Full time student, weekend chef and 100% entrepreneur
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Francis Ignatius P Chow. I did a triple major degree in business: Marketing, International Business and Advertising. I recently finished my master’s degree in Applied Project Management from Adelaide University. While I was studying my masters degree full-time, I also worked part-time as a chef on the weekends and ran my own carbon fibre manufacturing and distribution company – Angry Panda Factory. The company that I co-started, produces and distributes high-quality carbon fibre parts for automobiles used in racing or street applications. From its humble beginning, it now serves both national and international clients.
Your business has a pretty cool name – how did you come up with it?
Well I wanted to call it something unique, so I started brainstorming and came about the thought that my car was white and the parts I manufactured were black in colour. At the time it had a racing exhaust and so it was fairly loud. I myself am of Chinese descent. So upon combining all those elements I decided to call the business “Angry Panda Factory”. Every other car-affiliated vendors usually had a serious name such as Viper, N1 etc. I wanted something different, something that will not be taken too seriously, a bit of a laugh. So the name “Angry Panda Factory” stuck on. Our catchy name and cool logo looks great on promotional materials and helps people remember and recognise our brand.
“I believe that future success happens through learning from past failures. Learn from the mistakes so you will not repeat the same mistakes again.”
Check out my awesome company logo
How did you get the idea to start this business?
I started this business three years ago, upon my return from China. I was out of money, with no job prospect.Owing to the lack of a better word, I was “desperate”.
After finishing my bachelor’s degree I decided to work in China for one year and upon returning to Australia I realised that the economy was in a pretty bad shape. My job in China didn’t pay me very much.Upon my return my bank count was looking pretty sad. In addition, marketing jobs were hard to come by in Australia and things was not looking good.
I was aware that “this is a problem, my situation was looking bleak, I had hit rock-bottom. A little voice told me not to give up, I wasn’t going to let bad economy and life setbacks hinder my progress” I had to do something and I had to do it fast.
When things get tough, you just cannot give up.You have to keep going and push through it. My first intuition was to assess what I had and what I did not have and work out my options. It is all about acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses in order to figure out the best next step to take. I acknowledged that I have a good business education and I am good at communication and marketing. I enjoy being creative and generating creative solutions.In addition, I also had some contacts acquired from my stay in China.
“Most people think that being an entrepreneur means living a high flying executive life, caviars, French champagne falling from the sky and a bank account with more money than you can spend”
I have always been an active member of the automobile fraternity here in Australia. My strong ties with the automobile online forum allows me to communicate with my future customers regularly. This was the angle I used to approach my market research. From there I started to form closer relationships with my potential customers.I could soon then identify key points which are highly valued, desired products and what points are not desired , etc. I was slowly learning the nature of business environment.
Before Angry Panda Factory started to purchase carbon fibre car parts, the parts were imported from America or Japan. It was an expensive process and took a long period of time to arrive in Australia. The car community found ordering parts from overseas to be a hassle but had no other choice. There were also complaints that the quality of parts delivered were sub-par, the customer service was poor, the price was high and when it took over 6 months for the parts to arrive in Australia, many people were unhappy with the way things were.
All the while, the Australian Dollar was starting to weaken following the slowdown of the mining boom. I jumped at that opportunity and came up with a solution by getting high quality car parts manufactured in China and shipping them to Australia to sell locally.
What was your ultimate vision with Angry Panda Factory?
To be honest with you, the business was designed to be a small-scale operation and I never intended for it to be at the size that it is today. At its current state the business served its purpose which was to help me build enough capital for other ventures. Presently the business pretty much runs itself and is still profitable, and so I will continue to work on it, but at the same time I intend to focus my effort on working on other projects. The mistakes and lessons I learnt along the way with this business will serve as the perfect stepping stone for my future businesses. I am currently spending time to research on some other possible business opportunities that I can enter into.
Speaking as a guest speaker at the Adelaide University Entrepreneurship Club’s first event in 2015.
