SINGAPORE — Quitting the corporate rat race to set up her own business at the age of 50 was something that Germaine Lim promised herself she would do. In 2017, Lim stayed true to her word and left her high-paying job as a Director for Strategic Partnerships at SingEx Events to start her own venture, Elpis @ Hideout. This meant downgrading from a condominium and a sports car to a four-room HDB flat — which she embraced. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and the 53-year-old lost almost all her clients overnight. She eventually decided to pivot Elpis into a social enterprise to help the less fortunate.
Here’s her story.
“I’ve always wanted to run my own business. I’ve tried doing it on the side before, but it’s hard to balance that with a full-time job. Hence, I’ve ensured that my entire career path has taught me skills that will eventually be useful for Elpis. Being trained in marketing, sales, events, and other such skill sets means that I’ve had an all-rounded career, which allowed me to set up Elpis as a one-stop shop for our clients, offering branding, media engagement, and campaign solutions.
Elpis was doing very well in its first two years. While most new businesses are initially in the red, we made a profit of about S$250,000 each year. This was possible because many of my clients from my former job continued working with me when I started the company.
But because many of my clients were international, when Covid hit, we lost almost all of them overnight.
My business partner and I sat down and asked ourselves if this business was what we really wanted to do. In the end, we decided to stay true to our name. Elpis means hope, and hence we decided that ultimately, we wanted to use Elpis to help people.
For example, last year we collaborated with Chef-in-Box in our "Do Good: Send Love" campaign, where we raised S$150,000, distributed 25,000 meals and helped about 11,000 individuals.
I think the pandemic cemented the fact for me that I don’t derive my satisfaction from the profits I make, but rather if I have helped people and touched their lives. Being able to help so many — from families with no parents to some not having enough to eat— has been worth the time and money put into this venture.
Of course, we were lucky that our profits in our first two years could feed us in 2020 because we only earned a small profit that year. We also had no overhead costs, so it was relatively easy for us to stay afloat. But in 2021, we are looking to pivot to a social enterprise because we cannot keep dipping into our honey pot and must be forward-looking in order to sustain ourselves.
Many have the misconception that a social enterprise is a non-profit or a charity. We are in fact for-profit, and any profits we earn gets cycled back into projects with a social impact. Our priority is our social impact, and next will be the profits we have to earn for business sustainability.
I’m not too worried about our international clients, because they’re always going to be there. It’s just a matter of when they will decide to work with us again. And when they do, we will simply advise them to ensure their campaigns have a social angle to align with our values as well. As we start to emerge from the pandemic, many of our former international clients are asking to work together with us again.
In the meantime, we are in talks with a few government organisations and charity bodies and hopefully we can work together to enact change in society.
We project that in 2022 we are going to be able to earn a profit of a quarter of a million and even more again. Most of our clients now are charity organisations, and from now till 2022, we will be focusing on charities that need our help and expertise.
I think my biggest challenge throughout my whole journey has been myself. I am ultimately my own biggest critic. For entrepreneurs, your mindset must be extremely strong. You need to be able to only take in the good bits from the universe – after all, you know your own flaws the best. Why would you need someone to repeat them to you?
My advice for those who are thinking of starting their own business would be that there is never an ideal situation to start. There will always be problems, it’s a matter of how you navigate the situation and whether you are willing to pick yourself up and try again until you succeed. If you have young children and a family, I would advise against starting out on your own. I’m single, so I was able to make decisions on my own and start Elpis.
At the end of the day, you have to make sure you’re not starting out on a whim – do it because you know in your heart it’s your calling, but also do it with your eyes wide open. Don’t try talking to many people about it because everyone will advise you differently. Sometimes, when you’re unsure, the answer lies in your own heart.”