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Category Stories of Entrepreneurs

Melissa Fann, Founder of The Wellness Insider

Her medical condition redefines her career and life

 

Melissa Fann was a veteran in the finance industry, but she decided to trade looking at figures at health instead. This week, we find out what made her change her career path from the world of “ka-ching” to start The Wellness Insider.

Can you share with us what is The Wellness Insider?

The Wellness Insider is a platform which promotes body confidence. We do that through educating our readers with opinions from experts on fitness, diet, beauty and lifestyle.

We are advocating a healthy lifestyle while also trying to change people’s mindsets and judgements about one’s health or character simply by their body.

How did the idea come about?

I have a medical condition called endometriosis, which made me gain weight very rapidly within a few months and when I was hospitalised for emergency surgery, I had quite a bit of nasty comments from colleagues. Since this is a chronic problem, many couldn’t understand why I took so many days of medical leave and the pressure to not take leave when I was in pain push me into a slight depressive state. It doesn’t help that my mum has always called me fat.

All this while, I was also researching on what foods to eat (or not eat) in order to alleviate the symptoms as well as exploring what types of exercises I enjoyed other than my usual trips to the gym. I discovered a lot of fads, be it in terms of exercises or diets, and many had little or no scientific backing. This made me really irritated because a lot of people were just following fads blindly, hoping for a quick shortcut to losing weight without understanding the health risks or simply just eating foods that they believe have some sort of benefits but are great marketing ploys. The fact that I had to continually explain to those around me about the scientific facts, coupled with many fitness trainers telling me that they too have the same problems with their clients, made me realise that there needs to be a platform that acknowledges all these fads and explain more about it so that people can make informed choices.

Interestingly, through this journey, I met a lot of people with unseen medical issues (including mental health problems) and plus-sized women, and we all had the same complaint – we felt very judged and labelled. And that was how The Wellness Insider was born.

Melissa Fann, Founder of The Wellness Insider

Left to right: Fiona Tan and Melissa Fann

What were the reactions from your loved ones when you told them that you are starting your business?

A lot of scepticism and up till today, my parents don’t really know what I do. They still refer to The Wellness Insider as my “website”, and they were not happy that I quit my job to do my start up.

What were the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

I had to build my network within the wellness industry from scratch, which was a great learning experience and I love how a lot of people were so open to share contacts to me. The other tough part about starting up is financial – as my business model is very traditional and with no tangible product, nobody wanted to partner up or be an investor. And with no readership initially, it was natural that nobody wanted to advertise with us. As such, I spent a year solely on building up the readership through quality content and improving on The Wellness Insider’s SEO. It definitely worked as we now average about 8,000 readers per month.

Have you ever thought of giving up?

Yes, because there are a lot of things that I wanted to do but couldn’t due to lack of manpower and money. However, whenever I feel that way, I keep getting comments from my growing network within the wellness industry about how they really like the website and what it stands for. Of course, the growing viewership really helped encourage me.

Where do you see The Wellness Insider in five years time?

I want it to evolve and have an app where people can geolocate healthy meal providers near them, or where to sneak in a quick workout either at home or even in the office!

What’s your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start an online business?

Get good partners, plan out your finances and prepare more money than calculated. After which, network, network, network. You will eventually find your ‘tribe’ to rely on for emotional support as well as to bounce off business ideas. You may also end up finding a business mentor, who is also very important to know whether you’re on the right track.

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Hashbrown Media

Hashbrown Media: Helping F&Bs get on the social media space

This week, we speak to the co-founders of Hashbrown Media, Asaph Teo and Bryan Khoo, to find out what made them start a social marketing agency and the challenges they faced when building it from scratch.

Can you share with us what is Hashbrown and how does it work?

Hashbrown Media is a social media marketing agency where we handle clients social media pages to help them brand themselves better and advertise their offerings or services better. The company was intentionally called #(hash)brown because of the hashtag, to brand ourselves as a social media company specialising in food (although we do explore projects in other industries as well).

We have a firm belief in helping new and upcoming companies to get their name out as quickly as possible with the least amount of money required. Our functions include ideation, creating content, graphic design, photography, copywriting, handling customer replies and coming up with social media campaigns.

