Mention Helios Media Design and you will find that they are a powerhouse within the creative industry, counting top multi-national companies like Swatch and Hush Puppies among their customers. LadyBoss was glad to have the chance to hear straight from the co-Founder Lydia Neo, how 3 young graduates built their own creative agency from scratch.
Looking at Lydia, you might be surprised at how such a young lady could have co-founded and run the company for 10 years. She is definitely an inspiration to many with her “ga-ga-lai” spirit (just do it daringly).
Choices in Life
Even as polytechnic students, Lydia and her two partners already managed to impress clients such as Singtel through their creative work. When the guys were doing National Service, Lydia took it upon herself to front the business as a sole proprietor. At a young age, they were given an opportunity in life that many did not have, a ready pool of clientele who were willing to do business with them. Given a choice between continuing to study for degree and start up the business, they opted for the latter. Despite no experience nor knowledge of running a business beyond doing design work, they took the jump together and went down the journey.
All their families got a shock of their lives, when they said they were going to start a business. This is quite common, especially among women who might face objection from family members. Luckily for Lydia and her partners, various people knew that these 3 young kids were going to start a business and were very supportive of them. Starting a business at a young age can actually be quite favourable as many established business people do love to provide support and guidance where required.
It’s tough being a LadyBoss and there is little glamour in it. It’s the absolute truth we hear from every LadyBoss and Lydia was no different.
“We paid ourselves very little, only about $300 a month. How we came up with that figure was through pure necessities, $2 a meal 2 times a day, $1.50 for a bus ride and so on. All the money we made went back into the business.”
Spoken like a true entrepreneur who has only one focus, to give her absolute best in the company which she started. Getting a decent pay was never at the top of her mind, growing the company was. Even though they could have lived quite comfortably as consulting projects normally have pretty good margins, they were very disciplined in reinvesting the money in the business. In fact, most of the money was spent acquiring new skills, technology to help the business grow further.
The Helios Team – Lee Lilun, Amie Lin, Lydia Neo, Wee Hong Long
Scalability and Standard Operations
At some point of time, Lydia and her partners found that they were unable to grow the business. That’s because all of them were too busy doing client work that nobody had time to go out and get new business. It dawned upon them that they needed to put a place a system which was able to create the kind of quality work they were doing, but using somebody else’s time. Entering the picture was their old classmate, Amie who was then running a team of people doing video production. She was able to share with them how to put in place standard operations and processes which could ensure quality work being produced by employees. This was a critical move to help Lydia and team scale up their business and take on much larger projects. Amie would join them at a later date as a Director as well.
The first 3 years were tough, Lydia made no bones about it. They were working a lot, burning weekends and midnight oil for very little pay. However, it was the worldwide financial crisis in their 5th year that was the hardest time for them. They tried as hard as they could, but the clients simply had little to no budget to spend on marketing as they were cutting back due to the financial crisis.
“We had plenty of time to socialise, mingle around, date, but deep down we were miserable. We were actually very happy working to death in the office.”
It reached a point where they faced the possibility that Helios Media might actually fold in that year. What saw them through was pure grit and determination. One of the partners exclaimed that he would never want to work for anybody! For Lydia, it was simple, she only has Helios Media, she lives and breathes the company. They started looking for new angles to pitch their business, entering areas which they never did before. If a client asks for something which she is not familiar with, she will never reject it, but learn how to do it. Very quickly, they were able to find inroads into new business directions and tide through the tough period.
Exciting times are ahead as Helios Media opens the first overseas office in Australia and later London as well. Since most of their clients are from Europe and Australia, Lydia decides its time to move closer to them. Don’t wait until they come to you, why not engage them first with ideas? A good marketer will never turn down a good idea, its up to the agency to show them how it can be beneficial to their marketing efforts.
Congrats to Lydia and her team for being around for 10 years and still going strong!