If you have been providing a free service to your friends and want to turn it into a business, but find it difficult to charge a fee for it because of reasons like money is evil, you have to read this Q&A that I did with Ms Elim Chew (above, right), the founder of 77th Street.
I originally wanted to interview her to find out how she bounced back from setbacks. For example, due to rising rental and labour costs, she closed down 77th Street last year, but went on to make a successful transition into the food and beverage business.
When we met at her Goro Goro restaurant, she turned the two-hour interview into a mentoring session for me and Charmaine (the photographer for Happiness Notebook). Known for having a soft spot for young people, she devotes a lot of time coaching them on life skills and entrepreneurship.
What are you guys doing? Have you made enough money for the rest of your life? What are your plans?
Her questions and advices came in fast and furious. What you will be reading below are excerpts from our conversation that I felt would be relevant to most people.
Me: I have friends who are uncomfortable charging a fee for something that they have been doing for free. I face the same problem too. You are a successful entrepreneur and have a strong social focus. Given your experience, what advice do you have?
Elim: What you give away something for free, sometimes people don’t appreciate it. But when they buy your book, they are more serious about wanting to learn the steps of making money, to get out of debt. So you should not provide it for free.
You should charge it so that you can continue with your next book and consider holding classes. Reading is one thing, but to take the action is another. Some people can teach themselves so they need minimum help, but there are people who need hand holding.
For example, we all know that exercise is good, but why is that you never go to the gym? That’s why you have personal trainers, right? Because in one hour, he can make you do 50 sit-ups, but on your own, you’d only do five sit-ups.
Money is a necessity, not evil
More importantly, you need money to be sustainable. People say money is not everything, but the fact is money is the ONLY thing. Take your case: You managed to come out of debt, but it’s a blessing that no one in your family was sick. If somebody fell sick, you’d need money for operation.
Money don’t take side. Some people say money is evil, but I say money is neutral. If the person is good, he uses money for a good cause. If the person is into vices, he uses money for a bad cause.
Money is neutral and a basic necessity. You decide the extent you want to use the money to help you propel to the next level, to help you have a better life. If you have money, you have more choices. For example, with money, you can choose to attend any universities, but if you have no money, you can’t even afford to attend private universities. Same for medical care, if you have no money, you have to join the long queue at the polyclinics, but if you have money, you can go to the private hospitals and see the specialists.
So fundamentally, it is good to have enough money. It is good to have more money so that you can have more choices for yourself. It is even better to have more money so that you can help other people. Because when you help others, it fulfils the emptiness in your heart. That’s the reason why wealthy people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet start charity foundations.
The more you give, the more you receive
All my life, I have been giving back. When I give back, I feel that I also receive — in that I fulfil my destiny and higher purpose. God has been giving me more so that I can provide more for people. I have become a channel for blessings.
It’s like when you become a papa or mama, you give your son a dollar, and he uses it to bless someone else. You’d say, “I can give my kid five dollars because he knows what to do with it.”
But if the kid spent the one dollar on unnecessary goodies, and even owe the shop uncle money, you’d have to pay the debt. Then you’d think, “Maybe, I shouldn’t give him so much money. I’d just give him ten cents.
Your creator wants to bless you so that you can bless others. If you believe in that principle, then your life will be more fulfilled. Look at Angelina Jolie, a famous actress, but at the end of the day, she stood up for the poor and adopted children.
Another example is what you are doing now. All your travelling is only fulfilling your outer self. Maybe that’s why you started doing interviews while you travel, because you find that you can give back to people. Giving back fulfils your soul, which ultimately makes it a wholesome happiness.
Never fall into the trap of chasing money
I have a friend who told me, “Hey you see, her bag is bigger and more expensive than mine.” Do you know that her bag cost $50,000? Yet she’s eyeing a bigger one that cost $80,000! How on earth would you carry a bag that cost $50,000? Do you know that with $50,000, you can feed 500 kids in an orphanage for one year? And that money is in a bag!
If you have more than enough money, it’s okay to have a bit of luxury — it’s the first level of happiness. But don’t over do it. Because you’ll never be satisfied, you’ll become greedy, you’ll always want more. You’ll keep chasing the emptiness inside you. It’s a very deadly cycle. I am not against luxury. You can have luxury, you can enjoy life, but ultimately to fulfil your inner soul, you have to give back.
Me: You started an Elim Chew TV Youtube channel to showcase change-makers around the world. What is a change-maker?
Elim Chew: Change-makers are people who use a business idea to solve social issues. Recently, I started a Fast Fast delivery app with three co-founders. This is a business that solves social issues.
In the early days when you were in school, you needed money to pay your debt, right? When your Fast Fast app notification shows: Delivery from Nanyang Technological University to Town, you could take the job and deliver this item for $20. So I am helping people who cannot get full-time jobs like people who have been retrenched, single parents who have to take care of their kids, and parents who have special needs children.
Creating a new marketplace
All ‘instant’ businesses like florists that do not have their own drivers are using Fast Fast. Let’s say you forgot about your mummy’s birthday, you could use an app to buy the flower, and use Fast Fast delivery to collect for you.
I am creating a marketplace for delivery using app technology. A marketplace is a thought process: When you give the man a fish, you feed him for a day, but when you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Then again, when a poor man eats the same fish everyday, he also sian (Hokkien for bored).
