#ConnectedWomen: Peiru Teo, Managing Director, La Belle Couture Weddings
Contributed by Peiru Teo March 27, 2017
Life has a way of throwing us off our paths, and leading us to new ones. Peiru Teo embraced the challenge, and emerged from it with a thriving business – providing excellent service by marrying a traditional industry with the advantages of modern technology.
As women continue to be a driving force for change around the world, this series aims to highlight those who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to creating an impact.
In this exclusive interview, Connected Women caught up with Peiru Teo, Managing Director of La Belle Couture Weddings. This is her story.
How It All Began
I was an investment associate at a real estate private equity firm, and a management associate at Citi prior to that.
Life has a way of throwing us off the path, I think. It’s a path that I don’t think I would have thought I would be doing until it happened. I’ve always wanted to run my own business, having seen my father do so since I was young. His strong work ethic left a very deep impression on me. But it just happened that upon graduation, I found the finance industry very fascinating and so I wanted to give it a shot.
I had a smooth-sailing financial career when a friend approached me to take over a wedding business. I wanted to do something new, so I accepted the challenge along with a partner. However, the business was not what we had expected it to be, bleeding literally every day with cash flow mismanagement, and undisclosed liabilities of more than half a million dollars. My partner left and I was left all alone to turn the business around from scratch. I learned then that risks are necessary for high returns. I worked hard with my team, and we focused on various sales and marketing activities, until slowly we were able to balance quality and volume to increase our receivables.
Our work paid off when we later acquired valuable partnerships with world – renowned hotels like the Marina Bay Sands and Shangri-la. From bankruptcy, the business thrived; La Belle Couture Weddings Pte Ltd is now considered as a market leader in the wedding industry in Singapore.
Also, I feel very fortunate to have a supportive husband and family. Even if they are unsure or unfamiliar about the subject of what I’m working on, they continue to give me their blind support. Even through the worst of times, they have never once discouraged me from persevering to fight for my dreams.
Finance And Entrepreneurship
The financial industry to me was like a giant machine. In the industry, I eventually learned that to get things done or to secure approval would mean months of waiting – or even longer. While it was interesting, there was just too much red tape. I enjoyed that it is an intellectually-challenging industry, but I realised that a lot of it is creating value out of smart packaging of assets, arbitraging or buying/selling the same thing at the right time. It is very much a zero sum game, very often one man’s gain is another’s loss and it’s all about outsmarting each other.
It made me think. How can I create something out of ‘nothing’ and design it to be something that people see value in and are willing to pay for? Both are challenging – finance and entrepreneurship. But it is probably down to personal preference for which challenge I’d like to take up.
Key Source Of Inspiration
I saw my father growing his business, from a small set up to taking on all the major banks as clients; and how he was always so motivated and had so much energy. He worked from Monday to Sunday, would be back from work near midnight, and left early for it, before I was up. My weekends were spent playing at his office. He was also very smart, and solved problems for his clients by building software solutions.
But he too went through very tough times. In fact, this had a huge impact to the family, especially to my mom. But dad never gave up. He remained resilient, even when faced with a life-threatening medical condition while based in China. So perhaps my resilience came from him, to never take things for granted. As we grew older, my dad would regularly meet with us to share his business insights and learnings -including his mistakes.
This was a key learning experience for the whole family – especially for me.
About two to three years ago, my interest was sparked when I started to understand more acutely the importance of the role technology plays in growing a business, specifically on how it can help scale them at amazing speeds.
When it comes to technology, the wedding industry is quite backwards. The people behind it are not used to thinking in a process-driven manner, and striving for constant improvement. They are not used to technology at all. So I realized that this was an opportunity where I can take advantage of utilizing tech. I decided to do something to achieve speedy results, and the outcome gave me confidence to continue to experiment.
I believe that the future will increasingly be run by new technologies such as artificial intelligence. Its prevalence may even make it a commodity soon. I think not even the most traditional of all industries can escape this. We have to embrace it, and do our best to use it to our advantage. I believe that it is not even a choice but a must.
Technology And Endless Possibilities
I took computing in A levels, and have been in touch on and off. I’ve also been picking up coding as well. I’m very intrigued by the endless possibilities of what it can do that can give a different uplifted special experience. Also, I get this overwhelming sense of urgency all the time. I’d feel extremely uncomfortable if I were doing the same thing over and over again, i.e. the dreaded ‘comfort zone’. So something has to change, and it has to change fast.
Technology allows me to address this innate need. From the Augmented reality technology, to the suite of marketing technology tools, I’ve always found it very exciting to try new tools – and see how it uplifts the business in ways one cannot do through traditional means. And of course, I keep up by reading widely from tech sites such as Techcrunch and Venturebeat.
Regret As The Greatest Motivator
I think it was really the results, seeing how everything was unfolding, that pushed me to believe that I can do more, and impact more people and businesses beyond what I was doing. I’d say that it is normal to have doubts or be worried, it is very normal to be scared. But just imagine the regret you would feel if you didn’t do the thing you wanted to do versus the fear you have if you were to do it. Which weighs more? For me, regret is the worst feeling – and so it has become my greatest motivator.
I’ve read an article about a person who went to ask elderly folks about their feelings. Most of them replied that regret was the most painful feeling they felt. The article concluded that most people don’t regret what they’ve done, but regret what they did NOT do. This revelation had a great impact on me. Find something you are passionate about, even if let’s say you were not well paid (if at all). And find a way to be good at it. Then, add value and find ways to get paid.
The Struggle In Modernising
Don’t ever think that if you changed industries, all your past learning will go down the drain. The structure and processes I learned from finance helped me set things up in my wedding business. For instance, I was able get La Belle its ISO 9001 certification back in December 2016. More importantly, my financial management background helped me turn around the company’s dire financial state
I’ve learned a lot, and am able to help companies who are tech-challenged become tech-savvy. Personally, I’ve had my share of struggles from getting my staff members to adapt tech in my company, and I’m sure that I’m definitely not alone in this. Many other companies will be facing the same problems in modernising – and I see this as a great opportunity for me, standing in a good position to best understands their resistance, to eventually help them overcome it. We need to teach others how to maximize tech. After all, tech is no good if humans don’t use it.
That I’m not moving fast enough. I wish I had 48 hours a day or more! There are so many things to explore and to experiment with in a business that is constantly evolving like a living thing. What works today may not work next month. The variables keep changing, and new ones keep being added into the equation.
Improving The Industry
I would really like to challenge the industry to be transparent and accountable to customers. Instead of conjuring excuses to explain why certain things can or cannot be done, and putting in ridiculously lengthened timelines (imposed on couples), why not look at letting customers understand more of what goes behind the scenes? It is neither rocket science nor a black box. Consumers nowadays are a lot savvier, and they will understand and appreciate knowing that their vendors are being upfront with them with their dealings. Talk about building trust.
I would also like to disrupt the industry by being able to offer efficient services to customer demands, without sacrificing quality of work. There is a line between taking the necessary time to produce quality work, and just taking the customer for granted that ‘they can wait’. To achieve it, perhaps a complete redesign of how work is carried out needs to be done. I’m not talking about the 5-10% improvement in time, but double or even quadruple improvements in speed of delivery, yet with the same or better quality.
Can it be done? I certainly think so.
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We are the leaders, activists, innovators, and visionaries – whether in the public eye or behind the scenes – who are revolutionising the way people think and live. We are #ConnectedWomen.
Edited by Michelle Sarthou
Image credit: Peiru Teo
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