Interview with Michelle Chuah, model and founder of Supermodels Secrets
BEAM11 Feb, 2018
From a modelling career to an accidental blog shop that turned into an international e-commerce business, Michelle bootstrapped her entire company into what it is today.
Our team recently had the opportunity of catching up with Michelle for a quick chat on her journey.
Below is our interview with her.
1) What is SuperModels Secrets about and how did you get started? What was the primary driver for starting this whole venture?
Supermodels Secrets helps women (and men) look good from head to toe without surgery. We’re an e-commerce store delivering beauty to the local as well as international markets.
Supermodels Secrets was started by accident, by my personal beauty secrets. Back in my modelling days I came to realise that in modelling, my friends and I needed to use items to help us look good on camera. Many of these items were pretty difficult to obtain. One day , a month prior to my international modelling shoot, I lost these beauty enhancers, and could not find them in local malls. After continuous searching, I eventually found a seller - a factory based in China with a minimum order of 1000 units.
I decided to buy it and used 2 for my photoshoot and found ways to sell the rest off via an online blog called "Supermodels Secrets". The rest as they say, is history.
2) You bootstrapped your business all the way to what it is today. What was it like in the early days?
The early days were tough as I started this company with a small capital comprising of my personal savings. Thankfully we broke even in the first month and started to see profits thereafter.
However, I decided to roll back whatever income we made into the company for further growth, and only took a meagre salary for the first 3 years. It eventually paid off though.
3) Were there many obstacles when starting out? What were some of them? Which were the biggest challenges?
Yes there were many obstacles indeed.
The main ones were managing people. I’m not skilled in HR as I’m more of strategic/marketing person.
Also in the initial stages, I had to wear many hats - from Operations, customer service, self modelling, videography, Marketing, Designing, accounting, sourcing - in the first 6 months before hiring a team.
Work was really hectic during this period too.
4) Do you feel that it’s more difficult succeeding in business as a lady in the industry? What were some of the major setbacks you faced?
To a certain extent, it does become difficult at times, especially when it comes to being in the public eye. For instance - when I was invited to do seminars/talks to business owners comprised of mostly men, and pitching to investors, I wasn’t taken seriously.
In the beginning it wasn’t easy to communicate the value that Supermodels Secrets was bringing to the table. However over time as Supermodels Secrets performed well, and as our credibility has been built over the years, things became easier and people became more receptive.
5) What’s your management/leadership style?
My management style is pretty hands on - a hybrid of democratic and coaching style.
I like to coach my team until they are proficient in what they do and eventually delegating them authority to make more major decisions as they are more familiar.
6) There are many new technology startups coming up today, some raise millions of dollars and grow quicker than traditional businesses. What’re your thoughts on this?
I believe new tech businesses raising funds for their business has both pros and cons. The pros are that if the business has solid fundamentals, roadmap, team, product/prototype, going through the investor route will help scale much faster than they could on their own.
However if the business does not have a clear roadmap, solid team/product and cashflow, this may have the opposite effect on the business.
I personally believe that it is very important to have healthy cashflow first before taking on investment for further growth as this lessens the risk of burning cash.
7) What’re is your advice/tips for newer entrepreneurs that are starting out?
Do not put all your eggs in one basket. For instance, we don’t sell on only one channel. When relying on one channel, the business could potentially go down easily if the channel collapses.
Hence, besides our website www.supermodelmy.com, we also sell on lazada, ebay , amazon, 11st and we have resellers across Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.
In case one of the channels does not work out or collapses, our products are still available via other channels and sales will not take a huge hit.
8) What do you hope to change/impact in Malaysia in the long term? What’s next for you/your venture?
I hope that what we’ve achieved for Supermodels Secrets can give other women the confidence to start businesses on their own.
Not just by example, but we’ve actually set up a dropship/reseller program that gives people the tools and resources to do so.
Our dropsip/reseller program requires no capital and provides opportunity for women to own their own business with no risk. All they need to do is promote and get paid. All marketing resources and training are provided.
Our next venture is to grow our dropship/reseller program to more SEA countries to empower more women out there to have a decent source of income.