Mandy Chan started The Bold Company, known as one of the first few companies to design all-in-one bags for sports and travel. The launch of their products, Quiver and Quiver X, on the international crowdfunding platform (Kickstarter) was a whooping success with funding exceeding $100k.
If there was one word to describe Mandy Chan, it would be as aptly mentioned in her brand, Bold. This 24-year-old surpassed all expectations starting her business from the ground up. It grew from a Kickstarter project that raised over $100k to now an extremely successful multi-million dollar business called The Bold Company (previously known as BOW).
After graduating from college at 19, Mandy had big dreams to start her own company though she didn’t have prior knowledge on starting a business. How did she come up with BOW? Tired of switching between bags for different purposes, she wanted to create an all-in-one everyday carrier. With his premature dream, coupled with having no clear vision of what she wanted to do in University, she made her decision to take a gap year.
“I knew I’d live in regret if I chose to just follow the norm and coast through school, rather than take a chance on myself and trust my gut,” she smiles.
It was no easy decision for her, especially with the ongoing noise surrounding her decision making. Disapproval from the people closest to her was a big one. “When taking this leap, I was afraid of the relationships I might lose, especially after going against their advice,” she nodds.
She experienced fomo (fear of missing out), a term coined to detail the social anxiety that others may be having progressing or having fun while the person experiencing the anxiety is not. She said, “I was so afraid that I’d never catch up to my friends, who would have completed their first year by the end of my gap year.”
To add the cherry on top, there was an incessant fear of the unknown, when she realized there was no “textbook” in the startup world, and you literally have to write your own.
These fears were not unfounded. Her family was unsupportive of her gap year after she confided in them. In fact, her parents cut her off financially. “I was lost and during that period, I felt I had no one to lean on for support.”
It was precisely because of this that she kept most of her battles to herself. “I had $20 in my bank account at one point, but I didn’t allow myself to show any weaknesses to prevent them (her family) from worrying even more.” So she worked even harder to not only prove to herself, but also her family, that this gap year was not going to be a waste of time.
That one year was grueling. She made a trip all by herself to China. She ventured into the obscure and unknown warehouses in search of potential overseas suppliers. She dealt with people who undermined and overcharged her due her age and ‘baby face’. She even went out onto the streets, with her prototype bag in hand, to survey Singaporeans, but was met with hesitation or rude responses from the public.
It almost seemed like the world was against her at this point, but after 18 months of prototyping, surveying, and building, she released her first product and launched it on Kickstarter.
BOW was met with great reception and she raised over S$60,000 in just 30 days. They’ve only continuously grown from there, with their 5th product collection launching in May 2021.
Success is not a direct correlation to happiness. There isn’t a finishing line in the journey of life. There are always going to be ups and downs, and for Mandy, she faces yet another battle, one that lies within herself.
You might be surprised to know how many successful individuals don’t feel worthy of it. Similarly for Mandy, she struggles constantly with feelings of imposter syndrome. “Imposter syndrome” is not believing that one’s success is deserved, or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.
“There was so much buzz around what I achieved despite my age, but it was largely a team effort. I felt like I was being put on such a high pedestal, while I did not feel remotely half as qualified as what they made me out to be,” she pauses.
“I feel like I’m in a game of hide and seek, hiding my flaws and imperfections all the time while being haunted with anxiety of getting ‘found out’ for being less competent than I am made out to be.”
These thoughts have consumed her, affecting the most important relationship one can have: with herself. Thankfully, Mandy is able to identify these feelings as being irrational, and has words of advice to give the readers there who are also in similar situations.
Inspired by David Goggins, an Ultramarathon runner and ex-Navy Seal, she keeps a cookie jar. In it, she keeps a record of all the wins she had since young. “For instance, there was a time when I ran a full marathon with only five months of training!” She adds with a touch of humour, “When I feel like a living fraud, I reach out to this jar and have a peek at all these amazing things I’ve achieved.” Basically, being your own hype woman is the way to go.
Imposter syndrome is usually accompanied with perfectionism, which is yet another struggle. “I’m such a perfectionist and I need things to be 100% before I can move on. When you’re working at a fast-paced startup and wearing multiple hats, you don’t have that luxury of time. To combat that, she attunes herself to the belief that “done is better than perfect,” and reminds that she’s done her best, given the circumstances.
Mandy’s journey is far from over, but her story far amasses my respect and admiration, as I’m sure it does for many others out there. She remarks, “You fall down 100 times. You get up 100 times and you learn 100 lessons.” That’s exactly what she has done.
Who would’ve known that a single decision to take a gap year would’ve led to this?