Spotting an opportunity to resolve the dilemma of formal gowns, Carol Chen applied the principle of sharing economy to carve out a business for herself. Carol came to realise that her target audience consists of women who have too many dresses and those who are less likely to own formal dresses.
Wanting to solve the gap between these two segments of women, she decided to fill this void with Covetella. Equipped with an entrepreneurial mindset, and her background in beauty pageants and fashion designing scenes, Carol develops Covetella into a one-of-a-kind marketplace and personal styling platform especially for dresses.
Hi, Carol! Can you tell us more about your business, Covetella. How did you start your business?
When I moved to Singapore, I was surprised by how casual most women dress when going out and during formal occasions. Growing up I was taught that dressing up and making an effort is a sign of respect, but then I realized there was a lack of good options in the city. High-quality clothes were very expensive and affordable ones were very generic.
With social media, I know that women hate wearing the same thing twice so I decided to build a website to offer my own designer dresses for rent and it just grew from there.
Can you describe a bad decision in your journey and what did you learn from it/ how did you implement a solution to resolve it?
During the first year, I tried to grow too fast and focused on the wrong things. Instead of investing into digital marketing and making decisions backed by data, I burned through a lot of cash on high-profile events and partnerships that didn’t really contribute to the bottom line.
I’ve always run a tight ship when it comes to fixed overhead, but now I’m more cautious about variable costs and making sure our marketing dollars are spent effectively.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow as an entrepreneur?
Read and reflect. I rarely watch TV, try to keep social media to a minimum, and ignore a lot of the noise in the news. Instead, I like to spend my free time learning a new skill or subject, indulging in self-help books or articles, and writing about where I’ve come from or where I’m going. As an entrepreneur, the worst thing you can do is stop growing as a person.
What is an interesting story about a customer interaction you had?
There was a dress I bought from a small boutique that I made available for rent. Two customers fell in love with it to the point that a bidding war to buy it started, though they knew they could just rent it for $80 bucks. I offered to let them borrow it for free whenever they wanted after their initial rental (since I wanted to keep it), but eventually I let it go for $650. That’s when I knew I couldn’t get attached to my inventory if I wanted to do business.
How To Develop Your Confidence
How did you learn to accept and love who you are?
It’s definitely been a process. Growing up I always felt insecure about my appearance and my abilities. I tried to overcome this by learning how to look put together, giving my best to everything that I did, and constantly searching for ways to self-improve. This eventually led to a lot of confidence-boosting achievements, and I gradually began to feel more comfortable in my own skin as I developed my personal strengths and identity.
My experience competing in beauty pageants was actually very instrumental in learning to love myself. Here you had some of the most impressive women in America, one smarter, more talented, and more beautiful than the other, so your only choice was to shine only as you can.
Consequently, you learn to accept the fact that there will always be someone better than you in some way, but that no one will ever be better than you at being yourself.
How do you take advantage of your strengths? How do you compensate for your weaknesses?
I put myself in situations where I know I can shine. Doing any business is tough so you have to play where you can win. To compensate for my weaknesses, I surround myself with people who are better than me and try to learn from them.
If given a choice, what kind of dress design would you pick to represent the Carol we know today and why?
A red mermaid gown. Red because it’s a color that is lucky and stands out. A mermaid silhouette because I feel like I’ve grown a lot but haven’t bloomed into a full ball gown yet.
What are some budget tips you can share for women who wish to travel widely like yourself?
Go where the deals are, get credit cards that give you reward miles, make friends all over the world who you can visit, and maximize layover stops whenever possible.
What are top your financial priorities and how do you go about planning for them?
My top priority has always been to achieve financial freedom by building businesses that are self-sustainable. There are many ways to plan, but in general, I set short and long-term goals and focus on executing one step at a time.
How do you think modern women can have a more fulfilling life?
I think modern women have a lot of pressure to have it all and take on a lot of different roles at the same time. We are fortunate to have so many strong female role models now, but it can be as discouraging as it is inspiring when we feel we don’t measure up. I think women can feel more fulfilled if they just focus on themselves and do what really matters to them, rather than comparing themselves to others and do what they think is expected of them.
What is some advice you would give to women who wish to break the gender stereotypes in their careers?
Understand them, embrace them, and learn how to take advantage of them. The nice thing about stereotypes is that it makes people seemingly predictable, so when they don’t act accordingly there is an element of surprise. Use that to your benefit but don’t act in a way that is incongruent with your natural self just to prove a point.
Not all stereotypes are bad and the way to be successful is by just being the best version of yourself.
Give us a parting quote!
Go big or go home!
She was nominated and selected for FORTUNE Most Powerful Women conference in 2016 (Asia) and 2015 (San Francisco, Next Gen).
Anna has 10 years of experience in the financial sector and is currently a Director in Tera Capital. Her previous work experience includes positions at Citigroup, United Overseas Bank, a regional role in Business Monitor and a boutique private equity firm based in Shanghai. She graduated from Singapore Management University (Finance and Quantitative Finance).
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