If you’re feeling inspired after reading about the foundhers we featured, we interviewed another foundher, Ashley Suelyn of The Real Planner and Purpose Skin, to share her expertise on starting a business. Read on to learn how you can take the first step, put together the right team and pitch to investors!
Ashley Suelyn is a fully-fledged multi-hyphenate. The productivity maven is the Chief Of Staff at SoCar Malaysia, a car-sharing app, the founder of The Real Planner, a social innovation firm, and the co-founder of Purpose Skin, a new skincare brand. Nope, the list doesn’t end there, on the side, as an activist, she is also on the board of advisors at Lean In Malaysia, a women empowerment program, is the president of Emerging Leaders Asia, a youth empowerment program, and on the board of advisors at Command Tech, a non-profit organization. Yup, even with all these roles, she still manages to squeeze in being a spin instructor at FlyCycle.
What is the first and most important step in starting your own business?
- Try out different things that you like.
I knew that productivity was at my core and wanted to test out how people would view me as a productivity consultant, so I hosted a paid networking event with a facilitated discussion and introduced frameworks to help people be more productive.
- Sometimes our hobbies can turn out to be our greatest assets.
Something that we love doing can end up being something we make money from because you have to love the vision. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to explain what The Real Planner is! You have to love and enjoy it enough to repeat the same vision, objectives and goals over and over again to different stakeholders (investors, customers, collaborators, anyone who is interested).
- Be experimental and enjoy the process!
What is something that you learned from starting The Real Planner that helped you run Purpose Skin more smoothly?
- Having co-founders is a great thing.
I’m the only founder of The Real Planner and take care of the end-to-end process in terms of business, marketing, content development and customer service. It was a great learning experience – having that autonomy and becoming your own CEO (with the input and output being entirely up to you). It created a lot of independence, but having co-founders provides a good outside perspective.
- Co-founders can compliment you and collaborate with your current skill set.
For me, the co-founders of Purpose Skin are more operationally driven – they know where to find the cheapest bottles and boxes, and one is very into graphics. Karmun, who is also our CEO, is an amazing designer who takes care of our social media, website and collaborations. I support her and Wayne with my business acumen in terms of financial projection, finding our breakeven point, and coming up with our pricing.
What has been the biggest difference between selling a product and a service?
- Products give people the liberty and autonomy on how to use it.
- Services allow you to control the customer journey experience.
With providing a service, I am able to be more inclusive – I get to ask customers questions and that communication is very valuable in terms of being an entrepreneur. Getting direct feedback from customers allows you to co-curate offerings together.
- It’s how you bundle it.
For Purpose Skin, we offer masterclasses to customers who purchase our skincare products – you buy a product and get a free service. For The Real Planner, you buy a service (coaching and consulting) and get a free product (a journal and planner).
What is something entrepreneurs tend to overlook when pitching to investors?
- The long-term vision.
Entrepreneurs try to emphasize the profit-making mechanism, which is important because it is the business model, but what are your goals and what strategies do you want to carry out in the next 5 to 10 years?
- Don’t be afraid to talk about exit strategies.
When investors evaluate whether or not they want to invest in your business, they should be able to see what kind of business it is – a cash cow or a long-term game.
How does one put together the right team?
- Find people that you trust.
- Have a shared vision.
- Find people that can do things better than you.
I recently found a Chief Marketing Officer who I want to work with – she is better at marketing than I am and understands the vision of my company. Take these three criterias into consideration when building a team because trust and relationship will help you delegate the work better.
As someone with a strong personal brand, how has that helped your businesses?
- It has to be done carefully.
I have associated so many of my start-ups and brands with my personal brand. It keeps me accountable for how I carry myself because sometimes I carry a lot of pressure.
- It boosts credibility.
Being a part of so many organisations, such as SoCar, The Real Planner, Emerging Leaders Asia, FlyCycle and Command Tech, boosts my credibility in terms of being a founder.
Last, but not least:
- Pay it forward.
Self-reflection and increasing self-awareness is amazing, but the more we invest in other people, the more we learn. Learning is amplified when we try to teach someone. For example, when you read about something new and share it with someone – you are ultimately emphasising what you’ve learned and will end up understanding it better, remembering it longer, and becoming an expert on the subject.
- See people as collaborators not competitors.
You can make your ideas better by sharing it with someone who is able to build on it. This will allow us to achieve more efficiency, quality ideas and synergy among each other.
