The Art of Reinvention

By Mel Sim

Ivan Chong, founder of Cotta, talks about second chances.

From holding the rights of a popular Japanese character, losing it all during the COVID-19 pandemic and then starting again, Ivan Chong definitely knows a thing or two about reinvention. In the midst of the pandemic, he started his F&B business Cotta, selling the one thing he’s most passionate about: Freshly made ricotta. It may sound almost impossible to base an entire food business just on one product but Ivan seems to have mastered his recipe for success. He shares his experience, the lows and the highs, and what lies in the future for him. And if you want to check out Ivan in action as well as find out more about his freshly made ricotta, follow him on IG @cottakl.

I used to be the CEO of Taigaco Sdn Bhd, a company that owned the merchandising and licensing rights to the “Original 8” classic Ultraman characters. Unfortunately, we had some issues with the license but then came COVID-19. That was the nail in the coffin with our clients putting their spending on hold, which was detrimental to our cashflow.

So I lost the business. I tried applying for jobs but my ego got in the way; I knew inside that I needed to be a boss of my own so I had to start my own business again. My girlfriend then suggested that I start a food business, which has always been a “romantic, I will open a small breakfast restaurant after I retire” idea that I had for the longest time. But the hardest thing about the food business is covering rent. Fortunately, with COVID-19, rental became more affordable and I found a location that felt right.

And so began my journey with Cotta. Here, we only focus on doing one thing and doing it right: Fresh ricotta every day! My menu centres around my ricotta while I find the best people and brands to leverage on and grow together. Running a restaurant isn’t easy as you might envision. The toughest thing is the overwhelming physical requirement on top of the mental exhaustion of running any business. To make sure we survive this grueling industry, I adopt the term “it’s not a race but a marathon” in my business. My team literally puts in 200% every day. To prevent them from burning out, I have a weekday team and a weekend team.

We started early 2021 and I’m barely holding on being in the restaurant every day. But my strict rest schedule is helping a lot – you must get your eight hours of sleep to work optimally! Rest is so important in this business! As for the mental part, I surround myself with people who give me positive energy only; people who always have a positive outlook in life, rarely complains and finds solutions instead. Inspirational people who are winners in other words.

We’re currently breaking even, which was a goal we set out when we first started. Having achieved it already feels great. Now our new goal is to not burn out and to find out how we can work smarter and be more efficient. At the end of the day, passion sells while hard work pays off. We love our job here and the term “sikit sikit jadi bukit” is so true – small steps every day.

I am overwhelmed by the kindness we’ve received from strangers, offering not just kind words but also business opportunities. I did not expect to receive that so that has inspired me to approach the business more heart first rather than money or business first. Starting Cotta was a way to rebuild myself. Losing my business was a huge blow to my confidence, my lifestyle, mentally, emotionally, financially. Cotta is my steppingstone to find myself back, to rebuild and restart my life. I’m a very proud and passionate person. Doing Cotta has helped me find back my stride. If you follow me on Instagram and know me personally, you will no doubt get a sense of that. I got my confidence back by doing something I love every day.

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