Me & My Money

Founder of company with cult following acted on his dream

Allies of Skin founder Nicholas Travis knew if he wanted to be financially independent and make millions, working for someone else was not an option.
Allies of Skin founder Nicolas Travis knew if he wanted to be financially independent and make millions, working for someone else was not an option.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

After funding his education with part-time work, he took the plunge to start own firm

Waiting on customers in a deli at 16 years of age was how entrepreneur Nicolas Travis earned his keep, but it also taught him some valuable lessons he has used down the road.

The job was certainly as good a place as any for someone who calls himself an independent soul, and who always knew he would start his own business some day.

School holidays and weekends were spent on part-time jobs, with most of the earnings going straight into a savings account.

But Mr Travis, 29, realised that for all his hard work, if he wanted to be financially independent and make millions, working for someone else was not an option.

He went on to get a degree in biomedical science and pharmaceutical science from Bradford University, and later a master's in international business from Grenoble Graduate School of Business, often paying for his own education through part-time work.

Four years ago, Mr Travis, a Singaporean, decided to act on his dream of working for himself, and took the plunge to start his own firm.

Now his skincare product line Allies of Skin has a cult following and three internationally successful products with exposure to big retailers like Bloomingdale's in the United States, Joyce in Hong Kong, and online retailers like Net-A-Porter. In Singapore, the products have found their way onto the shelves of retailers like Sephora.

STRIKING A BALANCE

Since I started investing at a relatively young age, my risk tolerance was on the higher side. But I was also prudent whenever necessary. It was a tough balance.

MR NICOLAS TRAVIS, on his investment strategy.

His hard work received international recognition when Mr Travis made it to the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list for this year under the retail and commerce category.

Q Moneywise, how were your growing-up years?

A Mine was not a traditional family set-up. My middle-class parents got divorced when I was in secondary school, but I had grown up with my nanny's family since I was three months old.

So I was always on my own. There was an independent streak in me, yearning to achieve something I could be proud of, not wanting to ask anything from anyone. I took up part-time jobs in my teenage years for some financial independence.

I saved more than I spent, because I had to put myself through university and so I always knew I needed to have something set aside and see that grow. So although money was not very tight, I was always looking for ways to fend for myself. All my temptations to spend as a teenager were balanced by these realities of life. I am made of practical stuff.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A My investment journey started very early in life, right from the time I started my first part-time job. I was saving everything I could since I wanted to pay for my own higher education.

At 19, I had this great internship stint in the US where I was paid US$25 an hour to work for the tech-fulfilment start-up of a friend.

If I worked overtime, they paid me double. So I was always at work, and always busy, earning as much as I could.

During those days, I saved every single cent possible. By the time I was done with my internship, I had a good five-figure sum set aside.

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What has been your best investment decision?

    A My company Allies of Skin. The money I set aside years ago helped to fund the initial phase. We went global with three products.

    Within our first eight months, we established a physical retail presence in 47 stores across nine countries. We will expand to 145 stores and add five new countries in the next 12 months.

    We are the first Singaporean beauty brand to be stocked at Net-A-Porter, Mr Porter, Barneys, Space NK, Bloomingdale's, Anthropologie and Joyce. We are on track to grow by more than 300 per cent in the next year.

    Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A I had a phase when I thought I should invest in a good wardrobe. I bought a whole bunch of designer clothes which I thought I was going to keep forever, but I ended up outgrowing most of them.

    In hindsight, it would have been way more prudent to put that money in a mutual fund and enrol in automatic investment every month.

    I haven't shopped for clothes in a long time.

    It's this weakness for beautiful shoes and beautiful clothes that made me get into investments in the first place. I had to lock up my funds to save myself from splurging.

After I graduated, I came back to Singapore and began freelancing as a fashion writer and blogger. I wrote advertorials and marketing material for brands, had my own blog through which I was making money, and again saved as much as I could to increase my savings. I was saving $400 to $500 each month in those days. That's how I saved for my master's degree.

I also knew that if I had easy access to the money I earned, it would be spent on unnecessary things. So the best way was to lock it up in good investments.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A Since I started investing at a relatively young age, my risk tolerance was on the higher side. But I was also prudent whenever necessary. It was a tough balance.

Back in those days, I bought stocks from the oil industry like IOC and Suncor Energy, and technology stocks like Apple (although they were too expensive, so I did not have too many of those). I also preferred putting my money in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) which would give me a wider range of sectors to invest my money in.

Eighty-five per cent of my savings was invested in ETFs, which included banking, commodities, telco and healthcare sectors.

But I was an analytical investor and preferred to do my own research.

I got myself a professional fund manager who would buy and sell the funds for me. China was my most favoured market, where I put 45 per cent of funds, followed by Asia-Pacific (30 per cent) and Latin America (25 per cent).

As a young risk-taker, I used all my savings to invest in the market, because I figured I had nothing to lose, and could always start all over. By the time I was 25, my five-figure sum had grown 30 to 40 per cent to a six-figure amount.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A Right now, I have liquidated 95 per cent of my portfolio to bootstrap my company Allies of Skin, which holds all my funds. I used up my savings and investments and borrowed money from my siblings to fund my company in 2013.

So my portfolio, in large part, comprises my company. It has a paid-up capital of $250,000, and in the last 12 months, its revenue has been $700,000. We are planning to introduce four more products in the market and expecting more than 300 per cent growth this year.

Whatever little I have left in the markets is in the form of dividend-yielding equities like Singtel. I still do save a portion of my salary.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A My goal now is to save for my first property so I'm currently focused on building up my cash reserve. I put aside 30 per cent of the salary I get from my company each month for a rainy day in the future.

I believe it is healthy to have an emergency fund (that can last) for up to six months to a year.

Q What does money mean to you?

A It represents freedom and the ability to make things happen. I believe in playing by one's own rules in life and money helps you do that.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A I love what I do so it does not feel like work, and I do not ever want to stop. Retirement is a very foreign concept to me at this point in time. My focus right now is to grow my company and take it as far as I can.

Q Home is now..

A A rented apartment in Lavender. But the aim is to own a condominium some day.

Q I drive..

A I rely on Uber and Grab to get me around every day.


Correction note: This article was updated to correct the spelling of Mr Nicolas Travis' name. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'Founder of company with cult following acted on his dream'. Print Edition | Subscribe