You must be adaptable when running your own business, especially over the last year. If you stick to a one size fits all formula, you will fail in business and in your personal life.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynette Ong.
Edge of Ember is a sustainable London-based accessories brand that creates timeless personal jewelry with a positive production story. It was founded in 2014 by Lynette Ong, a former trader, with the aim of dismantling the undesirable ‘Made in Asia’ label that evokes cheap, poor quality, and mass-produced products.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in the tropical country of Singapore, with traditional Asian parents who taught me the values of hard work and honesty. Singapore, 30 years ago, wasn’t the glitzy cosmopolitan city it is now. When I was growing up there, I was itching to move abroad so that I could experience something different. I think I had a bit of that entrepreneurial streak in me even as a kid. I remember one of my projects was trying to turn a baking passion into a business (selling tarts with a website I quickly put together on my own).
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is a difficult one, there are so many. The most profound is probably, ‘Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow.’
I bit the bullet and quit my job to do something I was passionate about, but I had no idea it was going to turn into a successful business at the time. I took a huge chance and made a lot of mistakes along the way and continue to do so! It’s those mistakes that have taught me a lot of my best practices. I think the minute you learn that nobody is perfect, we are learning every day, the better decisions you make.
In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Drive — When I set my goals, I don’t stop until I achieve them, no matter how long it takes or how many hurdles I face.
Multi-tasker — As a mom of two young kids, I’m always balancing day-to-day life with running a global business.
Adaptable — You must be adaptable when running your own business, especially over the last year. If you stick to a one size fits all formula, you will fail in business and in your personal life.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
Going back to my Asian upbringing, going into finance was one of the few ideal paths after college. So, after graduation, I worked in finance for six years as a bond trader in an investment bank in New York and then in Hong Kong.
As a young professional in a fast-paced environment, I had exciting experiences and met various characters, which made it a fun experience at that time. However, I knew I didn’t want to make it a lifelong career, as I didn’t feel like I was building or creating anything. I was desperate to be creative and my job wasn’t fulfilling my passion.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I’ve always wanted to do something entrepreneurial and creative, and it might sound a bit cliché but something that made a difference in the world. When I finally decided to quit my job, I took some time out to travel across Asia. During my travels I came across a wealth of artisan workshops selling the most beautiful jewelry, which I became quite fascinated by. I had always loved jewelry, and at the time I struggled to find good quality but affordably priced pieces.
It was the realization that there’s so much ‘invisible’ craftsmanship in Asia that was overshadowed by the mega manufacturing landscape and overlooked by the global consumer. When a western consumer hears that something is ‘Made in Asia’ the immediate assumption is that it is cheap, poor quality, mass produced, most likely in unsavory conditions.
I met one worker in Bali who said that the local jewelry industry is made up a few men, the bosses, who took the majority of the revenue while the workers toil away for hours in really appalling conditions and for pennies.
So, I wanted to do the opposite. I was in the right mindset to want to do something about it, to help in some way. Social responsibility and ethical production, they weren’t really promoted as selling points like they are today. It was just around the time that the Toms and Warby Parker model of “buy one, give one” was gaining traction. I was very inspired by that, and I wanted to build a socially responsible business that was also profitable and scalable.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
In my mind I said to myself that I would take the plunge before I turned 30. So, when I was approaching my 31st birthday, I did! I quit my job and soon after I went travelling across Asia.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
When I quit my finance job, I took jewelry making classes in Hong Kong and some short design courses at art schools. It required a complete shift in left-right brain, from working with numbers to designing adobe suite, from staring at computer screens to soldering metals.
As Edge of Ember grew, I also had to think about creating long term value and goals for the brand and team. It wasn’t just about me going to the office every day, it was about creating a brand that people remember and identified with, a company that our team believed in and are passionate about.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
Edge of Ember has grown from a small team of two working out of my garage to a bustling team of 12 in a London studio and we’re growing globally. We’ve had a few high-profile celebs wear our jewelry, which has been amazing to see, and recently we closed a round of funding to help fuel our growth.
People, product, and the planet are our brand pillars, they have been from the very start and will never change. They hold sentimental value and meaning.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My husband has been there with me from the beginning, whether it was encouraging me to face the unknown, unpacking boxes, or helping me with the recent fundraising. He’s been my rock. We actually met when we were working in finance together.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The day we received an email from Meghan Markle’s team saying that Meghan loved our jewelry, and our positive production story was a massive wow moment I’ll certainly never forget.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Of course, every now and then I get bouts of anxiety about not being able to accomplish goals. Having a strong support in my husband helps. Having two kids to give myself a sense of work-life balance helps. I also tell myself that nothing is unsurmountable, that it’s all about confidence and working through things. One thing I took from my trading days is that having confidence is everything. When you’re having a down streak that impacts your self-belief, you tend to make poor decisions and it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. You just need to find your own way to get out of it and for me that’s stepping away from my laptop or phone and taking some time out.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
The thing I struggled with most was feeling quite alone especially in the early years. I went from being in the loudest work environment with people around me all the time, to working by myself.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
I have always challenged myself to get out of my comfort zone. I grew up in the urban jungle that is Singapore and moved to the US on my own at the age of 19 to go to college in a very small student town in New Hampshire. That was the first big life adjustment that set me up for handling life challenges by honing my grit and independence.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
If something’s not right, cut your losses and move on
Focus is everything. Don’t get distracted.
Time spent with loved ones is more important than anything else.
Don’t forget why you started this — professionally and personally.
Good talent in your team is your greatest asset
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Learn about how we can be kinder to our planet and do something about it, no matter how small, or gradual. Whether its food choices, lifestyle decisions, or purchasing choices.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to speak with Stella McCartney. She’s a trailblazer in ethical fashion and has stuck to her principles the entire time while building a successful global brand.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
edgeofember.com and @edgeofember
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!