"In business, you have to start right. Otherwise, you’ll always be playing catch-up. If you don’t disrupt yourself, someone else will! If you don’t keep up with change and technology, someone will disrupt you and steal your lunch"
Rita Zahara is a name many are familiar with — the media personality is a former journalist at Channel NewsAsia (CNA) and an ex-newscaster at ESPN Star Sports. The 41-year old had previously spent seven years at Mediacorp News before leaving in 2008 for Nanyang Technological University, where she pursued a PhD, researching crisis management and counter-terrorism.
A self-proclaimed “student of life”, Zahara has a deep passion for learning, re-learning, creating and disrupting. “I am always on the look-out for great talents to join me in my passion to change the world, to reach for the stars and create new experiences. If you’re playing it small, you’re settling for a life that is less than what you’re capable of,” she says.
After founding the Reta Transmedia group of companies in 2012, she moved from media-tech to food-tech three years later by launching Li Da Foods, which manages Li Da Kitchen, CZ Bakery and AMGD, short for Ahhmahgawd, referring to delicious, healthy food, delivered conveniently to your doorstep. It provides nutritious bento sets tailored for various dietary needs through a pre-paid subscription plans.
Healthy eating has been gaining traction in recent years and AMGD is making huge splashes in the food-tech industry. With an ever-expanding menu that currently boasts over 80 recipes, AMGD is fast becoming a household name and a go-to healthy and delicious food brand.
AMGD’s vision is to provide one healthy meal a day to as many people as possible in cities around the world. Less than a year into its inception, AMGD is opening its first international branch in Hong Kong in April 2017.
“A healthy lifestyle is not just about workouts, but good nutrition and adequate rest. AMGD is a delicious, healthy food service enabled by technology. Because it is hassle-free and convenient, it aims to help sustain healthy eating habits in the long run,” says Zahara.
Unlike Foodpanda, Deliveroo and UberEats – all of them international players – AMGD uses Li Da Foods’ full-stack capabilities. Rather than partnering with restaurants that make the food, AMGD prepares its own food. This allows it to be in control of the entire process – from making the food to delivering the food – ensuring that customers get top quality meals.
The company’s commitment to using technology to reach out to its customers has also expanded to healthy, delicious bakes. CZ Bakery is named after Zahara’s late grandmother, Che Zahara Noor Mohamed, an inductee in the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame who founded the Malay Women’s Welfare Association (MWWA) in 1947. A dedicated champion of the rights of women and children, Che Zahara spent her life striving to improve the lives of the poor and needy.
Like AMGD, CZ Bakery is also enabled by technology. There are no physical shops. They are both restaurants and bakeries in the clouds. Customers shop online and get their food delivered. It is that simple.
Beyond online delivery services, Ms Rita has put strong emphasis on digital marketing and brand differentiation for the connected age. AMGD has created an emotional connection with its customers, attracting nearly 20,000 followers on its Facebook page in just a few months.
“We believe in powerful storytelling. People don’t just buy products and services. They buy benefits. They relate to stories. We focus on marketing the benefits to engage our audiences. We promote aspirations. We want people to believe in themselves and make that switch to adopt a healthier lifestyle,” adds Zahara.
Zahara’s penchant for digital transformation is not new. She started as an entrepreneur in 2012. In her first 4 years, she established companies in the field she grew up in –– one that encompassed various media platforms which she calls “transmedia.”
What made her enter the world of transmedia? Zahara’s time as a journalist and newscaster brought her face-to-face with the growing popularity of citizen journalism and social media platforms. She understood that conventional reporting had to change. Something new – a hybrid model combining various forms of media such as print, radio and digital – was to take its place. So when Zahara left the newsroom in 2008 to enrol in NTU and emerged from her studies in 2012, it was a natural step for her to establish Reta Transmedia.
Reta is one of a kind. Unlike other firms that are mostly production houses, Reta is a one-stop B2B media-tech agency that not only conceptualises and delivers compelling content, but is also knee-deep in the creation of films, TV programmes, corporate videos, ads and transmedia clips. Reta also manages clients’ marketing campaigns, social media engagement, graphic design capabilities and digital transformation needs.
When asked what drove her to pursue the founding of Reta, Zahara answers that it was not something she actively chose to do. “When you are pursuing a career, you are chasing a dream. But one day, you’ll find that the dream has chosen you instead. Doing business is an opportunity to do good. You create employment. You sustain families. You bring people together towards a shared vision. The companies and brands you create are actually an extension of your values,” she adds.
Zahara not only creates creative opportunities through Reta for full-time staff but also makes room for freelance writers, producers and directors.
To ensure that Reta stays ahead of the game, Zahara leverages on the power of technology and information. “Whatever you are working on, find a way to make technology your enabler. Singaporean enterprises are investing in omni-channel features. We have to be ready for the impending e-commerce revolution,” she says.
Today, Zahara also has to her name Reta Social Enterprise and Beehive Transmedia Incubator.
It was Reta’s ability to tell stories through multiple digital platforms that provided Zahara with the tools to delve into the world of food e-commerce and build restaurants and bakeries in the clouds. Her foresight on the evolution of the digital marketplace and her focus on technology is in part why AMGD and CZ Bakery are successful today.
Of course, it is not all about the food. Zahara’s late grandmother dedicated most of her life to taking care of the needy, orphans and women. It is therefore no surprise that Zahara wants to give back to society and help the disadvantaged. “A lot of my work today is not only to continue my grandmother’s legacy but to also honour my parents, my family, staff and friends who have always believed in me. Helping people is our hobby. It’s embedded in our DNA,” she says.
Zahara dedicates her entrepreneurial journey to her 76-year-old dad, Mohamed Nazeer, who is battling 4th stage cancer. “Be someone who has heart in her business and have business in her heart. The distance between you and your goals is a straight line,” he reminds her.
Through Reta Social Enterprise, the company hires the disadvantaged and affords employment opportunities for single mothers, older workers, marginalised groups and the handicapped. AMGD and CZ Bakery also undertake projects targeted at helping youths and ex-offenders working with VWOs and NGOs.
Zahara’s journey in digital transformation has not always been smooth, but she is not one to be daunted by challenges and difficulties. “If there are challenges, there are opportunities, and if there are opportunities, there are ways to make things better.”