How David Gan, Co-founder, and CIO of Tipsy Collective is offering uniquely present hospitality through a series of thoughtful concepts
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
David Gan: Finding our footing at the start was initially a challenge when Circuit Breaker measures were implemented. We feel fortunate that we’re all safe and healthy and have been afforded the opportunities to innovate in our own space yet spend more time together with our family and friends making memories.
Sure, there was an eagerness to return to the things we loved doing outside of the home, but being home for a little longer allowed us to relish the smaller joys and appreciate what was previously taken for granted.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Tipsy Collective.
David Gan: Singapore is undoubtedly a food hub, and I am proud of my east side heritage. As an experimental foodie, the eastern part of Singapore has always been my playground to discover an array of culinary experiences- be it local delights or interesting takes on western food. So when it came down to opening my first F&B concept, it had to be in a space that I had an emotional attachment to while growing up and wanted to add value to it. Therefore, I chose Tampines to launch my very first brand, Tipsy Penguin.
The inspiration behind Tipsy Penguin and many of the other concepts we’ve created was to have a space in which groups and gatherings could huddle together, enjoying each other’s company and live entertainment as well as the vibes of the locality. When I was younger, a visit to a popular F&B joint was what I drew inspiration from, and thought to myself that I had to do something equally as exciting and bring my ideas to life.
In this pursuit of providing diners with the ultimate gastronomical experiences, I co-founded a multi-concept F&B holding group called Tipsy Collective in 2018. After developing a penchant for creating spaces with a distinctive personality, we ventured into expansion with a rooftop bar, Lady Wu, and soon after Takeshi Noodle, which is home to Singapore’s first Seafood Mala Ramen. The vision that I had for Tipsy Penguin was to be innovative to a point beyond the run-off-the-mill watering hole. That acted as the core of what the other outlets had to offer but with a completely diversified personality and identity.
In the short span of 3 years alone, we made quite an impactful presence on the F&B and entertainment scene with the launch of 8 F&B brands and concepts islandwide – namely Tipsy Penguin, Lady Wu, Takeshi Noodle Bar, Tipsy Bird, Hadouken, Tipsy Panda, O/T Bar and our most recent venture – Tipsy Bunny.
What I sought for these concepts was for different characteristics to be imbibed and adapted for the culinary outcome to be completely different from anything we had previously imagined. So whether it was creating signature dishes like Mala Karaage or Tapas styled servings of locally favored KungPao Chicken or Pork Nuggets at Lady Wu or Kale Rojak Salad at Tipsy Bunny, the idea was to reinvent distinct classics with a fusion twist that would suit every palate. This allowed us to carve a niche in the F&B industry in being a haven for entertainment and cuisines for foodies who are alike yet different.
Currently, I am spearheading the group’s expansion as the Chief Investment Officer, focusing on business development, project management, and con-currently managing the group’s administration and digitalization efforts.
How does Tipsy Collective innovate?
David Gan: At Tipsy collective, we believe that nothing comes out of nothing and that any and every experience can be the basis for a celebration of innovation. It has been a relatively depressing year with everyone restricted within the walls of their homes, and Tipsy makes it a point to find ways to bring people together with live entertainment, good food, and drinks! Even with safe distancing measures kept in place and by following regulations imposed, we’ve tried to add an element of mystery and fun by commemorating events that are not commonly prevalent in Singapore.
For instance, since we couldn’t travel overseas to popular tourist destinations like Thailand, we thought, why not bring the experience back here? So we had our very first ‘Tipsy Songkran’ event after planning and collaborating with some of the popular Thai restaurants here.
Food-wise, we are always on the lookout for new food trends that capture people’s interests and try to add an exclusive, personalized Tipsy touch like we previously did for the ever-popular basque burnt cheesecake.
Another innovation that we are proud of is our consistency and excellence to ensure that every patron’s experience is engaging, enriching, and meaningful. This is seen through our ability to draw new crowds from around the island. All our outlets are highly sought after by not just our patrons but also as a tenant by landlords, property developers, and malls operators in Singapore.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business?
David Gan: Considering that our business was entirely based on patronage and their ability to be huddled together and share an experience with one another through food and drink, the implementation of the circuit breaker meant that we needed to act quickly in order to sustain ourselves. Changes needed to be implemented at lightning speed, and time was now an obsolete measure as we put our heads together virtually regardless of the hour. I am thankful to the collaborative and supportive efforts of my team for being on their feet throughout and adapting to the challenges thrown at us. Some of our staff members doubled up as riders to help with deliveries. It was humbling to see the overwhelming backing that Tipsy was granted by its patrons who missed the space as much as they missed the items on the menu.
Thus, the circuit breaker was the catalyst to introduce changes and boost our digitalization efforts by implementing our first digital brand concept – Hadouken. The launch of Hadouken enabled us to remain connected to our customer base without jeopardizing safety and also helped keep the family at Tipsy Collective together. We all knew that safety came first, but we were also clouded with general anxiety about the situation and our ability to adapt to the new normal. I am very happy that my team adapted and overcame the adversities thrown our way.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
David Gan: Thankfully, at Tipsy Collective, we’re a group of like-minded individuals who seek solace in the purpose of connecting people through our space. When people are able to attach meaning to what they do, they become more engaged, more productive, and are happier to go the extra mile. That in itself allowed us to thrive even in the post COVID world. Thankfully, my team was as welcoming to change and able to exercise agility in their roles. This allowed us to retain all our staff despite the challenges and still remain optimistic about future prospects in relation to expansion and hiring.
We’ve always relied on the unconditional support of our staff and today’s generation of workers have high regard for education. Therefore, we channel all efforts into taking care of our staff’s needs just as they have channeled towards our business. Fortune favors the bold, and at times when the boldness of spirit is evident in our employees, we think the best way to honor and encourage that spirit is through an educational sponsorship. This allows the employee to broaden their horizons for career progressions and having a better chance at securing their future.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
David Gan: We heavily rely on our people, who have steadily built relationships with our patrons over time. Whether it’s an enthusiastic member who checks in with the rest of the staff to make sure every patron feels like they belong or a skeptic member driven by results to widen our perspective and be more inclusive, our people are our biggest customer relationship management tool.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
David Gan: Yes, the government’s Job Support Scheme (JSS) allowed us the opportunity to retain our staff and channel resources into expanding digitalization efforts even in the face of the worst global economic downturn. Furthermore, it would have been tougher on us without the rental waiver as our revenue was a fraction of what it used to be.
The government’s support allowed us the liberty of continuing to provide culinary experiences that were true to our vision and enabled us to return with full strength once phase 2 of the circuit breaker was activated.
Your final thoughts?
David Gan: As one of the only few businesses in Singapore with 5 live entertainment venues islandwide, we aspire to continue bringing forward unique culinary experiences to our audiences who have allowed us to be their haven of entertainment and gastronomical endeavors. We have also officially adopted the African Penguin Exhibit at the Singapore Zoo – an ode to our very first brand Tipsy Penguin!
Looking at 2021 and beyond, we’re diversifying our portfolio by incorporating more elements of uniquely relatable identities and creating spaces that are intricately and subtly designed – so definitely keep a lookout for us!
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