Founder of e-commerce Luxella.com Kaylee Lim ventured into the steeply cultural Japanese market to source for products and came out learning more about the direction she has chosen for her business.
I studied both journalism (minor) as well as digital media (major) at AUT University in Auckland, NZ. After graduating, I got my first job as a social media marketer (for 6 months) – running social media campaigns, designing and admin work for a small company (Caninespirit). I applied for journalism/writing jobs but didn’t get a single reply. At the end of that year, my NZ working visa would run out, so I decided to spend one year at Media Design School studying web development & design. I took on many freelance jobs (with low or no pay). When I got out with a proper web portfolio it was much easier to get interviews and job offers in Front end development/web design – a huge change from the endless journalism job rejections I faced in my first year out of uni. So that was the start of my web career.
In my first full time job, I worked for Pet.co.nz – NZ’s newest (at that time) pet e-commerce startup that was ran by the “Joel Neoh of NZ” – Shane Bradley*. It was my first experience in an e-commerce and Shane’s determination/story really inspired me to eventually start my own thing.
It was during my second job (4 years into my web development career) when I had the idea for Luxella. I was visiting Japan with my fiance, Nathan, for a month. I was amazed by the amount of Japanese beauty products available in Japan (and they don’t just work, they had well regulated ingredients). I was also getting requests from friends/family to buy stuff for them from Japan.
When I came back to NZ – I had a suitcase FULL of items requested by friends/family. Before my second holiday in Japan almost a year later, I decided to build a website and launch it while I was there. I did a lucky bag / “Fukubukuro” sale – and made around RM11,000 (sales), not bad for a fun holiday project. But I went back to NZ and continued working – I didn’t hate my job and was used to the comfy/stable income and lifestyle in NZ. After 4 months of running Luxella as a side project, I decided to quit a job I loved, take a chance and leave Auckland after living there for 9 years. I moved to Tokyo with my fiance (who is so supportive). That was in May 2016. I didn’t think of coming back to Malaysia until I was accepted into MaGIC’s Cohort 3 ASEAN Accelerator programme (August 2016). I met a lot of mentors, business connections and fellow startups during MAGIC. So I now live between Malaysia & Japan, trying to grow Luxella.com bit by bit.
2. Describe your business. What do you sell and how do you source for products?
Luxella.com is a cross border e-commerce platform focused on curating high quality organic and natural Japanese Beauty products as well as more affordable Japanese drug store products. I spend time testing products, finding new products in Japanese drug stores as well as department stores, find out how the products are made, vet ingredients, talk to brand and factory owners, visit Japanese factories where possible as well as trade shows. In Japan, the barriers to doing business are a lot higher as Japanese people are quite reserved and are extremely picky about who they sell their products to. It took me months to gain the trust of brands that I loved and convince them to come on board my platform. Their perfectionist nature makes them wary of selling their products overseas – but this is precisely why I think there are so many high quality products from Japan that deserve worldwide recognition. This level of care is rarely seen in today’s fast paced, fast fashion world.
3. What are your challenges as a startup and your encounters with numerous mentors and advisors?
It’s not the most stable life – there are days where I wonder if things will work out and worry so much about failure. And having mentors, advisors and business peers is extremely helpful. I definitely learned so much from mentors and fellow startups I met in MaGIC. From how big warehouses like Lazada’s are run (we got to visit) – to UX and conversions from facebook/google ads etc. But ultimately, the final decision is up to the founder(s) and whatever decision I choose, I will have to take responsibility for it. No one can guarantee a strategy/plan will work or not – and in the end, everyone is just trying to make things work
4. Finally, what is your approach towards a sustainable business and what is your philosophy?
Well, I’m bootstrapped/self funded – like most traditional businesses. My growth is definitely slower as I’m more cautious with spending funds/not burning money, making sure there’s enough profits. And there are many ways to run a business. I was encouraged to fundraise from VCs during the MaGIC programme. I spent some time on fundraising – but ultimately, my business and sales suffered as I was a sole founder then. I decided to build a small team and focus on growing my business first. Maybe I’ll fundraise in the future when I need to expand or have a partnership, but for now – I’m happy where Luxella is as a small but sustainable and growing business.