The main difference between ice cream and ice cream is that the former is heavily milk based, while the latter is cream based. Marie and Tracey once walked the cobbled streets of Rome, trying different ice cream stands until one stood out among the rest.
Its texture, flavor, clean aftertaste, and huge spoonfuls left the sisters with the feeling they best described as, “I have to take this home!”
They wrote on their website: “Still a student at the time, a student had capital… from savings and really, not that much. Our crazy method was therefore to be content with what we could, hence a mobile store! ”
6 years later, the sisters have since opened a small brick and mortar store in PJ and have made over 80 different flavors of ice cream. Their brand, Waka Waka Gelato (Waka) has even been booked at events by some notable clients such as Topshop, PWC, Isetan, CIMB, DIOR, L’oreal, and the list goes on.
Angpau money brought the idea to life
Marie and Tracey were driven by one mission: to spread their enthusiasm for Italian ice cream to the Malays. The two business students, neither had cooking experience, so the desserts they churned were mostly trial and error.
While she eventually found the great taste and texture she was happy with, Marie was well aware that just because she loved her product didn’t mean everyone would.
When Vulcan Post met them, Marie confessed that she was terrified of opening a retail store, especially when the business was just an idea. Carrying out overhead and costly rental commitments was just not sustainable at the time.
“The concept of the mobile store was to have something small that I could put up where the audience was, and see what they said. Initially, I thought about installing it in hawker stands because that’s where a lot of people were usually, ”explains Marie. “It had to be economical, cost effective, and a low burden way to test the product and get feedback.”
So with a capital of 4000 RM of Angpao money they saved, the duo started selling their ice cream from a small cart at a private event with 3-4 flavors.
“Pity comments” were not enough
It was the first private event where they performed the necessary market validation for Waka. By asking questions, getting feedback, and studying the facial expressions of customers who have tasted their ice cream, they have gained confidence in the potential of their product.
“I read somewhere that friends and family can give pitying comments, so it’s important to get comments from strangers and the bazaars were the best place for that,” Marie said.
Waka’s notoriety slowly grew through word of mouth, and they started appearing in universities, bazaars, and small events. The big tipping point for them was in a bazaar in Jaya One. While many clients consisted of supportive parents, it was the event that opened them up to greater public exposure.
The siblings made sure to point out that a big part of their success was thanks to friends and family who helped connect Waka with interested clients for private and corporate events.
This is how they attracted renowned clients such as Isetan, DIOR, Marc Jacobs and a few large companies 4.
But the sisters remain humble, sharing, “Even now we wouldn’t say our reach is very wide, the majority of people still don’t really know us. We always have people coming to our store to ask if we’ve just started, ”they told Vulcan Post.
The AGC put the brakes on his cart
With more businesses and individuals booking private events, the Waka sisters needed a central kitchen to make larger amounts of their ice cream.
In December 2019, they opened a physical store in PJ – reinvesting event revenue – to serve as a meeting place for customers and a central kitchen. But the MCO struck soon after, which put Waka in a tough spot.
“The events had been our main focus, so you could say we were 100% affected by the lockdown,” Marie and Tracey said. “You can’t call us retail either, because we never had a storefront, so we didn’t have our own group of retailers.”
Waka immediately pivoted their operations to take advantage of deliveries, where offering daily menus and delivery promotions helped them ride the waves.
When it comes to event bookings that couldn’t be held physically, the sisters gave their customers the option to redirect their booking fees into in-store purchases or attendee deliveries. However, most customers have simply chosen to wait until physical events are safe again.
It’s an ongoing process to make it work. There isn’t really a goal for us, even after reaching one goal, there is always the next one. We are open to opportunities, but for now we want to maximize what we have in the retail segment. It would be cool to have Waka Waka Gelato as a novelty, a place [where] hope you will want to get everyone to try, or tourists to stop.
Marie and Tracey, co-founders of Waka Waka Gelato
- You can read more about Waka Waka Gelato here.
- You can read other F&B articles we’ve written here.
Featured Image Credit: Marie and Tracey, Co-Founders of Waka Waka Gelato
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