While pursuing a Business Management course at National University of Singapore (NUS), Vanessa Keng, a guitarist, and Chang Xi Lee, her friend and neighbour at Kent Ridge Hall, spent more time playing sports and music than studying.
Although entrepreneurship was on their mind, they didn’t seriously pursue it until they went to Denmark as part of the student exchange programme in the third year of their course.
“Denmark is one of the most progressive countries in terms of elder care and quality of life,” Keng narrates her entrepreneurial story to e27. “During our stay there, we observed that Danish seniors embraced ageing and lived life to its fullest, while not being limited by mobility challenges. Upon returning to our own elderly grandparents, we wondered –- why not bring home this positive, independent culture surrounding the golden years?”
When they came back, they got to meet young entrepreneurs during their technopreneurship classes at NUS, and this shaped their thinking better. “While brainstorming on ideas, we kept gravitating to our experiences in Denmark. We felt that we could do something to help elderly Singaporeans improve their independence and age better. Knowing that this would affect not just our grandparents but eventually our parents and ourselves too, it just seemed like the right reason to start our company,” says Keng.
The Golden Concepts, their startup, was started immediately after their graduation in 2011. A B2C e-commerce store, The Golden Concepts curates eldercare products, such as adjustable and foldable wheel chairs, nursing beds and mattresses, walking canes, hiking and trekking pole, mobility scooters, and bath accessories.
“At The Golden Concepts, we believe that mobility is key to ageing well. A loss of mobility often has profound consequences on a person’s physical, social and psychological state. By maximising mobility, seniors will be able to continue to be fully engaged in their communities and enjoy a high quality of life,” Keng says.
“We understand that the role of caregivers is an extremely important one, and we strive to provide customised solutions that best suit your needs. With a curated selection from both international and local brands, our product specialists can advise you on the various options available to find the best solution,” she adds.
Keng and Lee set up the company using the money they saved from their part-time jobs while studying. This money went into buying some inventory in the initial days. While running the company, the duo still continued their part-time jobs in the nights and on weekends to get things going.
“In the initial days, we barged into hospitals and pharmacies and spoke to whoever would be keen to chat with us. I realise that it was an asset to look like students as more people were willing to give us their time and share their experiences,” she smiles. “Before long, we landed our first (small) order from a hospital, and that made us rush to incorporate the company, so that we could have a business registration number and a company bank account for them to issue payment to us.”
As things got better, Keng and Zi wanted to more and stand out from the crowd. “We asked ourselves what unique value we could bring to this growing industry — something that most other established industry players were not focusing on. We realised that the focus on independence and mobility rather than rehabilitative and medical equipment would be our key differentiating factor. Our dream was to introduce more products to maximise mobility at any level because we felt that was the way to age with dignity and enjoy a good quality of life,” Keng shares.
With this in mind, The Golden Concepts started manufacturing its own brands in 2015 to have a better control over the quality, affordability and design of the products. The hefty investments in manufacturing was something that the duo pondered over, but they knew that it was an important step to grow the business.
“Over the years, we have curated a range of high quality products suited to our customers’ needs, including partnering with the finest manufacturers to create our own improved product lines. Product safety standards are our top priority and we go the extra mile to source for the best, durable parts,” she maintains.
Adapting to the local market
After receiving feedback from many of their customers that the standard walking canes were too tall and not suited for the elderly users in Singapore, Lee and Keng decided to manufacture their own brand of designer walking canes, The Cane Collective.
“We designed our walking canes to have a shorter height range suitable for the local market, and offered a variety of patterns for our customers to have more options to suit their style. We did face some challenges during the production process, but learnt many valuable lessons. Since then, we have launched several more brands of mobility, bath and home safety products,” shares Keng.
While the company’s major focus is Singapore, it also has orders coming from other countries in Southeast Asia and even Canada and the US. In addition to manufacturing own line of products, it also distributes foreign brands in the region through its online platform and brick-and-mortar showroom, as well as through other e-commerce platforms, retailers, hospitals, and pharmacies in Singapore.
The company claims to have grown 30-40 per cent year-on-year in the past four years.
In the past seven years of its existence, the company faced several challenges, including hiring right people. But for Keng and Lee, it has always been an opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate their business model.
“These problems gave us the uncertainty and discomfort to find new ways to stay ahead of the competition while staying true to our purpose of why we started the company in the first place. We also learnt that instead of viewing other companies in the industry as simply competitors, we could collaborate with them. It just required us to be more creative and proactive to suggest win-win scenarios for both parties,” she continues.
Started off with just four products, the company today has a warehouse, in addition to the online store with over 400 products.
In 2017, The Golden Concepts secured a round of funding from unnamed investors.
“It has been a challenging but truly fulfilling journey and nothing makes us happier than hearing stories from our customers about how our products have helped improve the lives of their parents and loved ones,” Keng signs off.