A Business, No Financial Capital, What's Next?
Disclaimer: The truth is really ugly, so what Im going to write is my truth and my experience. Everyone has there hardships and privileges, so please don't take what I write as a personal attack against your character or your lifestyle. I take full responsibility for the choices I've made, I hold myself fully accountable. But, I will not pretend or ignore the barriers that keep many from reaching their full potential to succeed, because life is unfair and it's much easier to tell people to 'work hard' or think success has nothing to do with luck: born into a family with money, a social-capitalist society, marrying well, or being at the right place at the right time.
No one owes me anything.
I have zero expectations of people, and while there are good people out there, I've personally came across many, most people are too caught up in their own problems, and can't be bothered.
Last year I got a reality check from the Bangkok startup "community" and people who I thought were friends or mentors, treated me as "yesterday's trash" refused to acknowlege that their "hard work" was not the sole reason for their success rather luck, marrying a local, coming from a wealthy family, using their savings from working in a lucrative industry, or being a stay at home parent with a spouse to support and invest in their business and provide a visa (marriage) while operating their business abroad.
These are realities that many entrepreneurs don't want to or refuse to admit.
I don't know why admitting your family or spouse provided the startup capital for your business is seen as a "faux pas." Nevertheless, I guess people want to feel that their success was done soely by the "sweat of their brow" and merit.
On a more positive note, I do have a few privileges, so it's not all doom and gloom, people have helped me, I had a partner that invested in me and my business, friends support and buy my products, and I had an Angel investor invest a humble pre-seed investment.
But it wasn't enough.
To scale a business as a foreign entrepreneur, I need at least 100,000USD, and no amount of hard work, sacrifice, cut backs on my lifestyle, and optimism will make a difference.
Believe me I tried.
I cut back on meals, I slept at Changi Airport for days to save money, I deferred my student loans (government ones), to put everything into my business.
All that didn't make a difference, to get an EP pass and live in Singapore (or any foreign country) while operating a business costs money.
You reach a point in building a business: you either have the money, or you don't.
So once again, Ive come across a structural barrier, lack of financial capital, to continue to build and scale my business.
There are 3 types of financial capital every entrepreneur needs:
1. Financial Capital
2. Human Capital
3. Social Capital
Now, I have 2 out of 3, human capital, ie, the talent to build and scale my business. And not only do I have a team in Bangkok and the US, but now in Singapore.
This whole summer, if you've been reading my blog, I found a corporate secretay, that can also do my accounting, found a great law firm to help structure my business in Singapore and Thailand, register my patents, trademarks, employee contracts, etc..
I sat down with the CEO of aCommerce Singapore, "eCommerce enabler" which essentially moves "Fast Moving Consumer Goods" FMGC across the region, have warehouses, a whole supplychain management system, sells on all social media and eComnerce platforms in the region, and with their help I could sell 100,000 shampoo bars a month, if needed!
I networked with other foreign entrepreneurs who live and operate their business in Singapore, and they shared their advice and honestly told me that they came to Singapore with $1M of their own money, have a PEP pass, and 100K USD is too small, I needed to think bigger.
My team back in Bangkok was happy to get Yummy Blair Cosmetics up and running again, and old and new customers were excited as I was slowly rebuiling the business.
I had my dream team, customers were excited, and I went out to the local outdoor market to "test" how people feel about shampoo bars, and even provided hair care services to people in my tight-knit community.
Which brings me to my next point.
It's not enough to have a good team and good product, an entrepreneur needs a good network.
And in my case, a network to help me support myself, ie. living situation (because it's expensive here, something I already knew).
See, when I returned to Singapore in April, I had a small nest egg, and just told myself I'll figure it out my housing situation as I progressed. Not ideal, but I'm an entrepreneur, I think differently.
Living in a hostel, which I didn't mind, because I was able to get feedback from backpackers about my products and expand my goals to tap into the hospitality industry. People love that the shampoo bars are travel friendly, so why not sell to hostels and hotels!
So my social capital, helped me save money by sleeping on couches, then a spare bedroom, and eventually 'house sitting' this summer. And enabled me to become more active in my religious community.
All was good, and even got better when an old classmate reached out to me, liked my pitch, and agreed to invest (1 million USD), into my business, with more investments as we agreed to scale the brand and business all across Asia.
What people **refuse to accept** when it comes to fundraising, seed capital, almost always comes from family, high networth friends, or your personal savings.
VC's are not going to talk to me at the stage of my business, even though I have a product, brand, and team.
My business needs to be incorporated and if Im living here, it would be preferable if I had a EP pass.
Another way, is to apply to an accelerator or incubator, and get the EntrPass, but since I'm pass the idea stage and not seen as a "hi-tech" startup, I had no luck.
The optimist in me didnt let these barriers get in the way, so with my former classmate as an Angel investor, for weeks we went back and forth, and agreed to meet in Cape town to secure the deal.
But as I set everything up on my end of the world, the risky business environment of mining (he's in mining) in DRC suffered from political instability, and our deal had to be pushed back. As the summer progressed, things got worst not only in DRC but in Cape Town. July turned into August, and now it's September, and weeks of negotiating and uncertainty fell apart.
So, after a summer, if not months of trying to revive and rebuild my business in Singapore, I'm back at square one.
Well not exactly at square one, I have more social and human capital, more than I had before!
I just lack the financial capital, and to be honest the lifestyle of hopping around is not sustainable.
I want to settle down, ie have my own place to live and be able to support myself.
And as optimistic as I am, and belive in my business, I applied to several jobs, "just in case " something like what Im going through now, happened.
Finding work in Singapore is NOT easy, especially when you don't have a spouse to emotionally and financially support you.
Am I giving up?
Not exactly, because I've come so far!
And unlike Bangkok, I have hope and "a fight" in me for a better future.
I like Singapore, I want to make it my home (get married, raise a family here, and get PR), it just seems like everything Ive tried in order to fundraise and finding a job, hasn't worked.
And to be brutally honest, it would be much easier if I had a spouse to "bankroll" my business, or came from a upper middle class family.
But that's not the case.
I don't know what's next.
The only good news is I went to "entrepreneur mixer" last week, and met someone at Sequoia Capital, and I have a coffee meeting with him this week :)
Sequoia is a VC firm and they have a program that provides $1M in seed funding, for entrepreneurs and startups that are past the idea stage but not a mature business.
So there is hope! And execptions ;)
I do know that I didnt fail.
My business didn't fail.
I just don't have the financial capital to build the business and live in Singapore.
I tried and will continue to try, however long it takes :)
As always, thank you for reading!