What is it like working together with someone with an “opposite personality”? Just like yin and yang, this mother-daughter duo somehow makes it work.
For Ashley Yong, her mother’s illustrious career in a leading cosmetics firm managing brands like Bobbi Brown and Estée Lauder was the inspiration behind starting her own vegan-friendly beauty brand called Two Halves.
However, it took quite a bit of convincing for Jo Yong to get on board with her plans, because mum thought her daughter just wasn’t being serious.
An impressive business plan and after hearing how confident Ashley was about conquering a niche skincare category later, Jo is now her biggest cheerleader, co-founder and in Ashley’s words: “professional consultant”, thanks to mum’s two decades of beauty industry knowledge.
The mother-daughter pair tells The Weekly about how being business partners ultimately brought them even closer and why celebrating the small wins is important for any aspiring entrepreneur.
Tell us about yourselves and your brand
Ashley Yong (AY): I’m Ashley, the co-founder of Two Halves, a local vegan skincare brand formulated for sensitive and sensitised skin. Growing up with a mother who had many years of experiences in the beauty industry had inspired me to want to be a part of it.
After working behind the scenes in global marketing brands myself, I decided to launch my brand because I knew there was a gap in the market to provide for those with sensitive and sensitised skin in our Singapore climate.
Also, I wanted to give it a shot at running my own business and developing a product from scratch.
I’m also a new mum to a six-month-old son, so I juggle between managing my business and looking after my baby.
Jo Yong (JY): I’m Jo Yong, Ashley’s mum, as well as a business advisor for Two Halves. I’m also working full-time as Group HR Director for a Holding Group of Companies (SME).
Prior to this, I was a business leader with more than 26 years of experience in the cosmetics and skincare industry.
I’m also a part-time nanny to help Ashley look after her baby on the weekends so that she has time to rest and I have time to bond with my grandson!
Why did you decide to work together?
AY: When I decided to start a brand, my mother was the first person I wanted to be involved (in the business). It took a lot of convincing before she agreed to it because she didn’t want me to be self-employed!
My then-boyfriend (now husband) was also in from the very beginning as a sleeping partner. He was my very first believer who put his money where his mouth was!
As Two Halves is slowly growing, it’s getting tough to juggle running the business full-time and being a new mum. My husband has recently joined to help out in sales and operation so that I can focus on product development and marketing.
JY: I did not support her initially as I was not convinced that she was serious. I also did not want her to follow in my footsteps in cosmetics as I am not sure if she has the passion and perseverance to survive in the cosmetics industry, which is highly competitive.
When the soft approach of talking out of Ashley business venture failed, I asked her to write out her business plan. Her business plan made me realised she has the passion and her vision of the brand.
What do you love about working with each other?
AY: I know my mum puts my interest first before the business, so I know I have her full support with the goals I set out for Two Halves. I also love that I don’t have to pay for her professional consulting fees despite it coming with free dinners!
JY: Working together as business partners had undoubtedly brought us closer together as a family unit. I love the dialogue we have for our weekly brainstorming sessions.
As much as Ashley has drawn on my cosmetics knowledge and experience, I learn what motivates and drives her passion in return.
I know giving her the freedom to run Two Halves skincare and supporting her when she needs it is the best way to promote trust in the relationship.
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What's your least favourite part of working together?
AY: My mother can be very demanding because she is a perfectionist, especially when it comes to things that she attaches to her name.
I think she sometimes forgets that I’m still very inexperienced compared to her, so it can get stressful when we get into disagreements about the business.
JY: Being a parent and a business partner, I struggled between supporting her and being overly protective. Given our generational differences, it has its fair share of challenges.
Ashley can come across as fixated on what she wants, and hence it may not be easy to sway her out of a decision. She would only listen when she is at her wits’ end.
Has going into business together changed your perception of each other?
AY: Perhaps because I’ve seen her at work previously, I’ve always known that she can be pretty demanding, especially when it comes to results or return on investment.
I remember once when I had just started work at my mum’s department, a lady I met at the printing room (who didn’t know I was her daughter) told me good luck because ‘Jo is a difficult one.’ I had a good laugh recounting it to her.
Having worked side by side with my mother now, I can see where this impression of her comes from. It is also this exact demanding nature that has helped me to refine and crystallise my thinking process for the business.
I admire her most for leaving a legacy, and that even after her retirement, people in this industry still remembers her.
JY: Going into this partnership has made us closer, and I’m proud of her achievements so far. I used to worry a lot for Ashley in the past as I had the impression she was not serious and only want to have fun.
Today, Ashley has also made me realised she has the maturity and sensibility in running a business.
Have you had disagreements, and how do you hash it out?
AY: Yes, many! My mum’s working style has always been very task-oriented and direct, while I am usually all over the place. Honestly, I think our working styles are sometimes not complimentary.
She doesn’t mince her words and readily questions my business decisions, that sometimes I do feel cornered by it. Luckily, she’s also quick to forget and is the one who initiates the conversion after.
At the end of the day, we both want the best for Two Halves, and of course, I believe my mum also wants to best for me.
JY: I often struggled in balancing being a supportive mother and at the same time be her business advisor. Ashley has her views on how she wants to run the business.
While she welcomes feedback and advice, she does not like to be micro-managed. I have learned to let her have her freedom in decision-making and only provide the direction when she needs it.
What's one lesson you've learnt from your mother?
AY: My mum has always told me that passion and perseverance are a must for surviving in this demanding industry. She has always described her work experience like swans gliding across the lake.
Exuding elegance, grace and glamour on the surface but beneath the picturesque facade, their tiny little web feet paddle ceaselessly.
The beauty scene has evolved so much since my mother’s time, with new methods and science, but we were swans then, and till today, we won’t let anything ruffle our feathers. (No one would know from the surface, at least!)
Your advice for young entrepreneurs starting out in the business
AY: Persevere and celebrate the wins! It’s a journey with many obstacles, and the initial excitement will fizzle out quite quickly, and it will be easy to experience burnout.
By celebrating the wins, no matter how small, you will be less dejected and more resilient when you’re faced with challenges. Remember that running is business is like running a marathon; you’ll need to pace yourself.
This article was first published in The Singapore Women's Weekly.