A Buzzfeed Video about alcoholic bubbletea inspired me to bring what I was convinced of as the ‘next big thing’ to Singaporeans. The then bubbletea shop featured in that Buzzfeed video was on a Kickstarter project to expand their business. I remember swiftly contacting then owner, ‘E’, to work out details on franchising. Unfortunately, my lack of capital and poor social skills then toppled the whole deal.
That didn’t stop me and my alcoholic bubbletea dream. The experiences following this failed business handshake only gets more exciting – and terribly wrong. Till this date, I remain astonished by my own stubbornness and strong-headed perseverance then.
So, the idea of selling alcoholic bubble tea is rooted in my head. 2018, we were attending a Halloween party organised by a local student community. Passing by food and drink stalls we chanced upon a friendly drinks vendor selling their own creation of ice lollies, and that was the first time I brought up the idea of alcoholic BT to a stranger. A few exchanges later and they seemed eager to be co-partners in this exciting new venture. It was win-win on both side since they already had the licensing and storefront, while me and my then-partner could provide the sourcing and event management area. This seemed like an exciting venture waiting to happen, not. A few weeks went by, and we went from disagreement over recipe concoctions to having full blown heated arguments over venue locations. It was very hard to deal with, because coming right down to it was simply clashes on personalities that we never saw coming. The whole project ended before it even started. I think we both learnt our own lessons, for me it was to choose business partners wisely.
That experience only propelled me even more to bring alcoholic BBT into our Singapore market. I was fuelled with frustration, having my eyes set on every opportunity to make this happen. Strolling through Chinatown one day, I stumbled onto a newly opened bar promoting locally-made beers and thought that they may also be opened to new partnerships. Approaching Mrs. ladyboss anxiously, I proposed selling alcoholic BBT at the bar rent-free, and in exchange giving them a cut of our sale price. To further sweeten the deal and show my sincerity, I also offered to bar-tend free of charge for 2 weeks. The deal fell through because I was offered a 70/30 split of sales figures. I was set to be earning pennies.
By now I should have probably dump the whole idea in the bin, but I was already stuck with sunken costs such as a truckload of dried tapoica pearls, BBT straws, bartending equipment and plastic cups (sorry environment). Giving up always felt like failure to me, and I don’t like feeling that way. So out I went again with my idea and perseverance, meeting with restaurant and bar managers who gave only rejection after rejection. I suppose the idea of having a new business in your establishment will only interrupt the dynamics of work, and that I can understand. Perhaps it was up to me to provide a better deal – after all the idea was currently brand-less and first-in-market. I was able to eventually reach an event organiser who secured a pop-up space for us despite our limitations as an ‘experimental business’. BOBA768 was born physically in December 2018. The name was originally created for the first bar as that represented their street address. Eventually I just decided to stick with it.
BOBA768 served 2 different drinks – ‘The Green Pledge’ (green tea, pale lager beer with passionfruit popping pearls) and ‘Dancing Irish’ (baileys, Irish syrup and milk with honey bobas). On the day of the pop up event I was confident on my preparedness, but first times are always filled with surprises. Firstly, our liquid container for serving drinks shattered (learnt of thermal fracturing that day), then came a quiet first half of the day with 0 sales, before the evening turned into a roaring success with more visitors here to support.
My most fond memories from this tough af ride were conversations with one of the first customers, it went like:
Man: ‘if I buy this drink, where will the money go to?’
Me: ‘err…. me?’
Man: “it’s ur business? ok, I will have one’
Lady: “ok, can you gimme 10 of the one with beer? here, *passes $100*”
Me: “I’m sorry did you say 10?”
Lady: “Yes they taste good, I will come back to collect it later”.
Thanks to people who believed in what I was doing, I am convinced that my stubbornness weren’t all for nothing. To be honest, I dove head in without enough research nor finance consideration. Selling alcoholic BT was just something I felt that I needed to do, and while the ultimate goal then was to open a profiting alcoholic BBT bar, not achieving it still felt good, since I fought all the way to at least something concrete. This failed business experience will always be something I can share to others.
I suppose you can imagine that BOBA768 didn’t go very far since the pop-up store. The main reason being to operate our own amazing alcoholic BBT bar requires not only Food and Beverage licensing, which can only be attained by having a shop rental front and operating certifications, but also liquor license and many more fixed costs. Simply put – I didn’t have the pocket for capital nor future losses. The whole experience however was refreshing. It was my first venture to the Food & Beverage industry, and have opened opportunities for me to meet people from different walks of life.
Looking back now at times where I would come straight home from school, cook boba for 5 hours, then carry pots and water dispensers from one side of the country to another, one can understand that when you are passionate about something, you’ll always find energy to keep the flame burning.