We meet the effervescent Delane Foo of Novelsys who shares with us the perils of being a rose among the thorns in the startup world and why she thinks that avocado “churros” are TNBT.
We’re at the garishly named Ice Edge cafe, a backup location that we had to switch to after the original location we planned to meet at had been flooded with weekend cafe-hoppers brunching.
“I had this idea while walking around Holland Village” she says coyly while stirring her coffee.
Avocado empire biz plan
“I’m going to sell Avocado tempura and fries” she says with triumphant glee, a sparkle coming to her eyes as she describes her love for all things avocado.
I raise the point of whether it would disintegrate from deep frying. Pausing for less than a second to consider my point, she decides that it is moot and continues fleshing out the idea and marketing strategy – mixing the instagrammable-ness of Maki San’s sushi boxes and Twelve cupcakes display cabinets.
The deftness of her mind, combined with her knowledge and experience proves how a random idea can turn into a business plan when planted in the right mind.
But this is not the first time that Delane has made an impression. The first time we had met was at a startup event over at Block 71 where she had introduced herself as a ‘design extraordinaire’. Intrigued then, it was only at a chance meeting two weeks ago did I get the manage to convince her to do this interview.
I restart by venturing into more familiar territory, getting an update on Novelsys’s recently funded Kickstarter project– the Ampere wireless charging sleeve that raised over $85,000. Delane gives me a crash course in the post-funding intricacies of a hardware startup – a litany of jargon that leaves me quietly impressed.
The campaign though, as with even the best laid of plans, ran into problems – although they managed to hit their goal of $60,000 in the initial 24 hours, it remained stagnant for a period at that level.
“What was the toughest moment in the whole campaign?”, I probe carefully.
“Definitely when Kenneth [CEO] was deciding if he should fly to the Valley and help raise awareness and pitch the US media outlets.. he didn’t go in the end, but it was pretty tough – having to negotiate with manufacturers to cut costs while raising funds externally”.
Theirs had been a textbook execution of what a crowdfunding campaign should look like – but even with a launch conference, ample coverage on both social and mainstream media, it was not enough. Although they had hit their target, in order to bring costs down – more orders were needed, this proved to be a challenge, but one which they had to come together as a team and overcome.
A group of noisy tweens occupy the table next to us and we both pause to listen to their conversation of how someone had been seen with a girl who was not his girlfriend.
“What do you think is the hardest part of being an entrepreneur?” I ask her as the teenage melodrama fades into the background.
“Well, I don’t exactly think I am an entrepreneur yet” she says uncomfortably. “More like a wantrepreneur at this stage”.
I assure her that anyone who is part of a founding team that raises $85,000 from a worldwide customer base is most definitely an entrepreneur in my (or anyone elses) book.
Smiling meekly, she says, “I just feel that anyone who calls themselves an entrepreneur must be willing to set aside 10 years of their life to make it succeed and for me, that just is not possible right now.”
I think that if you say you're going to start a startup, you need to be prepared to set aside 10 years of your life to make it succeed. - Delane
She reveals that come August, she is taking a leave of absence from Novelsys and going back to school to finish off her industrial design degree.
“Being part of the Novelsys team has taught me more in a year than what many people will learn from their business degree, the experience will be invaluable when I head back to the classroom.”
Partly to build a depth of knowledge in her chosen area of specialty but also because rationally – there is safety in having something to fall back on if the worst case scenario occur.
I tell her that I empathise with her situation, understanding full well how the pressures of conformity forces us to make choices for practicality more than anything else.
“I just feel that my Mum has worked very hard these past few years since my Dad passed away” she says sombrely, “we discussed it and its the best thing I can do at this stage, also, industrial design is something that is very close to my heart – my Dad was a great artist, even though it was just a hobby for him.”
He shared his flair for the magnificent with Delane – something that has translated into a real love for craftsmanship, detail and her chosen path in life, that being to create products for people.
“I see a trend nowadays where all designers are following the money by going into application design and UX/UI.” she says with only the slightest hint of annoyance.
A waitress arrives with waffles for the tweens – interrupting us as the warm aromas waft over. I glance over and briefly debate myself on whether or not to order.
“But truthfully, I want to go back to school because I feel I have not acquired a depth of knowledge in one area that I can call my expertise. While being an entrepreneur has given me a breadth of skills, I don’t want to just be a jack of all trades”.
The experts themselves disagree if being an expert actually helps, but one thing for sure is that experience counts. As a female founder in a predominantly male environment – has this gender imbalance hurt or helped her?
Draining the rest of her coffee before answering, she says “Helped mostly, because people are more inclined to approach and talk to me. But that works both ways – there have definitely been times where guys have accosted me. Partly due to my looks and also because I can be too friendly.”
Since we were on the subject of looks – I quiz her about how she won the Miss NUS pageant, beating the other hopefuls for bragging rights and $250.
“I never thought much about winning to be honest – the whole ‘I won Miss NUS and its on my LinkedIn was Jared’s [marketing intern] idea” she smiled.
“Well it definitely was effective, but do you think it actually works against you sometimes?” I reply.
“Yeah I guess, there were a few guys who instead of talking business, started to deviate and started to get really personal – Kenneth and Mark have had to get me out from those situations more than once.” she laughed.
Playing devils advocate, I suggest that part of networking is building rapport and that flirting might be just part of the game. Or it might just be that people are drawn to her because she is so bubbly and extroverted;
Raising an eyebrow, she replies that “there is a lot of discussion about this extrovert or introvert personality thing – but I find that I don’t fall into either category. To me its just a label that people use to fall back on. There are times when you have to be an friendly and chirpy, but there will be other times when being alone can be a good thing.”
She continues, “There really is no place for being introverted or shy nowadays, not if you’re an entrepreneur at least”.
What are the crucial components to a startup I ask.
“The next startup that I do will need a rockstar marketer on board – that is one of the most crucial parts to any startup I think, and use that to build up a rock solid team” she says.
The tweens finally clear off and I realise that we’ve sat through tea-time and that half of Sunday had gone by.
I apologise for over running but Delane graciously says that she keeps her weekends free to maintain balance and stamina that is essential to the creative process.
The damage is only $10 and I insist that I should pay, but not before making clear that I was not getting personal. She laughs and thanks me before leading us out back into the mid-afternoon heat and as we part ways I am quietly in awe of her lingering aura and a sneaking suspicion that this is not the last we’ve heard of Delane Foo yet.
Written by Kyle Leslie Sim
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