"Never give up and keep going forward and march to the beat of your own drum"
- Tjin Lee, Entrepreneur
I'm an entrepreneur. I have an events, marketing, PR company - Mercury Marketing & Communications. I run Singapore Fashion Week, founded a co-working space called Trehaus, which is a family-friendly coworking space. I've also invested in a few other businesses.
That is quite an impressive list. So I am curious, how do you start your day?
I always wake up in the morning to spend at least half an hour with my kids before they go off to preschool. And then usually it is followed by meetings, meetings and meetings.
How do you then manage your schedule and family time?
There are ups and downs, never a total balance. There are times where I'm more free, like the last couple of years when times were good. I was actually very free, able to go to work at 11am or in the afternoon. Sometimes I come in only twice a week. There is a different cycle of business. As of right now, it is a busy period. I think our economic times are tougher, for all businesses in general. Therefore you have to work harder, and I'm not as free or flexible as I used to be. However, to me it is just a business cycle.
With such a busy schedule, how does your me time look like?
Well, I usually have 4 meetings a day, there's no fixed time or break time. On certain days, there are no meetings and that is where I can then go to the office and clear my emails.
To date, what is your proudest moment?
A lot of women, we don't sit around and think about our glory. Rather we think about what could be better. The truth is when you asked me that, I was thinking 'What could I have done better?' Every single thing that I've ever done, every single fashion week that I've done when the accolades came - we have brought everyone from Victoria Beckham, Carolina Herrera, Roberto Cavalli, Thakoon to Prabal Gurung. All these designers came through for us. And every time people said, "Good job, Tjin!" - Maybe it’s a woman's thing - but my first response will be; "But I could have done that better or do this or that instead." Women rarely pat ourselves at the back and say, "I did this well." I don't think I've ever done anything perfectly, except for my two boys.
Has there been a time where you lost confidence, and if so, how did you gain it back?
People lose confidence in themselves all the time. Women are generally not as certain of themselves. We have this thing called the imposter syndrome, where you fake it till you make it. I just think it’s a woman's thing.
I remembered I was onced asked to speak on a panel. It was one of the university's talk and I was on the panel along with very experience and powerful corporate speakers. The heads of banks, global fund managers who were from Princeton, Harvard and Yale. There were 3 of them and then me, an entrepreneur. Three gentlemen in suits and black leather shoes and there was me with a cape and my little sparkly Miu Miu shoes. And I was thinking, "What will these business students think of me versus these three high-powered, high-flying men?"
The outcome from that session was really surprising and inspiring for me. The business students had a lot of questions but they were directed at me, the entrepreneur. They were more interested in entrepreneurship and even after the session had ended, they actually followed me out of the hall. We exchanged contacts and I actually met with some of them for follow-ups.
I realised then how people were interested and excited about real-life stories, not just about the high-flying stories and those that have done and achieve it all. I think one thing that makes me very accessible as well is, I am one of the few people that openly shares about failures. I don't talk about my successes, you can see them on the papers or when you google online. What people don't often share is why they fail. I don't call them mistakes, I call them lessons. I always share that I'm an accidental entrepreneur. I didn't plan any of these, I was an English literature major, had no plans or ideas of what I was going to do. I kind of chance into this entire life that I have. It's all chance. I didn't plan any of these.
I have made a lot of mistakes/lessons along the way. That's why I started CRIB. A social enterprise that empowers women on entrepreneurship. Imparting knowledge and to share some of the challenges that I have faced as a young woman, a business startup or even as a women entrepreneur.
There are challenges that you will face. You can't deny that there is a glass ceiling. No matter what we want to say about women's right and equality, there is the glass ceiling. Male CEOs are paid more than female CEOs. There are more men in the boardroom than women. Period.
The way to look at that is, ‘So what? It exists, be the best that you can be and one day, the best person will get the best salary for the job.’ You can't change things overnight. Deal with what they are as it is and that is why CRIB existed.
Looking back, what is an advice you would tell your 20 year old self?
You are stronger than you think and that it is okay to fail. I think many times people are afraid of failures and what would people say, that they never even begin. I think that fear of never chasing your dreams should be bigger than your fear of failure. Because one day you can wake up, find your life to be mediocre and that it would soon be over.
If you could describe yourself in one word, what would that be?
Lastly, what is your life motto?
To never give up and keep going forward and march to the beat of your own drum.
For more information on Tjin's businesses:
CRIB | www.crib.com.sg
A Singapore-based social enterprise which aims to empower women to become successful entrepreneurs through networking, matchmaking and business incubation.
Mercury Marketing & Communications | www.mercurymc.com
360-degree marketing consultancy, event management, public relations, social and influencer engagement. Specialising in luxury and lifestyle brands handling a diverse range of industries.
Trehaus | trehauscowork.com
Singapore's first co-working space with childcare and learning facilities.
Singapore Fashion Week | singaporefashionweek.com.sg