Vannessa Lee: Changing Perspectives through Healthy and Tasty Food

In order to keep up with increasingly discerning consumers, entrepreneurs found the need to devise disruptive ideas for their businesses. Vannessa Lee has managed to do just that by being in tune with her consumers’ needs and wants, as well as optimizing every opportunity that came her way.

Beginning of ‘A Poke Theory’

Vannessa Lee is the Co-founder of A Poke Theory, a popular poke joint started on 25th July 2016. She runs the business alongside her brother and business partner Joey. The duo also runs a bar bistro concept at the Esplanade, named Alter Ego. The pair spent time developing a franchising model for the brand, which has enabled them to grow to four stores island-wide within the short span of two years. They will see a few more stores popping up by early 2019.

Meeting the Demands

During the initial growth phase, Vannessa kept up with hordes of customers but had never grown comfortable with their take of the market share. Together with her brother, they forecasted ahead to appeal to an audience larger than what they already had – one that sought after meals at a lower price point, as well as the huge Muslim community. They worked on getting A Poke Theory officially Halal-certified, and were the very first poke brand in Singapore to do so. Vannessa timed the launch of the Halal certification together with their new, lighter bowl size at a lower price point of $9.90 nett. Implementing these two changes, A Poke Theory reached out to a new segment of consumers, who loved poke but could not afford the pricier average spend of $12-$15 previously, as well as an extremely large Muslim community who lacked healthy and tasty food options.

A True Epicure

According to Vannessa, some of the vital attributes for every entrepreneur includes tenacity, grit, adaptability, and open-mindedness. She states, “Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur until they find out how much hard work it entails – and it’s not even just that, it’s the risk and uncertainty, being able to solve problems on your feet tirelessly, and holding on to your own even when friends and family doubt you.”

“You also need to be three steps ahead at all times, being able to plan ahead and adapt for a shift in the market or consumers, forecasting your growth plan for the business, and being open to switch up your formula for success when it comes down to it.”  Vannessa adds.

Taking these attributes into consideration, she takes pride in mentioning A Poke Theory’s success, but also speaks openly about its weaknesses. She looks for areas of growth that have not been tapped into and strives to fulfill the ever-changing consumer needs.

Vannessa doesn’t believe getting into a price war of any kind with her competitors as it is a limiting way to go about securing market share. She precisely describes it as such, “If you think about it this way – your competitor’s offerings as bait on a multiple fishing lines, and market consumers as fish in the sea – there’s plenty of fish in the sea; way too many to be hooked on fishing lines alone. That’s where we can come in with bigger and better ways to catch more fish – using nets, fishing trawlers, luring and so on. As a start, we should look to position ourselves uniquely enough to attract the same fish, and more. Then we can also eat up market share by looking at various other avenues to reel in more consumers with many differentiating factors, whether it’s better quality, better branding, a more unique and customizable eating experience, building specialized corporate feeding plans or catering options…it really is endless.”

Learning is the Key

Vannessa started the first store of A Poke Theory along with her brother and a bunch of teenage part-timers. Initially she had no manager, no chef, no bookkeeper, or marketing and PR person. In spite of the lean manpower, she did everything with the team she had and managed to sell over 100 poke bowls within an hour on A Poke Theory’s opening day, forcing them to close for the day as they had not anticipated such a great response and had run out of ingredients. Since then, A Poke Theory has had a full house of customers packing out its 88-seater space during lunch on a daily basis, with multiple turnovers till today. Vannessa has had to constantly learn, adapt and change in order to keep the momentum going. “If we had acted any slower, I doubt we would be where we are today,” she added.

Rising Up Against Odds

According to Vannessa, male dominated mindsets and biases make it frustrating and at times, even insulting. In some instances, she has been unconsciously disregarded as a contributing business partner by outsiders, who see her as the mere marketing arm of the business and are not aware of how deeply woven she is into the human resources, customer experience and many other aspects of the business.

Instead of lamenting over misconceptions, she strongly believes in utilizing the time and effort into bettering the work and growing her successes. She believes with the hard and smart work put in, reaping any success with A Poke Theory also helps add her to the ever-growing community of women who pave new paths in the workforce, hopefully inspiring even more women to rise up against the odds.

Expanding Horizons

While a characteristic of Vannessa is to over prepare for nearly everything in life, she acknowledges that it is at most times, a con. She found herself spending bulk of her time thinking, worrying, weighing out the pros and cons many times over instead of taking the step out to start acting on things. Her belief is to think less, do more – citing that it’s okay to hit some bumps along the road, as long as you are quick to recover and continue. It beats sitting around overthinking and overplanning any day.

Talking about a better future Vannessa asserts, “I’m very excited to take A Poke Theory to greater heights with my brother as we have some big and exciting plans for the brand to be polished up, and then taking flight to venture in a new market somewhere in Asia. That’s definitely the biggest thing on the horizon for us right now. We hope to eventually establish ourselves as a market leader in poke, in Asia.”

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