I get lost and lose things very easily!
Imagine trying to navigate a new place without Google maps AND in a new language (not Latin base),it’s hard, but one thing that never goes out of style is a traditional map. I love maps, compasses, and use landmarks to help me navigate a new city. I’m the type of person that can easily get lost or lose things, like losing my wallet, phone, cash, and passport on the bus when I first moved to Israel (which was luckily found by the bus driver who found it and returned it with everything in it), or losing my wallet again in Tel Aviv at a meet up event (but found it the next day in the meeting room), or misplacing my wallet in a small pocket in my big backpacker bag when I left Israel on my way to Hong Kong (quite a nightmare, but luckily the airline allowed me to get my backpack to get my wallet so I could buy a visa and to explore Doha).
Okay, clearly I have a problem with losing my wallet and have a strange luck of finding it (haven’t lost it since!) So from my clumsiness over the years I’ve never depended on Google maps rather relied on other means to learned navigate a new city and get my way out of a sticky situation (like the time getting lost with a friend after what was supposed to be a nice hike before Shabbat, turned nightmare for 4 hours in a Carmel National Park in Haifa, with no buses were running,jackals roaming around, phone battery dead, and only a compass and stars to find my way out).Point is, don’t depend on Google Maps, carry a map and don’t be afraid to ask strangers for help!
As for this new move, my first request from my host family was to get an English map of Qingdao, a city that is going through a construction craze—new condos, subways, sky train, and office buildings, as I need to get a big picture of how to navigate this city. And lo and behold my map arrived this week! Now what’s great is that the sea is literally a 10 minute walk from where I live and the longest road in the city, Xingaggang Rd, is a 5 minute walk from my neighbourhood, so my first week I got a limited perspective of the city and the map gave me a new idea of how to navigate this city (via bus for now).Fortunately, my host family encourages me to explore and learn about the Chinese culture, so I had quite a fulfilling week. I won’t bore you with details but this week l took the subway, (after traveling in Tokyo I’m confident I can navigate any subway in the world!,), the bus, I went to the zoo, learned some basic calligraphy and how to play the Chinese Zither, and ate hot pot. In general, life in Qingdao has enabled me to reflect how far I have come as an entrepreneur, because I know how to adapt to new places, situations, and people (in my case people staring, asking to take a picture with me, or people generally fascinated with my hair).
You can buy anything online!
You can order anything, I mean anything online from fresh seafood, dumplings, meat, to drinks, shoes, clothes, car parts, plants, and more. Best part is that you can have it all delivered directly to your door or the nearest postal service (and there everywhere!). I learned this from my host mom who ordered soy milk (from Thailand) and cereal (Honey Bunches of Oats) online, like seriously orders milk and cereal online! Call me crazy but is this the beginning of the end of grocery stores! When I asked her why and how people have resorted to grocery shopping online (I know there are a few grocery startups like Instacart which got 400 million in VC financing with a $3.4 billion valuation, crazy!) she explained it’s just so easy to shop online since many people have smart phones, the opportunity to do business online thanks to Alibaba, WeChat, and other shopping platforms, and how it saves people time (like, why waste gas to go to the mall, when you can shop at the comfort of your home!).
One of the primary reasons I moved to China is so I can learn how to develop the logistics and packaging of my products as I hope to expand Healthy Hair Asia throughout, well, Asia. China’s size, geography, and logistics of delivering and mailing food from different provinces is quite amazing to see in person. My host mother (I will say this a lot because she studied and speaks English well, and the family owns a business) explained to me that for the last 10 years people have been shopping online and retail has slowly been dying. Even for traditional food markets vendors have adapted to the digital economy, with customers using Alipay and other digital apps to buy fresh fruits, fish and vegetables, in contrary to the markets in the US (I worked on a goat farm one summer and sold goat cheese in some farmers markets, the owner did have Square so people could pay with their debit cards, but most customers and vendors only took cash) the US is quite far behind.
Beauty business China
Skincare is big business here in China (I would argue all over Asia) youthful and clear white skin is the ultimate beauty goal for women and men to have. However, I want to make it clear that there is a big difference between skin whitening business and skin care business. The skin whitening business reflects the historic classism or caste system that embeds many Asian societies, as the elites and upper class had white skin, whereas poor farmers and workers had darker skin (an over simplification yes), and those who aspired to become part of the upper class associate wealth, success, and beauty to people with white skin. Today, this belief of success and wealth equals having white skin,still despite the rising middle class (though TV doesn’t reflect this) and growing social mobility. Also, there is a hierarchy in Asia, countries likes Japan, Korea, China (not the nouveau rich, rather “old money” who interestingly immigrated out of China decades ago throughout SE Asia and are responsible of developing banking, infrastructure, manufacturing, shipping, trade in countries like Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Thailand) as the upper class countries that sets the beauty standards and supply the best skin care products. Check out Korean beauty and Japanese brandsshops, they are the “L’Oreal” of the Asian beauty market. Now, skin care business caters to having healthy, youthful, flawless skin, though white skin is the standard, if you have white skin you still have to put time and money to maintain it’s health and youth. Having healthy, clear, and flawless skin, whether it’s white, tan, or dark, is the means of having ageless skin, i.e. looking younger. (if you disagree and want to give a more detailed explanation, please do so in the comment section).
