Teething problems led Debbie Chia to set up Annie+Alex, which specialises in beautiful Scandinavian minimalistic-themed teethers. Made from wood and food-grade silicon, these pretty baubles look nothing like typical teethers.
We chat with the 33-year-old mummy-of-two who gives us an insight into how she juggles being a mum by day and an entrepreneur by night, and why she perseveres with her passion.
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Mummyfique: How did your business emerge?
It started when my son, Alex, started teething when he was four months old. Previously, my daughter, who is now four, had used a Sophie the Giraffe teether religiously but we realised that it wasn’t very hygienic even though we washed it regularly. This is because there is a hole at the back and when water gets in, it is impossible to get it out, and when my husband accidentally sat on it, it squirted out mould. I also learnt that bacteria leeches onto plastic no matter how you wash it. No wonder she kept falling sick when she was younger. I immediately tossed it out and she would chew on her silicone pacifier when she was teething instead.
As Alex wasn’t too keen on pacifiers, I was looking for other options. That’s when I stumbled upon wooden and food-grade silicone teethers, which are currently very popular in Australia. They seemed like a great alternative, but they were not cheap – a simple wooden and silicone teether costs about A$40, excluding shipping. Hence I thought to myself, why not make it myself and sell it at a more affordable price?
What differentiates your product from similar offerings?
You’ll find silicone options in the market, but ours are the only ones that incorporate wood and are designed to have a minimalistic Scandinavian feel. We haven’t just used wood for aesthetic reasons; as wood is a hard object, the pressure teething babies feel when they bite into it soothes their aching gums.
As wood has a different texture from silicone, using both materials makes our items multisensory, which will stimulate baby’s auditory, visual and tactile senses. Additionally, wood has natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that eliminate 99 per cent of all potential contaminants.
What was it like when you first started your business?
When I first started, not many people knew about the benefits of wooden teethers, hence education was my first priority. I collaborated with some mummies who talked about my teethers on their social media accounts. This helped me to get my name out there.
Participating in fairs also helped me to reach out to more people. I was initially worried that the public would not like what I had to offer and that I would have to bring home many unsold teethers. Lucky for me, my worries were unfounded and there were many items that were sold out on the first day, and I had to work until 5am to replace everything.
What’s it like juggling your business and your responsibilities as a stay-at-home mum?
It’s really tough but, for me, my primary concerns are my children and their wellbeing. Throw my business into the mix, something will have to give and for me that is sleep. I regularly stay up until 1 or 2am to rush out orders — hence, I call myself a night elf.
Most people think that being a mum and an entrepreneur gives me a lot of flexibility in terms of time. For me, it means that I hold two jobs – my day job is being a mum, while my night job is my business.
What are some of the challenges that you face as a mumpreneur?
No one really understands what we go through on a daily basis. Mumpreneurs are trying to juggle family and work life, and there really isn’t a balance. Unlike office jobs, our dual job entails us to work 24/7 and building a business from scratch is really much like caring for a newborn.
I try to take time out for myself once in a while by leaving the kids with my parents or in-laws, to rejuvenate and come up with more business ideas.
In times of difficulty and uncertainty, I try to always stay positive and optimistic. You should also never think that your product or service is not good enough. If you don’t have confidence in your own offerings, why would others buy from you?
What keeps you going with your business?
I love designing new products and getting feedback from customers; it gives me a sense of achievement whenever I create something new. It also makes me happy to see customers using my products, especially when I see photos of children gnawing on the teethers that I made. One mother told me that she tried chewing on the silicone beads to see how it feels — that really made my day.
What are three things you need to make it as a mumpreneur in Singapore?
Have a positive mindset; never be afraid to speak your mind; and network as much as possible.
Any advice for other mums looking to start their own business?
Opportunities don’t always come knocking. More often than not, you have to think outside the box and not be afraid of asking others to collaborate with you, especially if your business complements theirs. You’ll also realise that Singaporeans are actually very keen on supporting local businesses.