Me & My Money

She defines success on her own terms

Entrepreneur and mum-to-be runs wedding services firm and tech start-up at the same time

Entrepreneur Teo Peiru's willingness to defy the expectations that women often face in business has given her the confidence to run two companies as different from each other as they could get.

Ms Teo, 34, is the director of La Belle Couture, a wedding services company offering gowns, photography, planning and decor.

Her second role is chief executive of KeyReply, an artificial intelligence technology start-up that helps companies improve productivity and communications by building virtual assistants to make work easier.

The two companies may be worlds apart, but Ms Teo juggles her interest in both wedding planning and technology adeptly while also expecting her first child in June.

All this is part of her journey in defining what success is to herself, she says.

"I used to have a narrow definition of what success is, such as having specific role models for each industry like (American billionaires) Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos.

"This was until I realised that constantly comparing myself with the 'ideal path of success' is not healthy, especially when the media keeps glamorising the 'youngest billionaires' stories.

"Everyone has his own path to walk, and we can each define success in our own way, according to our values, efforts and sacrifices we are willing to make, and the resources we can gather to make things work.

"At the end of the day, we have to be accountable to ourselves for the outcomes we achieve, and be at peace with the choices we make."

Since Ms Teo joined KeyReply in late 2017, the company has raised funding, quadrupled its revenue while increasing the headcount from three to 23.

She has plans to scale up the firm in South-east Asia, using Singapore as a base for core product development.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A As an entrepreneur, I would consider the main growth of my portfolio to be in business. I believe that the returns in the growth in business can always be more than what financial assets can offer. Of course, it comes with its own risks and conditions for success, but it is something I can drive actively and derive a lot of satisfaction and learning as a result.

My husband is a portfolio manager and he instils strict discipline and planning into our investments, especially when I am in business, which is inherently a high-risk activity. We do maintain a mix of real estate, savings, insurance and other shorter-term investment instruments.

Insurance-wise, I believe in protection. I maximise the Hospitalisation and Surgical (H&S) plan, as well as the Supplementary Retirement Scheme contribution every year, which gives great tax savings while being a method of good forced savings. This allows me to purchase an annuity every year that will mature in 30 years' time.

I have also chosen to take on more term insurance than life insurance, given that the options now are wider and I can get better coverage per dollar.

I have also increased my coverage, with a child on the way. Knowing that I am adequately covered by various insurance policies with a total sum assured of over $2 million allows me to have better peace of mind. I have also purchased a disability income plan and early critical illness cover.

  • Best and worst bets

  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A In my first foray into entrepreneurship in La Belle Couture, my former partner and I bought the company in 2010 from a long-time trusted friend.

    Being blinded by entrepreneur's optimism, we neglected to conduct detailed due diligence and find out more about the business risks.

    Within the first two years, we probably sank in close to a million dollars to keep the company afloat, as it was saddled with mountains of debt, while trying to keep initiatives alive to improve products and services.

    A single mistake cost me almost three years to make good and stabilise the business.

    My then partner called it quits within the first year as she saw no future in saving a sinking ship.

    The key lesson learnt is that it is important to understand what we are investing in, especially the risk-to-reward payoffs.

    Q And your best investment?

    A Ironically, the best investment I made was the worst initial investment (in La Belle Couture).

    If I had not persevered and had given up earlier, I would have been declared a bankrupt, gone back to employment and not ventured out ever again.

    Besides recouping all the financial investments, I am now richer by the experiences and knowledge, which I will take to other opportunities.

    The best investment was the opportunity cost of time, struggles and the learning process poured into turning around La Belle Couture, given the dire state it was in.

    The experience gained was invaluable in shaping my strategic thinking and business acumen, which enabled me to capitalise on my knowledge and successfully embark on subsequent business ventures.

    Ironically, these skill sets are best built when the going gets tough.

    Sue-Ann Tan

I tend not to dabble much in short-term investments as they require much time and attention. I hold on to only a small number of stocks like dividend-yielding Singtel, as well as some technology stocks like Facebook and Google that I believe have long-term potential, and I do not actively time the market.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A I grew up watching my father tackle every day with an incredible work ethic, seven days a week. Our playground and napping place during the weekends would be in his office. In a way, he handled work-life integration pretty well. He would use much of his savings to reinvest into the business. My mother, on the other hand, would always be looking out to invest whatever cash they had in properties or equities.

This probably fuelled my belief in business and investment as a normal way of life.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A For financial assets, the key is to take an objective approach to allocate our portfolio based on our risk appetite. Also, never make decisions based on rumours - or emotions. This means that we have to understand our own temperament.

It also means having the discipline not to be involved in deals that may cause us to make irrational decisions because we cannot take the stress or have to cut losses at the wrong time due to lack of attention.

Q What else is in your financial plan?

A My husband and I track our finances very closely and we review our cash flow, business and investments on a spreadsheet at least on a monthly basis. This gives me a much better sense of security to make plans in advance, especially if we anticipate shortfalls in the coming months.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A I do not expect to fully retire any time because I believe that I will want to spend my time meaningfully and in a way that I can contribute my knowledge to create some value-add to society when I am in my golden years.

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

A My father has been running his enterprise software development business for the past 37 years. My mother stayed in the same government service for more than 40 years before retiring a few years back. Both of them are trained in traditional Chinese medicine and they do pro bono work for the needy to help them with their medical needs.

My mother has heavily emphasised frugality since her younger days, maybe because she grew up in a family of eight siblings and resources were scarce. Perhaps, as a result, we hardly throw belongings away. My father, as the eldest son of five siblings, had to delay his university studies for many years to help provide for his family before he could pursue his own career.

In fact, sleeping in air-conditioning was considered a luxury. When we were young, my sister and I would have to ask for permission to turn it on and would be dragging our mattresses to our parents' room to "share the enjoyment".

Any material purchases beyond a "need" level were frowned upon. My parents, however, had an exception: education. For whatever they saved, they spent a disproportionate amount on our education, which included music, drama classes and tuition. For someone who would get off the bus earlier to save 10 cents on the fare, my mother would not hesitate to spend on any classes that my sister and I wanted to join. That was the value system we grew up with.

Q What does money mean to you?

A There is a limit to how much one needs before there is a diminishing incremental return on the improvement in the quality of life. What matters is the experience we can get from what we do or how we can make a difference in others' lives - there is no purpose to chasing a number to feel good.

Q Home is now ...

A I'm living in a rented 900 sq ft one-bedroom apartment in River Valley. With a baby on the way, we are considering options to accommodate our growing family needs.

Q I drive ...

A I much prefer to take on-demand services like Grab/Gojek/taxis, as I can make calls, check on things or even rest during the journey instead of driving. I feel like it is a lot more productive that way.