Now where was I? Skin care is big business, hair care comes second,despite most of the hair extensions, manufacturing, and suppliers are based in Asia. Does that mean no opportunity for me? No, because the trend right now is living a healthy lifestyle.What do I mean? Allow me to paint at the big picture. With the rising middle class in Asia people have more disposable income, people are hungry for quality and luxury products and lifestyle from the “West.” From, designer clothes, kitchen appliances, cars, and sending their children to boarding school in UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and US (most of my former students are well-travelled and some spend their summers in Australia and New Zealand just to practice their English), and buying property. The value to have a western education, property, and lifestyle is changing the global economy and Asian families (not all) are the “new kids on the block” with money to spend. I won’t digress to much, but with more money, Asian consumers can spend money on quality products and services. And there is a demand for more natural, organic, and halal cosmetic products. So the timing couldn’t be more perfect for Healthy Hair Asia!
I’ve been in Qingdao for only 2 weeks, and I cannot promise every week I will have something exciting to write about, but I will say, my next post will be quite interesting.
Thank you all for reading about my adventure and journey to building Healthy Hair Asia.
It’s officially been a week since I packed my bags and moved to Qingdao, China. Another adventure, so much uncertainty! Interestingly, I attempted to move to China 2 years ago, and left after 3 days (I was in the middle of nowhere, and the culture shock of moving from Haifa, Israel was quite overwhelming). Second time around is a charm, right? However, this time I was much more smarter in my move, first I found a summer job all on my own (I have a big mistrust of agents), and this time around chose a city rich in culture, with a community of expats, healthy environment, and opportunities to do business. And it worked!
For those who are not close to me (yet read my blog, Thank you!), leaving Bangkok, my friends, my Jewish community, a kick-ass network, a boyfriend (who absolutely supported me and my dreams), and customers was not easy. I reached a point where if I stayed Healthy Hair Asia would not reach its maximum potential. As an English teacher my limited salary could not support this business. Plus, Bangkok is not going anywhere, to start a business foreigners need about 2 million THB and to be really honest one needs money to start a business. What can a girl do? It’s not cute being broke in Bangkok :/ My friends and community are happy for me and understand my vision for Healthy Hair Asia, as Bangkok was a testing ground. The roots of Healthy Hair Asia will be built in China.
Why Qingdao, China?
For those that are unfamiliar with Qingdao here are some facts: Qingdao (Tsingtao) is located in the East coast of China in the Shandong province, with an urban population of about 9 million people. It is a coastal city (kind of reminds me of Boston), is one of China’s “most liveable cities” and has the world’s largest sea bridge, Jiaozhou Bay Bridge (which I definitely plan on visiting!) Qingdao was colonised by the Germans from 1891 until WWI which remains today old German home (classic red brick roofs), industrial and government buildings, and the famous Tsingtao Brewery, created in 1903, now the 2nd largest brewery in China. Given the strategic location and close proximity Qingdao was occupied by the Japanese during WWI and again in the 1930s, then finally was taken by the Communist party in 1949. Aside from outside powers, this city has a history dating back 7,000 years and always had significant role due to its location and the unique culture of the people (I went to the Qingdao Museum this week, quite interesting stuff!)
My biggest challenges: Internet & learning a new language
Of course I didn’t know all this history and strategic importance of the city, but I believe the biggest part of being an entrepreneur is taking risks. Plus, I don’t have “real responsibilities” like a husband, children, or a mortgage to pay, so I would give myself the summer before I made any definite plans. The biggest challenge I knew I would face ahead was learning how to use a new type of internet, no Google, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram (well, I do have a VPN), and how to shop and sell on platforms like, Alibaba, Taobao, and WeChat. I’ve traveled and live in countries where I didn’t know the language, but having Google made it easy to navigate, and Facebook, made it easy to connect, and YouTube I could learn new things, how could I live without all these essential tools?? Well, it’s a challenge that I’m happy to take on, because there are 1 billion people in China and millions of people in the world who don’t have access to the internet, and they are OK, and use alternative means to navigate and shop. The next biggest challenge is learning Chinese. Since I didn't learn (formally) the language in my previous "home countries" (Hebrew and Thai) I told myself I HAVE to learn Chinese (kind of unavoidable :/) and the best way to learn is living with a family.
What and I doing in Qingdao?
