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Scholar Lawyer Turns E-Commerce Entrepreneur

Despite topping the bar exam for his cohort, former scholar Daniel Chua dropped his lucrative commercial lawyer career to start selling Kickstarter goods online.

We were curious for some insights on his entrepreneurial journey into the e-commerce industry through Interstellar Goods.

Meet Daniel Chua, Founder of Interstellar Goods

1. What were you doing before you decided to venture into the e-commerce business?

I was a commercial lawyer, focused on banking and financing. By all accounts I had a bright future, having been called to the Singapore Bar graduating at joint-4th placing amongst 679 candidates. But deep down, there was always this strong curiosity to explore the exciting world of business someday.

2. When was Interstellar Goods established, and what inspired you to start Interstellar Goods?

It was started about 4.5 years ago, in Jan 2017. After working as a lawyer for a year, I found it unfulfilling (although well paying). Working on one particularly intense file, I realised my boss who was about 10 years my senior was still in the office with me at 1am. It suddenly dawned on me that this was the life I had to be prepared to accept if I were to continue as a lawyer. I then asked myself if there was enough reason and love for my job that warranted this sacrifice. That was the day I gave myself 6 months notice to quit.

Reusable Cotton Face Mask from Interstellar Goods

3. Tell us a little bit more about your entrepreneurial journey.

It has been exciting, and definitely full of ups and downs. I first left law with the intention to start a F&B distribution business, but got played out by my supposed business partner. Interstellar Goods was actually a side hustle at that point in time. I did not want to go back into law, so I had to give it my all to grow Interstellar Goods and make it work. Over the years, I’ve faced highs such as getting investment offers and successfully raising funds to lows such as dealing with the Covid-led sharp drop in consumer demand. I’ve had to learn entirely new fields like programming, logistics etc. I think that’s the most enjoyable part of running a business actually.

4. What lessons did you learn along the way of trying to do everything by yourself?

Well, simply put, not to do it. I found that I progressed so much faster working with partners rather than trying to do everything myself. Also, outsourcing pays for itself. It frees up time and mental energy so that you can focus on the big, new revenue generators. When you’re too bogged down in the weeds, you cannot see opportunities. It does take a leap of faith to let go, I’ll admit. I’m a person who tends to micromanage, so this is something I totally understand. But that leap of faith is important if you do not want to stagnate.

5. How long did it take for your e-commerce website to be fully set-up?

The first launch was probably about 3 weeks, but I’ll iteratively improve it week by week. Especially when I had more spare capacity.

A6 Silicone Sleeve for Interstellar Goods’ memobottle

Fressko’s sustainable reusable coffee cups and insulated glass bottles, available on Interstellar Goods

6. Share some of the obstacles one may face in the process of building their own online store.

The design, actually. It is really hard to make an online store look good, once you strip out the template’s stock images.

7. Do you have any tips to share with small local business owners?

Invest time to deeply understand things, and do things that don’t scale initially. It is too easy and common nowadays for “online” businesses. Much rarer are businesses which truly care and provide value to customers, which just happen to operate online. This is the foundation of any great business, online or not.

8. What advice would you like to offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Take a cautious leap. Build up a side hustle, build up knowledge then try things out for a year or two. Entrepreneurship does not have to be a permanent decision, so stop worrying about making a U-turn if things don’t work out. See it as an investment in which you can cut losses if things go south, but with a strong, unlimited upside. But do not go in thinking it’s an easier option than working for someone. It is much harder work, but so much more fulfilling.

Thank you, Daniel Chua, for all of the valuable insight and advice!

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