Jekyll & Hyde to Aloha Poké: Meet the S’poreans who run businesses while working full-time

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The media is rife with stories of startup and business owners who quit their day jobs to pursue their passions full-time. Many Singaporeans, from hawkers to tech startup founders, have chosen to leave their cushy corporate jobs to embark on the tough route of entrepreneurship.

However, a study by researchers Joseph Raffiee and Jie Feng interestingly found that entrepreneurs who kept their day jobs had 33 percent lower odds of failure than those who quit.

This could be due to the benefits of having a balanced “risk portfolio” — having a sense of security in one realm gives individuals greater freedom to be creative and original in other aspects of life, such as their own business ventures.

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Many entrepreneurs go on to build successful businesses, despite still having a stake in their full-time positions. Here are some Singaporean founders who did the same:

1. Ee Chien Chua of Jekyll & Hyde

Ee Chien Chua, owner of Jekyll & Hyde / Image Credit: Jekyll & Hyde Jekyll & Hyde

Jekyll & Hyde is an award-winning, bespoke cocktail bar which was founded in 2013.

In 2018, now owner Ee Chien Chua stumbled upon the opportunity to take over the operations of the bar, and he “took on the challenge almost on an impulse”.

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Ee Chien has helped high-growth tech startups such as Uber and Grab grow and launch different products and solutions.

The current Director of Business Development and Partnerships at digital wealth advisor Endowus thought that the bar had built a reputation as a unique home-grown business and there was a lot of potential to grow it further.

Since taking over Jekyll & Hyde in 2018, Ee Chien continued to maintain the standards and unique selling points of the bar’s bespoke cocktails, and the bar manages to generate over a million dollars in revenue.

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Ee Chien told Vulcan Post in a separate interview that he wakes up at 7.30am daily and makes sure that he does his day job efficiently. After work, he helps the operations of the bar. 

Looking back on his own journey, Ee Chien said he would not advise anyone who dreams of starting their own business to quit their full-time job. 

2. Miya Chong of Saltwater Altelier

saltwater atelier miya chong
Miya Chong, founder of Saltwater Atelier / Image Credit: Miya Chong / Saltwater Atelier

Saltwater Atelier is a handcrafted, artisanal soap brand started by founder Miya Chong.

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Miya runs Saltwater Atelier and handcrafts the soaps herself in tandem with her full-time job for a U.S. cruise company where she does regional business development, marketing and public relations. She is also a mum to three young children.

Miya stumbled upon a soap crafting shop whilst on a business trip in 2017, and started experimenting with creating her own soap. She later started an Instagram page (@saltwateratelier) to document her soap creations and share the soap-making process.

Just two months after the launch of her Instagram page, she received an order for her very first commissioned work — 200 bars of soap for a wedding.

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Crafted in small batches with no two bars looking the same, each bar is infused with ingredients that are free of SLS, parabens, phthalates and preservatives. The soaps are also 100 per cent vegan, palm-free and are tested on friends, not animals.

Saltwater Atelier’s bar soaps are priced between S$12 and S$18.

Now, her goal is to share the beauty of quality handcrafted soaps and inject art into the daily mundane task of showering. 

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3. Maddy Barber of MADLY

Madly Gems
Maddy Barber, founder of MADLY / Image Credit: MADLY

MADLY is a bespoke jeweller that has received considerable attention since the brand’s inception in 2015.

The brand has made it to Tatler’s 10 Best Singaporean Jewellers for four consecutive years, and has also won the Best Jeweller in Asia by the Luxury Travel Guide Lifestyle Awards, and made it to TallyPress’ Top 10 Artisan Jewellery list.

MADLY is founded by radio personality Maddy Barber, who continues to serve as the co-presenter of a breakfast show on local radio station Kiss92 FM.

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Maddy tried to create custom jewellery at regular jewellers, but realised that they rarely went through the effort of understanding their client’s style or personality — neither were they daring enough to try anything new. 

She then launched MADLY as a brand that offers customers with unique and bespoke jewellery able to tell their stories down to the very last detail.

The brand has the full range of gems, from the more famous coloured gems such as sapphires, emeralds and rubies, to up and coming ones like spinels and tsavorite garnets, and even colour-changing gems like Alexandrites.

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“MADLY is more than just creating and selling beautiful jewellery – it’s about making the world a more joyful and sparkling place with what we do and how we interact with people and the world around us,” said Maddy in a separate interview with Vulcan Post.

4. Mervin Tham, Johnson Ng and Sean Goh of EasyMeat

Easy Meat SG
Co-founders of EasyMeat / Image Credit: Easy Meat

Singaporeans Mervin Tham, Johnson Ng and Sean Goh once craved for the decadent meat in the middle of the night, but realised that there was no way they could purchase it. 

No restaurants were open at that time, and any deliveries would take at least a day to arrive. They then got to thinking about how they could provide good quality cuts of beef at all times for Singaporeans who crave for a quick beef fix.

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This led to the birth of EasyMeat SG — a local startup which operates vending machines that dispense Australian Wagyu beef.

There are already a variety of vending machines in Singapore dispensing products from free samples to face masks. 

However, Johnson told Vulcan Post in an interview that EasyMeat’s vending machines are the first in Singapore that dispense fresh meat. A 200g steak goes for S$25, while 250g of sliced meat for shabu shabu will set you back by S$19.

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All three of the EasyMeat co-founders are running the startup on top of their full-time jobs.

5. John Chen, Lee Yue Xia, Paladin Hsu and Selene Ong of Aloha Poke

Aloha Poke
Image Credit: Aloha Poke

Singaporeans are no strangers to poké bowls these days, thanks to the emergence of various restaurants serving them up to health-conscious office workers.

However, Aloha Poké is the first of its kind in Singapore.

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The chain’s four founders — John Chen, Lee Yue Xia, Paladin Hsu and Selene Ong — were vacationing in Hawaii in 2014 when they had their first taste of the quintessential Hawaiian dish.

Calling the experience “love at first taste”, they spent the rest of their vacation seeking out the best poké joints in and around Oahu. Upon their return to Singapore, they tried to find suitable alternatives – but to no avail.

This was when they started experimenting with poké flavours in their own kitchen based on the fond memories of their time in Hawaii. They also made poké for each other, their family and their friends, until they believed they got the balance of flavours just right.

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Not satisfied with simply sharing the wonders of poké with loved ones, they decided to start a restaurant, and opened their very first Aloha Poké outlet along Amoy Street in August 2015.

They now have three outlets in Singapore, and have also expanded to Perth, Australia.

In a previous interview with the founders in 2017, they shared that each outlet can expect to sell an average of up to 30kg of fish and an average of two poké bowls per minute during the busy two-hour lunch window per day.

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At the point of writing, all four founders were still working full-time in the banking industry whilst running the chain.

There’s no fixed formula for success

Starting a business is hard work, and these Singaporeans managed to create a new brand for themselves whilst still juggling their corporate jobs.

However, there is no definite path to success.

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Though keeping one’s day job might give them a greater sense of security when working on new business ideas, leaving their jobs could mean they can dedicate more time and effort into their new venture.

Featured Image Credit: Jekyll & Hyde / Saltwater Atelier / MADLY / EasyMeat / Aloha Poké

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