The Art of PRWritten by Rebecca Lau
Who said college is the only way to success? Coco Chan, Founder of Voltage PR discusses her struggles, inspirations and strategies that shaped her into the person and entrepreneur she is today.
Meet Coco Chan, a determined young entrepreneur who built up her own PR business in the F&B industry within a matter of years. Instead of following the traditional path of going to college, Coco chose to pursue her passion and her instincts.
In a city with over 60,000 restaurants, Coco found her environment to be swarming with opportunities. Building up Voltage PR is Coco Chan’s biggest highlight to date, and despite her hectic schedule, she is still able to spend time developing her hobbies.
Coco is a respectable role model who is not afraid of taking risks. Success for startups in Asia, especially in the F&B industry can be a challenge but with the right guidance- it can go a long way and that’s what Coco gets right. Read more about Coco’s challenging journey which landed her in the awe-inspiring place she is in today.
Can you start by telling us about your background?
I grew up in a cush family background and went to HKIS in Hong Kong. I got into a lot of trouble in my adolescence so I was shipped off to an all-girls boarding school in the States to study. I returned to Hong Kong when I was 19 and dove into the workforce right away.
People always ask if I have ever regret starting so early, and to be frank, I’m happy I made that choice because it’s the choices I chose that made me the person I am today. If I didn’t start working early, I wouldn’t have that hunger and thirst for knowledge to become an entrepreneur.
Everyone knows working in PR is stressful, why did you choose to work in a tough industry from such a young age?
I love meeting new people and I can literally talk to anyone; whether you’re 8 or 80 years old. Many have said I was born for this. It’s always come to be quite easily but what I love most about this industry is meeting different souls, getting to know them, help them grow and grow with them.
There different types of PR fields, why did you choose to specialise in F&B?
When I moved back to Hong Kong, I dove right into PR; I worked from the bottom and worked my way up. I started in fashion, moved to lifestyle and I finally landed in F&B.
I fell in love with F&B – it was love at first sight. I grew up in a family where I was always surrounded by great chefs. If you ask anyone ‘What’s the first word that comes up when you think about Coco Chan? The first word that will probably pop up is ‘food’… or uni.’ (laughs).
What would you say is your career highlights so far?
Definitely starting Voltage with my partner and coming so far. Never in my life did I plan to start a company! It’s already 3 years old but it feels like things have happened in a blink of an eye. Very blessed to have such a great team.
We have received so much support from our friends, family, and to hear from people we just met that we’re doing well is very heartwarming. Makes all the hard work – worth it.
You mentioned that you’ve never in your life thought about starting your own company, so what was the trigger for launching Voltage PR?
Shortly after I left Maximal Concepts, I joined a tech startup company as their marketing director where I met my partner.
However, the company went bankrupt (as many startups do) so I started to pick up freelance jobs and one gig turned into a dozen. I wasn’t able to handle all the workload on my own so I started teaching my partner to help out. Eventually, he suggested, ‘Why don’t we turn this into a business?’
He was the instigator and I’m glad he pushed me to launch our business because here we are 3 years in!
Did you have any experience as an entrepreneur before launching Voltage PR or was it based on instincts?
Although I had no prior experience in entrepreneurship – I believe that growing up and being amongst entrepreneurs and creatives with a vision really helped me to connect the dots. Learning from example and knowing how to apply it into real life has always been easy for me.
Managing a PR company must be very busy- how do you keep up with the pace?
I am a type of person who can handle a million things at once because I’ve been doing it for so many years. However, I do get burnt out sometimes so I find ways to relax through yoga and meditation. I just got my certification for being an essential oil analyser and furthering my studies in the holistic realm. This is what makes me happy so it doesn’t seem like work to me. I’ll be launching a homemade essentials brand this year so watch out for that too!
I think the best part of all is that I’ve started a side business with one of my best friends, Charlotte Johnson to bring more yoga infused holistic pop-up events around town. When you’re working with your best friend – it doesn’t feel like work at all!
It sounds like you’re juggling a lot in one day- what’s a typical day like for you?
Everyday is different for me as I don’t have a set schedule but I separate my 7 days into meeting days, office days, client days, and personal days. I’m always running around and that’s why my phone is always glued to my hand.
