Food industry is a different ballgame to many other businesses, but that didn’t scare Serina S. Bajaj, Founder of Kind Kones when she decided to start a dessert business – and nothing less than a small empire of vegan ice cream parlours!
Describe your business and when it started?
I moved to Kuala Lumpur 3.5 years ago, and got an idea of launching a dessert bar with healthy options – particularly dairy and refined sugar free, all-natural ice cream because choices are so limited here in Malaysia. As I’m not a fan of dairy, I started experimenting with vegan ice creams in my kitchen and the result exceeded my expectations.
Together with my husband, we realised that there’s no vegan ice cream bar in Malaysia, saw a gap in the market and decided to be the first to establish one. So, in August 2017, Kind Kones – Malaysia’s first vegan scoop shop – was born. The whole philosophy behind Kind Kones is mindfulness, being kind to one’s health, animals, environment and local communities. I wanted to make ice cream for everybody – kids and adults, whether vegan, a health advocate, lactose intolerant or just someone simply looking for delicious ice cream. My aim is to run a sustainable business that is also extremely self-fulfilling. We’re about to open our 5th location as we celebrate our 1-year anniversary next month!
What made you decide to turn your interest into business?
I have always been passionate about dessert. I make lots of guilt-free desserts at home and one day started making vegan ice creams with my not-so-fancy ice cream machine in our kitchen for my husband and my (now) 2-year-old daughter. They tasted great. I realised that there’s no vegan, chemical-free ice cream bar in Malaysia so thought why not?! Everybody wants to eat desserts and not feel bad about it. And who doesn’t like ice cream?
How to balance time between being a mum and an entrepreneur?
This is probably the biggest challenge for any working parent: trying to juggle between work and giving enough time to their child/children. For me, ‘mama guilt’ is an ongoing struggle but I’ve learnt over time that spending quality time with my daughter trumps quantity. Having my own business gives me a certain degree of flexibility, which allows me to do school drop offs/pick-ups. Once I’m back from work around early evening, I give her my full attention. I try to cook her dinner as often as I can and when dinner is done, we often go to the park or the equestrian club to see horses – whatever she wants really!
What challenges did you face getting your business started?
When you make unprocessed, gluten-free, vegan desserts and ice creams, you’re restricted from using many conventional baking ingredients. The texture of cakes, for example, may not be as moist or the ice cream may not be as creamy. We try our best to overcome these limitations and make the products as good as possible. And because we don’t add preservatives, the shelf life tends to be very short. So, managing production was one of the biggest challenges we faced.
The other would probably be staff – both kitchen and service. In Malaysia, you don’t find very many chefs or cooks who are exposed to this concept of cooking. Finding candidates willing to set aside much of what they’ve learnt in pastry school and apply their technical skills towards non-conventional options instead has not been easy.
When it comes to service staff, finding candidates who can communicate well with customers has been and still is a daunting task. Kind Kones is still a novel concept in Southeast Asia, so our products require additional explanation as our customers tend to have a lot of questions. In general, acquiring service staff who can pick up on the training and represent the brand well comes with great difficulty.
What tips do you have for others who are thinking of setting up their own business?
I believe that if you have the passion, then go for it because that is what’s going to get you through the many obstacles that come hand in hand with running a start-up. Fear of failing shouldn’t stop you from doing what you truly want to do even if it means a 360-degree career change. Always remember that failing is a part of every success story and it’s important to follow your gut!