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"Launch a basic product quickly, then improvise": Chris Halim and Raena Lim of Style Theory

Chris Halim and his wife Raena Lim, founders of a SoftBank-supported luxury goods rental, believe in the advice offered by the book ‘The Lean Startup’ – get something on the market quickly, then iterate.

August 24, 2021 / 06:53 PM IST
Chris Halim and Raena Lim of Style Theory on 'CNBC Make It' (screen grab)

Chris Halim and Raena Lim of Style Theory on 'CNBC Make It' (screen grab)

Having an MVP is a key to success, not just in sports but also for a start-up.

In sports, MVP stands for ‘Most Valuable Player’. In business, of course, it means something else – Minimum Viable Product.

In his famous book The Lean Startup, author Eric Reis wrote that founders should move fast and get an MVP into the market, and then build up or course-correct. Recently, a couple who founded a multi-million dollar business offered the same advice to entrepreneurs.

The couple in question is Chris Halim and his wife Raena Lim, the force behind Style Theory, a luxury fashion rental in Singapore.

Driven by business goals as well as a desire to encourage renting and lighten environmental damage, they put in $40,000 of their own money at the start. By the end of 2019, they had attracted Series B funding of $15 million from SoftBank Ventures Asia.

While the young twosome learnt and adapted on the job, they were sure about one thing: ‘The Lean Startup’ principle of rolling out a basic product as soon as possible.

“As start-up founders, especially at the beginning, there is a strong temptation to build the perfect product before you launch anything, or a very strong temptation to aim for all the features and over-engineer everything,” Halim told CNBC Make It. “From our learnings, that would be a mistake.”

Halim and Lim first offered their service to a small number of consumers. In exchange for a flat membership charge, users could borrow luxury goods. When demand grew, the founders increased members and inventory.

“The best way to launch anything is always do it simple with minimal scope, get it to market ASAP, then get customers’ feedback,” said Lim.

“Based on customers’ feedback, you can then iterate and make it better. I think that’s a much better way to build something that customers will love.”

Data has also been crucial to the success of Style Theory. Today, they have around 200,000 users across Singapore and Indonesia, and inventory of 50,000 clothes and 2,200 shoes.

Including the $15 million from SoftBank, the company has a total backing of almost $30 million. It is therefore in a position to expand into Hong Kong and introduce menswear and kidswear.

It’s not been all smooth riding for the couple. The pandemic left a deep impact from which they are still reeling. Despite improvising and offering new services, they have recovered just 75% of pre-Covid users.

The lesson they learnt was that problems and failures would continue, but it was important to focus on solutions.

“In entrepreneurship, you face failures every day, you make wrong decisions all the time and it’s all on you,” Halim told CNBC Make It. “It’s much more important to focus on what are you going to do next, how are you going to fix it, and how you’re going to grow the business.”
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