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Me&MyMoney

Fashioning a social conscience for industry

Young entrepreneur puts valuable lessons from failed first venture to good use in co-founding her fashion app

Fashion app co-founder Emmy Teo has Taiwanese idol dramas to thank for her very first business venture.

Before blogshops got popular in the 2000s, those dramas featuring stars with porcelain skin, impeccable hair and wardrobes were all the rage, so she decided to capitalise on that by selling fashion items online, She was in her early teens then.

Ms Teo, now 29, says: "I was exposed to technology at an early age. I set up my own website, and that project gave me a few thousand dollars a month. It was a one-person operation, and I had to do all the deliveries. It was during my play time, however, so I didn't think it was worth it."


Ms Teo says she and her co-founders at Fashory hope that if and when they achieve success, they would set up factories and schools in Third World countries, to have a direct impact on the supply chain. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

She eventually passed the business to her mother, who "didn't have the flair for the business, as you need to look at what's trending".

Ms Teo decided not to pursue university after graduating from polytechnic with a business IT diploma.

With three co-founders and $10,000 each, she set up Idreamin in 2009 - a kickstarter that raised funds for creative projects - and received a government grant of $50,000.

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A My first start-up. I don't regret it but I realised I didn't understand how the tech business worked, or the revenue model that was needed.

    Without a revenue model, how could we sustain the business?

    We invested all the money from the consultancy in the app. If we had invested in manpower, maybe the business would have lasted longer, but we pumped it back into the tech elements. In 2009, the advisory support or mentorship wasn't that extensive as it was a new industry.

    Q And what has been your best investment move?

    A In terms of value, it's the Hong Kong property. I learnt you have to look out for opportunities and seize them when they come.

    And if you save some money, and can't afford to invest in something that has high risks and high rewards, invest in something low risk. It's better than leaving it in the bank.

    If we're not talking about value, investing in Fashory has been my best move to date, and it will translate into revenue.

    Fashory already reached a $2 million valuation last year.

    Last year,, we got $50,000 from the IDM Jumpstart and Mentor (i.JAM) initiative; $30,000 from accelerator programme SPH Plug and Play, which helped us a lot as it opened up media opportunities, and funding from the Media Development Authority and an angel investor.

    We started getting attention very quickly, and overseas brands started to reach out to us, and we can see the growth will be a lot better than last time.

    We are very clear about our revenue model this time too, and I'm optimistic.

    Rachael Boon

"When you're young and new to this, you leverage on government grants, and we did a lot of research," she said.

The firm grew to take on consulting projects, and was doing well, earning about $50,000 each year until it closed in 2011.

Ms Teo said: "A huge problem was that it wasn't clear how the company was making money. We took on consulting jobs but pumped the money back into the technology and it closed down because we didn't understand the concept of cash flow."

She had to look for a job and found herself in demand, with offers in digital marketing that had monthly salaries of about $7,000.

MEANS TO AN END

The process of getting money needs to be justified in my life. My time is my greatest asset. I want more money, but to do more good.

'' EMMY TEO, Fashion app co-founder

Ms Teo worked for about three years, before she, another Idreamin co-founder, and an early hire of Idreamin came together again in 2014 to set up mobile commerce app Fashory, with an initial capital of $30,000 each this time.

Her siblings have also been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug.

Her sister Faith, 26, is the firm's chief product officer, while her brother Ron, 24, got $50,000 from the National Research Foundation to kickstart an event-based firm.

Fashory picks up on factors such as a user's buying behaviour or browse history to recommend suitable fashion products.

These cost from $100 to $300 each, come from independent designers across Asia, and can be bought directly from the app.

The app went live this month, and is already in the top 10 of the shopping category in the iTunes store. It has a total funding of about $300,000.

She noted that in just one month, Fashory has had 5,000 downloads, and the aim is to get 150,000 users by year-end.

Ms Teo estimates there are 600,000 potential users in their target audience of working female executives aged 26 to 40.

"The top 10 shopping apps are not by a single brand, people go for aggregated apps.