How did you make your first sale without having any funding or an actual product here?
The start of Angry panda Factory was not easy, and it was especially hard when I started without even a single picture or samples of the product that I was to sell.I had to convince my customers that I will deliver on what I promised, which at that stage was nothing more than imaginary products.
I spent a lot of time communicating with my customers who were interested and consequently spent a lot of effort towards developing friendships and trust with them. I treated my customers like how I treated my friends. In the end, friendship is about trust and enjoying each other’s company. If you can form a relationship with your customer and listen to their stories, it could really give you insights and eventually directions to where you should be taking your business. I think that customer relationship is extremely important and should come first above all else. Successful sales is a by-product of good market research, and once you know what the market wants, sales will come naturally.
“You have to make others believe what you believe, make them see what you see and make them as passionate as you are. Convey the passion that you have for your company to your customer’s heart and mind.”
It is also a bonus that the sales pitch you present to your customers becomes more personal. They know that if they buy from a friend and if anything goes wrong they can trust me to fix it. Bigger companies often do not have the luxury to do such a thing. They do not have the capacity to go and form personal one-on-one relationship with each of their customers which makes the sale merely an impersonal transaction. Essentially, I think that the most effective way of sales and pitching is along a one-on-one context.
One thing lead to another andeventually I collected my first ten customers whom entrusted me with a down payment. And that’s how I started the manufacturing process and delivery of my products. I knew that my customers had put their faith in me, and so I knew I had to perform and deliver on my promises beyond their expectations.If I wanted this business to succeed at my situation, I must succeed. With our first sale, our profit was AUD$4000 for the whole shipment. I was so happy and thought to myself: “Oh my gosh, I made my first sale!” The feeling was exhilarating.I wanted more and I wanted my company to grow. Profits from the first shipment were put towards the next shipment, and the next after that. We did not get paid for 6-7 months but it was fine since we wanted Angry Panda Factory to grow.
At that time I had the luxury of having nothing to lose. I believe that people are often afraid of failures because they believe that they have something to lose.When you start a company from nothing you have nothing to lose and so there is nothing to fear. In my case, it could only go upwards from where I was.
Is it difficult to manage all the tasks in your schedule?
Studying full-time, working as a chef during the weekends and running a business on top of all that may seem quite tedious and too much work for some to handle,but I do not see it like that. I know that 9/10 businesses fail in the first year while 50% of the remaining businesses will fail within the next 5 years after. It is risky to dedicate yourself 100% in a project without much cash flow to support you. Management of a busy schedule requires lots of sacrifice but it all comes back to how badly you want to succeed and managing that risk is vital.Unfortunately it is something so many new entrepreneurs would overlook.
See how cool the angry panda logo looks on my customer’s car.
To what do you attribute your success to?
I attribute my success to the experiences I gained from failures and the people I mt along the way. As I said previously, to me entrepreneurship is a lifestyle of never ending learning and dedication towards self-improvement. I believe that everything happens for a reason and people will come and go into your life. Some are destined to walk with you as you live through life while some are placed there to teach you valuable lessons and soon will leave once they fulfil their purpose. Every failure, every heartbreak, tumble, falls and bruises you may encounter in life should be cherished. Learn from all the mistakes, struggles, blood , tears and rise from the ashes as a better person. Mary Oliver once said a very profound quote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness; it took me years to understand that that too was a gift”. Do not ever disregard the experience you had and the people you meet in your life, no matter what the reason may be.
“The mistakes and lessons I learned along the way with this business will serve as the perfect stepping stone for my future businesses”
Above all else, I am a big advocate of making mistakes. I believe that future success is gained through learning from past failures. Learn from mistakes so you will not repeat the same mistakes again. If you want success, you have to be ready for failures. During my hardest struggle I once said to myself, if I cannot be a success, then I want to the best failure. So whenever I fail, I can bounce back quicker than anyone else. Learn to be self-critical and strive to be the best version of yourself, so that one day you may taste success.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs starting their first business?