The marketplace is a space for the man to buy, sell and trade the fish. I can sell my sea bass in the marketplace. Or I can trade my sea bass for your chicken. I can also add value. I can panggang (Malay for grill) the fish, I can sell it for a higher price, right?
Do you know why many start-ups in the US began from the garage? It’s because of zero cost. We need to have low cost spaces in Singapore for people to buy, sell and trade. The last one which will be removed in July is Sungei Road, the oldest flea market in Singapore. Today, let’s say you have no more money, you can squat at Sungei Road to sell your old clothes and stuffs, you can make still make $5 to eat, right? But very soon we won’t have that marketplace anymore.
When you enable a person to make money, he can come out of poverty. And when he makes more money, he can help his village or community. That’s why a marketplace is needed. You not only feed him and his family, you also add value to his life so that he can help his community. That’s how people work. When they start helping other people, they feel that their inner soul is being fulfilled.
Let say somebody comes up to you and say, ‘I was going to kill myself, but after reading your book, I decided to live again and look at life differently. If you can do it, I can do it too.’ I think when that happens, you will find greater satisfaction.
Me: Many young people want to start a business, but there are so many things to consider that they don’t know where to start…
Elim: If you don’t know where to start, then don’t start. It must come to you naturally. Or you can take small steps, and see which doors open for you. Because if it doesn’t come to you, you are forcing it to happen. It’s like you want to get married, it does not mean that you find anyone on the street. Correct or not?
For you (referring to Charmaine), photography comes naturally. So you ask yourself, how can I make that into a business? Likewise, for you, writing comes to you naturally, so you ask yourself, how can I turn it into a business?
You must eat, live, and breathe what you do for business everyday. It’s like having a kid, you must know how to raise this kid. You can’t give birth today, and say that you don’t want the kid tomorrow, right? The minute you have staff, you need to be responsible for them.
Some of my staff now were merchandisers from my fashion business. They have worked with us for over 20 years so we take care of them. In our Korean steamboat buffet business, we create jobs for the elderly and hearing impaired who have slower learning ability, but they can top up the food and collect plates.
Me: Are you saying that it is better for young people to work, and gain some experience first?
Elim: There is no right or wrong approach. You can start working, or partner someone with the experience. You may not be the ‘idea’ person but you can be the ‘do-er’.
Nowadays, it is very trendy to start a business nowadays. Many people have asked me, “Do you have any ideas? Do you know how to start a business? Do you know where to find the money?” I’d tell them, “If I have the idea and money, I would do it myself already, right?”
If the person is able to do it and add value, I don’t mind investing in you. Let’s say you are a very creative person, you have a business idea, but you don’t know how to charge people. So I say, “Okay, maybe here’s where I can come in, I will charge for selling.” So if you cannot do it alone, you need a group of friends to do it with you.
But if you really DON’T KNOW what to do, then better don’t start.
Me: We all face unforeseen challenges in business as well as in life. What is your thought process for tackling such problems?
Elim: Pray lor. *laugh* There are a few steps. First, see what you can do on your own. So your experience and network are important here. The next step is to ask yourself what your team or family can help you to get through. And if things still don’t work out, then you just have to pray and hope for a miracle.
I share with you a story. I am opening my third restaurant, I am Kim Junior at Scape. We were waiting for a shipment of tables and chairs from China. But my staff didn’t know that Labour Day was a one-week holiday over there. In Singapore, it’s just one day, right? So no one was working from 1st to 7th May. But we already took reservations for the opening. We needed the tables and chairs. We made many phone calls, but there were no ships available. Suddenly, the Chinese said our cargo was lost! Then later out of nowhere, they told us it’s on a ship sailing from somewhere to Singapore. Finally, the container arrived two days ago. How did the container go missing and pop up again out of nowhere? There’s no logic. To us, it’s a miracle.
In a nutshell, here are the key lessons from Elim Chew:
• Charge a fee if you truly want people to benefit from your work. Otherwise, they will not take your work seriously.
• Money is neutral, not evil. It is a necessity, but never fall into the trap of chasing money.
• The more you give, the more you will receive. Entrepreneurship is a way to give back. For example, creating a marketplace for people to buy, sell and trade; creating jobs for people especially the less fortunate.
• If you don’t know what business to start, don’t start. It must come naturally to you. If you don’t have all the resources or skills to do a business, partner with others.
• Entrepreneurship is a heavy responsibility. You are responsible for the livelihood of your staff.
I hope you have gotten a lot of value from Ms Chew’s sharing. As always, remember to take action. Knowledge is power only when you act on it. Because, as what Ms Chew said, the more you give, the more you will receive, do share with us how you plan to act on Ms Chew’s advices. Leave your comments below or on our official Facebook page.
[This feature is part of a collaboration with CharmaineWu.com photography. Titled For the Love of It, the project was conceived to inspire a generation of dreamers to act boldly. Through stories of individuals who are wildly successful in pursuing their passion for a living, Charmaine and I hope to inspire more people to dream big and be bold in pursuing their goals.]
How can you apply these lessons in your life?
There is a formula that you can use to apply the above money lessons. In my FREE ebook Personal Success Playbook, I talk about how I used a classic success formula and four strategies to turn my life around — paying off a six-figure debt and housing loan at the age of 34, finding love, mending family relationship, and going on a year-long travel. If you truly want to achieve a lot more, experience lasting happiness, and lead a purposeful life, get your FREE copy of the ebook by scrolling down to the sign up box below, and enter your email: