Marcus Jilla fell in love with fresh tacos, spicy guacamole and all sorts of delicious Mexican food while he was on an RMIT exchange programme in the US.
Inspired by his experience, he wanted to introduce this food trend to Asia. This led him to start Mex Out, a casual Mexican restaurant in Singapore. He dishes out his recipe for success here.
The first seeds of a business idea were planted in Marcus’s mind when he was on an RMIT exchange programme at Arizona State University’s WP Carey School of Business. As a hardcore foodie who enjoyed dining out with friends, he noticed how popular casual, affordable Mexican restaurants were in the US. And the idea took shape after he moved from Melbourne to Singapore in 2009 for work.
“Casual dining was starting to evolve and develop in Singapore. There were a few brands that had grown to 10 or more outlets, which meant that casual dining chains were viable. But there weren’t any Mexican eateries in that space yet,” says Marcus. “I saw this as an opportunity to start something in Singapore and then take it to other countries in Asia.”
Of course, undertaking such a task was easier said than done.
Building a new business from scratch, particularly one that’s ahead of the curve, requires plenty of pluck.
Luckily for Marcus, he’d already honed his business skills as a student at RMIT, from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business in Marketing. Some of the courses he took helped him organise his thinking, “be commercially and profit minded as well as know how to approach investors, raise funds and structure deals the right way,” he says.
For areas where he lacked the knowledge or skills, he had enough foresight to seek help.
“A good thing about being an entrepreneur is you can focus on the things you're good at. I’m good at brand and vision, but not great in operations as I sometimes lack the hawk's eye for detail,” confesses Marcus.
So what did he do?
“Find people to help with what you’re not good at. For example, I hired an operations director and engaged a PR firm, professional designers and a consulting chef. Don’t try to do everything yourself just to save costs,” advises Marcus.
Despite our best efforts, things can and do go wrong. Marcus initially saw slower than expected growth and slimmer profit margins due to high operating costs while waiting for more people to get hooked on the Mexican dining trend.
But instead of despairing, Marcus was convinced he and his team could turn things around.
They did just that – and how. From just one outlet at Far East Square in 2013, Mex Out has grown to four outlets island-wide. But Marcus doesn’t plan to stop there. He hopes to take the brand to other countries in the region within the next year.
“We want Mex Out to be Asia's first and largest home-grown Mexican restaurant brand,” says a confident Marcus.
The F&B business is extremely competitive, so it’s important to differentiate yourself. Picking a new food trend is one thing, but the food has to be tasty enough to keep customers coming back for more. “A killer product will sell itself, and then growth will take care of itself,” says Marcus.
While challenging, this isn’t impossible. Marcus says the ingredients for success are mastering the essential business skills, a sharp vision for the company and an irresistible product that’s bang on trend.
Marcus mastered his business skills at RMIT, and you can do the same so that when the time comes, you can execute your vision with confidence.
Acknowledgement of country
RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer
Acknowledgement of country
RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.