Patrick Lim is an entrepreneur. He’s in love with business, a business geek if you will. He just loves to think about the mechanics of businesses and how they work. With a background in Marketing and an MBA in hand, he seems more suited for large multinationals than a small manufacturing-based startup. In fact he’s been with such illustrious companies such as 3M, BMG and even Apple Malaysia.
Now, he’s given up all that for his urban bag business, Greenroom136. Greenroom136 is Kuala Lumpur’s first messenger-type bag company. We sit down with Patrick to find about more about Greenroom136 and if Kuala Lumpur is the right place to birth an urban bag brand.
My bigger vision is not a blogshop or a retail shop, it’s to get my products into the world, to get Greenroom to be a recognized international brand. I want to take on the world.
What made you start Greenroom136?
I’ve always wanted to be in business, always known that I’ve wanted to produce something to sell. Actually, I wasn’t out looking for bags, the bags found me. One day a friend of mine came up to me and said “I have a manufacturing plant in China and we produce bags. If you can design something, bring it to me and I can build it for you.” And so I did just that. I came up with 2 drawings and gave it to him. And when they came back, I could see all the mistakes I made. Things that appear well on paper sometimes don’t translate well into 3d. By the time I figured out how to design a bag properly, my friend had already closed down his plant in China. But that was how Greenroom136 got started.
Why the name Greenroom?
It was supposed to be Junk Monkey because we’re all Junk Monkeys, we carry around loads of stuff with us. But the name Junk Monkey just didn’t resonate too well as a commercial brand. Back then I had a blog called “Greenroom at the back of 136″; 136 was my house number. Now, I didn’t want to call my workshop, a workshop or bengkel so, I thought Greenroom would be a good name. A green room is a place you go to conceive and prototype ideas and once it’s done, you green-light the product. So I thought if I removed all the extraneous words from the blog name, I’d get “Greenroom136″. It had a ring to it and so that’s how I got the name. The name Junk Monkey lives on as the name of the bag series.
How long did it take you to start up this company?
I’ve been working for Greenroom136 for the last four years; I was working on this for at least 3 years before I left full-time employment. It was all about tweaking, learning how to design, learning how to sew. So last May (2011), I decided that it was time for me to bring these 3 years of work to life. The very first bag I produced was the Junk Monkey Heretic and since then it’s been great!
How long has Greenroom136 been around and how has it grown so far?
8 months since last May (2011). It’s the first year, everyday is 100% growth! As long as you’re moving, as long you’re doing something, as long as every move you’re making is calculated, you’re mobile. You’re growing incrementally. The moment you stop, the moment you feel like you want to hold back or pullback, that’s when things will start to degrade.
What are the strategies for your business?
Build great products. Social Media also plays a very big role. Business is all about a tribe. You need a fan base. If you don’t have them, you don’t have a product. We live in a time where we have Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. We have to really take hold of these tools and make it part of our business. Doing business online, you don’t have a physical object. Social media is the closest thing they can get their hands on. By putting your products on all these platforms, you have the world in your lap and at very small fraction of the cost. You just have to use your brain power to figure out how to get get fans.
How do you think your business will fit into the minds of KL/Malaysia?
It’s an urban city bag. It’s not a messenger bag. I mean we don’t have any messengers in Malaysia, we only have office boys! They’re the closest equivalent. Messenger bags don’t do well in Malaysia and Asia in terms of function. We are a purely an urban city bag, bags built for urban dwellers. Folks who need to carry their laptops, chargers, mobile phones, cables; people who aren’t bound to a desk. Individuals that need to carry a mini-office around with them, road warriors. That’s who the bags are built for.
Who do you consider a role model in your business?
Leo Laporte because he started from zero. He started literally from zero. He was able to grow from zero to someone big in the industry. He was able to grow a relevant tech tv for our generation from what he had. Kevin Rose is another big influence because of his entrepreneural ventures. Steve Jobs because of his product. I have loads of others.
What are the perks of your job?
No more con calls, no more meetings. I don’t miss the 300 e-mails I used to get everyday either. The real perk is the control of your own time.
How did you fund your business?
Bootstrapped it all the way. Scour every possible penny that you have. Whatever good job that you do in the day, funds what you do at night. You’re literally Batman. Bootstrapping is a very big component of Greenroom136.
What sets your company apart from the rest?
The thing about bag companies is that they’re all quite city centric. I’m talking about the underground brands like Tibuk2, Chrome, Mission Workshop and all that. Mainstream brands like Samsonite don’t apply. Timbuk2 and Chrome are very San Francisco centric and Mission Workshop is even more focused, being based in the San Francisco Mission District. I would say that Greenroom is truly Malaysian, truly Kuala Lumpur.
What is it like in a day of work for you?
The great thing about doing your own business is that you can dictate what you want to do. And especially with a family, you can spend a lot more time with them. I can send my kids to school, pick them up and in between I can get a video interview recorded, prepare for production, talk to partners. Oh and a lot of Facebook and twitter too.
What goals do you have for the company?
To take on the world. Greenroom136 is not a bag company. It’s a portage company, it’s a company that talks about how we carry things. Today it’s bags but it could be a whole different ball game tomorrow. My bigger vision is not a blogshop or a retail shop, it’s to get my products into the world, to get Greenroom136 to be a recognized international brand. I want to take on the world.
What’s your best seller?
The Bootstrap series; the Rainmaker and Origin. Right now people are warming up to the product. So they’re being conservative and trying out the product first. The Bootstrap series is a very good platform for people to get accustomed to the brand at a reasonable price point.
How long is the prototyping process for your bags?
Well it could take weeks, it could take months… it can take a long time. When the product is out in the real world, it’s out there. So you want to take the time to get it right. The Junk Monkey Heretic took a long time, around 6 months. There were many, many revisions. The production version is actually the second prototype, the first prototype failed. The Bootstrap took about a month but that’s when I was already comfortable with bag design.
Where are your bags made?
All Greenroom136 bags are made in Malaysia.
Where can we get our hands on your bags?
They’re available online on our website (http://www.greenroom136.com). We’re also currently available at four retail locations: [i]-Store at Digital Mall and Publika, Mac City in 1Utama and Switch at Gurney Plaza in Penang. Custom bags are also available but from the online store only. You can customize the colors and the designs on the outer shell. Custom orders take around 2-3 weeks from order to delivery.
Was it hard to make your way into retail malls?
I would say I was privileged, I had struck a good relationship with my partners when I was working. They know my style, they know my products and they know who I am. So when I went back to them with my products, they had confidence in them. I won’t say that someone that’s completely new in this industry won’t be able to make it but I think it would be tougher to make in-roads.
What can we expect from your company for the rest of 2012?
Securing more retail and getting more products out in the market. Getting a few more products prototyped and launched. We’re looking at releasing around 2 new models this year. It’s not a matter of quantity, it’s about quality. I want every single bag to be perfect.