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Theresa Shuman, Founder of Thérèse de Vintage

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Theresa Shuman is the founder and owner of Thérèse De Vintage, an independent fashion boutique based in Hong Kong that specializes in vintage goods and apparels. Through Thérèse De Vintage, she has been passionately working within a niche market, actively broadening the demand and interest for vintage goods. Originally hailing from Hong Kong, Theresa developed a creative passion for fashion and a vision for an independent career, at a very young age. As a child, Theresa would often fix and alter her own clothing to her personal liking. Her talents were eventually recognized, as she was accepted and read Fashion Design and Women’s Wear, at the renowned London College of Fashion. Having built her own technical expertise and industry acumen, Theresa decided to start her own boutique focusing on vintage goods, a passion she acquired whilst living and studying in Canada in her teenage years.

The Asian Entrepreneur is joined by Theresa Shuman today, in an interview session about the valuable and interesting insights she has developed working on her own business.

So tell us about Thérèse De Vintage.

Well, Thérèse De Vintage is really a store that specializes in vintage goods that I have personally sourced and collected from different parts of the world that I’ve traveled to. However, I feel my store goes beyond that because to me, these goods are more than goods or products in the conventional business sense. To me, they are items of significance. I say this because as vintage goods, each of them possesses a history and a story, you are buying a piece of time, you are buying a piece of that story from the totally quaint world of where it originated from. So, I like to think of Thérèse De Vintage as a store that deals in stories.

What kind of vintage goods do you deal in?

At Thérèse De Vintage, I think you can find a bit of everything. I predominantly deal in fashion goods which is my forte. On that front, you can find clothes, hats, bags, and various fashion accesories. But you’d be surprise to also find other things at the store. I also source and deal in other goods like watches, calculators, camera and unique jewellery.

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And what drove you to start Thérèse De Vintage?

Actually ever since I was young, I’ve always had a love for vintage things. I think this love comes from my nolstagic appreciation of things from the past. I find vintage things to be very different, as I was just trying to explain to you earlier. I think they possess distinct memories and stories, locked in time and that is reflected in their appearance as well which is vastly different from their modern counterpart. I’ve always loved that and I found myself collecting them at a very young age, for me its a very natural thing. For example, I would see a quirky vintage watch by an antique shop and I would think to myself, “I want to bring this story back home with me.” I see it as collecting stories.

The actual idea for a vintage store was an idea that I had for quite awhile. In fact, I can trace it back to high school. The concept is something that is very immemorial, it stems out of my own passion to share the stories that I have collected with others.

When did you decide to open your store?

I wanted to start this store earlier than I did. However, back then I did not actually have the support and expertise to actually initiate this idea. I was quite young. Believe it or not, my family and friends were against it. Many people were concerned about whether I was capable of actually managing my own business. It was not until last year that I actually opened my own store.

And why did you decide to open your store in Hong Kong as opposed to abroad?

That is actually a very good question. Initially, I was interested in setting up my store in the United Kingdom. However, being from Hong Kong, I find myself more familiar with the market and the business environment of my country. I understand the culture and the mentality of the customers. I believe this sense of familiriaty is something that I could capitalize on in the pursuit of my own business. It was something that I wanted to operate on. So I would say, it was a practical move as well on my part.

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So tell us about the startup process.

The process of starting up Thérèse De Vintage was quite specific and methodical. Prior to starting this store, I’ve already developed a sense of how the business model would be like. This was based on my experience of visiting and seeing many vintage boutiques over the years. With a keen eye, I was able to almagamate their approach and their model for operating such a business. When I was finally back in Hong Kong, I committed myself to market research. The priority for me was finding out whether there were other such stores, where they were and how they operated. Along with this, was a consideration of how I could set myself apart from these stores and how I could offer something valuable to the consumers out there. So there was a lot of planning went into what I wanted to do.

When I reached the stage where I thought to myself that I actually had a sense of what I wanted to do and how to do it, I went ahead to seek out a location for my retail space.

How is the vintage market like in Hong Kong

To be honest, I think the market for vintage goods in Hong Kong is very, very small. I find it to be quite underdeveloped and fraught with many difficulties. It’s safe to say that it has not reached the levels of the markets that you find abroad in the West. By that I mean that abroad, in the West, they possess a serious appreciation for vintage goods. There is a great demand for them. They’ve come to not only understand the vintage culture but also to admire it. So, for example, in Canada where I was introduced to this culture, you will find many such stores which are very popular with the locals.

