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.
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.
FOCUS ON WHO YOU’RE BECOMING AND THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU
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.
IT’S A HEAVY FLOW
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.
IDENTIFY THE ELEPHANT
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?
FAILURE IS NOT PERMANENT
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