By TAMARA JAYNE
Founded in 2012, myBurgerLab shows no sign of slowing down. It is no surprise then that their restaurants have a constant line of customers. The co-founder of myBurgerLab, Renyi Chin, shares his story with Leaderonomics’ Tamara Jayne on some of the challenges he faces in running this expanding business.
Treat that person right, he’ll walk out of the door and sell for you.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background.
I graduated with an engineering degree from The University of Nottingham. Worked part-time in a few cafés and restaurants during those days. That’s basically where I got a taste of the service industry and can safely say I fell in love with the craft of serving.
I have started several small business ventures prior to myBurgerLab, including a Groupon concept clone. Lessons were learnt and I try to apply my past experiences into the business that is myBurgerLab.
Q: What made you decide to start myBurgerLab?
There are a few factors that contributed to me taking on this path. I started getting a taste of the food and beverage (F&B) industry when I was in college working at Starbucks. It was then that I realised how much I enjoyed making people happy through serving. I also enjoyed cooking and hosting small parties, most of which were barbeque events and burgers were always on the menu.
Fast forward a couple years later during my first year of university, I decided not to pursue the engineering internship programme and opted for the Work and Travel United States of America (USA) experience.
Basically, it’s a programme that allows you to travel to the USA, work there for 3–4 months and then travel around the country using the money you have earned.
I found myself stationed at Yellowstone National Park for three months. One day, while hiking in the backcountry, I had an epiphany. I felt that life is more than this and I needed to do my own thing.
I needed to do something that makes ME happy. Well, at that time, I had no idea what that was, but the potential of being an engineer working in the corporate world was just something I didn’t fancy too much.
During my travels in San Francisco, I came upon In-N-Out (a McDonald’s of sorts but everything was cooked fresh). I had the burger and that made me go WOW!
All I said then was: “Someone needs to do this in Malaysia!”
Three years later, after graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, I decided to not get a job in the industry immediately and worked in a few cafés to gain more experience in the F&B world. It was a few months after that that it clicked in my head:” Hey, let’s start my own café!”
I roped in two of my friends whom I trusted and they had the skill sets to make this work. Slowly, the idea of a café transformed itself into the burger joint that you see today.
Q: As you are one of the co-founders of myBurgerLab, are there any challenges you faced with the other co-founders of the company and how did you get through them?
As it is with most partnerships, heads are bound to lock when making decisions in regards to growing the business. Fortunately, our relationship is very amicable and we realised since day one as long as we keep the communication channels open, almost everything can be resolved. So to date, there hasn’t been any major disagreement or squabble among the directors or partners.
Q: What are some of the major stresses and challenges you face in running this business?
The first year of the business is the honeymoon period so all the “problems” and “challenges” were just seen as “games” and learning curves. Fast forward three years, my current challenges usually revolve around managing the people we work with. Training them and developing them takes time and a lot of effort.
Apart from that, making sure that the business is sustainable in this volatile industry is also a bit of a challenge. With so many new concept restaurants popping up every week, customers have more choices than ever before and as we are going into our fourth year, we need to work extra hard to convince customers that we are still relevant.
Q: What are some lessons you learnt in the process from taking a risk in starting a business of your own?
It’s always harder to do it alone, not impossible but harder. So for me, having the right partners and team in the business help the process of growing the business a lot easier.
Q: What are some mistakes or failures you might have made and how did you learn from them?
Biting more than I can chew. As the business grew, it demanded more and more attention in various departments. I tend to take on more roles and try to go get involved in each of them, which is a big mistake. So, I learn to train the right people to do the job and slowly let go of things and trust the team to perform on its own.
Another mistake I made was being too stubborn in my principles on how the business should be executed, which resulted in a slower financial growth.
Sometimes, the principle of operating one outlet versus several outlets varies greatly and the costs do not always go down as you expand. Changes need to be made to make sure the business is viable as you grow.
Q: How do you handle difficult clients if you have had any?
Treat everyone with respect and dignity. That’s our general rule of thumb. Being in the service industry, apart from always having to be on our feet, we constantly have to be putting ourselves in the customer’s shoe.
That’s the secret to good service basically. So, by setting the right foundation in the mind-set of our staff, we usually avoid the most difficult customers (as they are usually the cause of bad service in the first place).
If and when the situation does arise, we simply listen to what the customer has to say, acknowledge it and then react positively to it. It’s almost a 99% guarantee that it can be resolved in all situations.
Q: Do you have any future plans or goals you would like to achieve?
One of the goals that we have set out since day one was to create an impact in the local food scene, not just on the retail front but also as a support system.
So an incubation or coaching platform of sorts for anyone interested in entering the F&B world (with and without training) could benefit from such an initiative.
Besides that, I would also like to get involve in other genre of restaurants especially in the more economical end of the market.
Q: What do you do to de-stress or to unwind?
I would usually go to Bukit Gasing in Petaling Jaya for a short hike just to be by myself and be amongst nature. Apart from that, an occasional meetup with friends over drinks would do the trick as well.
Q: Any final comments for your readers?
The F&B scene is very unforgiving. Think twice and hard before embarking on this journey. It’s a lot of hard work and perseverance. A lot of times, the public has a misconception of how “easy” the business of food is.
What they see and read are the success stories but in reality, the rate of failure is, in fact, daunting. As for those who seem to be doing okay, they are usually breaking even at most. I once heard a restaurateur of fifteen years say, “If you have an enemy, recommend him to start a restaurant. He will die a slow death.”
Jokes aside, I’m imploring this to anyone out there thinking of venturing into the food scene to do your research and homework. While the industry has its own rewards, one should ask oneself, are the trials and tribulation of building a restaurant something one can handle?
Treat everyone with respect and dignity. That’s our general rule of thumb.
As it is with most partnerships, heads are bound to lock when making decisions in regards to growing the business. . .as long as we keep the communication channels open, almost everything can be resolved.
Renyi is the Creative Director of myBurgerLab and also co-founder of Good Food Alliance – a coalition of restaurateurs in KL and PJ. His role at myBurgerLab shifts between product development, operations, marketing and branding. An engineer by education but an educator and hospitality mentor at heart. For more A Day In The Life articles, click here.
Tamara was previously an assistant editor and writer with Leaderonomics. She loves thought-provoking conversations over cups of tea. If she is not writing, you might find her hiking up a mountain in search of a new waterfall to explore.