Follow Ashley Suelyn on social media here for more advice on productivity, business and leadership!
Master multi-tasker, Sarah Chua, is the founder of Social Catch Digital Marketing, a boutique social media marketing agency powered by dedicated, hands-on creative minds. The social media marketing strategist’s passion can be seen as she plays the role of creative director, as well as photographer on site, to help others experience the same elation of launching their dream brands.
Despite only being in business for less than two years, Social Catch has elevated a number of lifestyle, fitness and wellness brands with their jazzy visuals and trendy tone of voice – these two elements are at the core of their DNA. Read on to learn more about this inspiring creative entrepreneur: how she started her own agency, grew an impressive network, and still finds time for self-care while running a business.
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What made you want to start your own boutique social agency?
As cliche as it sounds, I always had a passion for photography and putting together moodboards. Since I was a kid, I used to cut out magazines and create collages, and stick them all over my walls. I love the idea of creating visuals that entice people to want to learn more. My favorite part about my job role is building relationships with clients I feel connected with, and becoming a valuable part of each of their unique journeys.
How would you describe the content Social Catch creates?
It definitely is fun, community-oriented, and hopefully scroll-stopping (hehe). I love that we work with clients who allow us to think outside the box and truly explore different ways to express their brands to the public.
What’s been your most exciting campaign so far?
There are too many for me to specifically choose one, but a memorable one would be “The Aloha Bubble” which was program that Clubaloha, a boutique gym in Plaza Damas, had created to virtually connect with their community through daily virtual classes, intention-setting and meaningful content shared on a Telegram channel. This was such a beautiful campaign – we were able to come up with all the visuals for it and witness amazing reviews from all the subscribers. It was really heartwarming to be able to realise how the advantages of technology and digital marketing platforms can benefit us more than we think, especially during these tough times.
In your opinion, what makes for great content?
I don’t call myself an expert in digital marketing or whatsoever! But I do feel that great content is produced when there is good intentions behind it. With the right messaging, the power of whatever that content is can make a difference in people’s daily lives – especially because there is a ton of content rolling out everyday, and it matters.
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Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get a lot of my inspiration from Pinterest! Don’t know what I would do without it, especially when those days come and you’re out of brain juice! I also follow a lot of other established marketing agencies to see how they do it, and hopefully be able to learn a few things from them.
What networking advice do you have for other startup founders and entrepreneurs?
Firstly, always be kind! It costs zero cents to be nice to people and always get to know them how you would want others to get to know you. Also, practice makes perfect, so the more you practice talking to others, the more natural it will be for you. Don’t think too much about how you need to approach someone, just be yourself, be genuine and be kind!
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I am honestly still working on that! I cannot lie that I am not an introvert, I actually did a personality test once and I had scored 99.9% extrovert, haha. But I try my best to set an intention each week and realign my priorities daily. I update my Google Calendar daily, I trust it more than myself to keep on schedule. But, yes, it took me a long time to get where I am today, so I am proud of it!
What are your self-care must-haves?
Hmmm… tough question! But I do think it’s important to have one whole day to myself every week where I treat myself to a good meal, not an expensive meal but a meal that I truly love; explore activities that do not require me to look at my phone too much, and also spend time with people who I care about. 24 hours – just me and a list of things that I should be doing more if I could!
Any last words?
I’d like to thank my team – Samantha, Valery and Michelle, for being superstars and working hard to make my dream job come true!
If you’ve got a vision you’d like to turn into a reality, reach out to Social Catch here and follow them for endless inspiration.
There’s a lot of heart and soul that goes into Stitchworks, from handmade pieces to the use of pre-loved fabrics, the slow fashion label has become a safe haven for dreamers, lovers and survivors. With a focus on hand embroidery and repurposed up-cycled clothes, as well as accessories, each design stays true to the authentic brand by being one-off pieces that are tailored to charm and provide comfort. Now, almost a year later, StitchWorks has blossomed into an independent textile, design and creative line.
Behind the bubbly brand is its founder and designer, Hannah Nazasli, who developed an interest in fashion while living in the UK. At age 10, after laying her eyes on the prestigious Central Saint Martins building, she vowed to return to the art school and study the vibrant world of fashion – she ended up doing so in 2020, and thus Stitchworks was born out of drive, passion and inspiration. We spoke to the budding entrepreneur about starting a business as a creative, sustainable fashion, the challenges of opening a store, and squeezing in self-care as a one-woman show.
