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Money Choice: I made six-figure revenue as a student entrepreneur

·Contributor
·4-min read
(PHOTO: Zhe Yi)
Co-founders of Monocle, Hejia (left) and Zhe Yi. (PHOTO: Zhe Yi)

By Chelsea Ong

SINGAPORE — Earning a six-figure revenue in your first six months of operations simply sounds too good to be true. Former classmates Zhe Yi and Hejia accomplished that by starting a venture to sell quality glasses at affordable prices. The two 23-year-old students plan for a second store by mid-2022, even as one of the founders is set to continue his studies in the UK.

Here’s their story.

“It’s a common notion that glasses are expensive, especially designer ones. Both of us wear glasses, and it just didn’t make sense to us that glasses were so expensive. We saw a gap in the Singapore market for a local eyewear brand that had good quality products, good branding, and yet affordable.

We decided to start our very own eyewear brand, Monocle, that works on a direct partnership model with our manufacturers. Having our own line of products allows us to use the same materials that designer brands use, and adopting a direct-to-consumer approach lets us sell our products at an affordable price.

As the two of us had very limited experience and knowledge of the optical industry, we spent a year to do thorough market research. Zhe Yi took a gap year to focus on Monocle while deciding what course he wanted to do in university — eventually he decided to study business. 

We rented a showroom in Joo Chiat which was open to customers once a week through an online booking system. This one year was primarily for us to slowly gain experience and gather customers’ feedback about our products, branding, and service. As we regularly reviewed feedback and slowly started to build up our brand, we saw a direct co-relation between good branding and the number of customers we had, and hence an increase in profits.

However, our profits really started taking off when we started selling our own line of products. We knew we lacked the financial resources that bigger brands had, so our goal was to carve out a niche market for ourselves. Instead of simply being a fast fashion glasses store, we wanted to be an affordable, local brand with good branding and quality products. Simply put, we wanted to be the Love Bonito of glasses, and not the Uniqlo or H&M of the industry.

While it was exciting starting a business, we were always cautious about not taking too much risk with this business because we didn’t want to blindly pour money in with no returns. Our initial investment was a four figure one, and it came from our own savings. We only moved forward at each stage when we saw the viability of the business, which worked out for us. After our first six months, we had earned six figures in revenue over 33 opening days and had sold over a thousand pairs of glasses.

We eventually used the money we earned from that one year to rent our current store in Haji Lane.

Currently, we are open for bookings eight days a month, and earn anything between S$50 to S$60,000 monthly. We aim to eventually be open full time for business. We are also in the midst of expanding our team, and plan to possibly open our second store by the middle of 2022.

Zhe Yi is heading to the UK for his studies this year, but thankfully we have well-defined roles in the business. We both manage the branding and infrastructure of the business, but our optometrist partner now oversees front-end retail operations. So Zhe Yi is able to be involved in the business even when he isn't based in Singapore.

So far, the toughest challenge for us has been that we are basically just a couple of university kids trying to navigate this entire situation. We’ve definitely experienced imposter syndrome. That may be why we find ourselves doing that much extra just to prove ourselves to other people, such as our investors, and even the opticians we hired.

However, we’ve both learnt so much from this whole experience and have no regrets starting Monocle. We’ve had so many opportunities to try out so many different things and interact with people we never would’ve had the chance to – from designing our very own eyewear products to dealing with manufacturers.

If you’re thinking of starting your own business, just do it and learn along the way. Both of us are able to dabble in design and marketing because we honed these skills in various projects and also took on part time editing and videography roles. Try immersing yourself in as many experiences as possible to gain experience and get a feel of what you’re interested in.”

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