The Young Daniel Ong Ate Boiled Paper With Soy Sauce Because Of Poverty

paper and soy sauce

Picture for illustrative purposes only 😛

Mention the name “Daniel Ong” and most people will think of the serial entrepreneur (founder of Twelve Cupcakes, Rookery, Brewlander, and more!) or know him to be an award-winning radio DJ. But what else do you know about Daniel? Is he so rich and successful because he’s from a wealthy family? You know about those companies of his that are successful, but what about those which failed – what lessons did he learn from those ventures? I got to hear Daniel Ong share about his story and his journey at the ‘Dare to Fail!’ session organized as part of the People’s Association Industry Guru series recently.

Daniel Ong

Daniel on stage, as some of us in the audience continued enjoying the buffet-style dinner provided. 😀

It was an eye-opening session.

Firstly, Daniel’s been through some really tough times growing up. His father left the family when Daniel was just a year old. Daniel moved to Canada with his mother, who had to take on two jobs to support the family. He returned to Singapore at age 9 but times were so tough that he even ate paper that was boiled in water, with some soy sauce for flavor! (It didn’t seem like he was kidding!) And if he were to order food from the chicken rice stall, it would be chicken rice without the chicken. The uncle would give him some soup to accompany that rice.

And even though he is terribly eloquent, and speaks Mandarin fluently as well, Daniel’s formal education ended after he took the ‘O’ levels as he had to start making money!

He has also worked in a whole lot of jobs – from dishwasher to bowling ball driller to being an assistant in a ‘cai png’ stall!

This award-winning radio DJ also struggled at first. People were calling for his resignation the first week he started work at a radio station. He received hate mail at the age of 19. That pent-up frustration led him to shout while at a reservoir, till he lost his voice. And by some stroke of luck, his voice became deeper after that. (*Don’t try this at home, or at any reservoir!)

When people complained about his poor enunciation, he read The Straits Times out loud, front to back, every single day for 6 months. Eventually, voiceover jobs came his way. He began hosting shows… and became a sought-after host.

He’s also had some businesses which failed spectacularly. There was a beads-and-necklaces business, a carwash and polishing business, Cookies for Sid as well as Junbi and Dulce And Sucre (which racked up 6-figure losses EACH). Yet Dan says it’s important to fail. Because you get to get back up, learn, analyse what went wrong, and change.

He gave the audience such pearls of wisdom – “If you don’t know your purpose now, it is ok.” (The KFC guy started at age 60) and “Don’t quit your job and open a cafe!” 😀

Here are just 5 takeaways from the session:

#1: To succeed in a business, there must be a SYSTEM. Anyone can find a cupcake recipe online, but not everyone can deliver consistency. Having a system allows you to scale up. Twelve Cupcakes thus opened 12 stores in 12 months, and 40 stores around Asia with a venture capitalist.

#2: There’s no escaping the grind: Daniel was working from 7am to 3am daily when Twelve Cupcakes first started. His “longest” lunch was all of 5 minutes. He did everything from marketing to social media and HR. He even mopped the floor.

#3: Branding is key. They didn’t simply sell a product. They sold emotions.

#4: Keep staff feeling fulfilled.

#5: Learn every aspect of your business.


If you’re interested in meeting Daniel at one of his workshops and learning more, head to for more details.