Singaporean Entrepreneurs Below 35
For most of us, our 30s are when we just start to find our footing in life — paying bills, a stable job, a new home. These individuals, however, have spent their young adulthood grinding for their companies and careers, while fulfilling their passions.
From the CEO of Ninja Van to the COO of Style Theory, here’s a list of Singaporeans who’ve honed their entrepreneurial spirit to create brands and careers that are not only successful, but awe-inspiring as well — and all before they’ve hit the age of 35.
1. Ian Ang, 29 – Secretlab
Ian Ang went from being a university dropout to the co-founder of Secretlab, a company that’s been valued at a whopping $200 to $300 million in 2020. Gamers are no strangers to the brand, which is known for its gaming chairs and other related equipment.
The 29-year-old went from waking up at 3am on school nights to play video games to now working with the likes of HBO and other entertainment powerhouses. Secretlab has also become the go-to for themed gaming chairs, partnering with Game Of Thrones, League of Legends and even AAPE. Their comfy chairs help to support gamers and those in similar professions, for the considerable amount of time they spend seated.
Ian has definitely proven that there’s no harm in going after one’s passion — for him, that was gaming. He quit University at the young age of 22 and with his business partner Alaric Choo, put together Secretlab from the ground up. Equipped with a strong innovative spirit while constantly working to improve, he’s definitely a prime example of how school certifications aren’t everything.
Ian Ang is also currently the youngest winner of Singapore’s EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Consumer Products, which he was named in 2020.
2. Magdalene Chan, 29 – Her Velvet Vase
The 29-year-old founded Her Velvet Vase (HVV) alongside her older sister in 2007, when she was just 15 years old. Starting a clothing brand as a teenager is hard enough, so being able to drive HVV to where it is today is simply impressive. The brand’s Instagram account has a following of over 77K, where the brand focuses on creating inspiring pieces of clothing that elevate women. In 2015, Glamour Magazine shared that the brand sold nearly 3,000 garments a week and now have an outlet all the way in New York.
Fun fact: ‘Mag’ and her sister Clare Chan started the brand with only $5,000. Just look how far they’ve come – from being one of the first local online stores to being designers known globally.
3. Grace Ciao, 29 – Grace Ciao Illustration
If you’re into designer products, the name Grace Ciao might ring a bell. The fashion illustrator and artist is known for her inimitable use of real florals and watercolours in her captivating creations — the signature artistic style termed “Bloom Belles”.
The 29-year-old has worked with designers like Chanel, Christian Dior, Bulgari and many other brands to contrive fresh designs for their products. The talented artist now has over 79k followers on Instagram, which also documents her daily doodles and cleverly-edited pictures.
From being told to throw herself into her studies instead of art, to getting noticed by Jaeger-LeCoultre, a wristwatch company in 2014, she was able to leave her degree behind and pursue art completely.
She is currently the founder of her very own studio where she makes personalised items with her drawings including totes and custom character sketches you can have framed up.
She’s even made it onto the Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ list for Asia 2021 due to her impression on the art industry and range of elite clientele. The next time your parents tell you that art isn’t a job, just show them Grace Ciao’s profile.
4. Joel Leong, 33 – ShopBack
Singaporeans ironically love shopping and saving money. Joel Leong is the co-founder of ShopBack, the app that lets you feel a little less guilty about your spending habits. ShopBack is the product of his partnership with Henry Chan, who he met while working in Zalora.
While today he’s become a success, that is not how ShopBack started out. Spending months tinkering with the model and concept, he had to be able to convince not just investors, but customers too, that the app was worth using. This meant painstakingly studying data and constantly making changes — over and over again.
Imagine just the amount of time and energy needed to keep reassessing the framework, making sure that the concept would keep profiting in the long run.
With gumption and the desire to succeed, he pushed through and now, the company is used by over 13 million people in several different countries, with over US$70 million having been rewarded out. If anything, it’s evident that ShopBack’s tour de force was only possible with commitment and a whole lot of elbow grease.
5. Rachel Lim, 33 – Love, Bonito
I’m sure you would be familiar with the locally-loved brand, Love, Bonito. The face behind the brand is none other than the passionate Rachel Lim. Alongside Viola and Velda Tan, she founded the now multi-million dollar fashion house that began as a simple second-hand clothing blog shop.