What were you doing before setting up Hashbrown?

We were undergraduate students when we decided to start a full-fledged social media agency before graduating. During our school days, Bryan did stints with social media agencies while I worked in the digital marketing field for a renowned hotel in Singapore.

How did the idea come about?

During our days working with other companies, we saw a need in the area of social media marketing especially in the field of F&B. Despite how widely it is used, many of the older generation F&B outlets (i.e. hawkers) did not know how to harness the power of social media to their benefit. I started out managing a young hawker’s social media pages freelance (you can check them out on Facebook and Instagram at @wangbbqloklok) and saw the company’s revenue generation grow three-fold. Because of the great success of our first client, we decided to get more clients on board.

What were the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

There were challenges such as the business administration side of things. Since it’s our first time starting our own business, we had to learn everything ourselves and on our own (such as paying CPF for example). We also needed to hire staff despite not having enough revenue. The starting few months were extremely tight financially because we started the business with zero capital and worked our way through with the money we were getting along the way from our clients. Since we were also still studying at that time, we also had to juggle between running the business and handling our school projects and exams at the same time.

What were the reactions of your loved ones when you told them your plan to run your business?

We were very thankful that we had the support of our loved ones. There were no significant objections, and we always kept them in the loop about our business so that there wasn’t a need for them to worry. However, during the initial stages, my parents (being extremely traditional people) were rather persuasive about asking me to go out and get a job to gain experience first before starting out on my own.

Where do you see Hashbrown in the next five years?

We see social media becoming a more attractive platform for businesses to come on board. We see ourselves growing bigger, handling more clients, having more staff. In the next five years, Hashbrown Media also seeks to leverage on future digital marketing trends such as artificial intelligence to explore more ideas on how we can capture the interests of people.

Any tips for readers on how to better manage their social media platform?

Have good content and excellent visuals. Content that other people will want to read and want to see, and engage with. Have a plan on the kinds of content you intend to churn out and be consistent – if you’re going to use Singlish, do it with pride and make it extremely intentional. The easiest way to do it? Just give us a call, we’ll handle everything on your behalf

Hashbrown Media is currently housed at The Carrot Patch.


Dr Chua Cheng Yu - Veritas Aesthetics

Bringing out the best self of his patients

 

In our latest interview, we spoke to Dr Chua Cheng-Yu, founder of Veritas Medical Aesthetics to find out his story on building a plastic surgery practice and his thoughts on the aesthetics industry.

Share with us what Veritas Medical Aesthetics does.

We are a doctor-led clinic that helps women look better using medical prescriptions and technology. MOH guidelines bind us so we can’t make outlandish claims and promises like non-medical entities. But every procedure here is proven, backed by medical science and administered by a certified doctor. Some of the more mainstream treatments we provide include botox and thread lifts.

Where did you practice before starting Veritas Medical Aesthetics?

I’ve been a doctor for almost ten years now at a few different places – a public hospital and a few private clinics that I’d prefer not to name.

Dr Chua Cheng Yu - Veritas Aesthetics

Why did you pick aesthetics/plastic surgery as your specialisation?

Aesthetics is a unique industry within the medical scene. Think about this: if you were going for heart surgery, and were offered the choice between a tried and tested method that was 50 years old, versus a new surgical technique that was invented last year, which will you pick? Chances are you’d choose the age-old technology. However, the reverse is true for aesthetics! Rather than being “tested and proven”, old methods are often seen as “outdated”! The patient mindset in this scene forces medical aesthetics and doctors within it to advance at breakneck speeds.

I spend much of my time reading and researching on the latest news in the medical scene, so this is probably the only industry that I wouldn’t get bored in!

Dr Chua Cheng Yu - Veritas Aesthetics

Why did you choose to start your aesthetic business than working in a public or private healthcare institution?

During my days as an employee, I learned that being a good doctor often means you’re also a lousy businessman. I was disillusioned for a while as my work made me break my ethical code as a doctor. I felt I could be doing more for the patients. In the end, the only choice left was to start my practice where I have full control over the treatment protocols.

