Never too late to start

  • SME
  • Tuesday, 12 Aug 2014

I shifted restlessly in my seat as the two women in front of me looked through my credentials. I was attending a job interview for a senior marketing position with a multinational company. For a moment, no one spoke.

After what seemed to be an eternity, one of the women asked, “So, what do you actually do in your current company?”

I explained. She then asked me what my life goal was. I told her I had thought about starting a book business. I also highlighted my passion in writing and an ambition to be a best-selling author.

“But why book business? You can perform almost the whole spectrum of marketing responsibilities, based on what you’ve told me. Have you never thought of starting your own marketing services company?” she countered.

“After all, starting a services company does not require much capital,” the woman added.

Somehow and somewhere, a light shone. That idea had never occurred to me. All this time, I had the perception that starting a business required extensive capital and while I had dreamt of having my own business one day, I thought it should be the book club I wanted to start since I was a teenager. At that time, the thought of being a businesswoman seemed like a faraway dream, maybe even an impossible one.

And as if the stars were aligned that bright sunny afternoon, when I was back in my car after the interview, I happened to read an article about Vera Wang, the famous fashion designer and how she came to start her own business. After working for a famous magazine for 17 years, and being turned down for a senior position, she joined a retail company for two years as a design director.

Her turning point came one day when it occurred to her that no matter how good her designs were for that retail brand, it would never be her name on it.

That sentence hit me. Just like Vera, I realised no matter how many articles I have written in the company I was employed with then, it was never my name on it too. It was my company’s name, or else my boss’. And what about all the marketing work I have done for the company. Will it be known as Jeanisha’s work and ideas or the company’s?

The above-mentioned scenario happened almost five years ago. No, I did not leave my job and jumped straight into entrepreneurship after that eventful day. I chewed and mulled over the idea for some time.

I did research on the how and what. I sought the opinion of trusted people — family members, friends and even some of my strongest critics. I knew that if I wanted to take that leap, I could not just be receiving encouragement. I need to hear the cold hard truth too.

Amazingly, most if not all the people I asked thought I had the “ingredients” to start out on my own. Perhaps some thought I should at least try, and that if it did not work out, I had the option of ‘crawling back’ to the employment world. After all, I was not starting my own business because I was jobless and desperate.

Of course, the first year was tough. I started my marketing services company with my own savings as a one-man show, with no track record in client servicing, no experience of running a business and no employee. But my former colleagues were wonderful. If I needed advice on finance, I could turn to the finance manager. If it was HR, I could seek out my former HR colleague.

My father and former boss proved to be a pillar of support — mentors I could turn to for trustworthy advice. Gradually, the company’s reputation grew and clients referred other clients. So much so that 80% of my clients now have been referred by existing ones. Now, in the fourth year of my business, and with several employees and our own little office, I felt we have come some distance.

Just think, it all sort of happened by accident, at a job interview! And yes, I can now put my name to the articles I write.

> Jeanisha’s father started his business at 59 years old, which was why he didn’t want her to repeat the same mistake of starting out late. Perhaps, for some of you, your time is now? Write her at

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