In her youth, she dropped out of school, had to find money to pay off a bond worth five figures and struggled financially with her mother working 2 jobs to support the family — yet, she managed to put together Love, Bonito at the same time.
Known once upon a time as BonitoChico, Love, Bonito was groomed to where it is today when the friends ran out of second-hand clothing to sell. Scraping together what little money they had, they pushed their business venture by importing clothing from overseas. However, after realising that imported clothing didn’t quite suit Asian body types, they went the extra mile by creating pieces that would make Asian women embrace their figures.
As someone who went into such a grand venture with no backup plan, it’s clear that sometimes, the right motivation comes along when you’ve got nothing left to lose.
6. Chang Wen Lai, 34 – Ninja Van
You know that company that helps deliver your countless online shopping purchases? Well, you’ve got the CEO of Ninja Van, Chang Wen Lai to thank for that. After leaving a job in banking and starting a clothing line with Boxian Tan and Shaun Chong, he realised that the logistics industry could not keep up with how fast e-commerce was growing. Using the trio’s collective savings, they bought a measly second-hand van to help run a delivery service alongside the clothing company.
Turns out, the clothing industry wasn’t for them and the company gave way, which in hindsight, allowed Chang Wen and his friends to broaden Ninja Van into a large-scale delivery company. In just a few months, he saw the company expand beyond local waters, helping to power South Asia’s logistics infrastructure. Ninja Van now has 20,000 drivers that use technology to provide users with an efficient delivery service.
It’s safe to say that, sometimes, what’s important is knowing the art of letting go. With the company on the road to reaching the billion-dollar mark, Chang Wen definitely exemplifies what a hands-on approach and innovative spirit can achieve.
7. Bertilla Wong, 31 – The Closet Lover
Bertilla Wong and her sister, Brianna Wong, started off with just the hobby of selling clothing on a free platform — modelling, sourcing and taking photos of the clothing all on their own. From a passing idea the then 17-year-old and her older sister had come up with lying in bed, the company was brought to life with the use of their personal savings. That idea now has blossomed into one of Singapore’s highly adored fashion brands, The Closet Lover.
Despite the many challenges that had come with starting a business so young, the now 31-year-old managed to transform a pocket-money booster into a full-fledged business. The Closet Lover now has 8 stores, 4 of which are in Cambodia and Malaysia, along with a whole range of clothing that boasts bold prints and dainty details. This just proves the point that you have to give any idea you have a go – Bertilla is proof that anything could happen.
8. Nicolas Travis, 33 – Allies Of Skin
This 33-year-old is the CEO of not just 1 but 2 skincare companies that are globally known among both men and women. As a teenager, the young entrepreneur struggled with bad acne and with little money or skincare knowledge, his passion for the pursuit of better skincare was sparked.
After finishing up his Master’s thesis, he came up with a business plan to create a skincare line. This plan came to no avail, after being rejected from all the skin-care companies he had applied to. However, it was only after realising that his burning desire to launch his own skincare line could not come with working in advertising, that he took a shot at really giving his ideas a go.
Spending years on planning and research, he finally launched 3 products with money loaned from his family in 2016. That loan definitely was worth every penny because now, his products are stocked in Sephora outlets all over Singapore and numerous other countries. Coming from a place of having no experience in working with skincare and facing countless rejections, he definitely proved that even when things don’t go as planned, you shouldn’t stop dreaming.
9. Shavonne Wong, 30 – Zhiffy Photography and GenV
Shavonne Wong has made her mark in and out of Singapore with her photography skills. This award-winning photographer has worked for the likes of Lancôme and Cosmopolitan, even appearing as a guest photographer for Asia’s Next Top Model.
She picked up photography during a 2-month break, after finishing an internship early, and transformed what was once just a cure for boredom into a skill that’s now globally renowned.
She even developed a technique that allows still images to be animated, also known as ‘Living Stills’, and has partnered with Fstoppers, a photography site in the Big Apple, to share her creations. This talented young artist is also co-founder of Zhiffy Photography and founder of GenV, a virtual modelling agency that comprises animated realistic, human-looking models that is changing the landscape of what it is to be an influencer.
To add to this already extensive list, she also bagged a Gold Award in the Graphis Photography Annual 2015 competition and made it to the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2020.