It might not be the most profitable approach, but I believe that doctors must always stick to the ethos of doing your best for the patient, even if it’s counterproductive for business. That’s where the name Veritas Medical comes from. It means “truth” in Latin.

What were the reactions of your loved ones when you told them that you were going to venture out on your own?

I wouldn’t say I had unwavering support from family and friends. It’s never easy venturing out. People told me how hard it is to start a clinic and it’s not worth it to give up the substantial salary doctors are paid as employees in the private practice. But there’s a lot more to being a doctor than pay alone.

What were the initial challenges you faced when starting up?

I’ve been in the scene for quite some time, and have trained many other doctors before. Hence, reputation wasn’t much of an issue. My past experiences being the primary doctor at other clinics also meant I knew enough about operations to set it up right first time. Reaching out to the public and getting them to understand our difference, however, was much more challenging. I knew I had something unique to show the world, but I didn’t know how to get them to notice.

After all, doctors are wired in a way that makes us pretty poor businesspeople and PR failures (I don’t even have an IG account yet!). I tried a few outreach agencies too, but all of them gave very disappointing results.

How did you overcome the challenges?

I would say I got lucky with getting the right team together. The support of old patients (part of the team too!) acting as my advertising mouthpieces and entrusting their friends and family members to my knowledge and hands. The support of my crew who believed in my vision and made sacrifices from their routine to help me tirelessly build this.

Last but not least, the support of a close advisor, without whom I definitely would not have handled the business aspects of running a clinic as smoothly! I am grateful and blessed.

How is the aesthetic industry doing in the past few years and where do you think it would be in the next five years?

The industry has been getting more and more saturated. There is an oversupply of doctors in Singapore now, and more people are getting lured into starting their aesthetic clinic. But I think the 2000-2015 heydays are long over now. New doctors will probably struggle to catch up to the established names. Much like what happened in the dental scene, where large clinics bought up small ones and formed groups, we will likely see a consolidation phase for aesthetics within 5-10 years.

Dr Chua Cheng Yu - Veritas Aesthetics

Are you seeing more Singaporeans or foreigners? Why do you think so?

Singaporeans are still the main crowd, although I do get 10-15% foreigners. These aren’t all the wealthy foreigners too. I’ve seen domestic helpers and work permit holders here as well. Aesthetics is a very affordable industry with a mass market appeal.

However, I do hear of specific very high-end clinics that charge very high prices, targeting the affluent Chinese crowd. For the most part, though, aesthetics is affordable enough for the everyday person in Singapore.

What are the three most common treatments sought at Veritas Medical Aesthetics?

Botox and fillers are the bread and butter. Lasers are also up there as a good laser setup is exceptionally complex, and you can’t get it outside of a clinic. I probably overspent on my laser setup, having nine different lasers when most clinics bring no more than 2-3! I’m glad it worked out for my patients, and they’re enjoying the results.

What is your advice for people seeking aesthetic changes?

One of the biggest indicators that a procedure has gone well is when the face looks untouched. If it’s subtle enough to go unnoticed, it’s okay. Don’t try to change your features too much to look like someone else. Instead, try to look healthy, youthful and full of energy. That’s my approach towards aesthetics. I want patients to walk out feeling like their best self, instead of someone else.

Have you ever thought of giving up and going back to working in a health care institution? If no, why not and what kept you going?

I enjoy every single day of my work in medical aesthetics, even when I was only working as a paid employee in the private sector. Seeing happy faces every day has to be the best part of my work, and that joy multiplied when I started my clinic. Giving up never crossed my mind.

We understand that you are into fine arts, you play guitar, piano and saxophone leisurely, you are a photography enthusiast, and you regularly volunteer as a doctor to migrant workers. Not to mention, you also do research. How do you manage to squeeze out so much time for everything?

To be honest, the clinic has been keeping me very busy, so other aspects of my life are taking a back seat. As with everything, to excel in one area, sacrifices have to be made in another. I can only try to balance my life out as best I can.

Lastly, what’s your advice for medical practitioners who are thinking of starting their practice?

