, it’s, it’s different. It’s a totally novel approach to manufacturing. So we legit cook our snacks. So it, it’s, it’s not like our snacks are flowing through this automation line from a to Z though, from like in incomes, Raw potato and, and outcomes are our snacks. No, it’s, it’s really, yes, there are machines involved, but you have the actual cooking components with our team of chefs and so on. So that complexity and that a novel approach is a reason why also we really took our time to build this, you know, even though the demand was really explosive, I think in the early years we practically sell out every, I would say every 11:00 AM or like latest 1:00 PM. So that’s why. You would always see the queue from like 9:00 AM, even though we open at 10, but our customers knew that you know Irvin supply is really, limited, you know, and people thought that this was a marketing gimmick, all Irvin’s is just. Limiting your supply, but to be honest with you, I wish we can actually make more snacks. Like I don’t, I don’t want to see our customers lining up. Right. I don’t want to see them lining up but then turns out there’s no more snacks and all that or having to wait seven days just to buy our snacks. But we, we decided that no, you know, we, we just want to stay true to our principle and that is very gradual in our approach. We’ve figured out this new way of manufacturing. We figured out how to build a team. Okay. Now we are ready. We have the the the cashflow let’s open our first, a proper big factory in 2017. Build that now we are more experienced. Okay, good, build our team again, get used to the new environment of a big factory. Then we built that experience, built those skills, have enough cash flow. Okay guys, let’s build our second factory, which we then open in December 2018. Yeah. So it was really, from there really just, just that principle of being gradual, slow and steady. Yeah.
Bryan: [00:38:34] That’s, that’s, that’s fantastic. You know, it’s yeah. Again, you can see the cultural differences already. I feel like over here, like, all right guys, let’s fundraise 23 million. Just go for it. And just go hard, you know? And, I love it. I love the fact that you guys hit every single milestone that you set for yourselves. You know, before you go for something bigger because the worst thing you can do is grow too quickly and become a victim of your own success.
And I really love the gradual process behind everything. That’s super inspirational for us to hear that you guys are bootstrapping. This was a grind cos when most people look at a company like yours, they think, okay, they probably raised some money or something, or there was no grinding involved, but I feel like every company starts with the founders too, is like, you guys dictate the culture for yourself, you know? And, and the type of experience that you guys bring in to make sure that, you know, it’s done gradually. I feel like this is gonna be an everlasting company, you know because everything’s done step by step. And I really appreciate you sharing that story.
Maggie: [00:39:39] Yeah. And it just goes to show that you guys grinded hard for this company, you know, and I remember, you know, people were talking about, Oh, is this like a marketing strategy that they’re just having limited supplies so that, you know, everyone is trying to go find Irvin salted eggs snacks. but you know, just hearing you talk about, you know, you wishing that you can make more snacks. It just goes to show that, you know, you guys are putting a lot of heart into each and every one of these bags, you know, it’s just not all processing through machinery. You know, you guys are actually cooking it, which goes to show like there’s a lot of love and care and like affection. It’s you can alter it and change it if it doesn’t taste good. Right. So, you know, it, it just goes to show that there’s a lot of affection that goes into making these shifts. I would love to know, like when you guys were expanding into the US market, how were you able to determine, you know, what kind of target audience you guys were trying to go for?
Bryan: [00:40:38] Or is that organic?
Ircahn: [00:40:44] Yeah, so the really fortunate privilege that we have in Irvin’s is really the privilege. Given to us by our customers really over the five years. And even when we were selling our snacks, even before the pouches in simple plastic jars, with a red cap on top, it’s a typical Chinese plastic jar for like cookies and all that. We sold those in 2014 in the restaurant. And we are very fortunate because. Our customers are so supportive of us, you know, and, the word of mouth that they generate in building our community and, you know, loving our dangerously addictive snacks. it’s really something that we really appreciate.
