FOUNDER & GROUP MANAGING DIRECTOR
ALIZA ALI – THE BRAIN, THE BEAUTY, THE BRAND
“It’s just bubble tea, it’s not rocket science”
Making a cup of bubble tea may not be as complicated as navigating Lockheed Martin’s Mars rover but to break into a volatile and unknown market takes more brain than brawn and Aliza Ali, entrepreneur, founder and Group Managing Director of Chatime Malaysia is doing just that.
When Chatime, the Taiwanese-based bubble tea brand came into the scene a few years ago, Aliza, still running the 9-5 rat race as a white-collar oil & gas executive decided to chase her dream – to finally start a business and own a brand. Known for her benevolent and genial traits, the captivating lady started off as a fan of Chatime, falling in love with the milky sweet punch of the brand’s bubble tea that left her with a great big idea – To make this brand her own.
Together with confidant, corporate partner Widayu Latiff, they commenced their first Chatime outlet up in the chilly air of Genting Highlands in 2011 and the rest like they say, is history. The Genting outlet was on a roll, making more bucks than most but what transpired after became the talk of the town. The success of that first outlet paved way for more to come and KL Sentral soon became their second path towards a bigger lap of luxury Little did they know that together with the second outlet, Aliza and Widayu’s two outlets single-handedly became the highest-grossing Chatime outlet in the world – the two crowning glory out of 1800 global outlets across 36 countries, a feat only achieved in dreams to most.
A true believer of careful planning and taking calculated risks, the Negeri Sembilan-born businesswoman took a different path growing up. Burning the midnight oil in her Chemical Engineering major, Aliza took the corporate journey with the aim of preserving enough funds to make her dream a reality. Despite sharpening her skills hitting chemical engineering books back in Imperial College London, Aliza knew that deep down inside her passion has always been about expanding the business side in her. She remembers quite frankly how a series of fortunate incidents sparked her curiosity (and lifelong passion) to achieve what others thought was impossible and she knows that with proper planning, she could wrangle more dollars and cents with a business.
2017 and Beyond
Chatime was caught in a debacle and the international bubble tea brand was losing grounds.
The brand was held up following an unfortunate embroilment with the previous licensor. Business owners were agitated and restless within that testing period, but Aliza knew this was her big break so when 161 business partners jumped ship to fly under a different brand, Aliza stood her ground. She in turn wanted more than just running outlets, she wanted the brand to make a comeback and Chatime at that moment, was up for grabs.
Five public listed giants went to Taiwan to pitch and came back empty-handed with reasons unknown to anyone before Aliza got the call – Chatime’s Chairman was planning a visit and Aliza was to be offered the multimillion-dollar deal, as the owner of the brand’s master license in Malaysia and this certainly couldn’t come at a better time.
Aliza wanted to resurrect the brand, to make a comeback and together with her contrasting yet impeccable partner Widayu, Aliza is dead set on spearheading the brand’s relevance in the Malaysian market. Despite several hiccups and capital drawbacks, they were finally crowned the new owner of Chatime Malaysia and within seconds became international headlines – from Channel News Asia, CNN, BBC and most importantly, the local Malaysian media.
Trials and tribulations may seem like an understatement during the period of acquiring the license. Without any solid financial salvation, running on pure bootstrapping and self-funded capital, the reincarnation of Chatime Malaysia seemed to set on a rocky start. But Aliza and Widayu are not ones to plunge without a plan. After all, running the highest two profitable outlets in the world surely puts them both at an advantage.
For Aliza, “You don’t just run this business without knowing the process from start to finish. I know how to make every single drink on the menu and at the start if I run out of milk, I go out and get it because no one is going to hand it down to help you”.
Truth be told, they did bring the brand back up and running. Clearly bigger and better as within eight months of the big announcement, they expanded to 40 outlets. All without aid and assistance and all they wanted to do was just to move on. They employed trusted figures in the scene and the aim was to push a stronger branding and marketing presence.
Building Bubbly Lives
Aliza however wanted more than just harvesting financial gains off the brand. Together with Widayu, she sees the development of Chatime as not only in sales figures but also in developing the younger generations. Setting an example of her business savoir-faire, she now helps youths she employs to start a promising career from fronting an outlet to owning one in the future.
“I want them to learn the ropes of the industry, starting from scratch to making it big time”, voiced Aliza. True to her words, most employees working for the brand have been looking up to both Aliza and Widayu, setting their goals to own something of their own one day and not stopping at the first sight of obstacle. And obstacles are what Aliza and Widayu have been facing since day one.
Though not content on being known just as the beauty behind the brand, her character does deliver an air of alluring appeal, the kind of charm that wins over disagreements and discussions. Dissimilar to Widayu’s composing yet unyielding magnetism, Aliza is comfortable showing some cards up her sleeve. This thus culminates into her social media persona, one with a growing number of followers, turning the businesswoman into a digital icon that won many hearts with her thriving success story.
In relevance to that, one of the many entrepreneurial tips she shares with her fans and followers, “Make your brand a lifestyle, not just a front to sell products or to provide services”.
Such impactful presence resonated in several accolades at the start of 2018. First was BrandLaureate’s BrandLaureate Woman of The Year 2018 and the Women in Business 2018 by ONE (Outstanding National Entrepreneurs) Awards but to her, victory without trials is winning a race alone. Advising youths and budding entrepreneurs, Aliza was quoted, “Today’s generation reflects tomorrow’s leaders. Guide them the right way but give them the space to make mistakes”.
Another lesson she keeps echoing in the office, “Fear is just an illusion. It’s only a matter of perspective, it isn’t substance, it stops you moving forward in life. So have no fear”.
On To Bigger Things
As 2017 has been the year Chatime expanded physically, 2018 is looking at bigger changes in marketing strategies just to get the fact right – that Chatime was never out and the brand has never left the scene. It’s just hibernating for a solid return.
Though ardent enough to talk about the company’s mission and vision, Aliza is still playful enough to disclose her current personal favorite – The Taiwan Plum & Aloe Vera toppings and she’s no stranger to making one herself. To Aliza, an entrepreneur that does not know their own product doesn’t deserve to sell that product in the first place. Besides spending what little time she has winding down with musical instruments, Aliza has been vocal in showcasing Chatime’s rule of thumb – to have quality go in line with quantity. To the business icon, the quality of their service and products must go hand in hand with the number of outlets they open, no exception.
From an idea to an empire, Aliza admitted that Chatime Malaysia has a long way to go. Persistent on not getting handouts or support, she’s adamant in pushing the brand to its highest peak, not just returning with figures with also to help develop the society. After all according to Aliza, “We want Chatime to be a lifestyle, something you live, breathe and see every day”.