how she did it

Case Studies // Losing a Business in the Econo...

Losing a Business in the Economic Crash and Starting All Over Again in Hong Kong

When the Global Financial Crisis hit Emma Reynolds lost a business she’d worked so hard to build and even faced bankrupcy. What’s incredible is that she decided to move to Hong Kong and start the business again there – she can now list Royal Canin/Mars, KPMG and Nestle amongst her clients. Read her amazing story below.

What does your business do?

We are changing the way the world works. We are a Workforce Innovation Company, originally founded in UK but now based in Hong Kong, we are re-thinking, re-designing and re-inventing workforce practices. We partner with clients to help them change the way they work. We are bringing the sophistication of user-centred design from the marketplace to the workplace. In the 21st Century, employees are thinking and acting like customers. We have to re-think the way organizations are structured, the way they manage people, attract, hire and retain global talent.

Our clients include Nestle, Mars, Tata, Virgin, KPMG, BP, Leighton Asia, ING, Prudential, Manulife, PepsiCo, Skandia.

In Asia we are working across China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Indonesia, etc to help our clients grow rapidly. We build the infrastructure, redesign Candidate Experiences, Onboarding and Employee Engagement programs.

What made you decide to start your own business?

I was constantly dissatisfied and frustrated with what was available in the market. I don’t have a HR background, I have a marketing background, and I could see the opportunity to apply what we learn as marketers, to the workforce. Same principles of attracting, creating buzz, gaining loyalty etc. And I just went for it. I thought ‘there is a great need for this, so let’s do it’.

What have been your biggest challenges so far?

Well, the Global Financial Crisis didn’t help!! There have been many challenges, from cash flow, to clients not paying on time, to hiring the wrong staff, but the most difficult was the economic meltdown! We were starting year 3, with money in the bank, an enviable client list and some great people on the team. We expanded offices and opened on Oxford Circus in London and increased our overheads significantly. Within a few months we had lost all our retainer clients and within a few more months, faced bankruptcy! We had to make the team redundant and close down the office, that was a very sad time. Very difficult. Seeing something build up so quickly and then see it all crash down around you. Making the decision to cease operations in London and saying goodbye to my best friend and business partner was a very traumatic experience. But you get through it. I always knew it would happen again…and I was right!

How did you overcome these challenges?

Looking back, I don’t know how! I cried alot! I think there were 3 months where I cried myself to sleep every night, and would wake up having panic attacks! I spoke to my parents alot, it was hard being on another continent with little support near you. My business partner and I were always there for each other, through think and thin, we were best friends first and foremost. We had each other. We had loving friends to help us get through it. We spent time with our mentors and sought their advice. Making our team redundant was so hard, but we tried to be as open and honest along the way, so it wasn’t a major shock. We involved our team in the challenges, we always thought we would get through it. Being relentlessly positive – even when it is so hard – helped. There were many times I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I did it, and walked through the office doors with a smile on my face!!!

What advice or tips would you give to other business owners?

Just do it. Don’t make excuses. The difference between a successful entrepreneur and one that never made it, lies in an ability to trust your instincts and get on and do it. I listen to people all the time, I listen to how they approach things, how they talk to themselves, how they justify things – and you can easily identify who is successful, or going to be, against those who aren’t. If you have a business idea, launch it. We didn’t plan too much, we didn’t write a 50 page business plan, we knew we were onto something so we quit our jobs and started. We didn’t get it right the first time, or the second time, but we were well on our way to doing something about it! If you find yourself making excuses (“it already exists in the market”, “someone else already does that”, “I don’t have enough money” “I don’t have enough time” etc etc) then you will always find excuses. Just do it. Get started, believe in your idea and make it happen.

Try, and try again. After closing down the operations in the UK I spent time working in a big corporate to build my savings back up. I looked at where the growth was, got on a plane and moved to Hong Kong. I didn’t have any contacts and not very much money, but I started e3 again, with a bold vision, and it has been the best thing I have ever done. I have emerged a stronger person, with a totally new perception of my business, how to do things, and how to approach the market.

Don’t be afraid to make changes if things aren’t working.

What’s your favourite quote?

Carpe Diem (seize the day) – this is tattooed on my left foot.

Impossible is nothing (Adidas)

Whatever you can conceive, believe, you can achieve (Oprah)

Who inspires you?

Everyone! I get inspiration from the local Hong Kong’ers who are very entrepreneurial, going about their daily lives, my loving boyfriend, my business partner, my parents, my clients. I admire Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Mandela. I love reading about different industries and try and apply their innovation to what I do. I am constantly reading about design, I love the company IDEO, I love football and admire Stevie Gerrard and David Beckham!! I love being in Asia and learning about different cultures inspires me. Food inspires me, coffee inspires me!!! :)

What’s next…

There is so much growth across Asia Pacific, moving the head office to Hong Kong was the best thing I have ever done! We are building a strong brand here with a great reputation, I have brought another business partner on, and Bruce, the original co-founder, is playing a Chairman role. I am building a technology platform for emerging markets and am building a creative agency for workforce strategy, the first of its kind in the world (I think…). I hope to have an office in Shanghai soon and by the end of this year be a team of 10, continuing our mission to change the way the world works. I am learning Mandarin, a bit of Cantonese and traveling alot of Asia to learn as much as I can about the different cultures we so we are positioned as the leading experts in this region.

I wake up every day with a smile, I am so grateful for all the experiences, even the bad ones, and constantly try to re-think and re-invent our industry. I love my life. Love my business and love disrupting!!!

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