I asked her ten questions about how she started her successful online shop featuring affordable pick-me-up jewellery so that you could get to know her a little more and perhaps, if you had the inclination to do so, you might be inspired to go ahead and start your own. Future entrepreneurs, listen up.
1. What made you decide to start TOC?
I started my first online jewellery shop in 2006 at 16 with $500 of “seed” money from my mother. E-commerce was still at its beginning stages but I managed to pay my mother back within two months and was featured in our local newspaper (The Straits Times) as a young entrepreneur!
Sadly because of my studies, I couldn’t continue the shop but I decided I wanted to go to business school to learn more. During my last year of school, I felt that despite developments in the online shopping scene, no one was dedicated to creating a jewellery brand that was affordable, hence I started The Ordinary Co to fill this niche… and the rest is history really.
2. What’s your favourite thing about working for yourself?
Having my own time and flexibility to plan my work days – to do both blogging and running the business. I also love how dynamic and quickly ideas can be fleshed out. I can think of something new and it can be implemented in a snap (since only I have to approve it), versus having to go through layers of bureaucracy. Everything is super fast these days because of social media and technology – if you can’t react fast, you may as well not react at all.
3. What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur in Singapore looking to do something similar?
Stay grounded and understand that it isn’t easy, and for every 100 businesses, 99 fail. Train yourself to have the right mentality and don’t go in for the glory (being a ‘#GirlBoss’) without realising how much actual work there is in running a business. Have measurable returns on investment – don’t do things because it’s cool, or because someone else did it. Understand that brand building takes time, there is no short cut!
4. If you could go back in time, what would you most want to say to your 16 year old self?
You get to be everything you want and more, don’t worry.
5. What inspires you?
There’s so much beauty in this world – I feel like I have a broad appreciation for all kinds of styles from streetwear to haute couture. Everything is great, everything has worth and things to learn from.
6. Who is ‘The Ordinary Girl’?
The concept of The Ordinary Girl came as I tried to reach out to a broad range of girls of which some were not necessarily ‘influencers’ but well-liked and influential in their own social circles. One would be more interested, trust or at least take note in what their close friend was doing and it would be much more intriguing versus [hiring] a celebrity or a paid influencer (people are very wary of that now) and suffer from over-exposure.
7. How important is social media/ Instagram to running your business?
TOC is very lucky in the sense that we came out at a time where Instagram was still relatively new and not as crowded with brands and influencers doing shout outs. People were less wary when influencers posted adverts and willing to follow new brands. I made it a point to reach out to many micro-influencers who may be seen as more ‘relatable’ than the big names [on Instagram] and as a small business, it helped to get the word out quickly!
8. What do you wish people understood about you/ your brand?
I feel that customers expect more accountability out of small businesses than big ones since there are much less layers between customer service and the decision makers. They actually expect small businesses to deliver more than big corporations, despite us having less resources, because they know we need their business.
9. How do you find ideas for collabs/ workshops/ giveaways?
I often come across new and exciting businesses on Instagram that I would love to work with and that I would personally buy from. Every TOC Lookbook always looks a little different and tries to capture the spirit of the collaborating partner. I definitely always do my best to give more than expected to the campaign and I have rejected working with other brands if I feel that they were only willing to give A, B, C and nothing more, which was not in the spirit of a collaboration.
10. What’s next for TOC?
I’ve been working on a little rebranding so that we look more international, but it is taking some time because it’s like starting all over again – kind of scary! We’ve also got our annual birthday celebration coming up, so that will be exciting to bring back all the girls again. This year I hope to involve our customers and followers as well in the festivities!