Road to Reebonz

One to rival Net-A-Porter, Reebonz (pronounced “ribbons”) is a multimillion-dollar online luxury goods retailer founded by NTU accountancy graduate Samuel Lim. Chrystal Chan finds out how the 35-year-old CEO turned Reebonz into one of Singapore’s most successful companies

Samuel Lim co-founded Reebonz – a luxury fashion etailer – along with Benjamin Han and Daniel Lim in 2009. This is the NTU graduate’s third start-up and also his most profitable one to date. Reebonz is currently the largest online luxury sales company in Southeast Asia with an annual turnover of over $120 million globally. Its regional offices are in eight countries including Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Korea.
Student venture “When I was studying accountancy at NTU, I began my first company, eFusion Pte Ltd, to provide value-added mobile content like ringtone downloads and mobile games to consumers. I knew entrepreneurship was the path I wanted to take in life. I also realised that it would be better to start young because of the lower opportunity cost. I started my first company with some of my savings and help from an angel investor who came in with $120,000.”

Don’t stop at one “eFusion Pte Ltd was acquired in 2006. Meanwhile I had concurrently started a direct sales and marketing agency in 2004 that helps brands and companies, especially banks, expand their customer base through multiple channels and platforms. This grew to become a market leader with over 300 sales staff in Vietnam, Philippines and Singapore. In 2011, that company also got acquired so I could focus on Reebonz, which I founded in 2009. Today, I focus my attention mainly on the Reebonz group and its related businesses.”

Right place, right time “It all came together nicely. The other two Reebonz co-founders had just graduated, and I wanted to show them the ropes of how to run a start-up, plus I had with me a group of engineers and tech guys from my previous start-ups. As a team, we explored ideas for start-ups and discovered that e-commerce was a viable option. The timing was right – it was the financial crisis and a good time to buy luxury goods, as there were plenty of overstocked items.”

Designer totes vs books “When I started my first business, it was tough. I had to be very disciplined and manage my time well, and to study smart rather than just hard. But I knew that the experiences gained from running a business would outweigh the ‘loss’ of being one step behind my classmates in terms of my grades. When I graduated, I was proud to do so with a successful business generating $8 million a year.”

Bagfuls of experience “I think Reebonz is where it is today because of the experience I had with my two previous companies. I’d learnt some tricks of the trade, such as how to quickly and efficiently grow a business.”

Fastest CEO first “You need to understand all parts of your business before delegating responsibilities. This meant I had to learn all I could about the fashion business in a short time. If you’re the CEO, you have to learn everything in the shortest time possible.”

Number-crunching entrepreneur “I pursued NTU’s Accountancy degree programme because I liked the practicality of a professional degree and also because I am good with numbers.”

Bigger Reebonz “I want Reebonz to be the go-to online luxury retailer in the region. We’re making luxury goods accessible to aspiring middle classes. I want Reebonz to be the most trusted brand for buyers and sellers when it comes to new and pre-owned luxury items.”