Chocolate Boutique: Raising the Bar
Jennifer Fong isn’t your usual entrepreneur. A photographer, jewellery maker, fashion designer, philanthropist and self-confessed chocoholic, the Hong Kong native has a hugely diverse range of interests beyond her confectionary business Chocolux.
After completing extended studies abroad, she returned to Hong Kong in 2002 set on launching the company Chocolux, which went live in 2004.
The first Chocolux Bar opened that year, specialising in high-cacao content French chocolate. Its booming success inspired her to open a second outlet in 2007. Then, in 2009, her company built a kitchen that supplied her two shops, produced wholesale goods and hosted chocolate-making workshops.
It was while Jennifer was studying at the French culinary management school, Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris, that she had the idea of opening her own chocolate concept store. She sold her stake in Chocolux in 2010 to engage in a new entrepreneurial direction. Here she shares her story and philosophy on how to deal with the challenges faced when launching any new business.
How did Chocolux come about?
JF. First and foremost, I am a chocoholic! Isn’t it every girl’s dream to own a chocolate bar? So, I made my dream become a reality. On top of that, I discovered dark chocolate has many health benefits and I wanted to spread that knowledge to the Hong Kong community. Back then, there was no chocolate culture in Hong Kong and none of the big brands you find today. It was a completely new concept. That was what fascinated me. I like being a pioneer, so it was the perfect timing to start Chocolux.
You come from an entrepreneurial family. Did that inspire you to start your own business?
JF. Definitely. My grandfather started the family business. I remember him always working on different projects and being really excited about it all. He seemed to really enjoy what he did but was also successful with his work. This influenced me to want to become an entrepreneur so I could explore my different passions.
Do you think your background helped you to not get intimidated by potential hurdles or problems?
JF. It’s definitely an advantage. It makes you courageous and not afraid to try new things. I am a very optimistic person so I become excited about an idea and go full force very quickly. Even when there are problems, I enjoy the challenge of solving them. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t think through things so thoroughly because if I had, I probably would have never started the business and I would have missed out on an incredible journey.
Do you think the attitude towards entrepreneurialism has changed compared to the previous generations?
JF. Compared to my grandfather, I'm very, very fortunate because my grandfather didn’t have many choices. If he hadn’t become an entrepreneur, he probably wouldn't have had enough to put food on the table for his family. Being the third generation, I'm blessed. I don’t have to worry about the same issues. I am an entrepreneur because it lets me utilise my creative juices.
Did you have mentors you looked up to while building your own businesses?
JF. I learnt a lot from seeing my grandfather and father at work. My sister and friends have also helped me on my journey, especially with taste testing cakes! The rest of the learning came from trial and error. A good example of this is the marketing we did for Chocolux. We tried a lot of different promotions, but nothing really took off. Then one day I thought, people in Hong Kong really like buffets, so why not do an all-you-can-eat chocolate buffet. When we launched it, we were booked solid for a year. Being a small company, we were able to see results immediately and that helped us to improve constantly.
What advice would you give to fledgling entrepreneurs?
JF. The first and most important thing is to have passion. I'm really passionate about food. Even if I had failed, it would have been okay because I enjoyed the whole process of trying to build a brand. At least I was eating chocolate every day, which does make you a lot happier! The second, is to surround yourself with family and friends that can keep you grounded. I’m sometimes not that realistic so it’s important to have people around you that can ask the difficult questions. The last but probably the most important, is to have fun!
Any other perspective on entrepreneurialism or your activities?
JF. The main thing I've learned after all these years is the importance of having a positive outlook. The well-being of the mind is really important. Sometimes in business, it's easy to just focus on the money. I’m not saying it’s not important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. What’s most important is having a balanced life. Spending quality time with family and friends, working, exercising, eating well, and resting. I think some people forget to rest!
Do you think this is the reason you're always seeking out new projects? The first bit is the most fun part of all?
JF. I think so. I like new challenges. I don't like it to be stagnant. The set-up part is the most fun for me, and also the most challenging. After a while, your role becomes dominated by the day-to-day operations. At that point I let other people take over and I’m off to find a new challenge.
What are your current professional activities?
JF. I'm working on a photography book, which means that I am travelling a lot for my photography. I also design fur and jewellery and use my factory space to host cooking and floral classes. In my spare time, I volunteer at different NGOs to help them with event planning and fundraising. I am involved with a huge variety of activities!
How did you start out as an entrepreneur?
Jennifer Fong. Even as a kid I was a creative person. I started designing clothes at age six. I always wanted to be a fashion designer. When I became an adult, I realised that I could be creative in many different fields so I began with my first degree in fine arts, concentrating on photography and painting. Then, I studied fashion in New York. I soon realised I could use my creativity with food and moved to Paris to study culinary arts. I especially loved decorating and plating desserts. After a couple years, I moved back to Hong Kong to start Chocolux. It was a fun project and I balanced that out with something a little more serious, which was helping my family business.