It all began with a dream to come up with the perfect chocolate cake. The dream led Ms Lyn Lee and a group of her friends to set up Awfully Chocolate in 1998. They started with just one outlet selling one type of chocolate cake. It was during the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, and their business idea was unconventional. Many people said that they were not going to make it. But the naysayers were proven wrong.
Today, 17 years later, Awfully Chocolate has taken over the hearts of many chocolate lovers in Singapore, Jakarta and other Asian cities. It has also expanded its business with two offshoots, Nine Thirty by Awfully Chocolate and Everything with Fries.
Ms Lyn Lee, a former lawyer, left her job to start a business in the food industry with little experience in the field. It was her love for chocolate that sparked off the idea to create the perfect chocolate cake. Ms Lyn Lee and her friends would experiment with various chocolate cake recipes after work and during weekends. Ms Lee recalls that the very first Awfully Chocolate outlet set up in Katong did not even look anything like a cake shop. The outlet looked like a simple glass box with plain white walls and had no air-conditioning. Casual passers-by could not even see the person sitting behind the counter and selling the cakes. They did not advertise, but let the quirky little shop and the chocolate cake speak for company. Ms Lee and her team felt that it was honest and authentic, and that was how they wanted to sell their chocolate cake.
In the early days too, conditions were sometimes harsh, which left their budget tight. But the business never borrowed any money. Ms Lee confesses that financial planning is not her strongest suit, but “if you are not particularly good at something, you hire someone who is good to help you.”
With a strong business team behind her, her passion for the craft and their unconventional ideas, with honesty and authenticity at its core, their business grew. After 10 years, banks started to offer them loans. By then Awfully Chocolate had begun to enjoy a more comfortable cash flow, better resources and could expand without external loans. By sustaining the business within its means, they never needed to take up any of those offers.
When asked what she enjoys most about being an entrepreneur, Ms Lyn Lee chuckled and said, “very often in life or in work or in studies, you are taught a certain way or you learn from experience that people do things in a certain way. In being an entrepreneur, the satisfaction comes from not being tied down by conventional thinking, and we can explore the ways we want the business to be done.” Her heartfelt advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to simply go for it and not to overthink it. Expecting immediate answers blinds one to the possibilities and opportunities which, according to her, are the most important things about entrepreneurship.