And that’s why from there you know, I always saw that as, you know, what we, we must build intimacy with our customers, you know, and, which is why like I mentioned to you earlier, I made it a point myself. I must like, no matter how busy I was in those early years, I made it a point to reply and read all of our Instagram and Facebook because sure, you have a team member who, who can do customer experience. Of course, you need a specialized role in that, but as a founder, you must always have that intimate relationship and know, your customers fully well, right? So because of that, because of that habit that I built because of the team that we have in our customer service and marketing team, in our approach to learning about our customers. So every week we would meet up with our retail team. Hey, who’s your customers in your particular store and then we live, Oh, it’s my store for some reason it’s like Filipinos and customers from Thailand or example of that. So it’s really those insights and oh wow. why is it that all of a sudden in. 2016, like the whole year we had so many customers from the Philippines, you know, then we realized, Oh, the reason why it states, they had this huge word of mouth about us. and then that, that translated into them really buying our snacks. And that’s why we like, okay, you know what we have that good growth in our Filipino customers. So then we go to the Philippines. The same goes for every country, really, for whereas Thailand or Taiwan or whatever. So then came you asked, right? So yeah, like again, a US is a, it’s another organic market that, that, that, that we had at, Oh there’s.
So many US customers, maybe like, like you mentioned, they smuggled back from Singapore or I think usually what I saw is they will either buy in Singapore and bring home, or they will ask their friends and family to, bring back home to the States to, to bring back with them.
So it was from there that, you know what, okay, this is interesting. as you know, we’re in. Asian brand. So we have our core customers who are really mostly Asian customers. I also, because of my experience studying in the States for four, five years so I knew what the, what culture and, and the environment and, and audiences like. So it was really natural for us to Go over and expand to the States finally this year. And we, we partnered with the right distributors. We partnered with, Bopomofo as well. Eric, one of the founders just approached us to meet up in Singapore. Irvin, Keisha, and I brought him, brought him over for, I think like we ate some like seafood specialties in Singapore and we also ate durian moose. If I’m not wrong, like, Hey, you never tried this, please, please try it out. And when we met up with Eric and we got to know his you know, his, his vision and what Bopomofo like and all that, we just saw that as a really good fit for Irvin’s as well in, in partnering with, with, with them, for the having Irvin’s in a Bopomofo. And then now they’re doing e-commerce as well, for us Which is awesome. Yeah.
Bryan: [00:46:30] I mean, that’s awesome.
Maggie: [00:46:32] Yeah. That’s amazing. Yeah. We heard about, you know, your collaboration with Bobo mofo cafe. and yeah, it’s just crazy how, how expansive, and how much you guys have really blown up in the United States?
Bryan: [00:46:44] It’s so organic too.
Maggie: [00:46:46] It is. Yeah.
Bryan: [00:46:49] The limited marketing, that sense and the word of mouth you guys are building. Cause customer loyalty goes a long way. You know, and I do want to focus a little bit more about you. I want to understand like your growth as, as a person throughout this entire thing, you know, what was your mentality like, like right when you started grinding it out and working with your brothers and how much you’ve grown dropped the years to get to where you are right now?
Ircahn: [00:47:16] Well, I. I feel like, yeah, as you said, it is a huge grind. I think people, or like people who have the mindset of, Hey, I want to become an entrepreneur so I can become a boss and sit back and relax. Like no way, no way life as an entrepreneur is 365, you know, when, when, when someone is not available, you know to work at the store and you have no one else to depend on, you have to go there. You know, you, you can’t say I’m the boss. I want to chill at home no way, you know? And so it is a huge grind. you know, personally, for me, I’m very self-aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and I’m very self-critical as well. and you know, I think for myself in the first, in the first half of the, of the five years, I think what I learned is just, you know because I’m not an entrepreneur like Irvin, you know, I, you know, I feel like my, my nature and my mindset is more of a company builder, you know? So I like to build systems. I like to build operations. I like to build culture and teams and that. So I think my, the first part, of my five years is really learning how to do that. being very hands-on because you have no choice, you have to be hands-on because your team is so lean. and I just learned, okay. Learn, you know, learn how to lead manufacturing. Learn how to lead operations and so on and so forth. But then when it came to the second part of the five years when we grew even more built our first and second factory I, I face a lot of challenges, like honestly, you know, it’s, I think, especially in the last two years, I learned that while my management approach in the first part cannot work in the second part because in the second part, you have a bigger team. You cannot be too hands-on as a, as a founder and as a COO. Okay? Sure. You still need to be hands-on. Spend your time with your customers. Visit your stores still read Instagram, still meet your, your, your teams and all that, but you cannot be too hands-on because you need to let go, even though, even though you, you, you, you may have more experience than the new team members, even though you will feel, Oh my gosh. If I do this myself, I work day and night, I can get this done. I can get this done better because I already went through it. But I learned that you know, you have to learn to let go to empower your team, to let them grow as well. Mistakes will happen, but you also make those mistakes anyways. So learn to let go. no have, have those mistakes happen, build growth in your team so that you, as the COO, as the founder, you can focus on higher macro, objectives as well. And so on. Yeah. So I think that’s particular to me.
