A 22-year-old Singaporean who sold over 10,000 self-designed bags learned to do business by asking strangers on the street for advice

Mandy Chan, 22, is the co-founder of Bow, a sports and travel accessory start-up.
Bow

Singaporean Mandy Chan, 22, isn’t planning on letting anything get in the way of her entrepreneurial dreams – even if that means delaying her education against her parents’ wishes.

Chan is the co-founder of sports and travel accessory start-up Bow. With a capital of about S$5,000, she started her business in 2017 with Singaporean designer Koh Choon Kiat, 30. Now, they have three other members working with them.

Last year, the company debuted Quiver, a multi-purpose bag, on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Since then, 10,000 pieces of the bag have been sold, Chan told Business Insider.

More that can be gained than lost

While she might be young, this is not her first time dabbling in business.

The young entrepreneur had taken a gap year after graduating from Victoria Junior College to start her own business in her teens, and that caused a strain in her relationship with her parents.

In an exclusive interview with Business Insider, Chan said: “When I first started (the first business), they cut off my allowance because they decided that since this is my decision, I have to be responsible for it.”

When she started to run out of savings, Chan had to take up several part-time jobs to earn her keep.

After the first venture failed, she enrolled in the Singapore Management University to study business. But two years later, she took another break to focus on a new business idea.

Taking a long break from studying might raise some eyebrows, but to Chan, it is no big deal.

“What’s the worst that can happen? That I waste one year of my life? But the possibilities of what I can gain are so much more… If not now, then when?” she said.

China-bound, with no money or experience

With her mind made, Chan tirelessly invested time and effort into carving a name for herself. She even faced her fears and solo-travelled to China to source for bag manufacturers.

“That (travelling alone to China) was quite scary. Before I started on this journey, I only had one chop on my passport – Malaysia – and that was with family.”

At one point during the trip, Chan resorted to taking a 14-hour overnight train ride from Guangzhou to Xiamen. By spending the night in a train, she did not have to fork out money to book a hotel room, saving on accommodation fees.

“There were five other guys in the bunk, and I was so scared,” she confessed.

But dealing with her fears and lack of resources were not her only problems. She soon found that her young age was a barrier to doing business.

“There was once in Shanghai, when they (the manufacturers) first saw me, they knew I was very young, without any experience… And after the manufacturers knew that, their attitude became more condescending,” she said.

Chan added that the manufacturers’ minimum order quantity was at least 2,000. As a 19-year-old without her parents’ support, she didn’t have that money.

Many of the manufacturers dismissively urged her to come back with a business plan, before they were willing to discuss further.

‘Go back to school’

Unwilling to give up, Chan continued her quest for success in Singapore, where she roamed the streets of Raffles City alone, and stopped at shuttle bus stops just to gather feedback from complete strangers.

“It was scary because I was alone asking people for their feedback. And asking for feedback on something that you’ve been working on for so long, just to hear ‘no’ after ‘no’, was really depressing,” she told Business Insider.

Rejection turned out to be a hard pill for Chan to swallow.

She recalls that one of the passers-by – a man dressed head-to-toe in Gucci – told her curtly: “Dreams are just dreams, go back to school.”

That dose of reality dashed her hopes. “That broke me, it broke me quite hard,” she said.

In despair and utterly dejected, Chan had no choice but to seek solace from random insurance agents (believe it or not) by asking for advice on dealing with rejection.

“I learnt from them how to be okay with rejection, because day after day, they get rejected. So I asked them how to stay positive – and that really helped me.

“They told me: ‘You never know – the next one might say yes, so keep moving forward and don’t dwell on the rejections’.”

Singaporeans can be creative too

After a painstaking climb, Chan managed to build her product and business up. Following Quiver’s success, the hard-nosed entrepreneur launched another Kickstarter project for an improved version of the bag called Quiver X on Nov 23.

This time, she also hosted a live crowdfunding event, selling the idea of her new design from a hall in SMU. According to Chan, the live event itself raised S$12,000 in 2.5 hours.

It has raised over S$36,600 as of 3pm on Dec 5.

When asked about why she chose to launch both bags on Kickstarter, Chan said: “Kickstarter is the fastest way for a brand to be recognised globally. A lot of the world sees Singaporeans as followers – get a corporate job, go to work. But we want to defy the norm; we want to show the world that Singaporeans can be creative, innovative and come up with interesting products.”

Chan also added that her relationship with her parents is “much better” now – but they are still not a hundred per cent supportive.

“When I go to work these days, they don’t say much about it (running her own business). They still wish for me to go back to school.”