“There were so many times I wanted to throw in the towel and be like everyone else – go to university, get a degree and get a job. But I didn’t because of the promise I had made to myself.” – Mandy, co-founder of BOW.
Kickstarter has been the launcher of many successful brands. Every now and then arises a product so innovative that it simply lights up the media. I should know, I’ve contributed.
We celebrate the successes, thinking “damn, they are really amazing.” Lucky even, for having succeeded where others have failed.
But then we forget about the tears, and we forget about the sweat.
We overlook the raw desperation these individuals had to endure to reach the spotlight.
So today, we’re telling a different story.
This is the 365-day long journey of the suffering that shadows the success of Mandy Chan and CK Koh.
The Initial Meeting
Mandy and CK are the co-founders of Quiver, whose campaign was 100% funded within 3 days. Now, the campaign is enjoying a 350% funding with time to go.
For Mandy, her journey began 2 years ago at 19, when she took a leap of faith to create something of her own.
“I knew next to nothing about creating products, so while my peers were enjoying their pre-university break, I was knee-deep in marketing materials and pitching to startups I had interned at.”
When her time was up, Mandy had to indicate her acceptance for university, but it was a choice that plagued her.
“University was a tried and tested path, a no brainer,” she says, “but something felt amiss”.
Mandy describes the next decision as the toughest ever, one exacerbated by the lack of support from her traditional parents.
But in the end she figured, “what’s the worst that could happen?”
Biting the bullet, this 19-old did what many of us would have balked at. She took a gap year to pursue entrepreneurship full-time, and it was a decision that would come back to haunt her many times after.
Meanwhile, Mandy had also found her co-founder CK through her mentor, Ken Oh, director of Advo Pte Ltd.
The designer and brains behind the branding, CK describes his first meeting with her as “skeptical”.
Like her, CK was not new to startups. The founder of 2 ventures, CK came into BOW heavily scarred. His first venture had left him with a 6-figure debt, and the second collapsed when the partnership did.
What he got out of the experience was lost friendships, lost time and disrespect from those who thought lowly of his age then (22).
“After that, I was done. I found a job at a great company with people who welcomed me. It was fun to have a team again – something I missed when I was fighting alone.”
But like her, he too felt something wrong – and the feeling led him to come onboard with this female 7 years his junior.
The Start Of Tribulations
They began prototyping, she says, but there were no real results. For customer research, Mandy buried her fears and stood on the streets and bus stops, survey forms in hand.
“I remember my hands trembling,” she recollects. “And when the opinions came back negative, talk about a double heartbreak.”
People kept questioning their motivations, CK shared, insisting that it wouldn’t work.
“What made it even more painful was that these people were the ones I consider my pillars of support. Resilience is something I acquired, but at times it was simply demoralising.”
The pair plowed on, spending sleepless nights laying the foundations of the business, all so that they could bring it to market in the shortest time.
If anything, CK added candidly that consecutive sleepless nights taught him that “age was catching up!”
“Honestly that’s definitely something fun about a startup.”
Meanwhile, Mandy started venturing into China alone in search of factories.
It was her first time travelling alone, she says, and it was a traumatising experience. Train rides were 14-hours long, and she was caught in cabins with 5 strange men.
The fear in her voice is palpable as she recalls how she was terrified for her safety. It was a bone-deep fear that kept her awake throughout the exhausting journeys.
When she travelled with CK, it became easier, but the days that passed were a test of resilience and the ability to budget.
“We took into account every single cent,” says CK, “maximising hotel breakfasts as we would only eat next for dinner.”
“And once when we ran out of money, we picked coins from the floor.”
As they faced rejection after rejection, doubters and ruthless businessmen who took advantage of them, the duo came to a realisation.
“We could only depend on ourselves to ensure the success of BOW.”
Failure At The 11th Hour
By month 11, they had just about lost everything. Having spent $20k and all their savings, the end result was a bag people didn’t even want.
CK was engaged and expecting a BTO. With this failure, he talks about how the doubts began manifesting. They didn’t need a life of luxury, but he questioned his ability to even provide for his fiancée.
For Mandy, the depression kicked in and she decided to forfeit the plan.
“It was so painful I cooped myself up in my room and cried for several days. The vision of the bag taking off had become a blurry image again.”
“There were so many times I had wanted to throw in the towel and be like everyone else,” she recalls. “But I didn’t because of the promise I had made to myself. So I rubbed off my tears and became more driven than before.”
“I must make it. I had to.”
The Mentor Ultimatum
The breakthrough came for them, quite literally, at the eleventh hour. In month 12 of her gap year, Mandy and CK finally had something tangible.
Holding the product was a surreal experience, “far greater than any As I had scored,” she says.
That was when their mentor Ken Oh decided to propose a deal. Receive $5000 if they made 1000 sales in 2 months, or pay him $2500 if they failed.
“I must not have slept well the night before,” she laughs. “Because I accepted it without hesitation.”
So began the most exciting and desperate time of her life, as the pair took their “Sweat Bag” to the streets, gyms and exhibitions. They even began pyramid scheme-like behaviour of going down contact lists.
“That last one didn’t turn out that well but my friends eventually helped because they saw my effort.”
Their first supporter came in the form of Andrea Bell, Director of Anytime Fitness Singapore.
“Despite our shaky product demo and incomplete prototypes, she believed in our visions as strongly as we did. Even now, we are grateful to have her as partner and friend.”
Meanwhile, being close the ground allowed them to adapt and refine their prototype. They spent 3 months revisiting factories but this time, tears were mingled with laughter.
“It was no longer about proving other people wrong. It was about doing it because I really liked it.”
The Quiver doesn’t represent the end of BOW startup journey, and the future remains uncertain.
A nod to being bold, CK reflects how the their tagline #BOWforBold represents an enduring perseverance, no matter what obstacles arise.
“It’s also a reminder that being bold brings tribulations, but also the reward will be that much sweeter.”
Featured Image Credit: Stella Auw