The most important advice I can give is that good doctors make poor businesspeople and vice-versa. Don’t lose the good heart you have as a doctor just because you’re running a business. Many doctors have this belief that they know everything better just because we graduated as the elite from the education system. That’s the furthest from the truth you can get in the real world. It’s important to find good help and assemble a team of various talents.


Marcus S Tan | entree.sg

Catering a co-working space for entrepreneurs with tight purse strings

 

Marcus S Tan is the co-founder of The Carrot Patch, a co-working space which was recently named the official workspace partner for The Hungry Lab Asia, a global online platform created to help startups, future leaders and entrepreneurs.

He is also the Chief Executive Officer of AIQ, a visual recognition technology company based in Singapore.

We caught up with him to find out more on how he got everything started and how his two ventures complement each other, and more.

Here’s Marcus’ story.

“It is never too late or too old to start your own business or pursue your dreams and ideas.”

What were you doing before starting your entrepreneurship journey?

I previously held leadership roles at companies such as SpotX, Smaato, Blackberry, Nokia, Travelocity and MediaCorp before coming onboard as the CEO of AIQ. I co-founded The Carrot Patch with one of the Board of Directors.

The Carrot Patch was born from a eureka moment from the brilliant AIQ team who came up with the idea of having a co-working space from an AI-centric parent company. My aim is to target local young start-ups and student entrepreneurs who either belong to the alumnus or who are currently studying in polytechnic or university.

When was The Carrot Patch established and why use the name The Carrot Patch than something more relatable to co-working and office rental?

The Carrot Patch was officially launched on 16 November 2017. The carrot is versatile, nutritious and signifies vibrancy. The three are important elements for businesses to succeed.

What inspired you to start a co-working space?

After identifying Apex@Henderson as the ideal office location, the AIQ team decided to convert a portion of the office space into a co-working space to start a vibrant community for entrepreneurs and start-ups to come together to work and exchange ideas with one another.

We also curated a team of successful businessmen who had agreed to offer their expertise to offer business advice and ideas to help these young start-ups. Through this, I hope to cultivate a large pool of local start-ups, help uncover local talent as well as provide a community and industry support for the new players in the field.

Co-working Space is the new trend in Singapore providing a vibrant environment that supports their young business ventures with a comfortable workspace, but with rental costs that are flexible and affordable, to assist them in getting their creative juices and their commercial minds going. Most of the co-working spaces in Singapore are located within the Central Business District (CBD). The Carrot Patch wants to extend a similar vibrant working space that caters to budding student entrepreneurs with a more wallet-friendly rates at a location within the city-fringe area.

 

 

 

What were the initial challenges you faced when putting your plans into action?

We understand the needs of tech start-ups, as we are also one of them. Thus, we took a long while to experiment our niche offering as well as search for the right type of start-ups to join our community in building a vibrant ecosystem.

How did you overcome those challenges?

We worked on targeting AI-related and tech-curious companies, as we focused on establishing a tech-centric ecosystem. Another of our initiatives in overcoming our initial challenges was our successful efforts in reaching out and offering co-working service and advice to budding start-ups initiated by students or alumnus of polytechnics and universities.

We offer city-fringe rates which are considered the “in between” of the price rates offered by our competitors, hence a viable option for students who are at the initial phase of their business venture.

On top of that, our partnerships with industry practitioners such as The Hungry Lab Asia allowed us to offer advisory services at no additional cost, thus creating a win-win solution for all parties. These factors combine to form a vibrant ecosystem which contribute to The Carrot Patch’s unique selling point.

What sets The Carrot Patch apart from other competitions?

Here at The Carrot Patch, we live by our motto of “Cultivating a Smart Community”. Our co-working space is unique in that we are open to maximising our space to accommodate a diverse group of people. Ranging from industry veterans to student entrepreneurs, we provide one of the most supportive environments for communication and exchange of ideas to boost one another’s role in the creative and commercial industries.

What’s your vision for The Carrot Patch in the next five years?

Here at The Carrot Patch, we have set the stage for young start-ups and innovators to build a vibrant start-ups scene in conjunction with Singapore’s initiatives in gearing towards being a Smart Nation. Coupled with our partnership with The Hungry Lab Asia, we hope to jointly nurture and promote entrepreneurships within the Local Students’ community and the technology space as a whole.

