When I think of packing takeaways for my parents or lunch boxes for my kids, I usually use the disposable plastic containers provided by stalls or Tupperware-like containers that we have. The main concern is to make sure that all food items fit into the container and that nothing spills out.
But perhaps there is something I have been missing out on. After all, convenience shouldn’t be the only thing we care about. Being aware of how our actions affect the environment is something that many of us also think about today.
Whether we are preparing food from home or buying take-out from the coffee shop, carrying a reusable lunch box isn’t just to save money, but something we do to play our part for the environment.
And this is what local homegrown brand BYKURAHOME aims to do. The company’s mission is to end disposable culture, one habit at a time. BYKURAHOME (pronounced as by-ku-ra-home) wants to provide tools to help people change their habit of using disposable products in style.
What BYKURAHOME Does
In line with their mission, BYKURAHOME creates a portfolio of sustainable and high-quality products that replaces the everyday items in our lives. They are widely known for their aesthetic food storage solutions, wooden ware and reusable bags, which are often gushed about by women on social media. These include the Lejos Silicone Collapsible Lunch Box and Mojo Silicone Bag – two of its very popular items.
While it’s a fast-growing e-commerce business, BYKURAHOME isn’t the typical start-up founded by aspiring entrepreneurs right after graduation. BYKURAHOME’s founder, Ariel Hay, was a stay-home mom when she started the company. Before that, Ariel spent about eight years working in various marketing roles within the beauty industry.
Currently a mom of two (number two just popped out in May!), Ariel shares how it’s like to start an e-commerce business as a stay-home mom where she not only has to manage her customers and staff, but also juggle her responsibilities as a full-time mom.
Timothy Ho (Timothy): For someone who had been working since graduation, it wouldn’t be easy to stop after getting married and becoming a parent. Can you share with us what led to this decision?
Ariel Hay (Ariel): I was on my way up the corporate ladder, and it was never part of my plan to be a full-time stay-home mom. However, things changed in 2017 when I miscarried at six weeks, and my gynae diagnosed me with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
That was when I decided to leave my full-time job and take the time to heal physically and mentally. When I eventually gave birth to a healthy baby boy in 2018, I didn’t want to return to my previous hectic marketing life, and continued to be a stay-home mother.
Timothy: Being a stay-home mom can be tiring, both physically and mentally. What prompted you to think about starting an e-commerce business?
Ariel: Yes! Being a stay-home mum is indeed very tiring, though fulfilling at the same time. However, giving up my career made me feel like I lost a part of my identity. I think this is something that many stay-home moms also struggle with, especially if they worked and did well in their careers prior.
Jumping back to the previous industry was not an option as I wasn’t willing to forgo precious family time. That was what pushed me to think about starting my own business.
Timothy: Every start-up has its challenges. What were some unique challenges that you faced when you started BYKURAHOME?
Ariel: We believe that sustainability is here to stay and since we launched BYKURAHOME, we have seen more companies selling sustainable products too. We are heartened as we believe this will help build an ecosystem that will strengthen the shift in consumer mindset. We also place a strong emphasis on illustrating how sustainable practices can be easily adopted in our daily lives.
However, one of the key challenges we identified is that many of the sustainable products introduced in the market are of a lower quality, with our customers often sharing their past inferior user experiences with us. Another common problem is dealing with plagiarism. There were instances when a prominent local brand (with almost 20 retail stores) lifted our content word for word alongside our illustrations without any credit mention; and another brand copied our content and represented it as theirs. While this advances the sustainable message that we want to get across to consumers, it can be disheartening for the team to see their hard work blatantly copied by others. While we try to keep the team motivated by thinking about the bigger cause we are working towards, it’s not easy to address these issues, whether internally or with other brands that we felt were not ethical.
Timothy: You initially left your corporate career to focus on your kid (now kids). With BYKURAHOME expanding quickly, the business will need more of your time. This, ironically, means that you may have less time for other things in life, including your kids. How do you balance the responsibilities of being both a business owner and a full-time mom?
Ariel: I believe that to grow a business, we first need to groom people. That is why we have progressively expanded our team since last year. Once we recognise a talent, we keep them highly engaged and invested.
With that, I can pass on the day-to-day operations to the team, and focus on strategic business development instead.
Recently, I came across a saying from the author, Nora Roberts on juggling work and kids – “the key to juggling is to know that some of the balls you have in the air are made of plastic and some are made of glass.” The takeaway is that some balls might drop, and that’s fine. It’s important to know which balls are plastic and which are glass. I think this applies to all working mums, whether you are a stay-home working mum, full-time working mom, or a mum who is running her business.
Timothy: The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been easy. What are some near-term plans that you have for BYKURAHOME?
Ariel: In terms of business goals, we have developed strategies to grow our operations both locally and overseas.
Apart from that, BYKURAHOME’s social aim is to partner with like-minded businesses and individuals from various industries and walks of life, and put a spotlight on the sustainable efforts in their daily operations and activities. We are of the belief that the sustainability movement is here to stay. By forming a tight-knitted community, we advocate providing support for each other and becoming the change-makers to influence more people.
Consumers these days are savvy, and they understand the impact of their carbon footprint. Our products have always been very well-received, and many of our customers are eager to share their product reviews, user experience and sustainable habits on Instagram (we managed to garner more than 10k loyal followers in less than ten months).
We are also glad to be featured in prominent media sites that share the same values. These include the likes of CNA, TimeOut Singapore, Lifestyle Asia, NUYOU etc.
As a young local start-up, we are honoured to have international brands like Fresh and Rolex, and government agencies like STB and HDB who resonated with our brand ethos and approached us for partnerships.
All these factors reinforced our belief that we’re on the right track to building a more sustainable future, and that BYKURAHOME is a brand with high potential.
In Spite Of COVID-19, Starting A Profitable Business Is Still Possible
Regardless of whether you are a student, currently working or a full-time stay-home mom, starting a business in Singapore today is easier than it ever has been. For example, with the proliferation of the Internet, companies including both DollarsAndSense (us!) and BYKURAHOME are businesses that started from home, without the need for their entrepreneurs to take on unnecessary overheads such as rental costs or make large upfront investments.
Also, through the Start Digital Pack, SMEs can also take up digital marketing solutions such as Mailchimp to create and maintain our customer database, E-Commerce solutions such as Shopify to sell products online, or HR tools like Talenox to support HR-related matters such as payroll, reimbursements and leave management.