So what exactly am I doing? To get a deeper understanding of the culture, learn the language, and support myself, and “test” out China I decided to become an Au Pair! What better way to get free housing, travel, learn the language, use my English skills, and learn about the business culture (and future customers), than living with a Chinese family? For those that aren’t familiar with what an Au Pair is, it’s like a nanny (mostly university students, travellers, and young women) living with a family. The kicker, is that I’m no ordinary Au Pair, in China what families (middle class-wealthy) want are “live in teachers” because they want to eventually send their children to study overseas (US, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand) and give their children extra practice to speak English at home (most of their children go to international schools). So, when it came to job hunting, I was quite a “hot commodity” because I’m American and a certified TEFL. So it’s a great exchange and learning environment for me and the family :)
And over the course of 7 days, I’ve learned the 4 basic tones of Chinese (I’m learning from the mom who studied English in university), how to properly drink tea, basics of Taoism and Chinese philosophy (from the father over our tea time) and how people are obsessed with shopping and selling things online (malls are slowly dying out here because it’s so easy to shop on your phone!). Yes, I definitely made the right decision to move to this coastal city.
Healthy Hair Asia in Qingdao?
Since I’ve built Healthy Hair Asia on social media I knew moving to China I would have to temporarily close up shop. Now, my priorities right now is learning Chinese, learn how to shop online, and building a professional network. This will take a couple of months but I’m excited. And of course, explore and travel!
Hint, hint, Qingdao is a 1 hour flight from Seoul, Korea…..and a few hours train ride from Beijing and Shanghai…so the next couple months there will definitely be some trips ;)
Source: Wikipedia Qingdao: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qingdao#Ancient_times
"Tell me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are"
I may be a "one-woman" team starting my business, but I have friends, mentors, and family that has helped me along this crazy entrepreneurial journey.
If you have been following my blog and social media pages you could see the incredible improvement I've made with the quality of pictures, product design, and business model over the last couple of months. Well, that improvement is owed to the honest conversations and advice of my friends and mentors. I tell my friends to be absolutely straight-forward and give constructive criticism because I value their opinion. Why? Because most of the people in my circle are successful entrepreneurs, worked in high positions in the corporate world, or are working on projects to make the world a better place.
When I first came to Thailand, I knew nobody and had no connections. So I aggressively networked and sought out friends (it's hard to make friends as an adult!). My first from a meet up group was , "Black People in Thailand" where I met two incredible Black American women Bangkok and we took over the group and organised activities and talks. No group dissolved but we are still friends and formed a small LINE group with member all who are incredible int heir own right, from ivy league educated, serial entrepreneurs, IT specialist, and world-travellers. I'm quite proud to have this group of amazing friends who have been so supportive. I joke around with one friend who has a Master's in digital marketing from NYU and formerly worked at L'Oreal, "I need your advice, I can't afford to pay you right now, but I can pay you with hair products!" Or one friend I met at a popular co-working space, The Hive, and has an MBA from MIT, despite his being incredibly busy and starting a business we meet for lunch and he gives me advice on SEO and how to make money from my website. Or another friend who works in TeleCom and by far the most funnies man I ever met, we have some of the most interesting conversations about life, dating, and solidifying my business model before I approach investors. I could go on about my friends but they read this blog and would prefer I don't reveal too much details ;)
In a new city with a handful of friends I joined a few meet up groups to help build my professional network. Bangkok, does have a few good meet up groups and events for young professionals and entrepreneurs that makes it easy to meet amazing and sometimes weird people. My groups are Connecting Founders, Secret Women in Business, Internet Entrepreneurs Network, and BKK/Hack: code, construct, share, learn. My consistent meet ups focused on women entrepreneurs and women lead businesses, specifically Connecting Founders and Secret Women in Business, because I learned how women do business and buy products are very different from men (not sexist but true!). Also, it's great to have a supportive circle of women professionals. For example, at events where there were mostly men (which I was not intimidated by) when I spoke about my idea a lot of them scoffed at my business selling healthy hair products online. Whereas for women, who are my main customers, loved the idea especially the fact that I personally delivered products. I have "thick skin" and quite confident thanks to my time and experience in Israel, yet when I was there I was part of a women's tech group that had some of the smartest and ambitious women I've ever met. So, here in Bangkok, women are a equally ambitious but don't have as much financial and social support for their ideas. So these meet ups focused on how women can fundraise, building a profitable blog or social media channel, successful entrepreneurs sharing their stories, and overall connecting all types of women so we can achieve our goals.
As for my family who is in the other side of the world, I talk with them once a week and share pictures of my life on Facebook (the main reason I post) and they are quite proud. My mom is not the most tech savvy person but she tells me, she likes to talk about me and show my pictures off to her friends and her little Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) community. I'm happy that I've found a new community since leaving Israel, Thailand Progressive Jewish Community, to celebrate holidays and have shabbat dinners with. So, in a way friends, family, and community has really enabled me to get this far without.
So what is next? For the next few months I will be traveling, working, and fundraising to continue and build Healthy Hair Asia. Bangkok, will continue to be my base and will definitely maintain my friendships with my friends and community. So stay tuned! Many exciting things happening! See pictures below of my friends, network, and community. Thank you all!
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!