Tuesday, 23 June 2020

This 24-year-old built a S$2.5 million athleisure brand with zero experience

*Produced by SilverKris for Bow*

Mandy Chan was only 19 when she founded Bow, with no previous experience.

Yet within three days of launching her first backpack on Kickstarter, she reached her funding goals. Far from dumb luck, the Singapore-based start-up Mandy established in 2015 is a product of its founder’s sheer tenacity.

“I’ve always wanted to start my own business, ever since I was in primary school selling marshmallows to my friends,” says the young entrepreneur, who is now 24. “After I graduated from junior college, I decided to trust my gut and take that leap of faith.” That meant taking a gap year before university and surviving on her own dime while diving head-first into her new business venture.

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Bow founder Mandy Chan with her invention

The big idea? A multi-functional backpack that transitions seamlessly from work to the gym to everyday use, and is packed with a myriad of useful features. Quiver X, the latest edition of Bow’s flagship product, can be carried as a backpack, crossbody bag or briefcase. It’s resistant to water, mud and scratches, and the anti-theft design has auto-lock zippers, private compartments, a luggage flap and magnetic chest straps to provide for a more secure fit. Translucent pouches made of touch-sensitive material allow you to access your smartphone, while smell-proof technology keeps sweat from seeping into the bag’s fabric.

This elegant design has been many years in the making, and is a vast improvement on the original version. “At the beginning, we would make prototypes out of cardboard boxes, and survey people on the streets to determine the potential demand for our products,” Mandy recalls. Despite being a self-proclaimed people person, approaching strangers and dealing with relentless rejection was a challenge. “I would approach people at bus stops and taxi lines because I knew they couldn’t run away!”

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Functional and stylish, the Quiver X is meant to transition seamlessly from work to the gym to everyday use

The experience delivered many poignant lessons. “One time, after a full day of approaching strangers, a guy decked out in designer clothes told me dreams were just dreams and that I should go back to school,” she reveals. Luckily, not everyone was as dismissive. “At one point, an insurance agent saw how terribly I was failing, and decided to teach me how to talk to people. It was kind of funny.”

Between juggling part-time jobs and refining her product, Mandy was also making solo trips to China to meet manufacturers. To save money, she would take overnight train rides rather than pay for hotel stays.

“At the beginning, we would make prototypes out of cardboard boxes, and survey people on the streets to determine the potential demand for our products”

It wasn’t the only hurdle she encountered. “When the manufacturers first saw me, they’d ask, ‘Where’s your boss?’ One even started charging us exorbitant rates for samples because they thought we were too small and didn’t want to work with us,” says Mandy, who was only 20 at the time. A year and five iterations later, Bow finally launched the first Quiver backpack. Raising a total of S$60,982 on Kickstarter in 30 days, Mandy sold about 670 bags to local and international customers.

Things moved even faster in November 2018, with the Quiver X, which received S$15,000 in funding in 12 hours. “It’s a feeling I’d never had before, a feeling of fulfilment and accomplishment,” Mandy says.

Following the success of its flagship products, the athleisure brand has expanded into apparel. Set to launch in July 2020 is Anchor, an everyday performance shirt that can be worn to both workouts and work meetings. Its anti-bacterial fabric keeps virus particles at bay and is able to remain fresh for a longer period of time.

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The perfect travel companion

“When I started the brand, I wanted to empower people to challenge their limits,” Mandy says. Today, Bow is valued at about S$2.5 million and has shipped more than 10,000 backpacks to over 26 countries. She adds, “My greatest dream for this brand is for it to spark a global movement, one that inspires people to be bold and do more in life.”

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