Recently, The Carrot Patch has been named the official workspace partner for The Hungry Lab Asia. What’s the partnership about and what does it mean for the start-ups and businesses in Singapore and the region?

We’re most glad and privileged to have The Hungry Lab Asia to partner with us. The partnership is about creating an innovative and conducive environment for entrepreneurs and start-ups in Asia. It simply translates to opportunities for the honing and development of skills in the rising tech industry, i.e. blockchain, deep learning, visual commerce (v-commerce), mobile commerce (m-commerce) etc., as we strive to foster fruitful working relationships between the student entrepreneurs and some of the top-notch businesses and enterprises.

WeWork has been on an acquisition spree of co-working spaces. If more prominent players like them come knocking with an offer while you are still building up The Carrot Patch, what would you do?

In effort to grow our brand presence, we are open to explore possible opportunities with international brands to bring our business to greater heights, so long as we continue to keep our prices reasonable in providing co-working spaces at wallet-friendly prices for budding entrepreneurs and young start-ups to have a conducive environment to work in, as we are located within the city-fringe area providing an alternative choice of co-working space that is as appealing but just outside the CBD.

We understand that you also run AIQ, a visual recognition technology company founded in 2014. Can you share with us more about AIQ?

AIQ is a visual recognition technology company based in Singapore and established in 2014. AIQ’s proprietary Visual Recognition Technology (VRT) is powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and allows for instantaneous processing of ‘live’ images and videos, even if only a portion (30%) of the image or video is captured.

 

How does AIQ’s Visual Recognition Technology (VRT) work and how can it apply to businesses?

With just three simple steps “Point, Capture and Interact”, our visual recognition technology will scan and interact with the particular image or video. Businesses can tap on the functions of offline-to-online (O2O) to better engage their target audience. Our technology can be used as a tool for brands to link their offline collaterals such as prints and out-of-home media (OOH) to their online media. This can be used as a call-for-action marketing tool to generate leads and drive conversions.

The following are examples of how our VRT can be applied to various industries:

RETAIL

Video consumption is in trend, a tool that has become very useful in processing vast amounts of information. A picture speaks a thousand words, and visuals have the power of urging the impulse to purchase. With visual commerce being the next big thing, AIQ’s visual recognition technology allows retailers to engage consumers through quick and effortless decision-making processes. This will ultimately translate to increased lead conversions.

EVENT

Have your visitors enthralled amidst an immersive experience at your event showcase. With the freedom of scanning any image or booth within the comforts of the entire event space to retrieve information, AIQ’s visual recognition technology is innovative and interactive.

ENTERTAINMENT

With AIQ’s visual recognition technology, consumers can simply point their phones at billboards, posters or videos to scan and instantly register themselves for exclusive quizzes and lucky draw contests, or to unlock prizes.

ADVERTISING

With a simple scan of their offline collaterals, marketers can promptly link their posters, out-of-home (OOH) billboards and other print collaterals to their product videos, reviews and even their full inventory to boost cross-selling across all platforms digital and physical.

Traditional forms of media comprising OOH, magazines and newspapers are facing a downward trend of advertising dollars, and that is why we are the “white label solution” aiming to be the engine for the “new growth” for traditional media owners. We are here to bridge the gap by allowing consumers to scan and utilise these print collaterals to be transported to the brand’s interactive online platforms using our visual interactive technology.

We would like to become the kick-starter of the green initiative whereby we assist our brands in their printing costs, reducing print copies while maximising the use of scanning and allowing customers to be transported to an interactive online media, eg. e-flyers, e-information kiosk link-up. What’s more, businesses will get to monitor visual analytics to analyse the effectiveness of their ad placements by adopting our visual technology.

Do AIQ and The Carrot Patch complement each other? How?

AIQ strives to nurture the tech scene in Singapore. Being a start-up itself, AIQ has had its experiences which serve as relevant pointers that can pinpoint the direction for entrepreneurs and start-ups in nurturing their businesses. We act as an advisor to them, rendering support through our expertise in AI.

