Being Your Own Boss: These Men Tell Us How They Did It

EDITORIAL

I used to own a small online store, and ever since that shut down, I’ve been itching to do my own thing again. Get a few glasses of wine in me and you’re guaranteed at least one very impassioned pitch about why idea #23465413 is the one.

I admire, and even envy, those who have the guts and the drive to do their own thing. I think business owners are rock stars in a way. They’re the ones who said screw it to the security of a consistent paycheck and they’re the ones who’re willing to take risks every single day because they so strongly believe in what they’re doing. How many of us can say that?

These guys can: meet Kenny Chng of Keep Wear, Cedric Loy of Beanstack and Ryan Len of The Workbench.

Kenny Chng (right) and partner Alan (left)

Hey, Kenny, tell us a little bit about yourself!
I guess you could say that I’m a pretty extreme person at times [as] I can work really hard when I have to and [can] go crazy when it’s time to have fun! [I’m also] pretty determined to achieve the things I set out to do; I don’t usually give up easily.

I previously worked in the banking and F&B industries before starting Keep Wear. [They seem like] pretty contrasting industries but if you put them together they seemed to be the perfect combination of experiences I needed to start my own gig.

Tell us about Keep Wear. 
Keep is a Male & Female underwear brand fully designed and branded in Singapore. Our vision is simple: creating apparel that’s comfortable, reliable and affordable. We wanted it to be fun, exciting and inspire confidence too. As far as we are concerned, starting our day right means throwing on a pair of undies that makes us feel confident and ready to take on the world! Part of the idea is to create some light hearted fun/intimacy between couples as all our prints are unisex and come in different cuts for both males and females.

What made you start Keep Wear? 
The idea for Keep Wear [came about] when I was racking my head one Valentine’s Day for my girlfriend’s gift. Of course, I Googled for inspiration and couple undies came up as a gift idea, but many were either really expensive or the designs were very tacky. I felt then it would have been awesome if there was a comfy yet fun brand; one that was more lighthearted and did not [focus] solely on sex appeal. I guess it also helped that I’ve been very particular about my underwear since young, so the decision to start Keep Wear was not a difficult one.

Why the intimates’ industry? 
Well, to me it was more like why not? Undergarments are a necessity and in a world where everyone was over-complicating branding and design, we wanted to come up with something that was interesting yet simple and did not compromise on your basic requirements of comfort.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the pre-launch period?

Finding the right material that could meet our desired level of quality and comfort, sourcing for a manufacturer who could understand what we wanted to achieve and could deliver products which could meet our expectations and making sure the business was feasible; we had to do our due diligence and ensure that all the financial figures made sense.
 
Tell us something that happened (good or bad) that has stuck with you.
A few years ago I was going through a bad patch and got into a really bad car accident which could have been easily fatal. After that day I learnt to appreciate things and people around me. I promised myself I would try my best to live life to the fullest and [be] someone who can make a difference in the lives of others.
 
What inspires you to keep going during the tough times?
My family, girlfriend and friends. I’ve been really lucky to be blessed with a great number of supportive people around me. They encourage me to better myself all the time and give me courage to fight the days when I just feel like giving up.
 
What do you do to de-stress?
Football and gym. I think the best way to de-stress is always to just sweat it out.
 
If you could turn back time and do it all over again, what would you have done differently?
I would have started younger with smaller projects. I think [I didn’t do it because of a] fear of failure and lack of confidence]. I wasn’t brave enough to take a leap of faith. I probably still wouldn’t have succeeded then but I think the setbacks would have been valuable lessons.
 
Advice for any budding entrepreneurs? 
Trust your gut. When all else fails, be confident of your own instincts. There is never a right or wrong answer in business, because there will be 101 situations that you can never prepare for. More often than not, people around you will give you tons of advice on what to do when you encounter a problem. But if you don’t take ownership and make these decisions on your own, you wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate and learn from it. No one should know your own business better than yourself.
 
Exclusive for styleXstyle readers: Get 20% off at Keep Wear! Use promo code ‘KEEPXSTYLE’ at check out.

Hey, Ryan, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm Ryan, a designer and design educator based in Singapore. Prior to starting Workbench, I was freelancing at different design studios, trying to learn and absorb as much knowledge as I can from my mentors and seniors in the industry.

Tell us about Workbench.
Workbench is a Singapore-based graphic design studio with an international reach. Working closely with our clients, we craft purposeful ideas and thoughtful solutions across all disciplines.

Since the company’s inception in 2014, our works have been internationally recognised – [we’ve won] the prestigious Tokyo Type Directors Club Award, and [been featured] in Asia Pacific Design, The Straits Times, Behance Showcase, etc.
 
What made you start Workbench? 
It was during a time when finding a full-time job was tough, and I didn't want to waste time waiting for an opportunity to come knocking. I was young with nothing to lose. So I thought, why not? And took the leap of faith.

