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Vivien Leung

Vivien was an early member of the Leapers community, and runs multiple businesses in the wellness space after leaving a career in media.

Can you start by describing what you ‘do’ for work?

I run my 2 wellness businesses. The Honor Oak Wellness Rooms, which is a wellness and yoga space in London and I recently launched Verdant Alchemy, a new wellness & bath and beauty brand. I also sometimes freelance as a communication strategist when I have time.

How is that different today to what you were doing 12 months ago?

Seems fitting this time last year I left my nine-year career in media (agency) to take a gap year out of the industry to focus on my side projects and try to make something of it.

What was it that prompted you to take a journey towards doing something different?

I was running my wellness space in tandem to my full-time job leading the strategy on a well-known brand and surprisingly balancing it rather well. But when I was planning to launch Verdant Alchemy, a product brand I realised I couldn’t balance all three. Starting a product brand is entirely different to launching and running a service, which involves other stakeholders and thus an automatic support system, with Verdant Alchemy I was mostly on my own, and there wasn’t enough time in the evening to do the things I needed to do. I thought like it was only fair to take some time out and focus on this to see if it was a viable product and brand otherwise I would regret it.

I was also part jaded with the media industry; I felt like everyone was doing the same strategies and procurement teams led the media conversations. There were constant pitches and a lot of negativity regarding the agency model. I thought it would be good to take myself out of that environment for a little while to revive my energy and love for communications. You know, it has worked, I did a few comms strategies the other month and loved it and felt energised for it again. So sometimes taking some time out is a good thing.

It seems appropriate that you’re running a business which helps people find balance — and that it came from you yourself trying to attain balance! What has been the biggest challenge in starting up your business?

When you start your own business, you do it because you have a creative idea and product you want to share with other, you don’t account for all the legislation and admin that comes with it. Launching a beauty business is especially hard, it comes with a lot of legislation, which is great, as it gives you rigour in the process and accountability to your product, but it also means hours spent figuring out what stuff means. I spent my first 5–6 months off dealing with European cosmetic approvals, trademark law, setting up companies and accounting, learning how to use Adobe for artwork, negotiating with suppliers, brand and e-commerce strategy, retail and distribution strategy- it’s been insane the amount I’ve had to learn, but very rewarding at the same time.

You also have to learn to grow a thick skin; I think that was my biggest challenge. Not everyone is going to get back to you or like your brand, and that’s ok. It is still taking me a while to deal with that, but that is part of the growth process. You have to be the bigger person out there, deliver an outstanding product and service, and at least you know you have tried your best.

That’s a remarkable journey — and one which sounds like it took you on an incredibly steep learning curve. What advice would you give to others who are looking to embark on doing something similar?

Give it time. I launched a bath brand in the summer heatwave; you can’t imagine how dead business was and how sad I felt because of it. However, the quiet time allowed us to iron out processes, messaging and logistics. We are now in a fantastic place where we can produce, deliver and converse with consumers effectively and efficiently.

We have also started to gain some great PR, being featured in Elle & Refinery 29. Retailers are even knocking on our doors, and we will be in Anthropologie and other amazing retailers before Christmas. If you asked me 12 months ago if I thought all of this would happen within six months of launching I wouldn’t have believed it. It was definitely the right decision to leap.

I would also say to others; you don’t need to do it all yourself, it’s a lonely startup world out there, you don’t know everything, and you definitely don’t have time to do everything. I was terrible at commercials and now have a commercial director that helps manage my commercials and sales which is terrific as I get to now focus on what I love best the brand and products.

You need to also keep your mental health in check. I have suffered from stress in the past, such as presentation deadlines but who hasn’t, my fault for doing it the night before. But the level of anxiety I have felt with running my new business has been off the scale, and I do think it has something to do with doing it all myself. So, I have had to learn how to check myself, remember you’re the boss, and it’s not the end of the world. Talking to someone is super important, primarily if you work by yourself; for example, talking to my commercial director who has 20 years’ experience in the industry who tells me I am doing ok lifts so much weight off my shoulders; and meditative breathing and baths also help.

That’s an increasingly common story — about the mental health challenges of being independent. Has Leapers been helpful to you in some way?

I remember when I first joined, I was working with Matthew at Carat at the time, he had literally just set it up and think I just handed my notice in so it was perfect timing. The community he has built has been fantastic, everyone has a story to tell, and you realise you are not alone in your journey, everyone is there to help, and I have met up with a few leapers for coffee which has been rewarding and inspiring. It is a vast support network to learn from but also to help squash any doubts you have with your journey.

Thanks Viv, and we’re grateful to have you as part of the community sharing your own wisdom. What’s next on your to-do list?

The roadmap for Verdant Alchemy is super exciting, we are currently focusing on our domestic market and Europe, but we are also talking to distributors to expand the brand in the US and Asia. I am also looking to open a 2nd Wellness Rooms in London but finding the right property is hard.

I am also trying to keep my foot in the advertising world through freelance work; I do believe my previous agency experience with my new brand owner experience makes me a strong strategic candidate however the struggle is to find the right kind of projects that both excite me and fits into my other commitments. I have witnessed a lot of new agency models who are a community of handpicked freelancers that work together on projects, and to be honest, this form of agile working does excite me and is something I would be interested in exploring deeper.

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Vivien Leung, interviewed by Matthew Knight.
Originally published on 2018-12-12
"Everyone is there to help. It is a vast support network to learn from but also to help squash any doubts you have with your journey."

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