Still , I Rise

Fac­ing the harsh re­alit y that her brand couldn’t take off, Ash Be Nim­ble’s founder Hui Mathews knew she had to take ac­tion.

CLEO (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS -

Ash Be Nim­ble’s founder Hui Mathews on turn­ing things around for her busi­ness

The last weeks of ty­ing up Ash Be Nim­ble’s loose ends were an in­tense, in­cred­i­bly emo­tional roller coaster ride. I was plan­ning for a bazaar for our clear­ance sale while think­ing of how to break the news to our cus­tomers, part­ners, friends and fam­ily, brain­storm­ing a new di­rec­tion for the brand, and re­vamp­ing our web­site. While all of t his was hap­pen­ing, I had a race to do, a mis­sion to trial a few play schools for my daugh­ter, Asha, be­fore the end of 2017, all while I for­got my pass­port had ran out of pages and had toge tit sorted. But it was when I started be­ing less sen­ti­ment al and emo­tional, and dared to think about clos­ing the busi­ness as a real op­tion, that I got more clar­ity, ideas and in­put for the new di­rec­tion of the brand.


Dur­ing my dark­est mo­ments, my girls stepped up. They in­spired and mo­ti­vated me with lit­tle mes­sages, even shoul­der­ing some of the fi­nan­cial chal­lenges of the com­pany by shift­ing to part-time work ar­range­ments. I don’t know what I did to de­serve them. Every month, I made it a point to sit with my team mem­bers to ask them what they could add to their Linked In pro­file as as kill they have learnt, to make sure we were fo­cused on learn­ing new things and de­vel­op­ing pro­fes­sion­ally.

Even when they told me they had out­side op­por­tu­ni­ties and I had to re­sist ever y urge to tear up, I re­alised that we had suc­ceeded in build­ing a great en­vi­ron­ment for them to learn as their new em­ployer recog­nised t heir unique blend of skills and ap­pre­ci­ated our out­come- driven en­vi­ron­ment. In that in­stant, I re­alised that was more valu­able than just build­ing a great prod­uct or brand. De­spite the ups and downs, I was able to build amaz­ing work­ing re­la­tion­ships and friend ships with my team.


Em­ploy­ment never pre­pares you for this one harsh re­al­ity—you will never real is ethe sting of pay­ing out of your own pocket un­til you star t your own busi­ness. The stress of cash flow chal­lenges took away a lot of the joy and pas­sion of do­ing what I loved. I re­mem­ber tear­ing up watch­ing The Pur­suit of

Hap­py­ness, be­cause t he main char­ac­ter had US$ 22 left in his bank ac­count. At that point in time, I had about RM 622 left. It hit hard when I wanted to send Asha to playschool but re­alised I could not even pay for a term up front.

My hus­band and I had poured our sav­ings into this. We made sac­ri­fices: no fancy meals( econ­omy

RM 5 lunch es most days !), lo­cal hol­i­days and sim­ple XiaoMi phones had to do.

In ret­ro­spect, run­ning our own busi­ness may have seemed like a waste of our sav­ings, but I learned so much (like a su­per ex­pen­sive MBA ). Be­cause of t his valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence build­ing a brand from scratch, go­ing through t he pain of boot­strap­ping and be­ing cre­ative about how we spent our time and money, a cor­po­rate came knock­ing on our door to do some con­tract work with them to find dig­i­tal solutions for other busi­nesses.


One of the dark­est mo­ments in 2017 was when I got a dis­ap­point­ing phone call from an in­vestor who had de­cided that their port­fo­lio strat­egy needed to shift and it meant that it did not in­clude us any­more. It was a vul­ner­a­ble ex­pe­ri­ence go­ing to one pitch af­ter an­other, then sub­se­quently hav­ing to give the team dis­ap­point­ing and empty up­dates.

I also re­alised I had been swept up in the start-up hype in Kuala Lump ur. When I started Ash Be Nim­ble, I wanted it to be a‘ life­style busi­ness’ that was self­sus­tain­ing af­ter three to four years, could replica te 70–80% of my cor­po­rate salary, free up my sched­ule to have kids and run a lot more. Four years later, I was earn­ing 25% of my last drawn salary, barely had time to run once a week, and was too stressed to give my child the at­ten­tion and love she needs. In this sort of sit­u­a­tion, per spec ive is needed. You need to ask your­self: What kind of busi­ness do you want to have?


We as hu­mans are so afraid of fail­ure. Yes, I’ m sad this chap­ter came to an end, but it had to be like pulling off a band-aid—ei­ther do it quickly and ex­cru­ci­at­ingly, or slowly and painfully. Roshan, one of my men­tors who was a judge at the Al­liance Bank SME In­no­va­tion Chal­lenge in 2015, had told me :“Fail fast, and fail glo­ri­ous ly .” I’ m still not sure if we suc­ceeded at fail­ing glo­ri­ous ly, and I don’t know if our new di­rec­tion won’t bea fail­ure, but I know that I’ ve be­come a tougher, bet­ter, wiser busi­ness per­son, mother and leader, more than what any job could have taught me.

While Ash BeNim­ble ( www. ash­ben­im­ble. com) may no­longer sell fitness ap­parel,it’snow a go-to for lo­cal fitness con­tent.

”Some­times, you just need to ask your­self: What kind of busi­ness do you want to have?”

Hui Mathews, fea­tured as a CLEO Hot Shot in the Au­gust 2016 i ssue

Prepar­ing for a new di­rec­tion

New be­gin­nings for Ash Be Nim­ble

Hui poses with a young cus­tomer

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