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Acne agony drives UAE-based Singaporean expat to start organic makeup line

Dubai: Singaporean expat Nerissa Low, who started her career in finance by earning Dh500,000 in her first year, had to leave her position at the top of her sector in order to launch her own organic makeup company. Here is what motivated her to change careers over her 17-year corporate career.

“When I first started working, I recall having adult acne. I was taking daily oral medicine and had monthly steroid injections directly into my zits. Before I stopped receiving therapy, this continued on for a few years”, said Low.

“I then made the decision to conduct in-depth investigation on my own, and what I discovered were the causes. My face cleared up in three months after I detoxed my skincare routine and switched to all-organic products because it turned out I was allergic to several of the chemicals in our everyday care goods.

Low continued by stating that although she could readily get organic skincare at the time, she was unable to locate organic makeup that had the desired effect on her skin. This is when I made the decision to launch my own brand since, in essence, I had to use it myself and assumed that, if I was having this issue, other women might be as well.

“I remember battling adult acne when I first entered the workforce and I was on daily oral medication and monthly steroid injections directly into my pimples”

– Nerissa Low

Growing up frugal drives Low to earn more

As a child in Singapore, Low was taught to be thrifty and not spend money, and seeing her parents toil to support the family made her adamant she would never find herself in a similar circumstance.When I was 12 years old, I distinctly recall promising myself that I would never again want to worry about money for myself or my family.

Low claimed that she received meagre pocket money while in school and worked part-time jobs over the summers to supplement her income. This included taking on waitressing and movie theatre employment while in high school, earning $4–$6 (Dh15–Dh22) per hour, and secretarial and telemarketing work while in college, earning around $6 per hour.

“We have been raised to be independent and responsible with our money, therefore I took out loans to pay for my university expenses and had to repay them after I finished. I made more than the typical person my age did, and I paid off my loan in less than a year,” she continued.

Growing up in Singapore, Low was brought up to be frugal and not waste money, and watching her parents toil for the family made her determined never to be in the same situation herself.

Working a higher-risk commission-based job

I started to enjoy my job because I had control over how much money I made and how many hours I wanted to spend working on it. I am quite the workaholic, and my discipline is what I attribute to my success in my career. This drive was also the reason I chose a higher-risk commission-based job where I could be compensated for how hard I worked without a ceiling on my salary.

“I chose a higher-risk commission-based job where I could be remunerated for how hard I worked without a ceiling on my salary” – Nerissa Low

Expenses for a make-up business?

It took around a year to perfect the recipe, and another year to produce the appropriate packaging for the items, according to Low, who founded her company in 2017 at the age of 36. She also said that the first focus was on research and development as well as generating trial products.

“It was important for us to own the tooling for our packaging in order to prevent counterfeits in the future, which was a significant investment of around $300,000 (Dh1.1 million),” she said, adding that she initially invested a total of Dh4 million of her own money into the company.

“We limited it to only two types in order to control packing expenses. For the first few years, I self-funded the business until we were certain that it was prepared to take off,” Low said. Then, we conducted our first official fundraising effort to break into the Middle Eastern market, which cost about $2 million (Dh7.4 million).

This sum covered a range of costs, including hiring staff, setting up warehouses, producing products, marketing, and constructing gondolas for stores. We thought that investing in these areas was essential to successfully launching our product and gaining a presence in the industry, despite the substantial expenditures associated with entering the market.

When it came to launching her business in the UAE and other Middle East markets by the end of 2019, like most entrepreneurs, Low felt she learnt the most when the health crisis hit.

Challenges faced, lessons learnt?

Like most business owners, Low said she learned the most when the health crisis struck when it came to expanding her company into the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries by the end of 2019.

“Covid-19 has unquestionably reduced my 10-year business experience to 2.5 years. In some ways, even though it has undoubtedly been a dreadful period for everyone, including myself, I am thankful for it for the lessons it has given me,” she said. “For a start-up, we got off to a very quick and robust start, but the pandemic overnight essentially put a stop to everything.

“I discovered not to take anything for granted and that even when things appear to be going well, we should always be ready for the worse, particularly financially. The crisis has also shown me that there is no timetable for when it will finish and that there is no limit to how terrible things can get when they decide to turn awful. When I make business decisions, I now approach them with this new sense of caution.

When things are going well, Low wouldn’t have had to make the tough choices that she now has to, especially when it comes to cost-cutting and properly allocating resources and finances. “Today, I only spend what I deem to be absolutely necessary, and I have no reluctance in eliminating any expenses right away if they don’t serve a measurable, practical purpose.”

“Today I spend only what I feel is of absolute value, and I have no qualms about cutting any costs immediately if it doesn’t serve a quantifiable, functional purpose” – Nerissa Low

Saving plans or strategies you’ve used?

Since Low had already been hired by a company in the finance sector, she had access to investment products that she could begin using to create her retirement portfolio when she was just 22 years old.

In her situation, these investment products included retirement annuities, which will provide her with a monthly payout during retirement, as well as blue-chip stocks, which she invested in to increase the size of her portfolio and diversify it.

“I also made investments in real estate for capital growth and rental income in Singapore and Australia. When I was 28 years old, I already had financial plans in place for payouts for the schooling of my future children and for progressive annuity payouts in case I wanted to or had to take an early retirement due to unforeseen circumstances, Low said.

Nerissa Low invested a total of Dh4 million of her own money into the business initially.

Reviewing investments once every year

“I examine my portfolio annually to make sure all of my plans are still pertinent and to make any necessary adjustments. Since I like to take risks, I have around 70% of my assets in growth stocks, real estate, and business investments, and 30% in cash and safer, diversified portfolios.

Although Low already has investment plans in place to pay for her children’s college expenses, she claimed that she will make sure to provide her children the same financial education that her parents gave her.

“I believe it’s critical to give children early exposure to making their own money and learning what it’s like to work for it. I believe it is crucial that they learn early on the worth of money and not to take things for granted. Despite the fact that I can offer them a head start, I still want them to earn this benefit and understand that nothing comes as a given.”

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