I went to Singapore for 2 reasons, out of curiosity and for business.
If you believe in yourself and set goals, along with a little luck, timing, and the right network and friends you can achieve anything. And of course working hard, but I believe in working smarting not harder :)
Getting to Singapore
Since I live in Asia it's relatively easy to get around, I've already been to Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, and a brief stint in China, but Singapore has always been out of reach. Why? It's expensive. But that didn't stop me, instead of "working harder and saving money" I just patiently waited for the right time and opportunity to go. And, the timing could not have been better for me, as the school year and my teaching contract ended in March. In addition a new member of one of my meet up groups agreed to let me stay in the condo in Singapore for a week. So, the adventure was on course to begin!
I booked my adventure to Singapore for 1 week, despite people saying I need 5 days max. However, I wanted enough time to build authentic connections and see a few touristy things. My friend, who is great at connecting people, lives in a great area, right near the MRT station, and for the first two days introduced me to some of his friends, who I later ended up meeting during the week to explore Clarke Quay night life, personal tours o the National University of Singapore and National History Museum.
Exploring start-up culture in Singapore
The first few days I did many touristy things, I went to the business district, the Marina Bay, Little India, Chinatown, and Mt. Faber. Then I got down to business, the whole week I went to networking and entrepreneurial meet ups, Co-Founders Lab, CEB Organisation, The Hive Singapore, and worked 2 days in Impact Hub Singapore. At the meet ups I was able to practice my pitch for Healthy Hair Asia, write my pitch deck, meet entrepreneurs and business owners from Singapore and around the world, and most importantly, network.
Networking is so critical and I'm glad I had enough time to build authentic relationships. For example, I met an entrepreneur from Australia that has a water solutions business. Like me he is 27 years old, but worked 5 years at McKinsey & Company and left because he was nearly burnt out. So with his experience, network and clients he started his own business. He gave me some feedback about another project I'm working on, an image consulting service to dress hopelessly unstylish men in SE Asia, and agreed that when I make it over to Sydney.
Cosmetic Market in SE Asia
When I was at the early stage of my business I was a bit shy and intimidated to talk about my idea, like who would take me seriously? Yet, over the last 6 months building a great product and having paying customers I've gained a new confidence. The movement and trend of consumers being more conscious about their health from, food, lifestyle, and cosmetic products has been growing in Asia. Given the diversity of markets and economies in Asia, SE Asia's growing middle class and "nouveau riche" have more disposable income and financial freedom to afford healthier products.
Cosmetic market experts report at Cosmetic design-asia.com that the cosmetic sector in ASEAN is anticipated to expand by 9.5% Compound Annual Rate Growth (CARG) and expected to reach $4.4 billion by 2020. Further, Thailand and Indonesia are the most lucrative markets and highest demand for organic hair care products. Lastly, the organic cosmetic market in Thailand was valued at $755 million in 2014 and expected to be $1.2 billion by 2020. I won't bore you with cosmetic market trends but SE Asia is an excellent place to build Healthy Hair Asia and I have the data to prove it!
Singapore market vs. Thailand market
When I pitched my idea and spoke one-on-one with other entrepreneurs they found Healthy Hair Asia quite unique. They were more generally curious about my business model because the online shop is on social media. Though I have a website, is for my blog, (not many people read it lol), and to build my SEO not to sell my products.
The biggest difference between Singapore and Thailand is the maturity of the markets and customer's behaviour. I asked a few women Singaporean and expats "where do you get your hair products?" Many say at the supermarket or online at Redmart and iHerb both very professional online shops. When I told them about Healthy Hair Asia and showed them my online Facebook shop they were surprised, in a good way, and asked to see my website shop. One female entrepreneur was quite frank and told me that selling on Facebook wouldn't exactly work in Singapore, people want a professional website. "You either do it properly, or don't do it at all." Others were impressed how little money I invested to build Healthy Hair Asia, and stated in Singapore it's very expensive and time consuming to build customers and your brand. What was interesting about these critical conversations were these comments were from native Singaporean women. When I talked with expats, they were more opened with my business model. Despite Singapore importing most of its goods, they knew that natural and organic cosmetic products from the US and Europe was not so popular or available in stores.
On the other hand, Thailand is a whole different market. People love to buy on Instagram and Facebook, consumers want convenience and the most simple payment options, which is cash. Overall, the difference between Healthy Hair Asia platform and other "natural products" is that I sell a lifestyle not just a product. Hence my hair models, how-to videos, and creative memes. In Singapore, the market it a lot more mature, people are more patient and pay via credit card, and social media doesn't play a central role in consumers behaviour like it does in Thailand.
So, I'm back in Bangkok and I have new friends and connections in Singapore. My plan is to travel for the next couple of months to find a co-founder, build a team, and register my business. I really liked Singapore and it's definitely an option to register my business, but I will not set up shop there.
The next couple of months will be very exciting, so stay tuned!