On the other hand, in Hong Kong they’ve not come to totally grasp the concept. To the people in Hong Kong, they see such goods as old goods and nothing more. They don’t see the sentimental significance nor come to appreciate the style of vintage goods. They prefer new goods and they just can’t bring themselves to understand, let alone appreciate, why they would ever settle for something that is not new. I say this with personal experience, as I’ve personally encountered customers who have queried as to why the goods I was carrying seemed old and this has been something that I have been working to overcome.

Did you change your business approach to cater to this fact?

Yes. It’s quite interesting actually, the nature of the vintage market here in Hong Kong, has had an effect of how I marketed my goods. Initially, in selecting the retail location for my store, I had my mind set on opening the store in Central, Hong Kong. There were already a few similar stores in Central, so I can imagine that the location would be frequented by a lot of vintage lovers, who atleast understood the goods that I was trying to sell. However, I settled for another location that was quite far from Central. Many of the people I have encountered here, just fail to see the signficance and value of the goods. This has required me to do certain things differently. I have often found myself tirelessly trying to explain the signficance of the goods to those who can’t seem to wrap their heads around it.

Greater business decisions had to be taken as well. So for example, in my boutique, I’ve also introduced non-vintage goods along with vintage goods. This has helped me attract customers and has allowed me an opportunity to sell the vintage goods themselves. As in the initial phases, I found that it was very difficult and quite infeasible to operate my store entirely on vintage goods in such a market. I’ve also had to take a different approach to pricing, more specifically, I’ve had to cut down on the profit margins because people in Hong Kong are only willing to spend so much on vintage goods. Whereas, I believe if I were doing this overseas in the West, I would be able to operate on a higher and more fruitful profit margin.

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Have you encountered any disappointments so far?

I’ve found some customer remarks disappointing. I’ve met some customers who’ve said things along the lines of: “Why is it the things you are selling, seem like they came from the dumpster?” Sometimes I have to deal with some ignorant and often confused customers, who often make comments like this. Though unintentional, they can be quite hurtful in regards to what I am trying to achieve. Despite this, I believe in professionalism, so in dealing in my business I put personal sentiments and emotions aside.

Do you have a lot of competitors in Hong Kong?

In Hong Kong there aren’t a lot of competitors in this field. The main issue does not lie so much in competition but rather the fact that the market has not developed into a market that widely accepts goods of this kind. So I believe that is matched by the amount of players in this industry, which based on my research there really are less than 30. I think there would be more competition in the West.

Could you share with us any insights you’ve developed about this industry?

There is quite a few things that can be said here. Given the niche nature of the industry in Hong Kong, market research becomes very important aspect of the industry. In Hong Kong, people have very specific tastes when it comes to vintage goods. You have to find out exactly what their tastes are and cater to it. In my experience, I’ve discovered that they are more interested in vintage bags as opposed to other goods.

Aside from this, I think ambience is also an important aspect in surviving in this industry. In this industry, I think you would have to go the extra mile, again because of the nature of the industry. You would need to know how to attract your customers beyond the basis of just the goods you carry because they don’t fully understand the value of the goods you carry. So the presentation becomes very, very important. In my store, I’ve fully utilized music, scents and specific self-designed lighting, altogether to create a unique ambience that makes potential customers raise an eyebrow.

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In your experience, what kind of people in Hong Kong buy vintage goods?

I think most people who buy vintage goods in Hong Kong, are mostly bargain hunters. They don’t really buy it for the same reason, as one might overseas. They don’t buy it because they have a genuine appreciation for the vintage value of the goods, rather because they appreciate how such goods are undervalued monetary-wise, compared to many of the non-vintage goods out there. So for example, one might buy a vintage bag because they find it to be cheap and they think they’ve scored a good bargain on it. Personally, I’ve not met many vintage lovers, this is quite disappointing but again, this is a really young market.

In your opinion, what is the key to entrepreneurial success?

Having an understanding of what you want to achieve is very important. I believe that many successful entrepreneurs possess a foresight of where they want to be and to them their journey are just incremental steps that they take towards the goal. Having that kind of direction is important. The adequate amount of preparation is also important, and this may include having done the right market research. But most importantly, you should have genuine passion in what you are doing. If you have the right passion and motivation in doing what you are doing, I really believe that will take you really far.

What are your own plans for the future?

Aside from the vintage boutique which I plan to develop further, I am also currently working towards establishing my own fashion brand under my own name. This has always been a dream of mine that I have been slowly working on. Essentially, I would like to set up such a brand in the near future, focusing mainly on intricately designed women’s wear.

Any parting words of wisdom for our readers?

If you have never dreamt of living in a castle, you will never live in a castle.

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Connect with Theresa Shuman and Therese De Vintage today:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ThereseDeVintage?fref=ts
Email: [email protected]

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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