The design industry is highly competitive. What makes Workbench stand out?
No one in the studio only hones a particular set of skills. We're like chameleons, constantly reinventing ourselves. This allows us to take on a holistic range of projects from research and curation to digital and print. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the pre-launch period?
Resources, without a doubt. Not having a big network definitely crippled the studio in the pre-launch period. We were limited by our clientele reach and also monetary reserves.
 
Tell us something that happened (good or bad) that has stuck with you.
During the darkest days of my life, I was struggling with an existential crisis and running my business at the same time. My mentor reached out to provide valuable advice which have stayed with me till now.
 
What inspires you to keep going during the tough times?

(1) My fiancée and family - they've been my pillars of strength since day 1. I wouldn't be where I am today without them. (2) Financial independence - the thought of working towards this goal keeps me going when times are tough.
 
How do you de-stress?
I'd usually talk it out with my fiancée, and if possible, we'd take a short trip overseas at least twice a year to de-stress. Travelling helps me unwind.
 
Have you always known you were going to have your own business one day?
Definitely. I've been an entrepreneur since I was 17. This drive led me from one venture to another. Some failed, some succeeded, but it's all part of the learning process.

If you could turn back time and do it all over again, what would you have done differently?

I would be more savvy about business and management before I dived into business. I lost quite a bit of business and money due to my lack of knowledge at the start.
 
Advice for budding entrepreneurs? 
Know why you want to start your business and what sets you apart from the competition. I recommend reading "Start With Why" by Simon Sinek.

Have a great support network. It's important to have a group that you can speak to and brainstorm for ideas.

Invest your time and learn the ropes from other experienced mentors before starting your own business.

Have a deep understanding and knowledge of business and finance. If you don't, find a business partner to handle that side of things.
 

Hey, Cedric, tell us about yourself and what you were up to before you started Beanstack.
I am the co-founder of Beanstack and we run a web/mobile development consultancy business. Before this, I was asoftware engineer for a multi-national company and doing freelance work.
 
What’s Beanstack all about?
When we started Beanstack, we had two directions in mind: To gain consultancy experience by developing products for start-ups or companies; we could also offer affordable quality services similar to those provided by high-end development shops. Many a time, we see clients paying high costs not because of the development but for the company’s overheads.

What made you start Beanstack? 
I was looking for an opportunity to start my own business. While discussing an idea with my friends, we decided to quit our day jobs to develop our idea.

Another idea we also wanted to work on was a football social and management app call Gameday (gamedayapp.co). We wanted to build a unified web/app platform where footballers can easily keep track of their personal stats and as well as their teams’ performances. We thought this is something that can benefit the amateur scene in the long run. We also build a platform for tournament providers to host tournaments and this platform is tightly integrated with our app.

 

Tell us something that happened (good or bad) that’s stuck with you. 
Running a start-up is good experience -- you meet all kinds of people, be they investors or budding entrepreneurs. I had a good time at the Tech In Asia conference where I had only five minutes to pitch my idea to a prospective investor. It was crazy and hectic but it definitely made a lasting impression on me.
 
What inspires you to keep going during tough times?
My friends and my family. My closest friends are all working in start-ups and they push and encourage me to go further. My family has always been supportive of my ventures and this allows me to concentrate fully on my business even during tough times. Reading articles on indiehackers.com also inspire me as they can teach you a thing or two about entrepreneurship and how these people ride their way to financial freedom.
 
What does Beanstack pride itself on the most?  

Building great products that stand the test of time. Looking at users/clients enjoy using our products makes development enjoyable. Lastly, it is our duty to ensure that the clients get good ROI on their product investment.
 
How do you de-stress?
I listen to relaxing nature music or jog.
 
Have you always known you were going to have your own business one day?
No, I never imagined I would run my own business or start-up. It just came naturally..
 
If you could turn back time and do it all over again, what would you have done differently?
I would immediately work for a start-up instead of joining an MNC after my graduation. And I would have built my product with fewer features and launch it earlier.  
 
Advice for any budding entrepreneurs? 
Go lean, go small, go fast. Fast execution is king and if you do not know what features to include, you can always get feedback from users instead.
 
Get a co-founder who can do development or has experience in technology. Many times, I’ve seen start-ups bustingtheir budgets because they don’t have a tech-guy on board and the founders have to waste time and money managing an outsourced team.
 
Customers and users are king. Listen to them and get ready to work on their feedback fast. I had to develop a feature for my product within a night and the user was very happy about it. That user alone brought in many other users and the growth was exponential. On the other hand, an unhappy customer can spoil your reputation so bear in mind never to upset users/customers.

Quote promo code ‘welovebeanstack’ during your email enquiries.

 

 


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