This Singapore-Malaysia couple’s skincare product is one of Amazon’s top-sellers – Here’s how love has made their business work
The pair behind Handmade Heroes were warned by friends not to go into business together
By Jessica Lin
Some people say that business and friends don’t mix, but what about business with boyfriends and girlfriends or even between spouses?
If there are any pitfalls of going into business with a romantic partner, Singaporean Lynsey Lim, 28, and her Malaysian husband Adi Ong, 29, have proven they can rise above all obstacles.
“I have a lot of friends (who do) business, and they’ve always advised me (not to) even do business with friends, let alone your spouse,” Adi says.
“We pretty much went against everyone’s advice,” he continues with a laugh.
Lynsey and Adi are owners of Handmade Heroes, a natural skincare brand which Lynsey started from her very own home back in 2014.
“I started off by selling to my sister’s friends, and then we decided to start (selling) in pop-up markets,” Lynsey tells Business Insider in an interview over coffee.
The brand is now stocked at major department stores such as Isetan Singapore and Tangs, and reaches a loyal following in the US through Amazon, but it remains true to its promise of being handmade.
From day one, Lynsey has been formulating and blending all the products herself. Her knowledge of organic skincare comes from extensive reading and the experience of making her own mineral makeup and natural skincare when she was just a teen.
Time is on their side
When she decided to leave her banking job to start a business, her entrepreneurial then-boyfriend Adi was behind her 100 per cent.
“We always knew we wanted to do business, so I thought it was the right time to do something while I’m still young and can still take risks,” she says.
Adi, who already had experience starting businesses at the time, came on board to help build the brand with his technical and operational know-how.
While many couples shy away from working together, Lynsey and Adi’s relationship thrived and they got married in April this year, after 10 years of courtship.
They now work out of a swanky new office in Kuala Lumpur, and have formed a team of six people, including a chemist who can help Lynsey with formulating products.
Being young, they say, means they can afford the energy to dedicate themselves to their business round the clock. It also allows them to understand what their employees need and want.
Their team is as young as they are – the oldest among them is not even 40 years old.
As such, Adi says they have tried to keep the organisation “flat”, so that their team mates are “more like friends and not (just) colleagues”.
They’ve also put in extra effort to retain talent.
Adi says: “Millennials are always looking for the next best thing, so we really did need to spend a bit to create an environment…to invest in a nice working space”.
Some of these things include a relaxing swing bed, a fully stocked office snack bar, a convenient office location above a shopping mall, and free access to a gym and a pool.
Breaking into the US market
The office is not the only place the Ongs have stepped up their game in, Lynsey tells us that being stocked by Isetan and Tangs has upped the pressure for her to ensure all products are up to par with international brands.
She also has a gutsy plan to have her small Singapore-born brand achieve retail presence in US stores as soon as possible.
It doesn’t seem like a lofty goal at all, especially if you consider that Handmade Heroes has already made a name for itself as a top-selling natural skincare brand on Amazon.
The brand’s Ultra Sexy lip scrub, which made its debut on the US site this year, is already on the number two spot in the Amazon best selling lip scrub list.
Another stellar performer is the Drop Dead Gorgeous dry shampoo, which consistently garners four- or five-star user reviews on the site.
Just ask Lynsey and you’ll see that these achievements, while small, are hard-earned and significant for the company’s continued growth.
When they first launched the lip scrub in the US, they didn’t realise that the coconut oil used in the product would harden and become difficult to use over there. Thanks to the Internet, Lynsey was able to read direct feedback from customers and has since reformulated the product to include sweet almond oil instead.
And the quest for customer satisfaction never ends. With each product they introduce, the couple keeps a lookout for feedback on how they can improve the customer experience.
When asked what her goals are, Lynsey says she has two – to launch the full range of Handmade Heroes products in the US, and to be recognised by Singaporeans as a brand they can be proud of.
Dedicated to work, and working well together
There is no doubt that her business journey would be very different if Adi wasn’t in the picture. Somehow, the two work together like peanut butter and jelly.
Adi had his first taste of success when he decided to try and ride the wave of gourmet food trucks in Malaysia. His decision proved to be the right one, and Little Fat Duck, a low-cost food business he started with a friend, has grown from one truck to eight outlets today.
They recently obtained halal certification and he plans to take the business further, with a goal of 20 outlets in mind.
“Right now, we are slogging for the business. We want to see the day when the business is working for us,” he says.
As his time is split between Handmade Heroes and Little Fat Duck, he admits that he and Lynsey have their work cut out for them.
“His eyebags are really, really dark,” she tells us as evidence of the late nights he puts himself up to.
But when asked if they need more time away to relax, the couple says that the line between work and life has long blurred for them because they really enjoy what they do.
Perhaps having each other in this entrepreneurial journey is the secret to their success, not failure.
“Our strengths and weaknesses complement each other… For us to have worked together and stay together for 10 years is a testament in itself,” he says.
If there’s a business disagreement, the couple are level-headed enough to sort things out on the spot.
“We don’t take things personally. We know if it’s about the business, then it’s the business. We don’t make it a personal issue,” Lynsey says.
Most importantly, they are always ready to fail and to move on from failures without putting fault on any one party.
“There’s a lot of give and take… We will give each other’s idea a chance to test out the market,” he says.
“There are no stupid or wrong ideas,” she adds.