Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo In Real Life’s sentiments.
I always dreamed of starting my own jewelry business.
My dad divorced my mom when I was little. Growing up, my mother’s income wasn’t stable, so I was raised in a financially insecure environment.
What this taught me early on was that, “No one will protect you, you have to survive on your own.”
When I was 18, I worked part time in a jewellery company. I learnt how to sales pitch, how to deal with suppliers, and how to identify jewelry types.
Fast forward to February 2014, my final year of uni. Everyone was focused on getting internships and finishing their projects.
But as for me? I wanted to start an online sales jewelry brand. With my experience from my part-time job, I was confident that I could do it.
With a startup cost of RM200, I couldn’t afford a graphic designer. So I actually created the Celovis brand name using MS Paint.
After registering the name, I picked 5 from the suppliers who had a ready stock available of a few classic jewelry designs, and got to work. I made a homemade photo studio the size of a box, and took product photos to put online.
At the time, zircon had a high perceived value, many women liked it, and each piece was affordable to the mass consumer. So I started off selling zircon jewelry. Later, we would switch to titanium because of its 99% non-reactive properties on the skin.
After one year, I was at a crossroads.
It was 2015. I’d just completed my bachelors, and I had been selling Celovis with a modest return.
At the time, I wasn’t really making big money. After my friends and I graduated, I had roughly the same amount in income as my friends who went off on fresh grad jobs, around RM 2500 – 3000.
Friends and family were pressuring me to go into the workforce. I was at the confused stage — should I keep going, or should I give up the dream and either do a Masters, or work in a “real” job?
Eventually, I decided that I wanted to make my mom proud. All my childhood, my extended family told me I would amount to less than nothing, so I had to show them the opposite. I’m going to make it on my own.
Still, I desperately needed guidance. There’s only so much one pair of hands could do. So when a friend introduced me to a support group for entrepreneurs, I jumped at the opportunity!
Our group leader was a former Louis Vuitton employee who quit and started her own business. She taught me how to present myself, how to pitch. Her mentorship helped me a lot to shape my own mindset.
It was only a small 30-person group of young entrepreneurs, but I learnt so much from my time there.
What I learnt was if your business is not lean, it’s very hard to survive. Mentally, I needed to keep telling myself to conquer my fears.
I worked Monday to Sunday, morning to night. I didn’t spend time with friends to go yum cha, I only went out when I needed to network. Whatever profit I earned, I reinvested into my company.
We moved to a bigger office and opened our first stall at Pavilion
In 2016, I rented a coworking space in Pavilion. The coworking space had a lower start-up cost than an office, and I could use the receptionist service to collect the parcels from my suppliers.
Shortly after, I got an invitation from Parkson to present my profile at their shopping malls. They offered me a few locations to set up my first on-ground stall.
The first time round, I rejected their proposal, because my thought process was, “I’m doing just fine with online sales. Why do I need to spend money on a stall?”
But they approached me again. I still wasn’t fully convinced, so I told them, “It’s either Pavilion or nothing!”
So they gave in, and gave me a spot at Pavilion! I hired my first staff member to promote the brand. It was just the two of us, me and her, manning the stall.
In 2018, I started to slowly build up my team in my office.
When it was just a one-woman show, I was always stuck on operations: packing, responding to customer feedback, and it was so very time-consuming.
These days, we have around 10 people, some managing logistics, some account managers for big clients, and everything runs a lot smoother now.
I learnt that managing people is tough.
When I started managing people, I still had a youthful mindset. I was too lenient when they were slacking off, and it cost my business’s efficiency.
These days, I draw a line between being their friend and being their boss.
As an employer, I learnt to be more aware of how I carried myself. You don’t have to be bossy, but you do need to have good control of your emotions, no matter how bad theirs is.
When a staff member is having issues with another, your counselling skills have to come in, to tell them see the other side of the picture.
As the business grows, I find myself having less and less energy to handle interpersonal conflicts within my team.
But I still make time to ask my staff, “How are you today?” At the end of the day, they’re not just employees, they’re people too.
When the MCO hit, I transferred a few people and was able to keep all my staff
During the MCO, our earnings from our retail stall were literally zero because nobody was allowed to travel, so I transferred people back to the office to assist with packing. Luckily, our revenue still can tahan, so I didn’t have to let go of any of my staff or cut their salaries.
A lot of people thought no one would buy jewelry during the MCO. But there were Raya sales, Mother’s day, and even Christmas is coming up, so we had a lot of orders coming in.
After MCO, our online sales have increased a lot, and we became very busy. I hired a lot more people to help with the packing.
This year, we’ll need a little more discount since everyone’s been hit badly by the lockdown. Just like some big brands too.
All that being said, I’m lucky to have my team around me during the difficult year of 2020.
Here’s the business advice I would give myself at 22
If I could give myself advice when starting a business, here’s what I would say:
- There is no good time or bad time to enter a market. Don’t think too much, just do it. When opportunity comes, grab it even if you’re not ready for it.
- Don’t be too eager for success. It’s not about lose or win, success or failure. It’s about “How can I make it work?”
- Read all the documents that you sign. Don’t be too lazy.
- Make multiple plans. If Plan A doesn’t succeed, have a Plan B and a Plan C. Do it until you make it.
- Don’t give in to FOMO. If you see an offer that is too good to be true, don’t let FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) control you. Rethink it, and listen to advice from more matured and experienced people.
E-commerce is not saturated yet, so long as you find your positioning, and if you can scale or automate your business, you can make it!
For more stories like this, read: Fathima and Anis started Online Boutique Hello Daisi with Only RM 300. Now They Sell to 10 Different Countries and Why Two Students Quit Uni to Start A Business for Secondhand Clothes.
If you like what you read, follow us on Facebook & Instagram.Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo In Real Life’s sentiments.
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