Disagreements are par for the course in Anna Lim and Andrew Chan’s work at the helm of The Soup Spoon, whether over the direction of marketing collaterals, or the execution of plans. For one, Chan is said to have a bent for ideation, while Lim is the self-proclaimed ‘activator’ of the pair.
“If you listened in on our conversation, you might think, these people are quarrelling. Even our children say so,” said Chan, laughing.
Not that conflict has ever been a sticking point to the couple, who met while in university in Perth, and co-founded the company in their 20s.
“We understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which really helped in the early days, when personality tests weren’t a thing. We’d have our differences at meetings, where everyone would go quiet, but then all have lunch together after that,” shared Lim. Chan concurs that it’s a matter of not allowing grouses to fester, ad hominem. “The ability to not take things personally is important,” he said.
Twenty years of differences certainly haven’t torpedoed their venture, which started with Lim – a former embryologist at Singapore General Hospital – selling hearty homemade soups at a church fundraiser.
It’s since burgeoned into Singapore’s largest soup chain with 29 outlets, and their products stocked in local supermarkets, e-commerce platforms such as Redmart, as well as exported overseas to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam.
This, they share, has become a reality thanks to their investment in a High Pressure Processing machine that stretched their product shelf life from weeks to months. Chan’s IT savvy helped inform the business’s automation- and data-skewed approach. In April, the couple will open their first sourdough bakery in Punggol, a pandemic-born venture that sees Lim folding her passion for science – she studied biotechnology – into the rigours of baking.
But they didn’t always have the latitude for diversification. Among their initial stutters were manpower issues and a catering stint scuttled due to time constraints – “Because we were so late for an event, I got a big scolding, on top of having to give a 50 per cent discount,” Lim recalled. Then came the SARS outbreak, which played no small part in shuttering their second outlet.
The white-knuckle experience girded them to the current global health crisis that they say, saw The Soup Spoon’s revenue rise by 10 to 20 per cent. Lim says this was driven by people’s desire to eat healthily, and the ready availability of their products in supermarkets and e-commerce platforms.
Their success might well be predicated on the fact that despite being “each other’s worst critics,” they still value heuristic learning. “We may, at times, disregard one another’s opinions if we strongly believe in something, but we have that mutual respect in giving each other the space to do what we want,” shared Lim.