As a university student, 22-year-old Chloe Tee was going through a state of confusion that many do at that phase. She was wondering what to do with her life.
Her interest in entrepreneurship led her to study Accounting and Finance, but she had some major reservations.
“The more I learned about different businesses today, the more I was put off by how much social cost was behind all the success of big brands and companies. I started to question the purpose of entrepreneurship.”
Discovering social entrepreneurship was an eye-opening experience for Chloe.
She was intrigued by how these often separate worlds can be incorporated into one entity—both making money, and doing good. To her, this was true entrepreneurship.
However, it was difficult for Chloe to impart this to anyone, not even her close friends.
Therefore, she has made it her university life’s mission to spread the message.
The Good Tavern is a marketplace that curates and sells products from social enterprises—while telling their stories.
The Good Tavern Social Market was launched on Chloe’s campus, Sunway University, showcasing different products ranging from food and beverages, beauty and health, to arts and lifestyle.
The participating social enterprises get a platform to spread their message, and students get real proof that social entrepreneurship is a viable future for them, either as a career, as a business partner, or even as a potential venture.
The 20 social entrepreneurs they’ve worked with include Picha Project, Teach for Malaysia, Dialogue in the Dark, Biji-Biji Initiative, Earth Heir and many others.
To keep things relevant, The Good Tavern also leverages off seasonal months to drive traffic.
They’ll be building the social market around a Christmas theme in December, which just so happens to be the month of giving.
On top of their usual operations, they also run activities to impart sustainability messages.
One of them was a “Cup-Doodling Contest” where participants were able to doodle on environmentally-friendly paper cups from one of their social enterprise partners.
The aim is to get students to appreciate paper cups that are too often taken for granted.
Perhaps as proof of concept for her entrepreneurship zeal, Chloe was able to pilot the project with almost no cost, leveraging off having a campus events area as a platform.
For one thing, her lecturer was able to send invitation emails to his network of colleagues. They also worked with the student department to get the event on their university portals.
As long as she had a good location, some marketing, a small team of students, decorations and “a whole lot of mental support”, she was able to conduct the marketplace within university areas.
Two years into the project, The Good Tavern just began charging its social enterprise partners last month.
“So technically speaking, The Good Tavern has made its first revenue just last month!” joked Chloe.
By charging the social enterprises, they can cover not only travel and marketing, but also pay for committed student part-timers instead of risking things on volunteers who may drop out at the last minute.
Since participating social enterprises still saw value in what The Good Tavern has to offer—between marketing and brand presence—they had no problems with the service charge. It helps that The Good Tavern has built a rep for themselves too.
Getting The Good Tavern off the ground was not a piece of cake.
“Honestly, it was quite a mess in the beginning. We were a bunch of accounting students who had the desire to do this, but had absolutely no clue how to run a market,” said Chloe, reminiscing about the early days.
With a team of mostly accounting students, they realised that the team lacked the diversity of people who could do basic things like design, or marketing, or other things they needed—on top of the rigours of actually setting up a market, and negotiating with all of the social enterprises to give them what they need.
So they had to learn on the fly while juggling their studies.
Chloe recalls times when friction rose among members, especially near deadlines.
“Sometimes ideas get shot down and someone would be offended. There was a time when we were so near deadline, and nothing was done because the team were too caught up in personal emotions.”
This was when Chloe began putting a strong emphasis on team culture. She decreed three values—proactiveness, trust and love. She made it clear to every member that they needed to be transparent and objective about each other’s ideas and work.
“Today, even the new recruits are so immersed in the culture that they immediately feel included in the team and are ever-ready to take lead and contribute without holding back,” said Chloe.
In the two years that The Good Tavern has been running, she has been able to attract 15 like-minded students who have become part of the core team.
However, Chloe will be leaving the project behind when she graduates.
When asked what she’ll do after university, Chloe was very clear that The Good Tavern will not be a venture for her.
“Even if The Good Tavern is my brainchild, it doesn’t mean no one else can grow it better,” said Chloe about the decision.
“It amazes me every time when I delegate responsibilities to the team and they always manage to perform beyond my expectations. It became clear to me that The Good Tavern will need fresh ideas and leadership insofar the purpose stays anchored.”
“The Good Tavern isn’t about me, but it has its own reason to exist. I have spotted some great individuals who I believe will continue growing The Good Tavern and they are ever-ready to take on the challenge.”
Chloe will be supporting them behind the scenes as long as she’s needed, but she envisions herself running a health/wellness-related business when she graduates, which will incorporate women empowerment. And she’s taken social entrepreneurship lessons to heart.
“I am still trying to illustrate what exactly that I can do which can add value not only to consumers but also to the lives of the young girls and women from the underserved community.”