10. Quek Siu Rui, 33 — Carousell
You’d never think to praise someone for passing up a US$100 million deal but, you’ll have to prepare an applause for Quek Siu Rui who did just that. The founder of a company now worth US$900 million, he made the right call holding on to Carousell when it was still in its infancy stages.
In 2012, with 2 of his Uni buddies, they launched a start-up site and started to see investment offers trickle in just a year later. Carousell now has markets in several countries around Asia and has become the go-to buying and selling site for many Singaporeans.
With millions rolling in, you’d assume making the company grow financially would be his main focus. Contrary to that, Quek is more interested in getting as many people as possible to consider pre-loved items first, before making a purchase. The self-proclaimed geek has the long-term goal of building a prevailing business that means something to as many people as possible — a remarkable attitude that’s gotten him where he is today.
11. Raena Lim, 32 – Style Theory
This self-proclaimed shopaholic is giving fashionistas alike a way to keep their wardrobe refreshed with designer clothing without having to spend too much. Raena Lim is the COO of Style Theory, a company that allows you to pay a fixed fee per month to rent a certain number of designer clothing.
With her partner, Chris Halim, the then 26-year-old sought to find a solution to the familiar sentiment of “I have nothing to wear”. Diving in with zero fashion background, Style Theory has managed to make waves in the fashion industry while discouraging the buy-and-throw culture many are accustomed to. The company started off with just 150 subscribers, 40 labels and about 900 pieces. Now, they have accumulated more than 130,000 subscribers and close to 50,000 pieces of apparel with the addition of 2,000 designer bags in 2020.
The success of the company came with many tireless hours of analysing business models to help ensure the prayers of many women were not only answered, but that Style Theory would also make an impact socially. Now armed with a global reach, Style Theory’s aim is to be more than just a company that rents out clothing, but one that also positively engages its community of subscribers as well.
12. Ding Yao Wong and Jimmy Poh, both 30 – Kydra
Many fitness enthusiasts would know of the brand Kydra, the brainchild of Ding Yao Wong and Jimmy Poh. The gym buddies came up with the idea for the fitness and lifestyle clothing brand after realising that gym shorts available, at the time, had shallow pockets that couldn’t really fit much inside.
Despite not having any background in clothing design, they spent 3 months coming up with a prototype and launched the brand. Not only did their first launch sell out but they also managed to accumulate $100,000 in revenue in the first year alone running the business. The brand’s name itself alludes to the notion of resilience and triumph, two characteristics that have driven the duo to success in such a short period of time.
Jimmy shared in an interview how many individuals have the tendency to speak out about problems without seeking solutions, so the pair asked around and decided to find a fix to their own problem. This is the type of mindset that allowed them to build a booming brand that many Singaporeans today relate to and adore.
13. Hayley Teo, 28 – Rooki
Hayley Teo is the founder of Rooki, a skincare brand that can now be found in Watsons outlets all over Singapore. As a little girl, she enjoyed making crafts and handmade beauty products to sell and give out to friends. Struggling with sensitive skin herself, she dreamt of owning her own skincare brand. After feeling unfulfilled working at her full-time job while in her early 20s, she asked around for advice and began the journey of launching Rooki.
She spent 2 years working alongside Japanese formulators to create high-quality products, learning to overcome communication barriers in the process. Despite the many tiring, sleepless nights, she pulled through and now has her very own skincare brand with plans to go global in years to come. If anything, Hayley makes us realise that even if the journeys long, the outcome’s bound to be a fruitful one.
14. Jenn Low, 33 – Wanderlust + Co
This fierce 33-year-old is the face behind the local jewellery brand Wanderlust + Co, which has been worn by the likes of Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid. With hard-working parents as role models when she was young, seeing her dad run his own business inspired her to do the same and accomplish her own successes.
The business began in her bedroom, with the aim to create an online jewellery brand that was both trendy and affordable. Despite now having to juggle motherhood alongside her internationally booming brand, she still ensures that Wanderlust + Co is able to provide quality on all fronts.
These Young Singaporean Entrepreneurs Prove That You Can Achieve Your Goals
These individuals are the inspiration we need to get off our couch to go do something big. Whether it’s a hobby, dream or passion, the time to start is now — no matter how old you are.
While the process isn’t going to be easy, you’ll never know where you could end up if you never start working on an idea. Who knows – your very own name could be on a list like this in a couple of years.