What started from peddling nail polishes door-to-door has flourished into a booming beauty venture. Daryl Chew, the brainchild behind Nail Deck, spills it all.
In 2011, a university student took the plunge into entrepreneurship amidst all odds – selling nail polishes door-to-door and running pushcarts on campuses, before evolving into a hardware startup which was forced to cease productions due to lack of funds. Today, 29-year-old Daryl Chew is the owner of his very own custom cosmetics empire known as Nail Deck, where they specialise in creating bespoke nail lacquers. Innovating the beauty industry in ways previously unimaginable, Daryl is painting his own rules for success.
Tell us the story behind Nail Deck.
It all started when my then-girlfriend (now wife) wanted to buy a specific brand of colour-changing nail polish from the United States, but it doesn’t ship to Singapore. Back then I was under an entrepreneurship programme in the National University of Singapore, so I thought it was an interesting product from a male’s point of view.
I contacted the company and became the brand’s official distributor – I ordered a few thousand bottles but didn’t know what to do with the leftovers, so I peddled a backpack filled with nail polishes and sold them to salons. After graduation, I opened pushcarts to reach consumers directly and it took off from there.
If you could describe yourself as a nail polish shade, what kind of colour would you envision it to be?
I would be a dark vampire blood red, and there’s a story behind it. When I was running pushcarts, I had people requesting for specific colours and there was a customer who asked for a “dark vampire blood red” but I couldn’t find the exact shade she wanted so she got frustrated. Over time, I received more and more requests. I don’t know who the woman is and I’ll never know the exact shade she envishioned, but that was what gave me the light bulb moment to go into nail polish customisation.
As a male in a largely female-oriented industry, what are your thoughts on the stigma surrounding men and beauty?
For me, I wear nail polish and all, but I’m not concerned with the comments. On the contrary, being a male in the field of cosmetics has allowed me to be more objective when it comes to business aspects. As I’m not a direct user, I go by consumer data instead of being emotionally invested in a product.
How does the entrepreneurial landscape differ from the past and now?
When I first started the business back in 2011, it was the beginning of the start-up craze and the industry has matured very quickly over the years. There are government organisations coming together to foster a strong ecosystem where they provide mentorship, fundraising initiatives, grants etc. You now have all these resources to leverage on – all you need is a good idea, determination and a leap of faith to make it happen.
What were the challenges you had to face and how did you overcome them?
Dealing with self-doubt. You see friends bringing in five-figure salaries, and you’d wonder whether you’ve made the right decision. But at the end of the day, nothing beats the satisfaction of being an entrepreneur. It’s a rollercoaster ride, but that’s what makes the ups better. I am also fortunate to have the support of my family and friends to keep me going.
Have you ever thought about what you’d be doing if you weren’t an entrepreneur?
The idea of working for another company has crossed my mind, but I love what I’m doing. I enjoy creating a brand that can carry on the legacy. 50 years down the road, I still hope to have my products on the shelves and continue bringing happiness to people.
What has been the most memorable moment for you thus far?
Not giving up on entrepreneurship and jumping back into the game. I put my business on hold for about two years. I enjoyed what I was doing, but I didn’t know how to grow the business and lost a lot of confidence, thus I wanted to gain more experience. I worked at an investment company and ended up doing well at it. I thought it was the right career path, but once you’ve had a taste of being your own boss, that sense of satisfaction will always be there.
How do you find the balance between work life and me-time?
I usually end my days earlier to spend time with my family. In the past, I had the belief that I should be working nonstop, but I realised that while businesses can always be built up again, relationships with your loved ones can’t be gained back easily. I also place a lot of emphasis on having a healthy lifestyle, so I would run on the weekends and train for marathons.
What’s a piece of advice you’d give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Being an entrepreneur is not a career choice, but a lifestyle choice. You’ve got to be mentally prepared that a lot of things in your life are going to change, and you have to embrace the changes if you set your mind to becoming one.
Watch Daryl introducing Nail Deck to Xiaxue!
This article was adapted from the November 2017 issue of Teenage.
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