The month of July marks the 5th year of my entrepreneur journey since I left my full time job at Novartis. I left the comfort of my secured day job in exchange for a rented office space in Damansara Uptown in pursuit of my dreams. Welcome to the roller coaster of entrepreneurship, a journey filled with ups & downs, excitement, adrenaline madness and uncertainty.
Me back in 2012. Image screen grab taken from Astro AEC’s Call Me Boss Show.
Image credit : http://ohhhclaire.blogspot.my/2012/03/
1. Cash is King.
Never ever run out of cash. Cash is the lifeline of all businesses. Businesses flourish on cash flow, and not future profits. Your ‘dream team’ cannot be fueled by dreams alone. They can’t wait for their salary until your company turns a profit. Know how to fund your company the right way. Throughout this very difficult journey, I’ve learned to make tough decisions to maintain a healthy cash flow. Do not embark on partnerships with poor payment term. However, leverage on the opposite. Take on projects which pays upfront and keep your cash flow positive. During my early years, we were often ridiculed for:
- Not going on the fund-raising route.
- Not “burning” enough money for growth.
- Not being ambitious enough with our growth plans.
One thing I’ve learned is that fund-raising does not equate to being more ambitious. Raising funds is only as good as your business model. It is a pointless exercise if your business is not sustainable or profitable. As an old-school entrepreneur, I always believe that traction means nothing if it does not commensurate with the dollars. Building a business model which turns a profit or keeps the cash flowing is paramount to survival. The runway is a lot shorter than you think. Learn to survive on your own. People often ask me ‘Why don’t you open a store in another country?’. My answer is ‘Let us learn to walk first before we run’. I firmly believe that to excel internationally, you must first conquer your domestic market.
2. Only hire the right people and people you trust.
Your business starts with people. Hire the right person, but more importantly, hire the right person at the right time. The adage of ‘hire slow, fire fast’ holds true to this day. Identify the quality of the person you are looking for and stay steady but flexible in your candidate search. Look for candidates with chemistry and competency. Someone who fits into your company culture and who is willing to go the extra mile for the team and the company. However, occasionally, you may encounter candidate who displays potential but may not necessarily have the right chemistry. My answer is, follow your instinct. When things go south, do not hesitate to act fast. It is better to be shorthanded than to hire the wrong person.
3. E-commerce will not disrupt every single thing we know and you don’t need to disrupt everything you come across with.
Many would agree that the disruptive nature of e-commerce is undeniable. Online shopping has never been easier or more accessible. However, the ugly truth is, most of these e-commerce players still remain largely unprofitable despite the rounds of funding they receive. While e-commerce is sexy and highly disruptive, brick and mortar shops still have a role to play in this modern retail landscape. Even though online shopping is easy and hassle free, e-commerce can never replace the tactile experience provided by physical stores. “Touching and feeling the items” is the main reason for consumers to shop offline. Nowadays, shoppers not only want to touch and feel the items, they also want it FAST. E-commerce cannot fully replicate this instant gratification of ‘grab & go’ in retail stores. Know your product and know what your consumer wants.
4. The right relationships take you to the next level.
When we started ChristyNg.com we had no idea what we were doing. We bootstrapped and saved every hard earned penny we made to plough back into the business. Times were hard but passion for the business kept us going. My team and I used to carry hundreds of shoe boxes up and down three fleets of stairs when we were in our first rented office space at Damansara Uptown.
The day we installed our first signage: July 17th 2012.
We finally had our first lucky break during the Alliance Bank BizSmart Academy challenge on December 11, 2013. We had our first seed fund of RM250,000.00. I thank my lucky stars everyday for meeting the great amazing people and mentors throughout that challenge who shaped the way I think today.
In late 2015, we had our second lucky break when we were awarded the CIP500 commercialization grant by Cradle. This represented a new chapter in our business where we allocated funds to take our company to the next level.
5. The right kind of funding & financing.
Nowadays, most start-ups are going on the venture capitalist (VC) route, to the point that getting VC partnership is seen as a success. During our early days, we too have been approached by many VCs and investors for partnership. However, these venture capitals bring on to the table only just that – capital. If you have to go all the way out to catch potential investors’ attention of your business model, you are probably not ready for their capital.
