As 2021 draws to a close, it’s time we take stock of the year and look forward to 2022. Like every year since the pandemic, it has been a ride with many highs and lows.
In 2021, we saw several businesses take it by the horns and going ahead to launch their businesses despite it being a pandemic-stricken year. It’s been less than a year, but these businesses have seen tremendous growth.
Here are six local businesses that started in 2021 amidst the pandemic and fluctuating government restrictions.
Pace is a Singapore-based fintech solution company that offers ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ (BNPL), which has seen astronomical growth since its inception in 2021.
Pace took only a year to grow into a Pan-Asian BNPL provider and is on track to hit a Gross Merchandise Value run rate of US$1 billion in 2022. Most recently, it has announced that it has raised US$40 million in its Series A investment round.
According to the company, the new funding will go towards expanding technology, operations, and business development. It aims to grow its user base by 25 times over the next 12 months.
The company is now the fastest-growing multi-territory BNPL player from Singapore following this investment round.
Pace allows consumers to split their purchase bills into three equal interest-free payments over 60 days through an omni-channel experience that helps them spend sustainably.
It has successfully grown its overseas operations by working closely with regulators and adapting ultra-local approaches, such as integrating frequently used in-market payment methods to build resonance with merchants and shoppers.
To date, Pace has more than 3,000 points of sale across the region. This is driven by Pace’s ability to increase overall sales by up to 25 per cent by leveraging local customer insights while driving repeat purchases from Pace’s fast-growing base of users.
2. Champion Bolo Bun
Champion Bolo Bun had their soft opening in April of this year but has quickly earned cult status as the go-to place for bolo bun. The bakery sells 700 to 900 buns on weekdays and up to 1,200 buns on weekends — all this with no marketing efforts on her end.
The owner and head chef, Hoh Loyi, didn’t enter polytechnic or junior college like most 16-year-olds after completing their ‘O’ levels. Instead, Loyi cut her teeth in the baking world in Taiwan, where she pursued a bread-baking certificate for a year.
Later, on a holiday in Hong Kong, she found an apprenticeship at a famous bakery.
The kitchen was somewhat reluctant to accept her initially, seeing as she was so young and only a PR in Hong Kong. Still, Loyi was determined as ever and eventually found herself in their kitchen, learning all she could about Hong Kong pastries.
An education unlike any other, instead of the usual after-school escapades or cramming with friends for tests, Loyi found herself kneading dough and surrounded by friendly, avuncular older bakers who took her under their wing.
A couple of successful stints at events and Loyi found herself in a three-storey shophouse, along the streets of Tanjong Pagar and snaking queues.
Another trend that took hold in 2021 is the countless, black-and-white studio-like photos that have taken over everybody’s feed.
As ubiquitous as they are, it might surprise you that Fotomat only opened for business on 2 April 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kevin Chu is the man behind the self-photo studio. The Hwa Chong Institution graduate previously interned at GovTech, where he worked on Form.gov.sg. He then enlisted in the Air Force in 2018, where he worked at the SWiFT office, solving problems with coding.
Fotomat is his way of making portrait photography more fun. By removing the photographer from the equation, he hopes that it would encourage more bold, expressive and innovative poses, which come out more when given a private space.
With Fotomat, Kevin had the intention to make portraiture accessible and affordable to everyone, especially for students and young adults. Prices start at S$30 for a 15-minute shoot (unlimited shots for two persons) which comes with two prints.
Fotomat has since opened a second outlet along Keong Saik Street. If you need further indication of their success, you can just count the number of people in your social circle that have already paid Fotomat a visit.
Another product that has got us wrapped around its finger are coconut shakes. While most of us are enamoured by another coconut shake brand, CocoBoss is where you should get your next coconut shake when the weather gets unbearable.
CocoBoss opened its first store early this year at Space @ Kovan and has since opened its sixth store at Peninsula Shopping Centre in a short span of seven months.
Despite having zero F&B experience, Leo Tan and Benjamin Liu decided to take a leap of faith and enter into the world of coconut shakes.
It was a steep learning curve for the duo, and Leo admitted that their lack of experience posed many challenges.
“Covid-19 has affected our normal operational procedures due to safety measures put in by the government, which we must adhere to. As these safety measures are constantly changing, we have to adapt and train our crew accordingly,” said Leo.
He added that the global pandemic had caused shipping delays wells, which resulted in a “logistical nightmare”.
Leo cited the idea of building a lifestyle brand around CocoBoss as one of the critical business challenges. In particular, they want to position themselves as the “Starbucks of Coconut Shakes”.
Commenting on the local F&B landscape, Leo acknowledged that there is an existing coconut shake craze, which has helped to propel sales. When asked if it will last as long as the bubble tea hype, Leo simply said that people are constantly looking for alternatives to bubble tea.
With an increasing number of coconut shake players in the scene, Leo admits that it is indeed getting saturated and competitive, but they remain unfazed by this.
5. Chin Mee Chin Confectionery
Technically, Chin Mee Chin Confectionery has been around since the ’90s, but its revival by Ebb & Flow allowed the iconic Chin Mee Chin brand to persist in the age of sushi and pizza.
Reviving a well-loved heritage brand is no easy feat, and while it took a couple of delays and a few U-turns, Chin Mee Chin Confectionery finally opened its doors on 15 September 2021. After almost a month of never-ending snaking queues and glorious slabs of butter melting on warm buns, it seems like there’s no slowing down.
“Our goal is not to modernise Chin Mee Chin into another brand, but to preserve the heritage and keep the spirit of the Hainanese bakery as far as possible,” shared Lim Kian Chun, CEO of Ebb & Flow. Like all things, seeking that happy medium is a lot harder than one would think.
Chun is also faced with the incredible pressure to get this right. After all, hell hath no fury as Singaporeans scorned about breakfast.
To keep the menu items as authentic as possible, Chun and his team tried sourcing for the same suppliers that Chin Mee Chin Confectionery has used for the past years.
If the consistent lines at Chin Mee Chin Confectionery prove anything, it is that Singaporeans still hold traditional food in high regard.
Having launched on 25 February 2021, GetGo is the latest entry to the car-sharing scene already dominated by seven car-sharing players in Singapore.
At launch, it hailed itself as “Singapore’s simplest, most flexible, and most accessible car-sharing service.”
This is evident from GetGo’s charging policy. Other existing car-sharing companies require either a cash deposit or prepaid credit top-ups, and some charge membership fees.
Unlike the rest, GetGo decided to do away without these. It’s breaking new ground with no deposits, membership fees, and a fully Pay-As-You-Go policy.
GetGo cited two reasons for this move: they want to give users the peace of mind that the company does not unnecessarily hold their monies and make the service as flexible and accessible as possible.
“This enhancement further eliminates the need for pre-booking holds (which could add up for frequent users), and users will only be charged for the fees they have incurred,” said GetGo.
While newbies may be deterred by how saturated and competitive the market is, Toh Ting Feng, the managing director and co-founder of GetGo, feels that it is a timely launch instead.
“We had more than 14,000 registered users even before our official launch,” he added.
Beyond the long pre-registration list, GetGo has also built up a social media following of about 8,000 followers in the span of a few short months.
Featured Image Credit: CocoBoss/ Fotomat/ Champion Bolo Bun/ GetGo