Many of us would resist building a business with our mothers, but for Yong-Li Zhou it was a no brainer. In fact, her mother’s condition was the catalyst for their idea.
Extremely sensitive skin had plagued Zhou’s mother, Nan, for years and nothing on the market had provided any relief. She would end up with open wounds after a bad reaction and felt instinctively that there had to be a more effective, natural solution to treatment.
It was a belief she shared strongly with her 18 year old daughter, so they pooled their money and resources together to develop skincare company, Embrace Products Group.
“Starting off, my mother and I did everything”, Yong-Li tells us. “From product development to packaging design, the accounting and book keeping and even packing the products in individual boxes.” It was a business born from a humble but dedicated start.
Several years on, Enbacci the pair’s lead brand has made several significant leaps forward– including amassing a vast international following. We sat down with Yong-Li recently for an update on the business, her future goals, and her advice for other emerging entrepreneurs. Number 1: Listen to your parents.
How does the average day play out for you?
A typical workday sees me sculling down my protein shake in the morning before heading off to the gym for a morning workout session. I am not really a morning person but I have found this to be an effective way to get me going for a day at my desk.
Between 8am and 8.30am, you can find me on my phone updating all our social media with a post for the day.
By the time 9am hits, I am at my desk writing down my to-do list for the day. Tasks can range from accounting, product development planning or just doing some product development, product designing and editing, ensuring our website is up to date and answering interview questions like these. I also like to be in the know when it comes to our clients, so you can often find me in our new store chatting away with them, getting to know them and developing some rapport. For me, the contact at a retail level is one of the most important for a business as this is where clients determine through their experience whether they will be returning or not.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
My parents are definitely my biggest source of inspiration. Throughout my childhood, I had seen my parents start a number of their own businesses, some profitable, some not so sustainable. I guess seeing them always working so hard to be able to give their family a good life made me want to strive for the same.
How do you stay motivated?
I love what I do so this is enough to keep me motivated. Sure there are days where I am doing tasks that are not as fun as others (eg. accounting), but I think this is a balance. I also know that these other tasks aren’t forever. Doing these things now will help propel my business so that one day, I can hire someone else to do them for me! This is definitely a big motivation on it’s own.
How would your friends and family describe you?
A friend recently described me as always having been 10 steps ahead. I don’t think she was wrong. People would definitely say I am ambitious, but humble at the same time. I myself know that from a young age, I was a goal-setter and I would work and work and work until I achieved it. When most of my peers were still deciding what they wanted to major or minor in at university, I had already graduated and started my own business.
Mum would say I am a fiercely loyal and compassionate person. My husband would say that I am annoyingly stubborn but that is how he knows I get things done.
Were you fearful or apprehensive to start your business? If so, how did you overcome this?
Not one bit. I can attribute this to the fact that I had a lot of support from family and friends, and most of all, parents. I am pretty lucky to be surrounded by a very supportive circle of people who only want to see me succeed and do well in life. I am truly blessed.
What are your big career-goals over the next ten years and how do you plan on achieving them?
I want to become as big as L’oreal or Estee Lauder Group. We have opened our first store here in Melbourne so we definitely plan on opening more in the years to come, expanding nationally and internationally.
I have a loose plan and idea of how I want things to progress but one thing I’ve learnt over the last few years is that you can never plan too much. You need to have a certain amount of flexibility for when things just don’t work. But the one thing that is for sure is that we will continue to create innovative products and focus heavily over the next five years in developing our own research team.
What key attributes make a great leader?
I think that the most important attribute to a good leader is the ability to listen and act upon what has been said.
Being honest and taking accountability when necessary is also important to me. I feel that this is the only way to earn true respect from your peers.
Those who show initiative and innovative thinking but can also effectively delegate at the same time.
How important is a quality education?
Quality education is very important to me. I moved through a couple of different schools when I was little but even at the age of 10, I could see the differences between my education. The opportunities and amount of support I received from teachers is incomparable. I went from being in the extra-help classes for mathematics to the extension classes where I was solving math problems way above my own grade.
How do you stay updated on things impacting your industry?
News is always a good start, but also doing my own research. Attending more exhibitions is something I want to work on over the next 12 months, as I believe this can help me to develop not only my brand, but also the overall business.
Something I started last year was also furthering my studies in the area of personal care. I am now accredited with a diploma in personal care formulations as well as a certificate in advanced skin science. I am currently working on achieving my diploma in personal care marketing.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t do what you think you are supposed to do. Do what you believe is right for you. I don’t believe I would be where I am today if I had decided to pursue further tertiary studies or apply for that corporate job. I know that I would not have even half the knowledge or experience I have gained through starting this business had I chosen to go down the perceived “normal” path.
What advice would you give your teenage self?
Listen to your body. When you are tired, stressed or in pain, acknowledge it and do something about it. Don’t try and work through it because you end up stressing your body out more. This is a habit that I developed throughout high school and it is something I am still working on trying to break. You are no good to anyone when you yourself are broken; so don’t let it get to that point!
The other advice I would give my teenage self is listen more to your parents because they’re always going to have your back. Whilst I don’t regret any of the decisions I made when I was younger as I have learnt a lot from my mistakes, I probably would have had a couple of less heartaches and a lot less stress had I listened to the wise words of my parents a little more.