A Family Affair with Bubble RepublicWritten by Jerilyn Wu
Kavin and Tanin Phongpandecha have turned around the F&B scene with Bubble Republic. Meet the power brothers behind one of the leading tea manufacturer in Thailand.
Tea manufacturer Bubble Republic is busier than ever. Thailand’s leading manufacturer and distributor of milk tea beverages was started in 2012 by two brothers, Kavin and Tanin Phongpandecha.
Today, the manufacturer produces for over 400 branches of Family Mart in Thailand, so you can find these tasty and colourful treats in almost every street corner of Thailand. Let’s find out what Co-Founders Kavin has to say about one of the most successful startups in Bangkok in recent years.
What inspired you to start Bubble Republic?
Tea culture is a huge part of Thailand and Thai tea has become popular around the world. However, to buy milk tea in Thailand, you’d have to go to high-end shopping malls and pay a lot for it. This is partly because rent is high in these areas.
We realised that there is this really big gap in the market when we noticed shopkeepers serve unclean ice used to store vegetables and raw meat. For low budget tea shops at restaurants and food kiosks; hygiene issues are their biggest concern.
For almost a hundred years, no one has standardised one of Thailand’s most beloved drinks for everyone until now.
What are the main benefits and challenges of starting a company in Bangkok?
We see Bangkok as a really big laboratory as it is already a megacity with a population larger than London, Paris, and Shenzhen. The metropolis alone has almost half of the country’s purchasing power and according to a study, Bangkok is the most visited city in 2016 with over 20 million overnight visitors. This makes it a great place to test your products to a diverse group of customers before going national and eventually international.
Plus, competition in the F&B industry is fierce here, so being able to survive and thrive here is a good indicator that you are doing something right. Although the AEC is a huge market, it is also fragmented. For example, having a successful product in Thailand does not mean that our neighbours will just come and buy our products. There needs to be more understanding of the differences and similarities in culture, purchasing power, law and regulation.
What are your top three strengths?
Vision, determination, and flexibility. For a large ship travelling a long distance, if the compass is broken, it may be off by a thousand miles by the time it arrives. The vision tells you where you go. The determination provides the fuel to get there. The flexibility makes sure you go around obstacles if needed.
What is your expansion plans for Bubble Republic in both the short-term and in the long-term?
In the next few years, we hope to expand our products to CLMV markets. In the long term, we hope to bring our products to the global market, including the US, China, Japan, and Europe.
What are the primary barriers to success, and how do you plan to overcome these challenges in the future?
Bubble Republic operates in the real sector, which unlike technology, requires more capital. The biggest barrier is in financing our growth as a new company. To grow beyond Thailand, we are looking for joint ventures and partners that can grow with us.
Could you briefly walk me through how you brought the Bubble Republic idea to life?
Our drinks are manufactured using proprietary technology. After brewing, they are supercooled in such a way that the ice texture becomes fine-grained. We deliver them frozen to our stores and customers turn them into slushies using the microwave. This is exactly why our drinks are unique.
With longer (shorter) microwave times, they become more liquid (solid). Our customers can control exactly how they want to consume our products. Using low temperatures, we are able to increase our shelf life to over 6 months without using preservatives. We are also able to manufacture all-natural fruit flavours without preservatives.
On the more personal side – What is your professional/academic background, daily routine, and life philosophy like?
I graduated from UC Berkeley where I majored in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS), Economics, and Statistics. I also wrote an economics thesis in options trading, and shortly after graduation went to work at a company called WorldQuant where I became a senior quantitative researcher. There, I designed and implemented computer programs that were used to trade financial securities around the world. Today, I run a portfolio that is automatically traded by computer programs.
I love reading books, listening to podcasts, and writing code. Having a student mindset is very important to me. Without it, I will not be able to keep up with the fast changing world.
Life philosophy: Know what you know and more importantly what you don’t know.