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.
You were pregnant with Zara when you were in the process of closing ONE.99 Shop, what was that like?
When your kids are young, motherhood is rather instinctive. Larry was also very supportive ― he helped out a lot during that time. He’d put on a sarong and carry Zara around the house, something that is very hip with fathers nowadays. In some way, I guess he’s a trendsetter. He also made me realise that, as Asians, we are always paiseh [Hokkien for “feeling shy”] about what people will say about us. But he reassures me and tells me to not care so much if people laugh at you. So be it! Looking back now, I realise maybe it wasn’t such a bad deal now that all the 14 stores were gone! I only needed to focus on one thing: Our baby ― we’d wanted a baby for a longest time, so we felt rewarded and not sad.
It isn’t easy for most people to talk about personal setbacks, especially to their kids, so how do you do it?
I feel that if our experiences are not shared, our children will make the same mistakes we do. One, they need to hear from their parents that things are not perfect. I think a lot of parents are afraid of appearing less than perfect but they are so wrong to do that. Second, if they hear about setbacks often enough, it’ll become normal for them to experience such setbacks. From our experiences, they will also learn that it’s important to get up and walk again. If not, they will keep quitting in life. That’s also partially why there’re so many problems in the world today with people who cannot take emotional stress. By sharing our experiences, we are building their mental capacity for resilience and adversity and letting our kids know it is okay to make mistakes.
"If our experiences are not shared, our children will make the same mistakes we do... They will also learn that it’s important to get up and walk again. If not, they will keep quitting in life.”
How can parents impart business savvy to their kids?
For myself, I learnt from my parents like my businessman dad — he used to run a jewellery business. I learnt a lot from having conversations with them at the dinner table. In fact, I used to think that everyone was a business owner when I was young [laughs]. So, I think we should make our children see that starting a business of their own is the norm and not make it seem like it is unreachable.
As a working mother, what do you think is the key to success?
I think sometimes, working mums should be fussy and more selective with their employers. I think employees should be more vocal and suggest changes like having a Family Day once a month, when kids can come to work with the parents. Plus, this practice is already widely adopted as part of working culture in Western countries.
While you are busy at work, who takes care of the kids at home?
We have a helper of 10, almost 11 years. My helper is like my fourth daughter [laughs]. But now, my kids do the chores at least once a week like sweeping the floor, mopping, bringing the trash out and recycling. The helper cooks and prepares the daily meals.
Who’s the disciplinarian at home?
I would say that I’m more of a disciplinarian because I’m a person who likes to plan and work towards a goal. Larry, on the other hand, likes to take things as they come.
Any thoughts on caning?
I believe in it. Larry does, too, nowadays. Because the Bible believes in it, that’s why I do, too. But we don’t have to cane the children all the time. If parents need to cane the kids all the time, than the caning method is wrong. I don’t use caning as a threat. When I cane, it’s about correcting serious wrongdoing like telling lies. I’ll reason with my kids and tell them that I will cane them now, so they’ll understand lying is wrong. If they lie in the future, they will go to jail.
What are your children’s personalities like?
Each one is very different. The oldest child, Zara, is sporty ― she does handstands and gymnastics. She’s just so much like her dad, a very sporty person. Christian is very bright. I’ll ask him to solve problems for me because I realise he thinks differently from others, he’s able to see more than others. Zoe is very creative, she recently created a duct tape wallet for me. She’s very hands-on in that way. She also has a lot of YouTube videos that are unpublished. It’s just her acting like a YouTube star.
Any fond family memory to share?
The most recent one happened on Mother’s Day. They made a mix of yoghurt nuts, washed my feet…like a full spa experience. They gave me a massage and scrubbed my feet, so we had to go to the bathtub to wash it all off. They even prepared herbal tea!
“It’s not about being a doctor or starting several successful businesses…so long as they are positive, happy and responsible, that’s all that matters, because these are the people who will contribute to society.”
What is the biggest challenge you face as a parent?
Parenting is not like driving where you have probation. There’s no theory to study for, either. I think the biggest problem is that we are always guilty. We are always guilty for not spending time with our children, guilty for not being around them so there’s things that we want to do in our career but we also want to be with our kids. All I can say is the best thing you can do is to forgive yourself. If not we’ll end up like our grandparents? They are spoiling our kids because they felt guilty and they are now making up for it [laughs].
What is the most rewarding thing about being a parent?
I can see myself in them in terms of their personality. It’s a privilege to raise positive and loving kids and knowing that they are yours. You’re giving them the best of you and you are their biggest influence in bringing out the best in them!
What’s will make you say you have done a good job as a parent?
If they grow up to become responsible and positive adults. Become people who take responsibility for their life live in a positive and happy manner. It’s not about being a doctor or starting several successful businesses. For me, so long as they are positive, happy and responsible, that’s all that matters, because these are the people who will contribute to society.
Complete these sentences…
* When it comes to parenting my children, my spouse is my… I have to say he needs to be reminded that he’s first a dad. He’s very lenient and lax with the kids sometimes.
* One piece of advice I always give my kids is… I always ask them what do you think? Because I don’t like to speak for them or on their behalf. They need to be able to think on their own. That way, they will learn to make decisions.
* The best thing parents can do for their children is… Raise them to be independent adults ― don’t do everything for them!
Nanz Chong-Komo, 48, and husband Larry Komo, in his 50s, are parents to Zoe, 10, Christian, 12, and Zara, 13.
Photos: Nanz Chong-Komo
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