Research and more research …..!!!
With any new venture I start, I often try to alleviate and avoid business risks above all else. It is far better to run a small risk as small business rather than running a big business full of risks. So whatever your idea may be and however great you think it is, do your research. It is safer in being disciplined and doing the homework first rather than by taking big risks and losing thousands of dollars. You will learn very quickly that in the real world mistakes mean unnecessary expenditures.
Use the “lean start up” method
New entrepreneurs often make the mistake of trying to look like entrepreneur, rather than doing what they are supposed to be doing and focus their attention on making the business work first and foremost. Key strategic elements and business pitfalls are often overlooked, because that shiny new business card or fancy office is so much more interesting then figuring out the direction the company should take next.
Hanging out at Adelaide University on a sunny day.
“Failing over and over is no fun, betting it all on you to rise and fall, endless work with no certainty for success. But for me, entrepreneurship is more of a lifestyle choice, it’s a lifestyle where you strive to become the best version of yourself.”
Never give up…!!!
There will come a time when low morale creeps into your mind, but you must keep going on.Do not ever give in to those thoughts. Remember; you have not failed if you are still trying. Dark times will come to you.It will come to everybody who is trying to achieve great things. Don’t ever stop trying because around the corner could be the big break you have been waiting for. During my struggle many times I questioned myself over and over whether to just give up that stupid fantasy lifestyle, or continue to kill myself slowly as I emptied another box of instant noodle for dinner for that one chance of success. But I kept going, and I am still here with no regrets so far.
Master your craft in the real world
The quickest way to test the market is to go out there and pitch to your friends and family. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty or to speak.Don’t be embarrassed and get out there to see how you and your business concept fare in the real world. If you can pitch your concept well enough and sell it to them, it is very likely that you can sell it to other people. You have to make others believe what you believe, make them see what you see and make them as passionate as you are about your great vision.
How does it feel to be an entrepreneur?
It’s not for everybody and running a business can be stressful. Failing over and over is no fun, betting it all on you to rise and fall, endless work with no certainty for success. But for me, entrepreneurship has become a lifestyle choice.It’s a lifestyle where you strive to become the best version of yourself. It’s a lifestyle which attunes your mindset to continuously identify problems around you and come up with solutions. When it comes to business concepts, most people tend to over-complicate the topic. At the end of the day, a business is all about identifying problems and delivering solutions that people are willing to pay for.
“It is all about acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses in order to figure out the next step to take.”
Most people think that being an entrepreneur means living a high flying executive life, caviar, French champagne falling from the sky and a bank account with more money than you can spend. Let’s submit that resignation letter to the bosses and live the entrepreneurial dream, right? Not quite.Don’t get me wrong, I had my fair share of dining with the bosses and yes it was a great time, it was a nice feeling to be socializing with people of such calibre. But then you quickly realize upon your return from your trip that those perks are just extra expenditures for the business and the money could be better invested elsewhere.
Back in the real world, you realize all those vanities are a small portion of what it is to live an entrepreneurial lifestyle. The majority of time you will be spending your sleepless night learning tax laws, writing contracts, coordinating business operations, chasing up that annoying supplier that didn’t do their job right the first time. Being chased by customers because the shipment was late due to circumstances you cannot control or predict.
I didn’t quit my job because due to day-dreaming about success being good and fun.I also put some thoughts into what I would do if I failed. I imagined myself falling into a pit of debts without an income. My solution was to not quit my day job right away. I tested my business concept and operation viability slowly and patiently. Even if at times your boss is nasty to you and you are tempted to walk off, “don’t”. Swallow your pride and do what is best for your goal.Continue to work to support yourself and your growing business.
Lastly, I am not saying that success is out of reach. With hard work , all that fantasy perhaps could one day be a reality, and it may rain champagne after all. If not why are we going through all these troubles, right?