That’s why I learned communication as well in the, in the first half communication is like, we’re on one communal table with like finances to my left, my brothers to my right. You know, operations are in front of me. You can just shout across the table, but now no, right now it’s like we have, we have many rooms or we have factory over there, HQ over here. So you know, I need to learn as well. You cannot like basically you, you cannot approach management, you cannot approach communications. You cannot approach performance management the way you did back then and assume that because that’s just how things work that it would. Apply now because it doesn’t, you know, so like now you have to change. And in the next five years, we have a forecast and a vision. Okay. This is where Irvin’s needs to be in, in, in, in, in, in four years time. And how do we get there? So again, we have to, reformulate, we have to reshape how we think as founders reshape, how we instill excellence in our managers and team members and continue to find ways like I mentioned, how to synergize our cultures and values to always be the same, but be able to adapt in the different phase of, of the company and take into account that performance management system may change. communications and how you do meetings may change and so on. Yeah.
Bryan: [00:53:21] Yeah. That’s that’s that’s wow. That’s a lot of good points, you know, and I ended up the problem with being an entrepreneur is like, you always want your hands in everything and because it’s actually more detrimental as you scale your team because your team will be like, Oh, why are you not trusting me do my work, you know, you know, micro-managing, it gets all bad. And it’s really good that you mentioned that too. And a lot of us who are in this entrepreneurial journey, you know, it’s really hard for us to let go of control. And the ironic thing is. The more, you like a little control, the better things will get, you know, cause your team has this trust within your culture and you, like you said before, it can focus on the division and the macros, how did you really grow the company. You know, but it’s not an easy process. And I do, and I do respect you a lot for that for saying that, you know, cause we were also facing the same situation. We’re up to 28 people now in our team. Yeah, and for us is we’re the same way. It’s like, alright it’s hard to trust.
Maggie: [00:54:24] It’s really easy to kind of like pick your head on every little single team because you want to see what’s going on. But honestly, if we were the ones who were making the calls all the time, we wouldn’t be able to, you know, we would only have tunnel vision and we wouldn’t be able to see it from a third person’s perspective. There could be something that we’re missing that your team member. Yeah, I think it’s really important for entrepreneurs like yourself to think of it from a strategic level and how to get the business to the next level.
Bryan: [00:54:54] And need you hire smart people and not to tell them what to do. You hire smart people and have them tell you what to do.
Ircahn: [00:55:00] Yes, hopefully. Yes.
Maggie: [00:55:04] I love that.
Bryan: [00:55:05] Yeah. I mean, that’s this famous Steve jobs saying, you know, I didn’t hire you to tell you what to do. I hire you to tell me what to do. Yeah. I mean, we do appreciate your time today and all the insights that you had on this podcast. You know,
Maggie: [00:55:24] I love to ask one more question. you know, we always ask our interviewees this question, if you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. And I think it’s really interesting to hear it from your perspective, you being in Singapore and in Asia you know, things might be a little bit different between, you know, Singapore and the United States. but you know, would love to know, especially from your family. You guys are all entrepreneurs, you and your brothers. And oftentimes Asian parents don’t want to see their children become an entrepreneur because they want them to doctor or a lawyer, or an accountant or a pharmacist or something that’s very safe. but it seems like your father obviously went through the entrepreneurial route and he is very proud of you guys to be an entrepreneur as well. so we’ll love to hear from your perspective on, you know, like what advice you have for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Ircahn: [00:56:17] I guess I guess my advice would probably be, be colored by today’s climate as well. Right? With all this COVID-19 that’s going on. you know, I think, you know, for the next, I dunno, One year one and a half years, two years things have changed and probably things will continue to be in this way. We, we may have to learn to adapt ourselves, be it, our personal lives or our work life, or in companies in this new operating environment.
