Most of us go through our educational years, and aim to enter the workforce with a “stable job” and optimistic prospects.
It wasn’t any different for Ang Lifan, except that her growing brood of chinchillas sparked off an idea which she had never thought well of.
We had the exclusive privilege to chat with Lifan, owner ofPets Republic, which specialises in small animals alongside Munchkinpets.com, an online store for your pets’ needs. She shared how she stumbled into starting her own business, and her secrets to balancing a growing business and her young daughter.
Hi Lifan! We heard about your “accidental” foray into entrepreneurship. Do share how it all happened!
When I was schooling, I was always pretty fixated on the idea of getting a corporate, well-paid 9 to 5 job, and I worked hard at it. In fact, when I was a kid, I told myself, even if I did eventually set up a business, I would never set up a pet shop because it just didn’t make financial sense!
Whilst doing my Bachelor’s, I chanced upon this shop that sold chinchillas, and I was pretty much hooked. Before long, I brought home my first chinchilla. The more I read about them, the more fascinated I became. Very soon, I was importing my own show quality chinchillas that went into the thousands each. I would stinge on everything, and pumped all my money that I had earned from giving tuition into breeding chinchillas.
When I graduated with my degree, I had more than 30 chinchillas, and figured, there was no way I could hold a full time job and still care for them in the way that I wanted. So I thought I would set up a shop and run it so it was self-sustaining and eventually move out to find a full time job that paid better.
It has been 10 years, and I have not moved into getting a “stable job” (as my Mum likes to call it).
How has it been dealing with animals for the past 10 years?
It has been eye-opening. I think the way we treat our animals say a lot about us, regardless of what we might say. People say one thing, but the way they treat the animals under their charge is so telling about their character.
Also, animals themselves come in all shapes, sizes and temperament, they are kind of like people too, except more dependent on us in our urban environment. Even after 10 years, each animal is unique and it’s always a joy to get to know a particular animal better.
Making a business out of this also means having to balance the business aspect of it with the “ethical” or humane aspects of it. Rental is not cheap in Singapore and neither is labour. It’s one thing to have a passion, quite another to make a business out of it. Balancing these 2 is a bit like walking on a tightrope.
Were there any interesting lessons you’ve learned from your interaction with them?
I have learned to be more detail-oriented, to observe for signs of sickness and aggression, because they can’t talk, so you have to be able to read the signs.
I have learned loyalty – and it’s not just from dogs, from hamsters and chinchillas even, species you wouldn’t associate loyalty with. I have learned they are just as capable of love and affection as us humans.
For instance, there was this pair of chinchillas that had been together for a long time, and one day, the male died. We immediately paired the female up with another chinchilla to distract her as she was moping around. Despite our best efforts, the female chinchilla refused to eat, and eventually passed on within a week of her mate’s death.
Science and research might have a lot to say about a species behavioural patterns, or who mates for life and who doesn’t, but I have found these findings to over-generalize. Each animal is individualistic and has their own unique character.
Balancing a thriving business and a young child is no mean feat. So… what are your secrets?
Forward planning and a great support system! Planning means being able to utilize my time better and get the most mileage out of everything. Having a great support system (my in-laws and my amazing helpers!) means I can go about my work in peace, knowing my daughter, Paige, is well taken care of, no matter how long the hours I pull are.
What is a typical work day like for you?
My daughter usually wakes me up for cuddles at 8am and that’s our bonding time until 9ish. We wash up and she eats her breakfast, while I plan out my day and clear the back end stuff in the room till about 11am.
I fetch her to school and I am usually on the roads, at meetings or at my shop until late at 10pm or 11pm. I have dinner with the husband after the day is done, and we are usually in bed by about 2am.
Is your daughter a pet lover too? Does she get involved in little ways with the pet shops too?
Yes! She helped to feed 2 orphan chinchillas, which we took in some time ago. She also insists on combing the dogs’ fur when she pops by. And she loves hanging out with our in-house Persian cat, Einstein – they are totally BFFS!!
How do you unwind after a long and busy week?
I don’t really have a fixed off day, I take my free time whenever and wherever I can!
But, when I do need to de-stress, I will catch a movie with the husband, who’s a huge movie buff. If I am feeling really wound up, I will go to the late night spa either in Singapore or across the causeway to get a good massage, steamroom and sauna, before heading for a good meal.
What do you think are some key attributes that make a successful mumpreneur?
Resilience – it is tough being an entrepreneur, its even tougher being a mum who’s an entrepreneur, but I believe it is important to weather the difficulties, and mumpreneurs who are running a small business with a tight budget need to be especially resilient to see the company through. Keep working at it!
Focus – it’s easy to get distracted by guilty feelings whether you are at work or at home. Focus is important so you get whatever it is you need to get done, done, and when at home, focus is important because when at home, and during family time, focus on your loved ones,and give them your undivided attention.
Thank you for sharing with us an insightful peek at what it’s like to actually trod the path less ridden, and yet take the bull by its horns and steer it in your favour! Being a mother also means becoming a role model your child can look up to – and indeed, I’m sure you’ve set a high score there!
Lifan has also kindly extended some exclusive perks to our readers – so pet owners, do lend your support to this local mum and have your pets enjoy a pampering grooming session, or a yummy treat at a special discount!