Entrepreneur

This S’porean Youth Started Her Biz At 19 Despite Many Setbacks - Now Her Bags Are Sold Out In Hours

Many of you may have heard of the 21-year-old Singaporean girl who managed to hit her Kickstarter goal in just three days.

Mandy Chan, founder of multi-bag company, Bow, launched the first Quiver bag on crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, on 27 April 2017 and were fully funded by 1 May that same year.

Bow launched their second Kickstarter campaign on 23 November 2018 for the Quiver X bag, dubbed as the “ultimate 3-in-1 everyday backpack”.

An update on 24 November 2018 read, “6 Hours. 90% Funded. Say whaaaaat?”

Quiver X reached 100% funding in 12 hours!

This is probably a stunning record for a Singaporean Kickstarter – but for the now-23-year-old Mandy, her journey as an entrepreneur was filled with plenty of discouragement and doubt – like some of the youths who shared at the National Youth Council’s Youth Conversations.

They’ve also faced the dilemma of choosing between pursuing their own passions or meeting family’s expectations.

Parents Cut Her Off Financially

mandy chan bow
Image Credit: Mandy Chan

“The concept for Bow started when I went to work. I noticed that I was carrying multiple bags for different purposes, and Bow came about simply because I wanted to solve my own problems,” said Mandy.

“The design of the bag, Quiver, was inspired by the many types of lifestyles individuals are leading these days.”

When she established Bow in June 2016, she set out with the determination to forge her own path and to work with the people she admires.

This is despite her lack of experience in running a business and her almost-zero knowledge in business.

So when she graduated from Victoria Junior College (VJC) in 2014, Mandy decided to take a gap year to start up.

“I’ve always wanted to start my own business but I just didn’t know what idea I wanted to work on. Hence, it was a great match since it was a personal problem that not only I faced but many others,” she told us.

But her parents, who had hoped she would go to university, were so against it they cut her off financially.

“My relationship with them was strained when I decided to take the gap year at 19 years old instead of heading to university like the rest of my peers,” Mandy said.

“They did not believe that people would buy the bags when I first sold them at $40 but I soon realised they were not my target audience!”

quiver kickstarter
GIF Credit: Quiver Kickstarter

But how was she able to start a business as a college graduate fresh out of school?

But she bit the bullet, sharing with us that she did copywriting for a marketing agency, IT sales for a software company, and also gave tuition to children to power through financially.

The income earned from these jobs were used for travelling to meet manufacturers in China, as well as to make product samples.

“I also had an online preorder campaign on my own personal Facebook account where I gave $10 discount to people who ordered the bags before they were even manufactured,” she said.

Early Struggles And Failures

mandy chan bow
Image Credit: Mandy Chan

In Bow’s early days, Mandy had onboarded many of her friends who worked for no pay, based on the promise of a “bright vision” that she planned for them.

“Soon after, I realised that things were not so simple with managing manufacturing cost, marketing costs, etc. – which were all firsts for me,” she recalled.

“Having to sieve out core members from the horde who could survive with no/low pay and have a high level of commitment was a struggle.”

She also said that finding manufacturers was a challenge because she had no connections or contacts in the industry.

Add to that, she was often dismissed by manufacturers who found them too young.

The Chinese manufacturers quoted them incredulous rates and snobbishly turned them down unless they had a business plan.

Besides learning to negotiate, she did everything from logistics to accounts.

quiver kickstarter
GIF Credit: Quiver X Kickstarter

She had persevered “for 11 months in the prototyping lab without seeing any real results”.

“And no one wanted it,” she said.

“I had to travel to China in search of overseas factories, going on 14-hour train rides stuck in a cabin with five other men.”

Recounting an incident she had when she returned to Singapore, prototype in hand, “I had to head down to the streets and public bus stops alone, seeking validation from strangers about my obscure ideas.”

The prototype Mandy showed them was a bag that had wheels, she told us.

Some people she surveyed said it was a good idea, but they hesitated when she asked if they would buy or use it.

Others told her it was impractical for everyday use, Mandy recalled.

“One uncle who was decked in designer from top to toe even told me that dreams are useless and I should just go back to studying,” she shared with us.

“I felt really rejected from the whole experience but I knew I had to get a good sample for accurate feedback so I dragged myself to Raffles Place day after day to do that.”

Mandy had almost given up so many times on Bow to go on the path her parents initially wanted her to go.

At one time, she became so obsessed about working and neglected her health that she almost had to be hospitalised.

Her breaking point came when a man she surveyed told her that it was a waste of her time.

She went home and cried, but decided to collect herself and do her best.

To get better at accepting rejections, she reached out to insurance agents to learn how to handle them.

In the last month of her gap year – after about 18 long months – her first product was made and all her hard work finally paid off.

Acceptance And Growth

mandy chan bow
Image Credit: Mandy Chan

Now, the key business challenges Mandy tackles include finding manpower to execute on the “exciting plans” they are planning for, and balancing inventory management with sufficient cashflow for the growth of the business.

As she reminisces on her journey so far, she’s grateful to her mentor, Ken Oh, her friends, and her ex-boyfriend.

Bow has sold more than 10,000 bags to date and they have grown two to three times their revenue year-on-year.

Quiver bags have been shipped to customers in more than 26 countries and they have raised more than $130,000 through crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter.

Mandy revealed that they are grossing near to half a million dollar in sales at the moment.

quiver kickstarter
Image Credit: Bow

Mandy’s conviction shone through when she decided to continue working on Bow despite starting school and refusing to give it up.

Thanks to the flexible curriculum at her university, she’d go to school three days a week and spend the other days working.

Her parents came around to support her when they saw that she was serious about making Bow work and that she wasn’t just acting on a whim.

“The most surprising thing was when they were even more eager than me when tracking our [day-on-day] Kickstarter progress in our first campaign,” she recounted.

“[They] tracked the page every few hours for the [entire] duration of the campaign!”

Mandy hopes to create more products that will let people live boldly, living up to their philosophy: Bow for Bold.

quiver kickstarter
GIF Credit: Quiver X Kickstarter

The success of Bow comes as no accident – it’s the result of her hard work, sweat, grit, and determination.

In hindsight, Mandy thinks her parents were so against her entrepreneurial endeavour because they were concerned about her future and wanted her to focus on her studies.

Beyond that, they also wanted to protect her from the pain of failure, something that most entrepreneurs will face.

“For the first time in my life, I felt they were proud of what I was doing. I felt relieved because no matter what we think, we still care about what our parents feel about us,” Mandy told us with a smile.

If Mandy had held back on her ambition to succeed or let her failures go to her head, Bow wouldn’t be where it is today.

Her advice to young entrepreneurs and other youths out there: “Take that leap of faith and be bold towards your dreams! After all, what’s the worst that can happen?”

Mandy is one of the many youths who took a journey less travelled to pursue their dreams. Unfazed by initial challenges and becoming more accepting to rejections, Mandy’s hard work and perseverance led her to where she is today.

Many other youths, like Mandy, shared about their journey to success through the Youth Conversations. Find out more here.

This article was brought to you by the National Youth Council of Singapore.

Featured Image Credit: Mandy Chan, Bow

 

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