Sounds hectic but if you are a PR professional and if you don’t love it – you won’t be able to last long in this industry. It’s not for everyone and I haven’t lost my passion for it yet.
Would you get stressed if you had nothing to do?
I used to but now I’m able to enjoy my days off and not worry about work too much. Have to thank my team for that. I’m lucky to have them.
How would you describe your team at Voltage PR?
We have a really great company culture. As an entrepreneur, the most important part of a business is your team and how much you care about them is shown in their work as well.
Our team is the most important part; they’re the bread and butter of the business. We currently have 7 people on the team. We’re like a family and wouldn’t have it any other way.
A big congratulation with Voltage PR expanding so quickly in 3 years!As an entrepreneur, there must be ups and downs. What would you say is your biggest struggle to date?
I thought finding clients and closing business deals would be difficult but staffing is the hardest. It’s time-consuming to find staff and when you’re an entrepreneur wearing so many different hats; worrying about HR and going through a going through a million CVs – that’s the biggest headache.
Everyone who has joined our team took quite a long time to find. We don’t only look at what’s on their CV – we also want to know what kind of person they are outside of work because we have a unique company culture that we stick to.
We’re like a family. We hang out on weekends, we’ll go for after work drinks and hang out on public holidays.
Besides staffing issues, are there any other struggles you’ve encountered so far with the PR industry?
Our industry is fast-paced so it means you have to be constantly up to date with media trends. I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle but you have to be ready to adapt to everything all the time. For example, the massive influence of social media didn’t exist more than 10 years ago but the demand for it has increased dramatically- so you need a social media plan and a KOL strategy for a lot of clients now. In our industry, adaptability is pertinent.
So we’ve talked about some of the downsides, what would you say is your highlight?
I think the highlight is definitely starting Voltage with my partner and the people we’ve met along the way who’ve become great friends and mentors.
We’ve talked about your ups struggles with working in PR, what about your favourite memory? What’s your most memorable moment since you’ve worked from 19 till now?
In my early 20s, I was a freelance event planner for a club called ‘Hyde Club’ on Lyndhurst Terrace for their one year anniversary. It was a great turn out with a lot of media attraction, 1200 guest attendance and 26 celebrities came – this was such a memorable experience. A couple years after the Hyde Club event, I still had VIP customers say to me ‘Remember that party you threw, it was frickin’ amazing?’ It’s the feeling of satisfaction after curating an event from scratch and being recognised for it. It’s an amazing feeling.
Do you think the F&B scene have changed since overtime
The turnover of restaurants are still high in the city. We have 60,000+ restaurants in Hong Kong and the rent is the major killer. I’m happy to see Hong Kong climb up the list and grow into one of the top foodie destinations in the world.
Have you noticed any common mistakes F&B restaurants make a lot?
There is a 2 part answer for me…
1. When you first start your F&B business – don’t take on all the workload because you’re not utilising your strengths efficiently. If you know someone who is an expert, ask them for help. When you’re starting a F&B business, you have the first 6 months to make it happen. Don’t waste time.
If you don’t succeed within 6 months — the chances of folding are high. The first few months are crucial – if you don’t make a strong impact, you’ll get lost in the 60,000+ restaurants in Hong Kong.
2. I feel a lot restaurants neglect the local Chinese community as a target market. Trendy restaurants in Hong Kong often focus too much on the expat community. They are a great community to target but the mass market is the local Chinese – so why not target both to get constant bums on seats?
Any advice for entrepreneurs who don’t have a sufficient budget to outsource industry experts?
Build Your Foundation
The first thing you need is a solid idea and write out a business plan. Make sure you can do an elevator pitch and find the right people to start it up with. You really need to find the right partner or team because that’s will make or break your company.
Utilise your network
Scroll through your address book and ask friends for a favour if you have a small budget. Utilise your network to get information from experts at the beginning. Don’t underestimate the power of Google either. (laughs)
Find joy in what you’re doing; it’s YOUR work. The time and effort you put in are yours at the end of the day, so work hard but don’t forget to have fun at the same time.
Finally, what is the best advice received to date?
“Don’t let your ego get to your head and don’t be afraid to hire people who are smarter than you with different expertise.”