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SME Diaries: It was daunting taking our baby and maternity start-up fully online, but doing so has reaped rewards

If there was anything good that Covid-19 brought, it was the surge of online purchases. KeaBabies, our baby and maternity start-up founded in 2017, saw double revenue growth in 2020 and a 50 per cent increase in 2021.

Jane Neo, 34, and Ivan Ong, 36, recount how their baby and maternity start-up had to react quickly to shipment delays and rising costs, even as online purchases surged amid the pandemic.

Jane Neo, 34, and Ivan Ong, 36, recount how their baby and maternity start-up had to react quickly to shipment delays and rising costs, even as online purchases surged amid the pandemic.

Singapore

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Jane Neo and Ivan Ong

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which form 99 per cent of businesses in Singapore, have felt the impact of Covid-19 keenly. TODAY’s Voices section is publishing first-hand accounts from SME owners and managers on the highs and lows of running a business in the pandemic.

In this instalment, self-taught entrepreneurs Jane Neo, 34, and Ivan Ong, 36, recount how their baby and maternity start-up had to react quickly to shipment delays and rising costs, even as online purchases surged amid the pandemic. They successfully leveraged technology to go fully online, and this allowed them to expand their business to serve millions of customers globally. 

If there was anything good that Covid-19 brought, it was the surge of online purchases. 

KeaBabies, our baby and maternity start-up founded in 2017, saw double revenue growth in 2020 and a 50 per cent increase in 2021.
 
However, our shipment time increased from 30 to 60 days and our products, such as wrap carriers and bibs, ran short in supply. 

Luckily, our deliveries were not delayed further and customers didn’t cancel orders as we rely on Amazon for most fulfilments. Yet, it was all overwhelming as we were new in the business and unprepared for disruptions.
 
Prices of raw materials also increased by 10-15 per cent but we absorbed this to keep products affordable. 

Last June, we launched an in-house artificial intelligence logistics technology to plan sales and supplies. Earlier, we used to under or over order raw materials, causing pressure on our cash flow or insufficient stocks. 

With this technology, we could predict demand more accurately. For example, we can see that our baby ornaments are usually in high demand around Mother’s Day. The technology also syncs shipping and sales details so we can track our 300 products across 13 markets.
 
We used Amazon’s fulfilment service to reach customers in Germany, the United States, and Britain. This involved storing our products in Amazon’s fulfilment centres and leaving picking, packing, shipping, returns, and customer service to them. 

It was a huge load off our time and resources, and we could engage customers overseas, all while being in Singapore — a huge blessing during global lockdowns!
 
Our next major challenge was to shift all processes online as our team tripled in size between 2020 and 2021 — we have 45 employees now. 

We had to adopt online platforms overnight for meetings, virtual staff onboarding and appraisals. It was all quite daunting and confusing — given the novelty of work-from-home — but soon came as a big relief.
 
Additionally, we had to keep morale high and ensure employees didn’t feel isolated. Our staff took turns leading “Mindful Monday'' sessions to learn and grow together. Our quarterly team meetings with games, charity activities, and retreats moved online too. 

We switched to a 100 per cent paperless, remote organisation and are so proud of how far we’ve come. This transition was extremely valuable to our growth — we have served 3.6 million customers globally to date, including 1.5 million users in 2021.
 
We recently launched a revamped website offering customers streamlined categories across our eco-friendly and green products. All our packaging is recyclable and compact by design, and our materials are sustainably sourced, supported by several industry-wide certifications that we achieved between 2020 and 2021.
 
During the pandemic, we learnt the payoffs in adapting and the importance of managing our risks to stay competitive. 

Growing geopolitical risks and inflation may increase costs so our focus remains on differentiating our brand, expanding our product lines in our strongest markets, and relying on customers’ feedback to hit US$40 million (S$54 million) in revenue this year.
 
ABOUT THE WRITERS:

Jane Neo, 34, and Ivan Ong, 36, started KeaBabies, a baby and maternity brand, in 2017. They are self-taught entrepreneurs.

If you are an SME owner or manager with an experience to share or know someone who wishes to contribute to this series, write to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number.

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SME SME Diaries business

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