Mumpreneur Nanz Chong-Komo: Failure isn’t a dirty word

Having survived failed businesses and bankruptcy, she now applies her hard-won wisdom to a new venture and parenting her kids.

You could say that mother cum entrepreneur Nanz Chong-Komo is a shining example of a person who has not let failure stand in her way of venturing into new territory. Nanz declares, “To me, failure is nothing ― it’s just a sign to keep trying.”

Despite her well-documented experience when her ONE.99 Shop empire went bust, the 48-year-old mother to Zoe, 10, Christian, 12, and Zara, 13, exudes an infectious optimism. At its peak in 2001, the 14-outlet ONE.99 Shop was valued at $14 million.

However, the one-price retail chain knuckled under the financial and economic impact of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in Asia in 2003, going belly up that same year.

“Confidence can help you get ahead. If you feel good and confident, a lot of things will work out.”

After shuttering her ONE.99 Shop business and being declared a bankrupt, Nanz detailed the lessons she’d learnt in the bestselling One Business 99 Lessons. To date, it has sold more than 17,000 copies. She also became an outspoken advocate for entrepreneurs, speaking at regional and local business conferences where she — a bankrupt — got to hobnob with billionaires.

“Sometimes, I just have to tell myself that I’ve got to be confident... Confidence can help you get ahead. If you feel good and confident, a lot of things will work out.”

Flash forward some 14 years and Nanz is back in the retail-world saddle. She is the exclusive country distributor of SodaStream, a $269 counter-top beverage machine that turns regular water into the sparkling variety.

As to how her business lessons have impacted the way she parents her kids, Nanz says that she does not punish her kids when they fail. “When they fail their exams or don’t do their chores, parents shouldn’t be too quick to punish. Failure isn’t a dirty word.” She adds that she reminding them to do better instead of criticising them produces better results.

SmartParents catches up with the never-say-die mumpreneur…

What is the biggest lesson you learnt from running ONE.99?
I used to do everything by myself and now, with Sodastream, I take a more collaborative approach. With ONE.99, I used to make my own packaging for the merchandise and source products from different countries. I eventually got a merchandising team and another for the warehouse. Then I had a retail team, then retail operations and manager and finance. Now, I outsource all these different components. I work with retailers and my sole focus is to build a good marketing brand. Last time, it was a very self-starter or DIY-kind of situation, now I work with people.


Do you tell your children about running the ONE.99 shop?
I told them that Mummy used to run a shop like Daiso and they’ll tell me, “No way!”. So I shared with them the many lessons I’ve learnt, like don’t overstock your merchandise and make sure you tidy up your storefront displays. Since they’re still a little young, I stick to just small things like that.

Any advice for mothers who might be thinking of starting their own business but are afraid of failing?
I would say just go and start a business! Because it is worse to live with regret than to live through the failure of a business. Some people ask, “What if I fail?” Then fail! Stay positive! Especially now since it is so cheap to start a business and relatively simpler to manage a business as well, with the Internet. Of course, you should do your sums. Decide how much you need to start a business — $10,000 or $20,000, for instance? Then start your business. If you fail, then that’s that. Just do it! If you’re always thinking that it’ll be so hard then you’ll never do it. Give yourself a time limit. Maybe about 18 months? Then go for it! In fact I’m more inclined to offer a job to a person who has failed in his own business. That’s because he has had the true taste of what it takes to run one. If you come to me and say you sank $20,000 in a project and failed and you’re back in the workforce. I’ll like to be able to add value to your experiences.