Cheryl Ou, Founder of The Nail Social

Cheryl Ou has been part of many start-ups. She is now motivated by social returns and is running a social enterprise working with local, underprivileged women.
What’s your story?
I started my first business when I was only 22 years old and and won my first major entrepreneurship award, the Spirit of Enterprise, at 25. Since then, I have been blessed to have been a part of various start-ups.
In 2011, I created Singapore’s first Pod Hostel and built it up to become one of the top flashpacker hostels in Singapore, only to be forced out of my own company after 2 years by an investor, without receiving a single cent of profit. This episode really opened my eyes to the reality of running a business. I decided then that I did not want to be the kind of entrepreneur who was motivated solely by money and started looking into the idea of running a social enterprise.

What excites you most about your industry?
We are a part of 2 main industries:
1) Beauty Industry
The beauty industry is extremely competitive and nail salons are a dime a dozen, which means our unique selling proposition has to be very strong. We constantly have to reinvent ourselves and come up with services/promotions that are practical yet unique to maintain our competitive edge. It makes work stressful, but also a whole lot more interesting.

2) Social Enterprise Industry
We specifically train and employ underprivileged women and we mentor them to help them work through their personal challenges to become more confident and independent. It makes work a lot more meaningful and we get inspired when we see the progress of the women that join us.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I love to travel, especially to locations off the beaten track and these experiences really open my eyes to other cultures and make me appreciate coming home to Singapore a lot more.

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Singapore. One of the biggest hurdles to entrepreneurship is starting up – navigating the red tape, understanding the rules and complying to restrictions often put off entrepreneurs right from the start. In Singapore, the process of starting a business is painless and there are many organizations and networking groups that are on-hand to provide assistance when necessary.
In recent years, the Singapore government has also started to encourage the emergence of social enterprises and has launched various grants and schemes to support this industry.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Always remember why you started. When the going gets tough (and it is going to), remembering what motivated you to get started in the first place will help keep you going.

Who inspires you?
My answer to the question would have been very different a few years ago. Ever since my venture into the world of social entrepreneurship, I no longer look towards big successful business owners for inspiration. I am now inspired by the founders of smaller social enterprise start-ups who are so passionate about their cause and helping others that they persevere through failure and setbacks. They are motivated, not so much by the money or glamour, but rather the possibility of making a positive difference in someone’s life. They have taught me that the littlest things can sometimes bring the most happiness.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That it’s okay to lose your pride for love or friendship. I recently reached out and reconnected with an old friend and ex-business partner whom I had an argument and falling out with a few years back and it’s an amazing feeling. I guess I always knew this, but it’s a different thing altogether to experience it for yourself.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I still have a chip on my shoulder over some of my past negative experiences, but I am also a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I’m convinced that I would be a very different person if not for those experiences and even though I didn’t realise it then, I am thankful for the lessons that these failures and setbacks have taught me.

How do you unwind?
I cycle to and from work almost everyday, and that allows me to clear my mind before I start work and have a bit of a time-out after a busy day.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali! I love everything about being by the beach. There’s something about the sand between my toes and the sound of the waves that totally relaxes me.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Shameless plug for your business:
The Nail Social is a lifestyle nail salon that offers manicure, pedicure and foot massage services, enjoyed with a personal iPad pre-loaded with movies, games, magazines and books. You’ll also be glad to know that most products we will use, serve or sell in the salon will be non-toxic, eco-friendly, fair-trade and/or cruelty-free.
We are a socially-conscious salon that was established with the aim of training and employing local, underprivileged women with a higher barrier to employment, so as to help them progress from a position of vulnerability to security and self-sufficiency.

How can people connect with you?

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
CallumConnectsCallum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia.  He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries.  He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence.  A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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