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Brothers turn passion into profit with furniture business

Hyper focus on what the core customer really wants and have the courage to say no to everything else that sits outside of that. Ask yourself, ‘Is this what Ashley (core customer) wants and why?’ This question really guided us in making investment decisions.

Jake Yap, co-founder Lifely

Brothers Chris and Jake Yap co-founded Lifely (formerly E-living Furniture) in 2016, offering high-quality, affordable furniture in the e-commerce market. 

They started selling on Catch.com.au in 2019 and expanded their product range to cater to the younger demographic seeking stylish home and office furniture. The business rebranded to Lifely in July 2020 and positioned itself as a one-stop shop for stylish home and office furniture at competitive prices.

“We knew partnering in business was something we’d always wanted to do, but it took some time to decide what our first venture would be,” said Chris, one of the co-founders of Lifely. “We had our ‘a-ha’ moment and started with electronics, but we never anticipated how much further this business would grow.”

From idea to reality

The idea for the business stemmed from the Yap brothers’ desire to venture into business together, inspired by their successful businessman and leader father.

“On one occasion during my university break, I had the opportunity to accompany our father to a trade show,” Chris recalled. “Witnessing our father skilfully negotiating significant deals with his clients left a lasting impression on me. I found the experience to be both cool and inspiring.”

Brothers turn passion into profit with furniture business

“After the trade show, we were motivated about how to start a business and began conducting online research,” Chris continued. “We ultimately decided to delve into e-commerce, as it seemed to be the most suitable option for us while we were still in university. With $250 USD from our pocket money, we purchased one box of products from Alibaba and started selling them on eBay.”

Now in their fourth year of selling across Catch.com.au, Chris and Jake attribute their growth to their father’s inspiration, as well as their own perseverance and hard work. They revealed that Catch.com.au was responsible for 10 per cent of their overall revenue during the COVID-19 lockdown period, which fuelled their team expansion from just two to 50.

“Our business has a strong focus on our core customer, whom we refer to as ‘Ashley_94’,” said Chris. “In short, Ashley_94 is a savvy millennial who takes pride in her home and desires the latest ‘look’.”

According to Chris, the Lifely business model is centred around three key brand promises: being on-trend, offering value for money, and providing a cool brand experience.

“As the business grew, we turned to Catch in 2019 to expand our product offering and customer base further,” Chris explained. “We knew that Catch had customers nationwide who also appreciate value for money.”

“Particularly throughout the COVID-19 lockdown period, Catch allowed us to grow even further, contributing to 10 per cent of our overall revenue during this time,” Chris added.

Selling through Catch also gave Lifely the opportunity to expand its product offering and served as a launch pad for further success.

The recipe for success

We’re completely transparent with the products we offer and never promise unrealistic expectations that we know we can’t meet.

The second co-founder of Lifely, Jake, believes that finding a good Quality Manager is essential for the success of any business. According to him, this person needs to possess a combination of firmness and toughness, along with high emotional intelligence (EQ). “You need a very firm person who doesn’t compromise when suppliers take shortcuts but who can also communicate well, build relationships with suppliers, and ultimately instil a win-win mindset in them,” he explained.

Jake stressed the importance of approaching every conversation with suppliers with the intention of helping them improve. He said, “It worked like magic for us. We are fortunate to have an outstanding quality manager.”

Jake and his team prioritise transparency and honesty when it comes to customer service issues and ensuring customer satisfaction. “We truly believe in our business and in creating amazing products for our customers,” he said. “We’re completely transparent about the products we offer and never make unrealistic promises that we know we can’t keep.”

In addition, Lifely strongly emphasises listening to its customers and addressing their concerns promptly and effectively. “We have a dedicated customer service team that is always ready to assist customers and ensure that they are satisfied with their purchase,” Jake added.

For Jake, the key to success lies in hyper-focusing on the core customer, building a connection with them, and having a strong, trustworthy team that shares the same values and vision. He emphasised the importance of hyper-focusing on the core customer’s needs and having the courage to say no to anything that falls outside of those needs. 

“Ask yourself, ‘Is this what Ashley (core customer) wants and why?’ This question really guided us in making investment decisions,” he advised.

This approach ensures that the business provides precisely what its target customers want, increasing customer loyalty and retention. It also allows businesses to stand out from competitors who may be trying to offer a wide range of products or services to appeal to everyone.

He further explained that investing in what the core customer wants is not just about creating a product that satisfies their needs but also building a connection with them that fosters loyalty and trust. “When you focus on meeting your core customer’s needs, you create a relationship with them that goes beyond just a product. It’s about building a brand they can trust and believe in,” Jake said.

Jake also stressed the importance of having a strong and trustworthy team that shares the same vision and values as the company. “We are very fortunate to have smart, driven, and creative people in the team that genuinely care about the brand and believe deeply in the vision,” he said.

He emphasised that the possibilities become endless when a team shares the same values and works towards the same vision. “When you have these kinds of people working together in unison – anything is possible,” he concluded.

Overcoming early obstacles

Jake shared that their biggest challenge was when they first started the business. They initially had a successful range of products, but their triumph was short-lived. The largest e-commerce company in Australia quickly copied their products and priced them lower, resulting in a drop in sales. To add to their woes, their core supplier also stopped supplying them and began selling the products directly to customers at a lower cost.

“They had huge volumes, so naturally, they priced them a lot lower than us, which resulted in a drop in sales. Just when we thought things were bad enough, our core supplier decided that “if two young boys in their 20s can do it, we can do it too.” They stopped supplying us and went on to sell them directly at a lower cost, given that they were the manufacturer.

This situation caused them to hit rock bottom within eight months of starting their business. However, Jake emphasised that this challenge pushed them to continue and taught them valuable lessons. 

“When we look back, we are grateful for this because it pushed us to keep going. We flew back and forth between China, Malaysia and Australia — I remember celebrating Chris’ birthday in a factory in China. We worked 12 – 15 hours a day. It taught us a great deal about being agile, fast, relentless, resilient and having the mindset of never giving up.”

‘Pushing through’

Two words – keep going. Startups should expect trial and error, mistakes, imperfect products, and limited data in the beginning.

When asked about his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, Jake emphasised the importance of staying true to oneself and having a strong work ethic. He believes that persistence is key for startups. 

“Two words – keep going,” he advises. Startups should expect trial and error, mistakes, imperfect products, and limited data in the beginning. However, they should continue to persevere, knowing that eventually, they will find what works. Taking risks, trying different ideas, and being open-minded about the outcome are essential, but the brand’s core purpose should always be kept in mind.

Jake also recommends reaching out to platforms such as Catch once the groundwork has been laid. “If you believe in your business and see the value in what you’re offering, big platforms like Catch will, too,” he says. Having Catch’s support allowed their small team to grow from two to 50 and was a significant catalyst for their growth.

“It’s important to be clear on why you’re doing it,” Jake emphasises. “Just keep going; you’ll get there.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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