Starting a Business in Taiwan
In this interview, Robbie shares his incredible experience of starting his smoothie chain in Taiwan.
What does it take to start a business in Taiwan?
At some point, most foreigners living in Taiwan would think about owning their own business in this beautiful province. Transportation is convenient, the food is delicious, the people are welcoming; so what does it take for foreigners to actually run a business in Taiwan? For Robbie Shaw and his good buddy Tim Wang, this dream became a reality when they opened their first smoothie shop in 2013 – WooGo Juice. In less than 2 years, they have rapidly expanded their business to a 10-store chain that is still growing
Why did you choose Taiwan to start your business?
Honestly? I just came here to practice my Chinese. But I’ve always been interested in starting a business. At that time, I did a lot of research about the smoothie industry and how it is growing worldwide. It just seemed like the right time to help spread this delicious drink to Taiwan.
Did you have to face any language barriers when starting your business?
Tons. I actually can’t really read or write Chinese. I’m still learning though. But there are several ways around this. I would often treat my friends to lunches or dinners for helping me translate materials in Chinese.
What is your background? Did you graduate within a business-related field?
I majored in violin. My graduation project was writing a piece of music using colored pencils. I’m not sure what it has to do with business, but I guess it has made me more creative?
What are some of the requirements for starting a business in Taiwan?
It really depends on the type of business you are starting. For WooGo Juice, I needed 500,000 in the bank, and a Taiwanese partner. I actually met my partner Tim through English conversation lessons. He just happened to have his own electronic companies in Central America. And he really liked clubbing too, so it seemed like it would be a good partnership.
What were some of the challenges you faced when introducing smoothies to Taiwan?
I think one of the greatest challenges was trying to present the product in a way to make it more acceptable to Taiwanese culture. For example, most people here are used to having options of less ice or no ice in their drinks. And since I basically grew up with smoothies, I never really thought that customers would want smoothies with less ice.
Did you really make smoothies with less ice or no ice?
No. Because the quality of the product is still the most important. If a customer tried ice cream for the first time and told me that ice cream is too cold, it doesn’t mean I should warm it up. It just takes more time and education to show the customer why this delicious product is so popular on the other side of the world.
But without these options, wouldn’t you be limiting the amount of customers?
Yes it would. Maybe it’s because of all the marketing books I read before, but I believe that “if you have a product for everybody, then you have a product for nobody.” A lot of people actually don’t like spicy food, but there are still restaurants famous for their spicy dishes, because they make their product delicious for all those spicy-food lovers. Which is why I think our smoothies have to taste great for all the smoothie lovers out there!
How did you go from one little shop to 10 stores within 2 short years?
Honestly I still have no idea how to expand a business. But what I did learn is that a good product doesn’t just attract customers, it also attracts partners, investors, and basically people with a lot more experience who share our vision. Which is exactly what happened the beginning of 2015, when we met Michael, our new partner and business expansion guru. He really showed me the ways of expanding a business.
What is your average day like?
Average? I’m not sure. I can tell you what I did yesterday. I woke up, ate a good breakfast, and replied to all my emails and messages. Had a quick meeting at the office, then I went to Taichung to check the setup of one of the stores. Then went to Taoyuan in the afternoon to meet some of the new staff. Went back to Taichung in the evening, had a quick store meeting, then checked-in to the smallest hotel room I have ever stayed at. Which is weird, cause I actually really liked that room.
What legal issues did you have to face when starting your brand?
The process could have been long and tedious, but all I needed was a good accountant. She specialized in foreigners starting businesses in Taiwan. So she really helped me step-by-step through the incorporation process.
What does WooGo mean?
It sounds energetic in English. And it also sounds like five brothers in Chinese, which represents the five original founders of Woogo.
Any advice for foreigners starting a business in Taiwan?
Get a good accountant, trust your product, and don’t use language barriers as an excuse. Make yourself visible not just to customers, but also people with more experience who see the potential in what you are doing. Our first shop wasn’t even making that much money in the beginning, but the potential was there. I’m just glad it was realized in time.
About the author:
Robbie Shaw is from the US but now living in Taiwan making his dreams come true. He is one of the owners and founder of Woogo Juice Taiwan.