Me & My Money: Life Goals

An appetite for success

A brush with ill health from overworking and stress led Ms Valerie Chai to a newfound passion for nutrition and health food.

SuperLife founder believes in eating well and being financially strong, investing in healthy foods and a sound investment strategy.

A brush with ill health from overworking and stress led Ms Valerie Chai to a new-found passion in nutrition and health food.

Following her affliction in 2013, she went to the United States for three months to chill, heal and rejuvenate - and while there, she discovered a whole new world of foods with healthy benefits.

After regaining her health and returning to Singapore, Ms Chai, 31, found she was dissatisfied with the quality of health foods here. She was unable to find the same quality quinoa as the ones she consumed in the US, for example.

Quinoa is a vegetable seed in the same family as spinach. It is a pseudo grain that is healthier and lower in calories than brown rice, and it is gluten-free and low in glycemic index.

In 2014, Ms Chai set up SuperLife with two partners and start-up capital of about $200,000 to offer quality, nutritious food.

The initial years were tough as all three partners were not working full-time for SuperLife. Ms Chai was focusing on her education and tuition business, StarCresto Education Group, which she set up in 2007.


Founding director of SuperLife Valerie Chai and her husband Shawn Tan, a global compliance regulatory specialist. While she was on a trip to the United States in 2013 to rejuvenate after a period of poor health, she discovered a whole new world of foods with healthy benefits, and set up SuperLife the following year with two partners. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

When the education firm's business stabilised with 22 tutors, she went full-time into running SuperLife last year. The firm was converted to become the first and only all quinoa company in Asia, with its products sourced from Peru.

"That was when we started developing flavoured quinoa that cooks in two steps and positioned our self as an quinoa expert offering varieties, which are even healthier and tastier than brown rice," says Ms Chai. SuperLife broke even in March this year and expanded into Thailand in June. Collectively, the staff strength in Singapore and Thailand is 16 people.

Ms Chai graduated with a business degree (honours) majoring in consultancy and IT from Nanyang Technological University in 2009. Armed with a love for numbers, she completed her Chartered Financial Analyst programme in 2012, and is pursuing an advanced valuation certification in New York University, Stern Business School.

She is married to Mr Shawn Tan, 32, a global compliance regulatory specialist. They have no children but plan to start a family when she is 35.

 

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A I came from a really poor family and my parents do not believe in investing as they felt that it was too risky. However, I believe that if we work for money, it will be hard to achieve financial freedom and hence we have to let our money work for us.

Since my school days, I have always been interested in finance and investment. I worked very hard from the age of 14, and managed to save up some money. I did not dare to invest in stocks initially, so I started by investing in mutual funds until I was more comfortable.

It is very interesting to watch your money grow and it is always a good lesson too when you make losses. I think a sound investment strategy will definitely make money, and hence my interest grew even more.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A The value of my investment portfolio - including my properties - is a seven-digit figure. Without taking into account my properties, it is about 70 per cent invested in what I call the "safe zone", which includes blue-chip stocks, mutual funds and real estate investment trusts.

The "safe zone" has yielded 12 per cent returns annually on average.

The rest is invested in the "speculative zone", which includes peer-to-peer crowd lending (where you earn interest in return for lending), lending in China, penny stocks, investment in start-ups and my own businesses. The returns are erratic, sometimes negative and at other times, quite substantial. I don't really track it.

I bought a 500 sq ft two-bedroom condo in the Philippines in 2013 for $250,000, and it is rented out at 14 per cent per annum. I am attracted to the growth opportunities, good rental and capital gain yield there. Besides, it came with an interest-free loan for five years.

Over the next 10 years, I plan to buy three to four more condos in countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Japan.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A I started planning for my retirement when I was 25. I have established both my financial and retirement goals. I would like to retire at 35 and start a family then. However, I will continue to keep working because I enjoy it.

By then, I aim to have income flows amounting to $20,000 a month. This will be partly funded by passive income from my investment properties and dividend-paying stocks like the banks and Venture Corp. I also have three retirement insurance plans, one of which will start providing monthly payouts when I turn 35.

I have also started valuing start-ups at the stage before they raise funds. In return, I either get paid via cash and/or a portion of their equity. I intend to spend most of my time valuing start-ups when I retire.

Q What are your top retirement priorities and challenges?

A My top retirement priority is to have peace of mind and not have to worry about whether I will have enough for my family. For me, to live the life that I want means not having to worry about not having enough cash flow or outliving my savings.

To achieve that, I will have both passive cash flows and a lump sum (liquid funds) that I can draw on for emergency needs.

The challenge is to constantly find the right investing strategies that fit my risk preferences, to accumulate enough wealth so as to achieve stable passive income in the future.

Q How much legacy planning have you done?

A I did my will about five years ago after my dad died from a sudden heart attack. It made me realise the importance of a will. Having done my will, it gives me a peace of mind to know that my mother is catered for, in case anything untoward happens to me.

Q I do not drive.....

A As I do not have a licence and I will be a road hazard.

Q Home is now ......

A A 700 sq ft two-bedroom condominium in Bishan, bought about four years ago.

Brought to you by:

Founding director of SuperLife Valerie Chai and her husband Shawn Tan, a global compliance regulatory specialist. While she was on a trip to the United States in 2013 to rejuvenate after a period of poor health, she discovered a whole new world of fo

This is the first of a four-part Me & My Money: Life Goals series, which highlights the financial goals and retirement approach of entrepreneur Valerie Chai. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 12, 2017, with the headline 'Me&MyMoney: LifeGoals An appetite for success'. Print Edition | Subscribe