Kevin Chia, chairman and founder of ZANE Pte Ltd, shares his vision on using modern technology to cultivate an ancient herb and bringing a product he is truly passionate about to the masses.
By Alvin Wong
With his firm built and flowing grey mane styled in a ponytail, Kevin Chia radiates confidently in his pinstripe blazer and pink trousers as he shares with much enthusiasm a video of his recent achievement. In the clip, the 55-year-old is seen performing sit-ups with a steady rhythm while the clock ticks away. 150 sit-ups in just under five-and-a-half minutes.
A personal best so far, Kevin says.
He confesses not to be a fitness guru or gym enthusiast, and could only muster some 20 situps in one seating when he started. But he has been progressively ramping up his performance. What amazes and enthuses him is the vigour and bursts of energy he feels and is able to exert, especially at his age.
While seemingly small, this personal achievement is just one of the reasons that has strengthened Kevin’s conviction that his latest product, ZANE Finest Cordyceps Tea, is going to benefit many people. Since founding ZANE Pte Ltd in 2013, he has been drinking the tea and attesting to the properties of cordyceps, which he calls a wonder herb.
Innovating Wellness Through Technology
Armed with a diploma in electronics and communications engineering, Kevin spent his early career in the field of electronics and later moved on to software development and system integration. During the 1990s, when both mobile communications and the Internet were rapidly booming, he decided to take the bold step into entrepreneurship and create his own product.
In 1998, he founded a telecommunications software company and provided solutions that enabled service providers to manage voice and data traffic, as well as billing systems. By 2000, he led the company to become publicly listed on the mainboard of the Singapore Exchange, with a valuation of S$250 million.
Three years into helming the listed firm, Kevin decided on a change of pace in life. Being a technologist at heart, he decided to become a serial investor who sought out companies with innovative technologies. Hence, he joined the ranks of the “semi-retired”, choosing to stay out of the limelight of day-to-day management, and remained largely in the background of the various businesses he invested in.
One of his many ventures was researching with innovative ways to cultivate cordyceps using cutting-edge technology.
It was nearly a decade after his initial investment that Kevin decided to play a more active role in managing the business.
“Initially, I wasn’t too keen to get involved with any business,” he says. “As my age caught up, I experienced first-hand how our bodies deteriorate. I became concerned about health. So, I thought that maybe it was the right time to get involved with a business which could have a huge impact on health and wellness.”
Perhaps what drew Kevin’s attention to cordyceps stemmed from numerous raw accounts he learnt from friends who were battling cancer. They shared how the herb helped to tide them over their diseases, and even defy the odds of their doctors’ prognoses. The episode resonated strongly with him and inspired him to delve further into understanding this ancient Chinese herb.
When it comes to healthcare, Kevin believes in integrating Eastern and Western approaches. However, he admits that he has not always been knowledgeable about traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and wishes he had discovered the healing properties of cordyceps earlier. He recalls a painful period when he was dealing with his father’s battle with cancer. Out of desperation, he begged doctors for advice on alternative medicines, going as far as to offer signing an indemnity agreement for the pursuit. Ultimately, he did not get any answers.
As good as the herb is, wild cordyceps are by and large out of reach for most people, in part for their rarity and costly price tag. Cultivated variants may be good alternatives, but have mostly been regarded as a lesser cousin of the original because of weak efficacies. For Kevin, his vision was to create cordyceps with efficacies that could match or surpass wildcordyceps, with a reasonable price tag that would appeal to the mass market.
He knew that cultivation of cordyceps was not a novel idea. Indeed, cultivated cordyceps have been widely available in the form of capsules. But he was confident in the unique concept and the direction in which the innovative technology was heading. With fresh investment pouring into development, the company took their patented microenvironmental control technology (MECT) to new heights. Through MECT, the company’s researchers could extract and cultivate high-quality Tibetian wild cordyceps which retained all of the active ingredients. The cultivation process involved environmental simulation to recreate the high-altitude conditions of the Himalayan Mountains that have been allowing wild cordyceps to thrive.
The Art and Science of Product Management
The next step was to envision what the final product would look like. Kevin felt that this ancient wonder herb needed to be updated for the modern consumer. The product needed a new brand identity that would reflect his vision and commitment. In his mind, he was planning to carve out a niche for his new product.
“To differentiate our cordyceps, we decided to market it as a tea,” he explains. “We want consumers to integrate our cordyceps tea as part of their healthy lifestyle, rather than to treat it as a traditional Chinese medicine.”
The new brand direction expresses Kevin’s east-meets-west philosophy, and is reflected in the design and packaging. With that, ZANE Finest Cordyceps Tea was launched in June 2016. To establish ZANE cordyceps tea as a product of Singapore, the supply chain was transformed. After harvesting the raw cordyceps from the laboratory which uses vertical farming techniques in China, they are shipped to Singapore and further processed into granules and packaged into individual sealed sachets.
“As a Singapore product, it is an assurance to consumers that our factories have stringent controls to ensure quality and safety,” Kevin says. “Whether locally or globally, feedback from our customers have been positive, attesting to the confidence of our consumers in the integrity of our product.”
“On one hand, there are consumers who are familiar with cordyceps, and on the other hand, the mass market is less acquainted with the herb and its benefits because it has been deemed as too expensive. We are educating everyone that we could bring great health benefits at affordable prices,” he adds.
As he eagerly shares numerous research papers which he has been collating and studying, Kevin explains that having scientific backing is important. ZANE substantiated scientific proof when they approached the School of Applied Science in Temasek Polytechnic to independently test the contents of their cordyceps tea. Since hitting the market, the product has garnered numerous testimonials from consumers who have drunk and benefited from the cordyceps tea. While word-of-mouth has been a positive boost for sales, Kevin feels that more could be done to raise the awareness of what the wonder herb can do.
He is pushing for clinical trials and controlled group studies to be conducted, where he hopes to show the positive effects of cordyceps in combating chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar, also known as the ‘Three Highs’. More people are taking an interest in complementary and alternative medicine, as well as traditional Chinese herbalism. Kevin feels that it is the right time to advocate for an eastmeets-west approach in dealing with many ailments where western medicine alone struggles to provide a holistic solution.
He has reached out to medical professionals in countries such as Indonesia and Russia, where they are receptive to his idea of conducting controlled tests and trials. In Singapore, he is positioning ZANE as a healthy lifestyle companion, and he has found success in forging innovative distribution channels. Apart from working with distributors who carry health supplements or TCM products, he has partnered fitness clubs and wellness spas, giving patrons the opportunity to sample and buy the tea during their visits.
“We have over 30 distribution outlets marketing our ZANE Finest Cordyceps Tea in Singapore. I think it’s not a bad start for a relatively new brand,” Kevin says. Supermarkets, pharmacies, and clinics are some of the places he hopes to introduce the product soon. On a parting note, he hints at some future developments for ZANE and expresses interest in co-branding or collaboration. Like the now famous “Intel Inside” brand strategy, he aspires to see ZANE cordyceps inside complementary products. Does anyone care for a cordyceps energy drink?
ZANE Pte Ltd
46 East Coast Road,
Tel: 6248 9489
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