When she was 14, Ms Charmain Tan wanted to start a business that involved selling some manner of product to her friends. She finally decided on cheesecake, but her businessman father forbade it, citing potential risks. “I think in his mind he knew that running a business is hard work,” she says. “But fortunately or unfortunately, this kid got his genes. My father thinks I’m a workaholic; my parents would prefer it if I had an easier life.”
While it has not been an easy journey so far, one cannot deny that Ms Tan has had an exciting life. Making it to Forbes Asia’s prestigious 30 Under 30 (2019) list — which highlights 30 of the most noteworthy young entrepreneurs across Asia — for Enterprise Technology is no small feat. Having a clear personal motto, "Life is too short to allow for regrets, lets play steward to the talents that God has given us and believe that we can be the best version of ourselves each day is a reminder of who and what I stand for."
As a participant of the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme, she spent her third year in Sweden interning at a listed medical tech company called Episurf. It was here that she met her boss who would become her role model: Ms Nina Bake, the CEO of Episurf, who was just 29 at the time. “Episurf customises implants for cartilage defects, so that instead of going for a total knee replacement, a patient can have their defect measured and have a customised implant. It provides a real-life solution to the real-life problem of osteoporosis; you could see that it had potential to impact lives.” What made it even more inspiring was that Ms Bake did not have a medical background; she was trained in industrial systems engineering. “Working with Episurf allowed me to understand what it means to make the impossible possible,” explains Ms Tan. “My boss was what I desired to be: she had passion to do something of impact and value, and was also fun-loving.” Inspiration in one way
or another also comes in the form of everyone in Ms Tan’s entrepreneurship circle; as they weather through the challenges, constantly seek for growth and use their gains to be a blessing to others.
The year she turned 21, Ms Tan decided to kickstart her first company — in Sweden, no less. “I figured I was far away so my parents couldn’t stop me!” She had learned from all her years at NUS that a business needs to solve a problem. “My problem was I needed to use my iPad and iPhone [in chilly Sweden] without taking off my gloves. So I bought some gloves from Taobao that had conductive tips — these could be used but they were not warm enough. I couldn’t find a solution so I decided to make one.”
She entered ISGloves into a European business plan competition and it was shortlisted. But being new to the industry — and without any background in manufacturing — Ms Tan found her learning curve was steeper, and her competitors faster, than she hoped. ISGloves’ eventual failure taught her an important lesson: mastering sales is paramount in a business like hers and it is what every entrepreneur needs. “I asked myself: what is a problem that I feel for and I want to solve that can help a lot of other people as well? It was the ability to do sales. There are many other things you learn in school, like marketing and product development, but nobody teaches sales strategies,” Ms Tan explains. Bouncing back from her early failure, and armed with invaluable lessons from that experience, Ms Tan started Pear Comms in 2014 with the aim of helping small enterprises handle sales by providing them with QuickDesk, a one-stop online sales platform and sales education resource. Her true passion is in the training end of QuickDesk’s services.
A piece of advice Ms Tan would like to share with young budding entrepreneurs, “Be clear on your WHY before starting the journey. Entrepreneurship is not a bed of roses, but its surely a journey worth undergoing if you are clear of the purpose”.
Though she seems to live a charmed life, Ms Tan faced a major setback at the start of 2018, when a case of fraud in the company was detected, and her team left. “The business started with five people. Now I was alone, and I had to make sure our many clients were covered. It was an overwhelming experience,” she admits. She was at the “lowest of lows” at that point, and being a Christian, turned to her faith in that time of crisis. “I was in Israel, looking down on the Promised Land, when the fraud was cleared,” Ms Tan recalls. The lesson she learned from that experience was never to go back on her principles. “Make money with the right values and it will last and grow,” she affirms.
Ms Tan’s interpretation of Living Life Fearlessly;
By human nature, many of us will have different fears. For me, I fear failure (since success matters to me), I fear being alone (especially since I don't have a cofounder), I fear living a life of regret when I don't be the best version of myself. As I write this response to u, it's also a clear reminder, that what's there to fear failure when failure is part of the process to achieve success. What's there to fear being alone when I have a team, community and family cheering me on. With that said, living a life fearlessly is therefore embracing challenges, embracing possibilities of failures, embracing support defined beyond having a cofounder.