The Ice Cream & Cookie Co. began as a weekend farmers' market stall. Three years on, it has grown into a wholesale distribution business supplying cafes, restaurants, and dessert fiends with their creamy, cool licks. For someone who never intended to turn her hobby into a business, Natasha Chiam has proven herself to be as adept in the boardroom as she is in the kitchen.
Chiam, who has just turned 30, could be called an accidental entrepreneur of sorts. As the founder of Ice Cream Cookie & Co. and The Pint Society, she might have a team of 12 working under her, but the former lawyer and journalist didn't pick up her management skills from business school. Everything she knows about business has been the result of trial and error. The very first lesson she learnt? Juggling two jobs just wasn't humanly feasibile. When demand for her ice cream sandwiches started to grow, she was still holding down a full-time job as a beauty writer with Female magazine. But when she turned up for work one day, unaware that she had flour on her pants, she knew something had to give. She had to choose between writing or churning ice cream cookies — and we're glad she opted for the latter. Today, she has two businesses — Ice Cream Cookie & Co. and The Pint Society — under her wing, both of which pay homage to ice cream in one way or the other.
We sat down with the inspiring girl boss to find out more about her personal style and ingredients for success.
You started The Ice Cream & Cookie Co. without a background in F&B. What were some of the initial challenges you faced and how has that changed now that you have two businesses under your wing?
Starting any business is difficult, but I've always had an interest in F&B so that helps. That makes it easier mentally, but not technically. When we started, we were so small. It was just me running around and doing everything. When you're pretty much every function of the business, time management is a challenge. There's a limit to what you can do every day. The challenge now has more to do with managing people and customers. You spend a lot more time trying to get organised. When I'm in the factory, there's a lot of disruption during the day. People come in to chat about things, issues get flagged, phone calls come through. So when I do get work done, it's usually at home, before or after working hours.
As your own boss, how do you draw the line between work and leisure?
It's quite blurred. Everything comes through on my phone which is still my personal line. It's very interconnected. In some ways, I cannot be too disconnected. It's my business after all.
How did the idea for The Pint Society come about? What sparked you to move into B2C?
One thing I really missed as Ice Cream & Cookie Co. grew is creativity and being able to react quickly to current events. With B2B, which is what Ice Cream & Cookie Co. does, you have to be very organised. Each time you roll out a product, you have to tell all your stockists way in advance to give them time to plan. It's a very controlled approach. In B2C, you can launch something one day and you don't have to repeat it. It's a little more impulsive. More creative. Less of a measured activity.
START WITH A COUPLE OF THINGS AND DO THEM REALLY WELL BEFORE YOU TRY TO EXPAND.
What is success to you?
Freedom. Freedom to do what you want to do. I wouldn't say it's tagged to a dollar amount. Now that I'm running my own thing, I have the freedom to work from anywhere.
Who are some of the people that have played a key role in supporting you through this journey?
Definitely my dad. He's a business person, too. Funnily enough, he was in the dessert business as well and dealt with chocolate. His influence on my businesses might be somewhat subliminal. When I wanted to quit my job, my parents were like "Are you sure? Have you even sold any ice cream yet?", but as we gained momentum, they worried less. They have been so supportive the entire way.
Speaking of your dad, did he want you to follow after him and go into business, too?
Not at all. He wanted me to be a doctor. He said, "If you're a doctor, you'll always have patients, so you never have to worry about demand." Having gone through some of the struggles an entrepreneur goes through, I finally understand why parents might not want that for their children.
Would you consider your dad to be your mentor? Who are some successful people you look up to?
My dad's definitely one. We also have some family friends I consider to be successful business people. I know a lady who's a successful lawyer in Australia. To me, she's successful as she has a very happy family and has always been a good mum. She's been very grounded and always willing to help even if you're very young and don't have much to give back. That's something I really admire about her.
What's the best advice anyone has given you?
It's something my dad told me: You can always do things well, but you have to remember to do it with integrity. In business, it's easy to get swayed by the dollars and cents, but you have to be able to make the right decisions — ones that allow you to go to sleep at night.
How often do you follow your gut instincts?
Most of the time. In my experience, when something seems fishy, it usually is. Someone might be saying all the right things, but if you sense that something's off, it usually is.
How would you define your personal style?
It's quite simple and feminine. I like neutrals and clean colours. I don't wear a lot of colours or bright patterns.
Any favourite brands?
I've been shopping a lot at In Good Company. I find their clothes to be quite functional and nice. You can wear them to work and for dinner later in the night.
What do you look for in a bag?
These days, it's functionality. It has to look quite neat as well. I attend a lot of meetings with different people, so I might meet an indie café one day and a big company the next. The bag has to be very versatile. It can't draw attention away from the rest of what I'm trying to present.
What are some of the essentials you always carry in your bag?
I always have my lip balm, phone, wallet, some kind of lolly or snack, and keys to my home and factory. Sometimes I don't have the time to stop for lunch, so I snack on things along the way.
We're always trying to innovate and expand. The next thing we're gearing up for is the festive season. Trying to craft new flavours, new products. We'll probably participate in a Christmas event that's part of the Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay. They bring in lights from Europe and it's really pretty and quite spectacular once they get the set-up done. I like Christmas events. People are just happier and more relaxed than usual.
Do you have plans to expand beyond Singapore?
I would love to. Hopefully within the next year or two. That would be amazing.
Any advice for future girl bosses?
Focus on your product and concept and make it really tight. I meet with many businesses and start-ups and the ones that do well are the ones who are really focused. So be focused. Don't try to do everything at once. Start with a couple of things and do them really well before you try to expand.
Click on the video below for a behind-the-scenes look at the BOSS Bespoke Bag shoot with Natasha Chiam.
BURO POP-UP STORE:
Come and explore the BOSS Bespoke Bag installation at the Buro 24/7 Singapore pop-up store — 6 Scotts Road, Scotts Square #01-06/07.
From now until 31 October, you'll receive a $50 BOSS voucher if you take an Instagram photo of the BOSS Bespoke bag at our pop-up store and tag it with #BuroLovesBOSS. The most creative post wins a BOSS Bespoke bag. The winner will be contacted directly on Instagram.
Open daily from 10am to 10pm (Tel: 6443 4771)
Natasha Chiam's outfits: All from BOSS Womenswear
Photography: Vanessa Caitlin
Fashion direction: Norman Tan
Makeup & Hair: Cindy Goh using Shiseido
Styling assistance: Andrea Sim