Running your own startup can turn out to be a journey of self-discovery. The 21-year-old co-founder of Made Real, Robin Lim, reveals what she has learnt about herself, her team and what it takes to lead a fast-growing startup.
“Healthy snacking” may seem like an oxymoron (since many regard snacking as an unhealthy habit), but there is a startup in Singapore that specialises in exactly that – healthy snacks.
Made Real, a healthy snack subscription box, was founded in 2014 following a social campaign to promote healthy eating started by Robin Lim and Roslyn Teng, close friends from primary and secondary school. The campaign took inspiration from both founders’ struggles with eating disorders.
Retailing at $24.90 a box, the snacks are hand-picked by a nutritionist and targeted at working adults. Beyond selling snacks, Made Real aims to promote and cultivate better snacking habits in their customers so that they can lead a more wholesome life.
Beyond her years
For Ms Lim, CEO of Made Real, founding a startup has been an exploratory journey in knowing more about herself and the people she works with.
“When you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, it helps you [to] develop into the best version of yourself. You learn about yourself and find out who you really want to be,” she said.
Starting the company when she was 19, Ms Lim often struggled to be taken seriously. At networking events, investors would often mistake her male co-worker for the founder.
As a young female entrepreneur, she felt intimidated pitching to older male investors. She doubted herself because of her lack of experience, and was afraid they would not be convinced by her.
“I did not have the guts to push for a deal and that was something that I had to change. But that is also something everybody has to go through themselves to realise how difficult it is to run a successful startup,” Ms Lim said.
Over time, she gained more confidence in herself and her company, which allowed her to become more resolute when making big decisions for the firm. Made Real has shipped more than 3,000 orders to date, growing at a double-digit rate every month since May 2016. The brand has more than 2,500 “likes” on Facebook.
As a leader, Ms Lim noted the importance of taking care of her staff’s welfare, for they are the backbone of the company.
“I am not just their team leader; I am their friend. I’m spending most of my week with them so I really have to ensure that we are able to get along well. In this way, you know that [the team] will stick with you through your troubles,” she said.
She also believes in their capabilities, giving them autonomy in their work. As a result, they have learnt to work better together as a whole – having the freedom to express themselves in their daily interactions helps them to collaborate to achieve a common goal. “[They are] comfortable working here, which is a good thing,” Ms Lim said.
Ms Lim’s vision for Made Real is to make artificial intelligence the next frontier in nutrition, where an “intelligent” machine can track and analyse a customer’s health profile and food preferences, and make product recommendations that optimise their diets and lifestyles.
There are already a handful of companies in Singapore offering healthy food subscription services, so keeping the business sustainable is always going to be a challenge. Despite facing much scepticism, she is determined to keep her team focused and passionate about working together with her to develop their long-term goal.
“As the team manager, I need to inspire people to believe in me and follow my vision,” she said. “If I am lost, team members will leave.”
At the same time, she has learnt to take criticism with a pinch of salt and not be swayed by naysayers.
“If you listen to what people are saying and you keep changing your direction, instead of going on a straight path, you are just zigzagging and you are never going to get anywhere,” she explained. “If you lack direction, nobody will be convinced by you or your company.”
However, she also understands the importance of constructive criticism and listening to the people who matter. She has a few trusted advisors, such as the founder of Belly Armor, Aileen Chen.
But above all, being an entrepreneur has taught her the power of self-belief: “We have become more confident, and it is something we learnt from experience. The most valuable lesson I learnt while running my startup is to believe in yourself and your team. You need to have conviction and assurance in yourself and believe that you can make the best decision for your company.”
Draft by Rennes Lee Ting
Edited by Bernice Tang