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What do you love most about owning a business?
The fact that I am my own boss and answer to myself. It teaches me to be more responsible, but also driven to keep learning and growing from my own business as there’s always more to learn. If I do something right and customers are happy, that adds value to my customers and my business, and if I end up making mistakes along the way, I learn from that and challenge myself to seek stronger strategies – to be better not just for me, but for the people I meet and encounter for StitchWorks.
What advice do you have for other creatives looking to start their own business?
JUST GO FOR IT! There is no right or wrong time to start your own business – especially if it’s something you love and are passionate about. I had my doubts while creating and assembling plans for StitchWorks and even when creating designs, but then I realised that it’s all in my head and I have to push through it to prove to myself that I can do it. I believe that we all have the power to create our own realities, we just need to keep working towards our goals and out of our comfort zones to achieve success, greatness and above all, do everything with LOVE.
How would you describe Sitchworks’ style?
Bringing together simplicity, contemporary design, and abstract / experimental form, StitchWorks’ style translates emotion into wearable products. It has notes of Y2K vibes, as well as a sophistication for emotion and passion. Whenever I create a design, I am channeling all my emotional energy (whether I’m sad, angry, stressed, happy, excited, in love) and that drives me to create my designs and see them come to life.
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You recently opened your first store, what would you say was the biggest challenge in doing so?
Yes! We have opened a small studio at KEDAI, Level 3 Mahsa Avenue. We opened on the 9th and 10th of January; however, the week I was supposed to officially launch the studio quickly turned into MCO 2.0 on the 13th of January. I had my friends and family help me out at the end of December and I had the opportunity to paint a mural with Adam Ummar – a talented aspiring local artist. It was my first time painting a mural, but it was a lot of fun! We felt like mad scientists expressing our colourful passions on a massive blank canvas. The biggest challenge was time and the short time frame we had with potential closures from the MCO’s extension. However, we managed to pull everything together in 10 days and the studio was ready for operation. All I had in my head was MCO or not, “The show must go on!”. If you put your mind, heart and soul into anything, you can achieve what you envision!
Your studio also showcases other brands, what are your favourite local brands at the moment:
- Good Juju – for their beautiful tie dye apparel that’s perfect for any occasion.
- Love Light Lemons – for their efforts to help refugees from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the use of organic cotton in their apparel.
- Lemon by ACK – for their exceptional up-cycled textiles to create bags, corsets, tops and swimwear.
How does Stitchworks itself practice sustainability?
StitchWorks uses purely up-cycled materials, fabrics, threads and beads to create our designs and apparel. For example, using vintage jeans to make denim tote bags. I used to study textiles in school and have made many passion projects for myself throughout the years, so I never threw my materials away and have a good collection of them. This gave me the opportunity to repurpose those fabrics and threads into new creations. If I ever need to resupply my materials, I will seek items from second-hand shops, friends’ or family’s pre-loved clothes, or thrift shops. StitchWorks is also open for donations of pre-loved clothes, so if you’ve spring cleaned your closet and found that you have clothes you want to donate, feel free to give them to us – we’ll be happy to recreate and transform your pre-loved items!
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As a one-woman show, what do you do when you feel yourself burning out?
I always need to take a step back into nature, or travel somewhere for the beach where I always feel calm – I am always inspired by flowers, the ocean and even animals for textural designs. As well as listen to my favourite tunes and have a boogie to relax and unwind. I usually need to treat myself a little, (whether it be getting my nails done, a massage or my favourite ice cream) to get back into a lucid state of mind and dream bigger about future designs. It’s the little things you do for yourself that matter too, to get yourself back into the groove.
What are your self-care essentials?
I take my skin care very seriously, so I must have my holy grails with me at all times. I have practiced a strict skincare routine for myself by cleansing, toning and moisturising my face every morning and every night at the bare minimum. I can’t leave anywhere without a facial cleanser, face toner, face moisturiser and body lotion.
Any last words?
I believe that even through pain and suffering, you can utilise that energy and manifest beauty in your own creations – I perceive it as alchemy! There is always something new to learn whether it be a sewing technique, knowledge or an experience shared with friends, and I am excited to see where and how StitchWorks will grow, independently and with fellow creatives. StitchWorks is not just a slow fashion label, it is also a hub for any creatives (artists, writers, musicians, foodies, health and fitness) to share their vision and passions, as well as a creative event space for anyone who wants to share their work.