So I think, I would say like first of all like. ideas are not unique, you know execution methods more so for, I think people always have the mentality, you know, I want to hide my, my idea because it’s so sacred, but then you, you won’t ever do it, you know, or that maybe, or you know, you have an idea and you share it with your friends and family. Well, hopefully, they’re honest enough view, but usually friends and family will never tell you no. Or they were like, Oh, you know, it’s okay. It’s a good idea that you should do it. So you don’t have enough data to prove your idea. So I think the only way to prove your idea is to really just do it, you know, and I think in, in this new environment that we live in doing that idea, I think has to mean being as, you know, prudence as possible and experimenting with it with you know, as much as you can mitigating your risk so like, you know if you have an F&B idea, you know, I don’t think your first jp to be an under an F&B entrepreneur is suddenly your mind is like, Hey, you know, I want to build a, a large restaurant. Well, how do you know you have a product-market fit, right? You haven’t even tested your food, whether it works or not. So I would say really, you know, just, if you have an idea, you really believe in it. You shared that idea, with people, hopefully, more than just your friends and family, but you shared that with, actual potential customers and they give good feedback and they want to buy it. Then your next step is really to just go and do it right. And to do it at a small scale that is low risk and fast. You like don’t have the mindset of building a restaurant. That’s going to take you six months to build, you know, just get started by next week. Right? , think of a way to test your food through online delivery or whatever as, as in whatever, startup mentality works and just, just, just do it.and see whether there’s, product-market fit or not. Right. many people would, would also say, Hey, you know if your idea fails, when you try it, you should just pivot. Right? , and like just, okay. Just scrap that idea, pivot. Oh, fail. Scrap again, pivot. But I mean, I guess that works at times, but as you see from our experience, our pivots is, is, is like, you know, after a long grind where Irvin never gave up, always believing in his passion for F&B and being stuck at the corner where, you know he has to do something to really, pushed, push the boundaries and revenue of his restaurant. And that’s why he decided to experiment on his salting vicious.
And finally, after eight after seven years, that’s why he saw his, his customers suddenly being so attached to those dishes that finally it became snacks. So sometimes in life I feel. It could be pivots. Yes, but sometimes in life, it can also be a grind that you persist and you continue to innovate and think of ways to grow or survive your business. And somehow once you see that that product-market fit, once you observe that behavior of your customers or this works. So then you, you, you realize, and then you go and focus on that.
Bryan: [01:01:49] Wow.
Maggie: [01:01:50] That’s amazing.
Bryan: [01:01:51] Yeah. That’s really, really good, solid advice, you know, and yeah, I hope, I hope our listeners can listen to this advice twice. Just bringing it back to that point where he shared your insight, but. That’s really good, really great. Having you on the show. We do want to shout out too. Congratulations on your, on your future [inaudible] week, you know.
Ircahn: [01:02:13] Thank you. Thank you.
Bryan: [01:02:15] So congratulations. And it’s going to be very exciting to be a first-time parent.
Ircahn: [01:02:21] Yeah. you know, I think this might be the most difficult, but the most rewarding next chapter yet
super happy. And you’ll probably look out on social media about how that story unfolds.
Maggie: [01:02:42] Yeah.
Bryan: [01:02:43] I thank you so much for being on the show. Oh, we truly appreciate it. And we have such a great time to talk to you. Thank you.
Maggie: [01:02:50] How can our listeners hear more about you on social media or anywhere?
Ircahn: [01:02:55] Sure. Yeah. So you know Irvin’s we have a USA Ig account. It’s @irvinsaltedegg.usa. and we also have you know, like I mentioned, just all right, we have our various partners, we have our, our snacks in various offline channels, you know, your, your hitch marts, your 99 ranches we have our Bofomofo partner as well, you know, e-commerce and so on and so forth. So, definitely. I hope we can continue to grow our distribution and sales points in the US and hopefully we can bring more, more, and more new snacks to serve our US customers. So definitely stay tuned to our Instagram for future updates and all that.
Maggie: [01:04:00] Awesome. Very exciting is we will leave all of those links in the show notes for this podcast, but thank you so much. Ircahn, it was so wonderful to talk to you today about your story.
Bryan: [01:04:10] Thank you so much, man.