Starting a business is never easy. Even more so when you are a mum of two young kids and would be walking away from a six-figure annual salary. Yet this didn’t stop Skin Inc founder Sabrina Tan from venturing into an industry that she had no prior experience in.
Today, the 46-year-old entrepreneur is the head of a company that specialises in customised skincare products and has a presence in over 78 cities in Asia, Europe and the United States. Skin Inc also recently raised $10 million during its latest round of funding.
The secret to her success? Her strong belief in herself and her determination to finish everything that she starts well.
“Many people can start a company, start a new hobby or even simply want to lose weight. But they do not stick to the purpose that they set out to do.
“I make it a point that if I set my mind on something, I’m determined to finish well,” she tells us when we first ask her to introduce herself.
Defying the odds from a young age
With everything that she has achieved and her well-polished image, most would assume that her life was smooth sailing. But few people realise that the well-spoken, petite businesswoman is deaf in her left ear.
Her condition was severe enough for her primary school teachers to recommend that she be placed in a special school. However, her mum refused and fought hard for her to remain in a mainstream school.
Though she didn’t know it at that point in time, looking back, she says her mother’s actions were a life lesson that one shouldn’t just accept what has been dished out to them.
“If you believe in something, you should always give it your best shot in life,” she adds.
Her mother has been a great motivator in her life, though she admits that they weren’t close growing up.
Sabrina was “brought up by many nannies” as her mum was busy running a chain of three beauty salons while singlehandedly raising four children — she has three older brothers.
However, her mum would “let us be who we are, believing and encouraging us based on our strengths, while pointing out where she thinks there can be ways to improve,” she shares. And it is now after her mum has passed away that her brothers have pointed out how similar she is to her mother.
“When she believed in anything, it was almost like insanity with a purpose.”
As for her deafness, Sabrina admits that she hardly realises it. And this stems from having the attitude of not letting it become a handicap.
“I don’t think you should let your handicap or disability in any way make you conform or limit what you can accomplish in life,” she says.
Instead, she believes in having a “progress mindset”.
“This means working towards being a better version of yourself than yesterday and having a growth mindset. This means not comparing yourself with others, but comparing yourself with yourself. Have you really grown and have you really learned?”
Building a business and changing with the times
She cites wanting a fuss-free skincare routine as a working mum and her kids’ eczema as the reason behind her entrance into the competitive beauty industry in 2008. With two young children, aged three and one then, not to mention the global financial crisis unfolding, it did not seem to be the best time to go into a brand new business, but Sabrina was determined to make her vision come true.
“There was never a perfect time. You just felt that that is the perfect moment, you know that there is this hunger in your stomach. You just don’t really think about how you are going to cope… I was clear about the calling and the purpose and there was no doubt that I would choose otherwise. To me, [starting Skin Inc] was like a calling,” she shares.
After deliberating for a couple months and some intensive research, she decided to go ahead with the launch of her personalised skincare line as she believed it is “truly the way skincare should be done”.
At Skin Inc, customers fill out a questionnaire on their lifestyle habits and skin condition and will be given a set of serum combinations to blend to create a product that meets their skincare needs.
Despite starting her business during a global recession and having her two toddlers “screaming their lungs out” as she hustled, it was having the mindset of “I’m going to conquer this and try my best” that got her through that time and the subsequent years.
Skin Inc’s big break came when Sephora decided to carry their products, making them the first Singapore homegrown brand to be carried by the cosmetic retailer. This also meant that they would be carried in seven different countries immediately. Sabrina and her team had to quickly navigate the new business terrain, product registration requirements and regulatory trademarks needed for them to optimise this opportunity.
And while the business continued to do well, in 2020 — like everyone else — Skin Inc was hit hard by Covid-19 as their distribution partners, including Sephora and Nordstrom closed more than 200 stores overnight. “This [Covid-19] is everyone’s problem. How can I best adapt and make full use of what I have?
“We looked at the digital side of the business and started refocusing and strategising resources to our online community. We also put a face to the brand to assure people that we are here for you and that we care,” shares Sabrina.
This pivot paid off as the brand achieved 400 per cent growth online. This more than made up for the loss of sales from brick and mortar stores.
“In every entrepreneur’s walk, every year, you have something new coming… there are lots of adjustments to make and you need to be constantly agile to adapt, be it to your team, to your business or to yourself.”
This article was first published in AsiaOne.