For many Klang Valley residents, the words “black burger buns” and “salted egg burgers” likely conjure up drool-worthy images of myBurgerLab’s home-grown creations.
Since hitting the local F&B scene, myBurgerLab has firmly established its position in the burger market, even with the abundance of McDonald’s and Ramly burger joints around.
In 4 years, they’ve quadrupled their number of outlets, while winning the hearts of loyal fans who are more than willing to brave the long queues. Their drool-inducing burgers are lovingly crafted with handmade patties and charcoal buns baked from scratch.
We had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with Renyi (RY), Wee Kiat (WK) and Chang Ming (CM), the boys behind myBurgerLab, to talk about their journey of starting an F&B business with zero background in culinary arts, going from cult-like success to almost closing the business down, and the challenges and trials of being an entrepreneur.
Read on to find out about what drives this passionate, humble trio, and the real meaning behind the name “myBurgerLab”.
What kind of investment did it take to get myBurgerLab off the ground?
WK: The capital we started out with was RM220,000.00. We used that to start our first outlet in Seapark. At the start, business was pretty insane, and we recouped our investment in 8 months. Up till today, all our expansion has been done using primarily internal funds.
That is quite an achievement. Were there any challenges along the way?
WK: After we opened our second store in OUG and started a central kitchen, we had trouble fulfilling the central kitchen’s required capacity to break even. Demand dropped, while overheads were increasing. We had months where we were barely breaking even, and months where we were losing money. We had to open a third store to fulfil that capacity or risk losing everything. That’s when we decided to raise private funds, through loans from friends and family members, and managed to push through to open the third and fourth outlet.
In the F&B line, it’s easy to compromise by cutting corners to increase profit. How do you keep myBurgerLab from going down that route?
RY: We never set out to be famous or make lots of money. We were very inspired by Richard Branson, who said that the emphasis of running a business should be fun. The idea is, build a business you are happy with. That formula has worked well for us.
WK: The question of whether we should cut corners and reduce portions was always on our minds, especially when we were struggling. The key question was at the end of the day, if we were customers, would we be happy with that? One of the things I’m proudest of is the fact that up till today, our portion size has not changed, in terms of the weight of the patty and the bun size.
How do you train your staff to deliver excellent service and keep them motivated when hours can be long and the work can be dirty?
RY: I don't think F&B has to be seen as a dirty job. It's all about how you package it. I worked at Starbucks for three years, it was the kind of job where you'd actually look forward to going bak to work on a Monday. They cultivated such a strong sense of ownership among the partners.
When we were establishing our culture, we made sure it was all about the people, and that people felt ownership – not only the staff but the customers as well.
In fact, the reason we are called myBurgerLab explains our culture – Burger is self-explanatory, Lab is because we’re science students and we have an experimental approach to everything we do. But the 'my' word is key. A lot of people think it stands for Malaysia, but the 'my' is meant to create a sense of ownership – so that no matter who was saying it, for example, as a customer, you’d be saying, “Hey, let’s go to MY BurgerLab”.
Statistically, the majority of business partnerships don’t work out. The three of you have been partners for the past four years. What is your secret sauce for a great partnership?
CM: A partnership is a lot like a marriage. We are in charge of different areas, and we trust each other to handle his own area. We cover each other’s backs. It takes understanding towards each other and focusing on the same goal.
WK: On a personal level, we get along pretty easily. It’s quite chill between the three of us. Having three people on the team – three guys – it can be quite an egoistic environment, but fortunately, things didn't turn out that way.
RY: There were some trust issues in the beginning because Wee Kiat and Chang Ming didn’t know each other, but after a while of working together, they realised that we have very similar ideologies. We had very good chemistry right from the get go.
What were some of the biggest sacrifices and toughest moments along the journey so far?
CM: Time! When we first started myBurgerLab, we invested a lot of time. We slept in the lab, we worked in the lab. There was no time for family, that kinda thing. Those were the kind of sacrifices we had to make in the beginning.
What kept you going through the tough times?
WK: Definitely the people around us, who invested in us, who trusted in what we were doing all the way. It’s the staff we had, who could have chosen to move on to other places but decided to stick it out with us.
Was there ever a moment where you wished you had chosen a different route?
CM: No. We had so much faith in this idea, and we were really hungry to make it happen. So we focused on it whatever the cost.
WK: At some points along the way going back to work for someone seemed like a much easier option! But I realized I value the ownership I have over my time as a business owner. Sure, I may be working 16-18 hour days, but I know what I’m going to do with my time, and that is invaluable.
Being an entrepreneur is tough. So is being in the F&B business. But put those two together, and you’re in for a crazy ride, with an incredibly high chance of failure.
Yet 4 years on, these young science and finance grads have managed to stamp their mark on the local culinary scene, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be stopping anytime soon. We look forward to many more tantalizing, quirky, and downright delicious burgers coming our way – Ikan Bakar or Kerabu burger, anyone?