One thing this business has taught me is to learn to use banks as your supplier. Develop a close relationship with your banker to stretch each and every dollar of your company. Overdrafts, bank guarantees and working capital facilities are effective ways to get extra cash to push your business to the next level. Paying the banks a small interest may be a better option if your business is profitable vis-a-vis to paying VCs multiple folds the money they put on the table.
Having said that, if you manage to meet a potential VC who not only brings in money, but unique industry knowledge and experience to the table, by all means go for it. But choose your partnership wisely.
6. Don’t believe everything you see or hear.
Some people start a business because they want to be glamorous and worry about what people think of them. Fact is, an entrepreneur can have all the press coverage in the world, but still be in deep debt. I’ve learn to see through all the facade and judge a business more objectively through its revenue model, operational excellence and product ingenuity.
Most people boast success in magazine articles but have no clue of what an audited account look like or what paying taxes mean. The ability to raise money does not guarantee success if the business model doesn’t make sense. Ultimately, I’ve learned that if a certain entrepreneur is unable to summarize or explain their business revenue model clearly in 1 sentence, it’s very likely going to be a flop.
7. Not everyone can run businesses.
Entrepreneurship is all about hard work. It’s about facing uncertainty, instability and insecurity. The reality is, as an entrepreneur, you must be willing to prioritize your business and your staff above yourself. You may need to resort to borrowing or taking up a loan to pay your staff salaries if all else fail. If you are unable to sacrifice yourself for the company, then entrepreneurship is probably not suitable for you.
Entrepreneurship is a bag full of sleepless nights and seemingly endless challenges. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. There are plenty of opportunities and options out there. Find your own definition of success and what you’re willing to sacrifice to achieve it.
8. Learn how to say NO. Do not be afraid of being an asshole.
Some people will always try to take a mile when given an inch. And unfortunately, some of your customers fit such profile. Seeing that you are a start-up, they will always try to ask for extra discounts. You might give in to such requests due to your instinct to satisfy the customer. However, you should learn to say NO. identify if the customer is being reasonable or ludicrous. Set boundaries and stay firm, and most importantly, learn how to disengage when a customer becomes unreasonable. Educate them to respect the hard work and sweat that you put into your business. Be creative and make counter offers to placate such customers. Saying NO to certain type of customers is justifiable in the long run.
9. Good things are not free. Free things are not good.
When we don’t fork up the dollars for something, we always think of them as free. But the reality is we always give something up in return. In 2015, we were courted by a new shopping mall in Klang Valley offering free rental and maintenance fee with just minimal start-up cost. However, we rejected the offer as it sounds too good to be true. Looking back, I thank my lucky stars for not accepting the overly generous offer. Had we done that, we would not be able to open our first retail store in 1 Utama Shopping Mall.
Entering a new mall for free may seem like a good deal until you realized that you are getting nothing out of the deal, except for an empty retail space. Whereas paying for a space in an established mall gets you more than just a retail space. They provide you a steady ecosystem of regulars coupled with a constant flow of new interactions and customers. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.
10. Timing is everything
There are many elements you need to get right when starting your own business. From having a sound business plan to having the right product and the right people to push your business forward. However, there is one key element that determines the success of most businesses – Timing.
Timing encompasses the much broader condition of the market – something that cannot be controlled or defined by entrepreneurs. Strike too early or too late and you risk missing the target. Timing is a mystery on its own. However, if you identify an opportunity with the right timing, strike it fast and strike it hard.
As an entrepreneur, you will have to make the best of the cards you are dealt with. I can’t deny that many times we have gone from selling thousands of shoes a month to sad difficult moments where we felt like calling it a day. A wise old man once told me, “It’s hard to beat someone who never quits”. Having said that, being an entrepreneur is the ultimate test of grit, tenacity and resilience. I hope reading this article will help re-energize you and to all my fellow entrepreneurs out there – you are not alone.
” With the right pair of heels, she can conquer the world.”
If you love what we do, visit us at www.ChristyNg.com. We ship worldwide!