"I see great future in consumer apps, and if our strategy is right, people will be shopping online, but they will transact more via mobile."

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

A I'm not from a well-to-do family, but I did get what I wanted growing up as my parents are very doting. My dad is a general manager in a trade association's investment arm, and my mum a housewife.

Maybe that's why my first business had cash-flow issues, because I didn't need to worry about money when I was younger. If I'd controlled its finances better, maybe it wouldn't have failed.

I'm not a spendthrift or a luxury-loving person. My interests are books, CDs and technology.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A I read a lot - fiction, non-fiction, books about the world and so on.

There're so many that I can't recall but my favourite book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

It's about a small boy who has nothing to lose, and he goes on a journey to find treasure, and learns a lot about taking risks.

After reading that, I told myself that if my life were to be written as a novel, I would want it to be just as interesting.

I learnt that if I wanted to achieve that, I'd have to take risks and also give up some things, like my career.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A I use more of fundamental analysis, reviewing historical and current data to make projections.

I want to understand the investment project's valuation, performance, and predict its probable price evolution.

I also make sure I research a project's management and how internal business decisions are made to calculate its credit risk.

My principle is also not to borrow or take loans when I'm taking risks. In the worst-case scenario, everything I have goes back to zero, and I'm fine with that.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A In Singapore, I am investing in Fashory. Before that, I was the product manager of NHN Singapore, the company that owns Line.

After seven years in the corporate world, I wanted to invest in the fashion space, but I couldn't find anything to fit my interest in the South-east Asian market.

My other investment is a two-bedroom apartment in the Yuen Long area of Hong Kong, because my mum is from Hong Kong and I go there on family and business trips often. It's really convenient for us to stay there. We bought it in 2010 for $300,000 and it is worth at least $1.2 million now. My grandma lives there with my second aunt.

I had some savings during the first year of the first start-up, before the cash-flow issues started.

My parents were against my decision to go into business instead of furthering my studies, so when I started, they made me save with them in a joint bank account.

Hong Kong real estate has always been expensive, but this was not a brand-new property and we got it at a really good price. The downpayment was only about $70,000. In hindsight, if I had not invested in that, I could have helped my first company.

Before we bought it, I asked my mum if she had checked the historical value of property in that area, but I learnt you can't predict the Hong Kong property market.

I knew it was undervalued when we bought it, and it was more of an area for old people. The area was later developed, and now it's hip, with a lot of nice establishments, which helped the property value to rise.

Q What does money mean to you?

A When I was younger, money was used to get stuff, you used it to trade, as a tool, and it seemed to be the root of evil.

Now that I'm older, I have started to see money in a whole new light, that it has the power to help you do more to help more people.

The process of getting money needs to be justified in my life. My time is my greatest asset. I want more money, but to do more good.

For example, for Fashory, we were thinking that if and when we achieve success, we'd set up factories and schools in Third World countries.

A lot of fashion factory workers are being exploited. We want to have a direct impact on the supply chain. We don't have to open lots of factories, it can be achieved on a small scale.

We can invite indie designers to manufacture with us, and give workers better jobs and salaries.

Q What's the most extravagant thing you have done?

A In 2013, my best friend and I were going to Venice from another city. We arrived so late the hotel we'd booked had given up our room.

It was difficult to pick a hotel, and we wanted somewhere bright. We found a nice hotel by the canal. The moment we walked in, I said, no matter how much it cost, we would just stay, otherwise we'd lose face. We didn't know how much it'd cost until the bill came, and it was €1,000 (S$1,550) a night, for two nights. Our original hotel was $300 a night, and I thought the rate for the new hotel would be at most $600. But the convenience was worth it.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A I'm focusing on Fashory. We are at the fund-raising stage, trying to raise $800,000, and we plan to go to Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

If we can roll out the same thing there, and have a local presence, the brands we work with can also reach out to these markets.

We've seen about $7,000 to $9,000 in sales in the first month. By the first quarter of next year, we aim to achieve $500,000 in sales.

Q Home is now...

A A five-room executive Housing Board flat with my parents.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'Fashioning a social conscience for industry'. Print Edition | Subscribe