From The Boardroom To The Kitchen!

By Joy Lee The Star, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia / Asia News Network.

PETALING JAYA (The Star/ANN)

It takes a lot of courage to step out as an entrepreneur, especially when you are already in a comfortable job with good pay.

For some women, forgoing the benefits of climbing up the corporate ladder to pursue a passion has turned out to be a more rewarding option.

Among them are Jaclyn Ting and Hellen Fong, who left the corporate world to follow their culinary dreams.

And they prove that age is no barrier.

Twenty-four-year-old Ting opened her cafe, Jac's on the 8th, in Ara Damansara early this year while Fong, then in her late 40s, started her cooking school, At Nineteen Culinary Studio, in 2010.

Taking the leap

Ting has always been interested in coffee and baking, and it did not take her long to realize she would rather be making coffee and baking cakes than sitting in an office all day.

After two and a half years in corporate finance, she came across an opportunity to start her own cafe.

"My family used to come to this cafe quite a bit. And one day, we found out that the owner was looking to sell the business. And we thought this might be an opportunity for us. It is something I have wanted to do for a long time. And here is someone giving me the opportunity to realize that dream and I thought why not," she recalled.

No doubt Ting had a lot of concerns about starting out on her own, particularly on the issue of finances.

But after much consideration, she noted that starting a business from scratch would be more costly than buying over an existing one.

So she took the leap and decided to seize the opportunity.

She invested 150,000 ringgit (US$45,878) to buy over the cafe and another 10,000 ringgit to 15,000 ringgit on renovations.

"The good thing about taking over a cafe is that people already know the place. So, we get quite a good number of customers, especially on weekends. But we need to build our own base to get repeat business. We need to make connections with our customers to make them regulars," Ting said.

She noted that there is much more to learn about the business and it is important to have the support of family, friends and suppliers to make the learning more bearable.

Ting is hopeful to break even in two or three years.

She is already eyeing expansion opportunities such as catering to home parties and events and will explore the options for new outlets once her current caf? is up and running smoothly.

"Running your own cafe can be tiring. There is a lot to do and a lot to learn. If you are thinking of doing this, it is important to do your research and know what you are getting into before jumping in.

"But I have enjoyed the experience so far. It is easier to wake up to go to work now. Not many have the opportunity to turn what they like into what they do, so I feel very lucky to be able to do that," Ting said.

Following a passion

Fong's love affair with food started at a young age. As the eldest child in the family, Fong was expected to know her way around the kitchen.

Upon graduation, she joined the corporate world and later on, went into banking. But she continued to cook and honed her skills with classes on weekends.

"I never gave up on my passion. I always thought that, one day, I would be able to leave my job and follow my passion. I saved up although I had yet to decide what exactly it was that I wanted to do," Fong explained.

When the day came to leave, Fong admitted she was hesitant to quit her job as she was already in a very senior position and doing something she enjoyed.

"You think of all the things that you are giving up, the salary and the benefits, and it is scary. There is always this fear of stepping out. But it is a question of leaving what you like to do something you are more passionate about. And it will be tough, but it is important not to give up," she said.

Fong took some time to be certain of what she wanted to do. She also carried out an informal survey to find out if people would be interested to attend her cooking school.

Once her mind was made up, she turned her husband's family home into the venue for At Nineteen Culinary Studio.

According to Fong, it takes anything from 100,000 ringgit to 500,000 ringgit to set up a culinary studio.

Her experience in a bank came in handy as it taught her to scrutinise every aspect of running a business from product development, marketing, raising revenues, managing costs, handling staff force, dealing with competition to margin compression.

To-date, Fong's culinary school has taught more than 2,000 students and 30% of these are returning customers.

Although Fong started out with simple cooking lessons, the school has branched out to corporate events such as team building activities, kitchen rental, launches and chef demonstrations.

The bulk of her customers are retail customers, but Fong is looking to grow her portfolio of corporate customers, which contributes about 80% of the school's revenue.

Fong will also be launching a cook book next month, which is a collection of vintage local recipes.

"I am very happy to be able to go after my passion. Looking back, I often wished I had started earlier. But it is never too late." she said.

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