Artists and creative types are often not very entrepreneurially minded. They like to focus on their art and on mastering their craft. They often don’t like to deal with business-related matters or business development.
Kim Lim studied music in university and was well on her way to becoming a professional musician when some volunteer work she did unexpectedly blossomed into a business. Lim is a co-founder of Picha Project, a food catering social enterprise that offers traditional meals made by refugees from various countries.
With no business background, the learning curve was steep. And some personal family history initially made her wary of doing business but she has since learnt to appreciate entrepreneurship for
what it can do to help others.
HOW DID THIS WHOLE THING START?
While in university, I volunteered to do some work at a refugee learning centre located not far from the campus. It was there that I met my co-founders, Swee Lin and Suzanne. We noticed that some of
the children were dropping out of school because their families just couldn’t afford it. We wanted to help; not by doing a one-off fundraising event but something more lasting. We noticed that cooking was something the refugee families were good at, so that’s how the Picha Project came about.
WERE YOU INCLINED TOWARDS WORKING WITH REFUGEES PER SE OR JUST CHARITY WORK IN GENERAL?
Back then I was just looking to do some social work in my free time. It so happened that the refugee centre was just 10 minutes away from my campus, so I ended up volunteering there. It really could have been anything else.
WHERE DID THE NAME “PICHA PROJECT” COME FROM?
That’s the name of our first cook’s youngest son, who was kind, enthusiastic, and passionate. He had the qualities we wanted our company to have so we chose to name it after him.
DO YOU WORK WITH REFUGEES FROM ANY COUNTRY?
Yes, they can be from any country. Currently, we have 12 families from five countries — Myanmar, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan — supplying us food.
ARE 12 VENDORS ENOUGH?
Each family can cater to about 200 customers, so with 12 on board, we have enough supply to meet current demand.
WHO ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS?
Corporate clients make up about 80 per cent of our sales. The other 20 per cent are individual consumers.
DO THEY ORDER BECAUSE THEY LIKE THE FOOD OR BECAUSE THEY WANT TO DO GOOD?
I believe that most order because they actually like the food. Plus, they’re doing some good in the process. But if the food wasn’t good, we wouldn’t have repeat orders. And it’s a fact that we do have
quite a lot of repeat orders.
ARE YOU DOING THIS PART-TIME OR FULL-TIME?
Full-time. I don’t think you can really build up a business by doing it part-time. Although some might consider a social enterprise risky, I can afford to do this because I don’t have that many financial commitments at this point in my life. I also don’t have a lot to lose.
YOU MENTIONED TWO CO-FOUNDERS; HOW DO YOU SEPARATE YOUR DUTIES?
Suzanne, who studied psychology, deals with sales and marketing and Swee Lin, who did accounting, deals with product development and human resource matters. I deal with business development,
branding and strategy.
YOU MET THEM AT A REFUGEE CENTRE. ARE YOU CLOSE FRIENDS NOW? WHAT ARE THE DYNAMICS LIKE?
We didn’t know each other before we met at the centre but we’re close friends now. We argue sometimes but that’s because we all have strong opinions and we’re very open with each other. I think it makes us stronger as a team. We might argue but we also support each other, not just in business but on a personal level too.
YOU’RE A MUSICAL PERSON. ARE YOU ALSO AN ENTREPRENEURIAL PERSON?
I used to dislike the idea of doing business because of what it had done to my family. I come from a broken home caused by business squabbles. So I had a very negative impression of business. But through Picha, I’ve developed a more positive view of it.
WHAT ASPECTS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP DO YOU LIKE?
They say that entrepreneurship is about solving problems. I like to help solve other people’s problems through business projects.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR MUSIC?
I’m not doing so much with music this year. I used to be very active. I used to assist a music director and I also played in a jazz band. But working at Picha is tough. It takes up a lot of my time. I just can’t perform late night gigs after work anymore. It’s too tiring. So at the moment, I’m just focusing on Picha, which needs more of my attention right now.
ANY REGRETS ABOUT NOT PURSUING A MUSIC CAREER?
If I had stuck to music, I would have ended up in a different place and that may have been good too. But I like what I’m doing, so no regrets.
WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING HAD YOU PURSUED MUSIC?
I would be performing. I like playing in a band. I love the sound of the guitar. I enjoy running my fingers through the fret of the guitar. Performing is a way of expressing myself.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF EVER RETURNING TO MUSIC?
I hope to. Perhaps when Picha has grown to a certain level, I can afford to get back into it.
DO YOU THINK PICHA CAN SCALE TO AN INTERNATIONAL LEVEL?
It has the potential to do so. With the right team and the right direction, it can grow into something big. Every entrepreneur’s dream is to scale to an international level and it’s certainly ours too.
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 10 YEARS?
Playing music again, maybe doing a business degree, and starting more business projects.
ANY ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS?
If you want to start something, don’t give yourself an excuse. Start immediately and don’t be afraid of failing.