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How the founder of Hegen turned a leaked design into one of her biggest lessons in business

Money Choice: Yvon Bock, founder and CEO of Hegen, had to start from scratch when her competitor launched first – with her hero product design.

Yvon Bock, CEO and founder of Hegen, wearing a peach jacket and beige pants. (PHOTO: Hegen)
Yvon Bock, CEO and founder of Hegen. (PHOTO: Hegen) (Juliana Tan)

SINGAPORE — Imagine seeing your competitor launching with your hero product design just before your own launch, forcing you and your team to start from scratch again. This was what happened to the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of baby-feeding brand Hegen, Yvon Bock, at the start of her entrepreneurship journey.

Nine years on, the 44-year-old still considers this a crucial turning point where she learned the value of grit and perseverance. She also came to understand the importance of protecting your intellectual property as these are precious assets that have the power to bring the company to the next level.

In November 2023, Bock clinched the top honour in the consumer products category at the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards and was ultimately named EY Entrepreneur Of The Year (EOY) 2023 Singapore. She will represent Singapore at the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year in June this year.

More than just a bottle brand

Bock's laser-focused vision is in serving 100 million mothers around the world.

Breastfeeding, primary, and secondary feeding continue to be the brand's core pillars. Through the years, Hegen has promoted a more holistic view of all things that feed a child. The company continues to innovate its products to ensure that its feeding systems can grow with the child across different life stages, while advocating breastfeeding and supporting mothers in their breastfeeding journey.

This all comes together in the 15,000 sq ft Hegen Experiential Centre which opened in 2021. It houses the Hegen Lactation Centre which provides support for breastfeeding mothers. Having gone through a decade of breastfeeding, spanning across her four children, Bock herself is a certified International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

The centre also serves as a retail space where customers can peruse and learn about the brand's products in a comfortable and child-friendly environment.

Bock shares more insight into her entrepreneurship journey with Yahoo Finance Singapore.

How has your leadership style evolved as the company grew?

When we first started, I had the start-up attitude where I saw every opportunity as a good opportunity. But as we transitioned from a start-up to a global organisation, my leadership style evolved from something that was purely operational – where I was very hands-on and on-the-ground, setting up at almost every event – to take on a more empowering and strategic role where I am doing the vision setting and making sure that everyone in the team has their own specialisation. This is so that we can bring out their (individual) strengths and grow together as a team.

What are some of the challenges you face as a business owner?

Talent acquisition and retention has always been a big challenge for organisations in Singapore. We are mission-driven — we believe in our mission and people join us for the mission, but as we expand, we are focusing on nurturing talent and giving them a career path. How do we fight for talent as a start-up? How do we match the attractive packages that the MNCs (multi-national corporations) have? It is still a constant, but worthy, challenge for us.

In terms of marketing, we have to be very respectful and observant of the local cultural nuances. In certain markets, it's important not to position just the mother, but to include the whole family. In some, the baby cannot be feeding on their own as it would seem irresponsible, so they need to be accompanied by an adult in the photo.Yvon Bock

In some Asian markets, I also observed that they are more comfortable dealing with men, so I have to bring my husband to the meeting. Initially, it was a bit of a culture shock, but I took it as just one of the little different experiences we will have as we expand.

Your goal for the company is to expand to 35 markets. How are you positioned in this goal?

The two years of COVID has slowed us down but did not stop us. I want to say we're unstoppable — even during COVID when it was slow, we increased from 15 to 20 markets. We are currently in the whole of Asia, and we have expanded to Europe, Australia, the United States, and South America.

Yvon Bock, CEO and founder of Hegen (second from right) and colleagues. (PHOTO: Hegen)
Yvon Bock, CEO and founder of Hegen (second from right) and colleagues. (PHOTO: Hegen) (NGAU KAI YAN)

Every market is different, how are you adapting your strategies to resonate with the cultural nuances and trends?

Very interestingly, the parenthood journey and the experience can be quite universal in many ways. The product itself — the Hegen express, store, feed ecosystem — applies across all our markets. Customers have the same objectives, they are looking for a simpler, more sustainable solution, and how to protect the integrity of the breast milk.

In terms of marketing, we have to be very respectful and observant of the local cultural nuances. In certain markets, it's important not to position just the mother, but to include the whole family. In some, the baby cannot be feeding on their own as it would seem irresponsible, so they need to be accompanied by an adult in the photo. And how do we project breastfeeding in a respectful way?

These are all observations we have made and make sure to take into consideration. We learn by spending time in the various markets.

What are you planning for in 2024?

We have a few exciting projects in the pipeline. We are improving and creating new innovations that provide even more seamless, convenient, and efficient experiences such as extensions of our core products. Our personalisation and customisation solutions called "Hegen By Me" has been very well received so we are going deeper into that.

We are also working with our global supply chain stakeholders on materials and packaging, integrating our principle of sustainability. We've had sustainability in mind from the very beginning — one bottle, multiple use. We want to adopt sustainability in all our processes.

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