December 10th, 2013

How A 27 year old Brought Chatime to Malaysia

This is the second edition of my friend’s success stories thanks to :)

bryan loo

From left: Me, Bryan and Pierre and a conference in Jakarta this year.

Before I actually met Bryan I had actually heard of him many times. He was this upcoming entrepreneur who was making waves and doing really well. He was constantly in the media. So one day out of interest I decided to follow him on Instagram and see what his life was like. The impression I got was that this guy really knew how to live life.

It was only months after I had followed him on Instagram that I had first met him. We were at a conference in Jakarta called Taipan, that invited entrepreneurs to learn business-building skills. We had heard of each other before so I guess it wasn’t hard hitting it off. I was impressed at how down to Earth Bryan was and learned later he came from really humble roots.

Bryan Loo grew up in Perlis, the smallest state in Malaysia. His first entrepreneurial venture was at the tender age of 7. He was good at drawing comic books and found friends who were willing to pay to read his comics. So to get a bit more pocket money he would sell his comic books at RM0.50 each to his friends. This comic book venture went really well until his parents found out and decided to raise his pocket money. Having enough pocket money he then stopped selling his comics (or we might have ended up with our own Malaysian Stan Lee).

Bryan likes to say he grew up in a business environment. His parents owned an air-conditioning business that operated out of a shop lot and they lived right on the top floor of that shop lot. One thing Bryan didn’t like doing though was studying. He ended with less than impressive grades after he finished secondary school and his pre-university year. Grades that he said were so bad he couldn’t even get into Sunway Monash.

Eventually though Bryan found that the academic requirements for Monash University in Melbourne was a lot lower and he managed to get in. He graduated with a biotech degree and initially stayed in Australia to work. His first job was a sales one in Melbourne. He had to approach pregnant ladies to sell them stem cell and umbilical cord storage, a concept that was still quite new at that point in time. Sales… as Bryan would find, wasn’t his kind of thing. Nevertheless he stayed in that job for two years before he finally quit.

When Bryan quit, he returned to Malaysia and told his father that he wanted to start a business. He was done being an employee. His father was supportive and took him overseas to 5-6 different trade shows to see the kind of businesses that they could start together. At the end of their circuit of trade shows, Bryan decided that he wanted to do something in F&B because he felt it was more recession proof that other businesses. More specifically, he saw an opportunity in beverages. Up until then, Malaysians were focused on drinking coffee but the market for tea was still very underdeveloped.

With that in mind, Bryan flew to Taiwan to look for a tea franchise to bring to Malaysia. Taiwan, he felt, is the world capital of milk tea. The island has 10,000 milk tea outlets island wide and 180 different brands. Bryan started by approaching all the top brands of milk tea in Taiwan but was subsequently rejected one by one. They were all not interested in expanding to Malaysia.

Disappointed, Bryan flew back to Malaysia. Two weeks later, he met up with a Taiwanese friend of his who showed him pictures of Taiwan on his camera. One particular picture was of a milk tea brand called Chatime. A brand that believed in global expansion and a brand that Bryan had actually never approached before. Motivated again, Bryan Googled for the phone number of Chatime’s HQ and eventually got put to the CEO. Bryan pitched the prospects of the Malaysian market and the next day Chatime’s CEO took the next flight down to Malaysia to see him.

Two months later, Bryan opened his first Chatime in Pavilion. It was the 10th of August 2010 and while Chatime would prove to be a big hit, it would take him 6 months to learn the ropes of the business before he opened his second outlet. In that 6 months he sent out a total of 90 proposals to listing departments all over Malaysia and before he knew it they had all come back with opportunities.

Bryan was certain of one thing though. He didn’t believe in franchising aggressively. He believed that for a franchise to do well and to do the brand justice, it has to be controlled by only one owner because “nobody can treasure your brand as much as you do”. With the limited resources he had though, Bryan had no choice but to franchise out some outlets. He came up with a rule that for every 2 franchises he sold he would open 1 of his own outlets. Eventually when he hit 5-7 outlets of his own, he had enough cash flow to stop giving out franchises and open more of his own outlets.

Today Chatime has 105 outlets all over Malaysia. They are manned by over 830 staff and all his ground staff are below the age of 25. The oldest he jokes is his sister, at the age of 32.
In just 3 years Chatime Malaysia has grown from one outlet to 100, making it one of the fastest growing F&B brands in Malaysian history. When I asked Bryan what’s next? He said “petrol stations”. In the next 2 years he has plans to roll out Chatime in 100 petrol stations nationwide pushing Chatime to 200 outlets nationwide. Chatime is set to grow even more aggressively in the coming years.

Check out for more stories on successful Malaysians.