Running a business of our own is a topic commonly spoken about enthusiastically within our closest circles as we try to come out on top of the proverbial rat race in Singapore. Yet, it’s the many hurdles, risks, and costs of actually doing it that commonly worries us. Speaking to the dynamic duo behind Aesthetic & Co, we find out just what it’s like to start-up multiple enterprises in Singapore, and how they’ve journeyed from running a digital agency to building a wellness and beauty brand.
Could you share more about the different backgrounds that you both come from? And how this working relationship was formed?
Steve (S): I was doing marketing in the mainstream media industry for many years. So throughout my time handling projects, owning content, and servicing clients, I realized that the platforms we used to deal with were only helpful to brands working on a bigger scale. What we did wasn’t really helping SMEs. Wanting to do something about that, I started looking out for change, and that’s when this opportunity to run a digital agency with Gene came up.
Gene (G): I started out in financial services and managing my own businesses. Along the way, I was fortunate enough to get a chance to see how modern ads work and I was intrigued. I knew Marketing was always a key factor in different business roles, and this opportunity really opened my eyes to how proper, targeted ads can rope in instant results. That’s when I decided to really expand and capitalise on what I saw. The best part about new digital marketing strategies is how we don’t always have to rely on big budgets to witness substantial returns. It saves time and cost – meaning even small brands can come onboard and benefit from it.
What prompted the leap to start-up a digital marketing consultancy?
S: There was a gap to fill. Previously, we could be getting securing budget from clients to run ads and campaigns, but it’s hard to tell when these campaigns were actually effective. I eventually realised that it’s not about clients and their brief; they were simply not getting what they need to receive with their money. I felt that they could have achieved the same results for lesser.
G: The notion to just rely on running online ads was not widely adopted back then, but I felt that it’s something really beneficial and wanted to champion a new method forward.
What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to managing more than one business?
S: It’s the diversity that comes with it. Although diversity is interesting and more than welcome, we don’t get to be at just one place and space at any given time throughout our daily lives. In that sense, we don’t have the privilege of focused moments. We really have to juggle everything that’s happening every day – we could be representing the marketing agency at one moment, then entertaining a customer at the next or dealing with unexpected issues on the retail side.
What inspired the move into the beauty and skincare industry with Aesthetic & Co?
G: It was by chance, to be honest. It started with some of our clients whom we’ve built a successful and pleasant relationship with. Happy with the results of our work together, and after a few introductions and referrals to their own partners, they decided to rope us in when they came together to start a new brand. So one thing led to another and we eventually took up an opportunity to buy the business over.
Relatively new to the industry, what were the biggest difficulties you faced?
S: I think the biggest challenge most people in this industry face is finding quality people and hiring skilled staff. Customers will follow skilled therapists, and these skills are scarce now. Not many locals are interested in this line of work as well, so we’ll have to think about the requirements and levy costs even when hiring foreigners. When we finally do meet those that are very skilled and experience, we still have to find ways to convince them to work or collaborate with us.
For our readers aspiring to become entrepreneurs themselves: if you had known what you knew now, what steps would you have taken back then?
G: For me, I think I would have wanted to work in an agency first. That way, the learning curve and time spent would have been shorter – a lot of mistakes along the way could also have been avoided. So my advice would be to work somewhere for a substantial period and try to learn the ropes first.
S: I would probably come up with an even more elaborate plan. Planning from the start is very important. Making the right calculations involve finding out what to expect, how long we can realistically last, and preparing to face the worst situations that could happen. Such planning will push us to ask, learn, and find out more about things that are essential to making sure we don’t fail.
We understand your salon at Far East Plaza is shaking things up with a lush private experience, what do you think is the next step for the haircare and grooming market in Singapore?
S: I think the element of personalisation and being relatable is of the essence. That’s also what we do at our salon. We spend time understanding and building camaraderie with every client so we can produce the vision that they see for themselves. That sort of empathy and communication is what will draw clients back as well.
G: I think contemporary grooming businesses will have to start developing their own differentiators. Modern haircare and grooming is not just about entering a space just to trim our hair like everywhere else anymore. They’ll have to present unique and differentiated grooming services to carve a spot for themselves amongst the current generation.
Individually, what would both of you say is most important for generating revenue and developing a successful business?
S: I would say to have an actual Unique Selling Point. When I say that, I do mean a literal USP that wouldn’t appear in another business’s search terms on Google. So I guess I’d say actually understanding what’s unique about your business as well.
G: For me, it’s about securing a stream of incoming customers. And I would do that through identifying what sells for your chosen market and amplifying it – so my keyword is amplification.
To find out more about Aesthetic & Co and their amazing array of services, check out their website here.