Class of 2011 graduates Tarfa Al Farhan and Minnie Ang went from a BBA in hospitality, to ecommerce and the public sector, then onto founding Soufflé, their niche beauty brand. 2020 was supposed to be their breakout year, then covid happened. We caught up with them to talk pivoting, lockdown and suspended supply chains.
Living in Singapore and Kuwait, and working long hours, Minnie and Tarfa struggled to find skincare products to cope with the humidity and hectic schedules. So, they enlisted some scientists and created Soufflé.
“We realized we were getting older and working long hours wasn’t great for our skin”, Minnie says. “But what we didn’t realize was that heat and humidity was another factor that should be considered. We thought there might be a niche market for this, especially within South East Asian regions, so we started researching, and that’s how we got into it.”
“It took us almost a year to formulate and figure out the brand, the kind of ingredients we wanted to use, because this is something we were both new to. We launched in March 2018 and started selling products a few months later.”
Pivoting through covid
With 2020 marketing plans on hold due to the pandemic, Soufflé shifted its focus to developing excellent customer service, transforming a delivery challenge into an opportunity to outcompete its bigger rivals.
“2020 was supposed to be our breakout year, we had events planned, but we managed to pivot our business strategy”, Minnie says. “We tried to really push everything online to provide better customer service and faster delivery times with whatever resources we had.
“Customers here cannot wait 7 days, I made sure people got their deliveries within 24 hours and that increased our sales”
“Over here in Kuwait we had a lockdown and curfew”, Tarfa added, “So we had no transportation and zero taxi drivers to deliver customer orders. So I took it into my own hands and started making deliveries and making sure that they get their products within 24 hours.
“This is how we competed with the bigger companies, they were delivering within the range of 7 days, but customers here cannot wait 7 days to get their products. So this is how we overcame the challenge, I made sure people got their deliveries within 24 hours and that increased our sales during the pandemic.”
Real-world lessons from Les Roches
The ability to cope and thrive through difficult times is an increasingly important skill to possess. For Minnie and Tarfa, the practical experience they gained at Les Roches gave them confidence to take action when needed.
“I grew up at Les Roches and gained a lot of practical experience”, Minnie says. “You go through the program learning hospitality, but when I look back, it was more like teaching us that sometimes just have to get things done. And being so far from family, I think you make really close friends there that you will always have.”
“Yes, the practical experience honestly is what makes you stand out because you’re exposed to it at a very young age”, Tarfa commented.
“Les Roches is not just about hospitality, it’s about gaining experience as a whole. Life experience, work experience”
Given the current crisis, the co-founders of Soufflé had some advice for potential students considering a career in hospitality and a program at Les Roches.
“Anyone thinking about it should still do it, Minnie says, “Les Roches is not just about hospitality, it’s about gaining experience as a whole. Life experience, work experience. And you don’t just learn about one topic, you have business and finance. It’s wrapped up as a package, you’re learning more than hospitality.”
True, it’s a well-rounded experience”, Tarfa added, “I would say it makes you grow as a person, it makes you feel confident because you know everything. I think it’s great for personal development.
Thank you to Minnie and Tarfa for taking time to share their 2020 experience and the development of Soufflé. We wish these brave entrepreneurs continued success. To try their probiotic beauty products, check out soufflebeauty.com