Industry Update
Opinion Article26 October 2020

EHL Success Stories: Startup Edition - Madame Sum

By Son-Trang Nguyen, Bachelor Student at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL)

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EHL Success Stories: Start-Up Edition is a new series to show support to our EHL Family and, more specifically, our hard-working AEHL entrepreneurs. This project aims to showcase EHL's entrepreneur mindsets, support new and upcoming ideas and businesses. While overcoming a challenging time for all companies, these Start Ups prove that resilience and hard work can overcome any problems.

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For this feature, we would like to present to you, Madame Sum. This creative dumpling company selling ready to steam dumplings was founded by three EHL Alumni: Yves Jâger, Arnaud Verschueren, and Tobia Tagliacozzo.

We had the chance to speak to these creative co-founders about their beginnings with Madame Sum and the quick shift to an online shop due to the Pandemic.

Can you present yourself in a couple of words?

Our names are Yves Jäger, Arnaud Verschueren, and Tobia Tagliacozzo. We come from Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy, respectively. We all graduated from EHL in February 2019 and are now living in Zurich.

Can you tell us more about Madame Sum?

Madame Sum is a creative dumpling company selling ready-to-steam dumplings. Our products are a fusion version of dumplings, with fillings inspired by our surroundings and recipes we love. Our company focuses on quality ingredients, the convenience of delivery, and only homemade products. We always hear that experience is hey in the food business; we try to ensure that a great food experience can also be achieved in the delivery segment. Our goal is to create a sustainable food business that can spread emotions and curiosity around food.

Can you tell us the story of how it all started?

It all started while at EHL. We were all housemates and had the opportunity, together with Victor Martin, to build an events agency during our BOSC-4 internship. During that period, the opportunity came up to take-over a restaurant close to Zurich for a pop-up. As Yves and Victor worked in Hong Kong and fell in love with dumplings and "Europeanized" dumplings, we thought, why not try to introduce this to the Swiss market? The pop up was brought with the idea of a one-time event, but by the time we finished EHL, we felt we had to re-launch this project and spread some dumpling love around Switzerland; there was a special something to it where we could not let it go! We started with food festivals, caterings, and pop-ups to then open our dumpling bar concept.

How long has your company been around?

Our first company (Yellow Parrot) was founded in 2017; we then became Madame Sum in the spring of 2019.

How did EHL played a role into your company creation?

We wouldn't know where to start... EHL has set the foundation of Madame Sum. From making us meet each other to have some Chefs and professors guiding us and giving advice when tricky decisions happened. Not to forget the extraordinary skillset and mentality they provided us with - work hard, play hard!

How was your company experience during the pandemic?

As mentioned, we aimed to open dumpling bars. We found a location and were supposed to sign our lease in March 2019. However, we figured it wasn't a great idea and had to find a solution to grow the business regardless of that setback. We had two employees and didn't want to shut down the business. We decided to digitalize overnight by creating a simple online shop. As we started targeting new areas and markets, and because people were at home - the delivery scene exploded. We were lucky to get traction from day 1. The next steps were logic for us: improve our platform and open in Lausanne! In all, we learned so much from this period, from having to iterate, adapt, and learn new skills we were not focusing on beforehand! It showed us the importance of flexibility, being open-minded, and diversification of revenue streams. We are very confident and proud of the measures we took during the period; they allowed us to grow the business more sustainably, current to today's social and economic environment.

What was your biggest challenge faced during the past few months?

The biggest challenge was operating the business while keeping all of our team safe; having people work from home is not an option in the food business as we need people to be physically present in the kitchens.

As we turned our business model around during this period, it required some investments in technology and new infrastructure. From opening and launching a new website to investing in assets was vital in the past months. We are not tech guys, and although we understand the operational, financial challenges and knowing what the outcome should be, we don't understand much of all the back-end implications. Learning these skills quickly and working from abroad with freelancers (which we were not used to) was challenging and stressful. Now we start seeing the fruits growing from that work, and it's gratifying, but it wasn't always easy!

What advice would've you given your 2019 self?

"Be ready to always learn something new; every day, you never know when it can come to use!"

It will allow you to make better and more informed decisions faster. Start investing in technology early on, it's the future, and regardless of how it's used or done, it can not be neglected. Also, going cheap is not always the correct way, we felt brilliant buying cheaper and going around the system, but often the number of problems you get from that is larger than the reward…

How did you keep your team motivation during the past challenging months?

A lot of great music going on in the kitchen; our team is particularly into Aya Nakamura lately... We also have lunch together every day to ensure that team harmony is always at 200%. It's essential in these times to stay human, be yourself, and make sure that everyone is comfortable. Being ourselves is what brought us here, and that cannot change. We sometimes asked our team if they would instead go home, but they always agreed to stay and work to improve the company and support our business. We couldn't have hoped for better people working with us!

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