Biz Alumni 21 March 2019

An unconventional career path- Bean to bar!

If you have heard of unique chocolate flavours such as Sake Kasu, Lychee Rose, Salted Egg Cereal, and Shrimp & Bonito, then you are probably familiar with Fossa Chocolate.

The company is co-managed by NUS BBA alumna Yilina Leong (Class of 2014), a marketing major who started her career in media and advertising before moving on to doing international business development for Singaporean companies.

Yilina’s NOC experience in Chile

Her passion for bringing ideas to life was fuelled during her time at NUS Business School. She credits her time in the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme for immersing her in various startup environments and inspiring her entrepreneurship spirit.

“My alumni group, friends from the Business School and NOC provided valuable friendships, and constantly inspired and motivated me to go beyond my comfort zone. I am also grateful for the opportunities that NOC had provided me – from interning at a local start up as a marketing/business development executive, to joining the Lean Startup Machine together with international entrepreneurs and being immersed in the Start Up Chile scene. These experiences and exposure led me to start out my entrepreneurial journey early while I was still in University.”

From executive to artisanal chocolate-maker

After graduating, Yilina joined the workforce for four years. She stumbled upon her career sweet spot when she and her partners discovered the world of single origin craft chocolate. They were gifted Madagascar single origin chocolate bars filled with raspberries and almonds during a Christmas gathering, which blew them away! However, there were just two basic ingredients on the label: cacao beans and sugar.

“It was then that we realised that the taste of commercial chocolate bars with multiple ingredients really fell flat when compared to simple flavourful craft chocolates. Singapore is renowned for high food quality standards, yet we were surprised by the difficulty in finding such fine, real chocolates that are made with pure cacao beans instead of cocoa powder, cocoa mass, compounds or substitutes.”

Fossa Chocolate began as a hobby, out of passion and curiosity. There were so much things to learn about chocolate and the processes from farm to kitchen level- making good chocolate takes experience, skills and knowledge of cacao.

In the early days, these chocolates were enjoyed as snacks during gatherings and given out to friends and families for fun.   Only after close to four years of experimentation, Fossa Chocolate was born.Today, a small team of chocolate makers at Fossa works very passionately to produce fine chocolates from sustainably-sourced cacao beans from scratch. The company has grown to be Singapore’s first artisanal bean-to-bar craft chocolate-maker to have received accolades at the International Chocolate Awards. As Singapore is a small, niche market for boutique chocolates, team Fossa decided to expand their business to US, Europe and others parts of Asia through word of mouth marketing, cold calls and networking.

(L-R) Yilina with fashion blogger Andrea Chong, and co-founder Jay Chua

As a young entrepreneur, Yilina feels that one of the biggest challenges for her is the lack of experience. However, she leveraged her NUS Business School knowledge and work experiences to grow the business’ footprint internationally.

“I don’t have many years of corporate experience and going into the food manufacturing business is entirely new for me. Not only do we have to focus on driving brand-building efforts and developing distribution channels, managing workflow and optimising productivity are also crucial parts of our business. Although my earlier experiences in F&B helped a little, managing a factory is hardly the same as running a food service outlet. I am learning something new every day, but I know there’s still so much more for me to pick up.”

Promoting Fossa in the US

“Inspired by a new generation of craft chocolate makers worldwide, we want to give the pure flavours of cacao a local twist. This would allow us to bring the wonderful taste of cacao to Singapore, while sharing the authentic taste of Asia with the world.” Its unique flavours have won over chocolate lovers in Singapore, USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, France, Maldives and Myanmar.

Advice for budding entrepreneurs

According to Yilina, business ideas alone only make up half the equation as there are too many people with great ideas. In her opinion, execution is also crucial in making a business successful.

“I think it is important to be passionate about your business because you’ll need that motivation to tide you through the tough days ahead. However, I would caution against blindly following your passion when it comes to entrepreneurship because not all ideas can become sustainable business models. It is essential to evaluate the idea’s potential with facts and figures and differentiate between passions that you can grow into a business versus ones that should remain hobbies.”

If you wish to try some exotic single-origin chocolate bars made with cacao beans from around the world such as Madagascar and Tanzania, or taste some adventurous flavours that Fossa Chocolate has to offer, here are a few of Yilina’s favourites – the Honey Orchird Dancong Hongcha Pak Eddy 70% and Rustic Gems. The full list of flavours are available here. You can also customise your own chocolate bars or make some of your own truffles at chocolate-making workshops.