Ken Tan is the Co-founder of Fish Sh-nack, a Singapore-based start-up that produces delicious packaged crispy fish-skin snacks.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
Our idea began when we were having dinner at a restaurant in Singapore and we experienced the traditional Asian fish-skin that was being served. The fish skin that is usually produced in restaurants tends to be quite plain and heavily deep-fried. We came up with the idea to make fish-skin much healthier and to introduce a range of East-West inspired flavours that could accompany them. We discovered our very own fish-skin technique that uses heated air to fry the fish skin with a coat of olive oil and a dash of sea salt. Then we were good to go with Fish Sh-nack!
How did you get your business started?
Starting the business was a lengthy process as we were tied up with our jobs as well as studying. When it came down to the first steps towards setting up the business, which included writing a business plan, we were overwhelmed with the vast amount of information we had to research, and the daunting task of actually writing the plan. Then we found out about the RMIT Business Plan Competition. It gave us the much-needed drive to go ahead with planning Fish Sh-nack, driving us to both finish all of the planning as well as signing up for our first pop-up local market in Singapore.
What lessons have you learned so far on your business journey?
1. Outcomes. There will be different outcomes after you have written the business plan. While we were planning Fish Sh-nack we were focused on the primary product. But we casually mentioned the idea of 'East-West condiments'. Little did we know the amazing potential that we were mustering in that phrase. Now we have our very own range of bottled sauces!
2. Difference. You aren’t different from anyone else with an idea until you actually start to realise your idea. There are so many people who 'talk the talk'. But until you actually 'walk the talk' and make a start, like we did with Fish Sh-nack, you won’t find satisfaction in what you’re doing.
3. Naysayers. We learnt to listen and pick up information, but also to filter out the majority of the negativity that we heard. There were many veterans from the food industry who told us things like: "Oh, it’s too difficult to do that"; "Too much time will be needed"; "It’ll be too tough"; "The hours are long"; and, "You’ll have to wait a long time before you see any returns". You have to hold out against these people. Only take in constructive feedback. For example, we helped overcome the long hours by finding ways that we could hire the help we needed at a reasonable cost for Fish Sh-nack.
4. "Nothing comes easy; nothing comes fast". Being an entrepreneur can be hard: the hours can be long and the returns are small at first. If you are looking for fast returns and easy cash, play the lottery instead! I often share the quote: "Take action on your passion, never let it slide. Take pride in your passion, never let it hide."
5. Team. Whether you have a team of people with you or under you, or it’s just you and your partner, teamwork ensures that everyone focuses on the main objective of the business. Having team members also means more ideas that you’ll need to filter. Another quote that I like to share is: "If you want to go fast, go it alone. If you want to go far, go together."
6. Relationships. There are two important groups of people who keep your business alive: your customers and your suppliers. Customers are a given: any business needs to maintain a good relationship with them because they will hopefully bring repeat business, which will also hopefully allow word-of-mouth through their friends and family. This multiplies your customer base. Businesses tend to neglect the suppliers, though. Without your suppliers, you can’t get or create your products, your prices may rise if you keep changing suppliers, and you won’t get insights from your supplier in the long term. With Fish Sh-nack, we’ve found that it’s important to maintain good relationships with both our customers and suppliers in order for our business to thrive.
How important for you has it been to have a mentor?
Having mentors has allowed us to gain the experience from veterans in the food industry. If you bring the passion, they will bring the advice and guidance.
What are your top three tips for starting a business?
1. Manage your relationships.
2. Keep planning.
3. Expect the unexpected!
Ken Tan is a graduate of the Bachelor of Business, Economics and Finance (2014), through an RMIT partnership with Singapore Institute of Management (SIM). Watch this YouTube clip (1min) about Ken’s experiences with Fish Sh-nack.
"Being an entrepreneur can be hard: the hours can be long and the returns are small at first. But I often share the quote: 'Take action on your passion, never let it slide. Take pride in your passion, never let it hide.'" - Ken Tan