Meanwhile, the budding entrepreneurs in AI and tech can be given opportunities to work with AIQ to further contribute to the offerings of the company. The collaboration is summed up as a win-win situation for both AIQ and the community at The Carrot Patch, providing a multiple-pronged approach to tap on each other’s talents and resources.

What’s your advice to Singaporeans who hope to become an entrepreneur one day?

To the budding entrepreneurs out there, go all the way out to pursue your dreams and do not fear any failures. It is all right to fail upon your many business ventures and be successful in at least one. It is never too late or too old to start your own business or pursue your dreams and ideas.

There are also many intrapreneurs within organisations and companies who are willing to help grow the business or even start a new product. Such enterprising spirit should be recognised and cultivated!


Chloe Chong, founder of The Enchanted Tree

Starting her floral business motivated by passion

Chloe Chong was in the financial sector for more than 15 years before she decided that it was time to go onto a different path – starting her floral business, The Enchanted Tree in October 2015. Why?

This is her story.

Just do it but be prepared. No one says it’s going to be easy. If you love what you do enough, you will find a way to make it work.

What inspired you to start your own business and why flowers?

I have always had the passion for flowers, and after my second child, I decided it was time to embark on a different journey. Like most start-ups, I had a lot of doubts initially especially in a highly competitive trade like this, but I guess one thing led to another. After taking up formal lessons, gaining some practical experiences and lots and lots of research, I found more courage to pursue the business (that’s of course after working out the sums). It came to a point where I had sufficient savings and encouragement from my husband, I gave it a shot, and here I am.

What were the reactions of your loved ones when you told them that you are starting your own business?

Everyone was pretty much supportive right from the beginning, family and close friends. But most importantly, I had tremendous support from my husband, and that makes a difference especially when we had very young kids then. So we had to juggle between a new venture and a young family, not a stroll in the park but indeed fulfilling.

What were the initial challenges you faced when setting up The Enchanted Tree? Did you require a huge capital?

The capital was substantial, but it wasn’t very huge per se, but of course, we had to spend on equipment, renovation (this took a chunk as we were starting a retail space) and the typical business set-up costs. However, up until today, there are challenges like rental costs and other expenditures on services that continue to put pressure on managing costs and operations. Also, we put a lot of emphasis on our product and service quality hence it is incredibly delicate to balance the costs of effectiveness in delivering this commitment to our customers.

Have you ever thought of giving up and find an 8 to 5 office job? Why and why not?

Not so much about giving up but rather to seek an alternative to keep the business afloat and ensuring my employees still have a job. There are challenging days/months, and these are the moments when I thought I should go back to an office job and manage the business part-time, as a way to offload some business expenses. Over time, things became better; we learn how to cope and manage the company better. I feel blessed every single day to be where I am now. We have built a healthy relationship with our growing followers, and we are ever grateful for their support. It is a form of encouragement for us to continue doing what we are doing and strive to make it better.

What motivate you and keep you going?

My family. The need to survive. Support from our regular and loyal fans. Commitment to the team and everyone who believes in us.

What are the areas that you think that you have done well and the areas that you have not?

So far I would count myself very blessed. Backed by a pretty competent and most importantly dedicated team and great support from our suppliers and vendors, we have been able to fulfil our orders well consistently. That said, we needed to limit our orders at some point conscious of not putting too much pressure on existing resources. One of the things we hope to be able to improve is to gear up our resources & efficiencies to be able to take in more orders and serve more customers. Sustainability is important to us. It’s a marathon.

As an entrepreneur, what is the advice that you would give to people who aspire to be one themselves?

Just do it but be prepared. No one says it’s going to be easy. If you love what you do enough, you will find a way to make it work. Before starting a business, usually, there will be a lot of strategic thinking of various ‘if’ scenarios. But trust me, nothing beats the real thing. You can only imagine that many situations, but when it comes to the real thing, it can be entirely different. You might find yourself focusing your energy on things you didn’t prepare for or thought of. So the bottom line should not be much of a concern. I always believe that things happen for a reason.


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