Elim studied hair dressing in UK and opened her first business, a salon, 27 years ago. She started by serving her customers who were interested in the fashion accessories she wore. This triggered her to open her first retail outlet, the 77th Streets in 1988. She and her team has grown 77th Streets from the first shop in Far East Plaza to multiple retail outlets throughout Singapore, and also expanded in building youth shopping mall in Xidan, Beijing. She now owns multiple businesses in different area such as start-up with Fast Fast Delivery, restaurant with I’m Kim Korean BBQ and Kokomama International food marketplace.
What amazed me, despite her busy schedule, running multiple businesses, she is also known for her passion in both youth and social entrepreneurship. She is involved in various committees and boards such as SCAPE youth community space, ACE Action for Community for Entrepreneurship of Ministry of Trade and Industry, Entrepreneurship Committee at NUS and many more. She is recognized and has been named as “Most Promising Woman Entrepreneur of the Year”, “Mont Blanc Businesswomen Award”, “Young Woman Achiever Award” and many more awards.
I started knowing her about one or two years ago when a friend tagged Elim on facebook. Then I started to know about 77th Street. Another friend tagged Elim on his facebook post at I’m Kim. I started to get really curious. In October, I received email from NUS which informed that U@live will feature Ms Elim Chew on 11 November 2015. I immediately signed up for the talk. It was a time well spent. Check the recording link below on the reference list.
I reached out to her and really appreciate that she agreed to spend her precious time to meet me. This is my conversation on overcoming challenges and social entrepreneurship with the one and only Ms. Elim Chew at Kokomama on 2nd December 2015.
Her passion to help other people really shown, as soon as she arrived at Kokomama, a group of youth immediately greeted her, she was immediately involved in a discussion with them. After she finished her discussion, she approached me and asked me “What should I help you with?” She caught me by surprise. I really didn’t prepare for this question. I was grateful enough to have a chat with her, yet she get directly to the point how can she help me.
Here are few learning points I compiled from my conversation with Elim.
- Have plan and don’t leave anything to a chance.
I prepared for this interview by reading as much I could about Elim from the internet and attended her talk at U@live. What I lack was that I didn’t have a clear goal what I want to achieve from the interview, I was too excited to have a chat with her. So I prepared a set of questions. But I left few things to chance, for example, perhaps it is better for if I had informed her about my podcast and my intention to record the discussion. We could pick a location which is suitable for good recording. She said I need to have a plan and make use the allocated time, because people might not be able to schedule another time. I should be prepared to seize the moment. I might only get one chance to interview people.
- Don’t give up, especially when you are at the bottom.
Whatever we do, there are always challenges. There always ups and downs. Sometime we face big challenges. What’s important is how we deal and overcome them. “At every bottom of challenges we always think that it is tough, but step by step we always find solution” she told me. Don’t be afraid of big challenge; deal with it step by step. Break down the problem into smaller pieces and deal with it one by one. As we successfully deal with the challenge, we will grow along, be become stronger and wiser, thus the challenge will not seem to be that big any more.
“When you’re in it, the challenges always look bigger. But once you come out of it, then the challenges look small”.
- Team work is important, build a team
No one is alone. When Elim first started her business she didn’t have anyone. Over the time, she has built her own team. She built her team starting up with her mother, and her siblings. These early supporters later became her business advisors. Build the skill to coordinate things and people to make things happen together.
- Build your own advisory board and get advice from people who has done it
As we grow, it is guaranteed that we will face with new challenges which we have never encountered before. We would not have the necessary experience and knowledge to deal and overcome them. This is when we need to reach out to people who has faced the similar challenges and overcome them. “In life if you want to make 1 million, you must find people who make one million to advise you…You don’t go to someone who never make one million to advise you because they’ve never reached there.” Overtime, she expanded the advisory board to include friends and also her pastor for spiritual advisor/life coach. Build our advisory and support team. We can start from people around us like family members and friends then expanded it as to have different advisors for different areas.
We can learn by observing various people who are successful in the area we want to excel. We can model them by identifying and following the good things, things which works.
It is also important to know what you don’t like, things which you should not do or not align with your values.
- Use your unique experience to add value to what we do and other people
“You teach a man to fish you feed him a lifetime. But after man fish, if he eats the same fish every day, it is very tough for him to eat the same fish every day. ” But if we can teach him how to buy, sell, cook and trade the fish … He adds value and he can sell it for a higher price.” One of example of Elim’s initiatives in social entrepreneurship is market place for less advantage people in Vivocity. She convinced Vivocity to provide space for market place during 1st and last weekends of the month. She used her knowledge and expertise in retail industry to help the disadvantage people to sell their handy craft and products. By doing so, she help them earn money and ultimate come out from poverty. Once these people are out from poverty, they will help others and community around them.
- On starting a social enterprise (or anything for that matter)
Elim highlighted important points before starting-up a social enterprise
- Know your customer and how you can help them.
Being passionate is not enough; find out why we want to do something (starting social enterprise) and how you want to do it. Do we know exactly who our “customers” are? For example if we want to start social enterprise for ex-offender. Do we know what they go through, their needs, wants and challenges? Do we know how to console and help them. Sometimes it is not only about them, but also their family.
- Build up and gain experience
Do you have the experience? Do you know somebody who can provide guidance? For example to gain experience in social enterprise, we can start working for one or do volunteering work. Running a social enterprise is not an easy task as we need to manage both the business and social/people challenges.
I also asked her on what are the things she is is currently working on:
- Fast Fast Delivery is instant delivery / courier service. Elim started this business with disadvantages people in mind, i.e. people who is working on start-up, family with medical issues, single moms, retrenched people, etc to join as riders or drivers. This service allows them to have additional income, time flexibility and be their own bosses. Fast Fast also provides values to businesses especially small businesses which typical do not have dedicated delivery team i.e cookie shops, florists, etc.
- Elim Chew TV. It is scheduled to be launched in February 2016. The topics are grouped into three categories: Women, Youth and Experienced people who are creating change.
Thank you all for reading my first interview article. Let me know your feedback on the comment section below. or send me an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. I would like to hear from you:
- What should I improve?
- Who do you want me to interview in the future?
- What burning question you want to get answered?
Until then, keep up the spirit and let’s rebound stronger!
Other References about Elim Chew:
- Elim Chew. Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elim_Chew
- Judith (2015, Oct 24). Elim Chew’s new app aims to have ‘social impact’. The New Paper Online. Retrieved from http://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore-news/earn-money-fastfast-new-courier-service-app
- How 77th Street’s Elim Chew sold UK style to Singapore. BBC News Business. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12010512
- Yap, Wy-Lene (2015, Jan 15). Elim Chew. High Net Worth. Retrieved from http://www.hnworth.com/article/2015/01/15/conversations-with-elim-chew-founder-77th-street-2/
- 2015 Nov U@live featuring Ms Elim Chew. NUScast. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9ro186Jst8.