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People

Perfect fit

Three years after graduating as Class of 2007 valedictorian, Teo Peiru went from managing private equity funds to becoming the boss of a thriving bridal company. Chrystal Chan finds out how she did it

Bridal boutique owner Teo Peiru standing beside wedding gowns in her store PHOTOS: DANIEL HO

It is 2pm on a sweltering Friday afternoon, but La Belle Couture on Tanjong Pagar road is bustling. A couple is methodically going through photos from their pre-wedding shoot. Another couple giggles as they “try on” wedding gowns and suits in front of a screen called the FXMirror, an augmented reality virtual fitting room that’s also the first to be used in a bridal studio in Singapore. Yet another pair of lovebirds listens attentively as a cheerful consultant describes the various packages available.

Things didn’t look this rosy seven years ago, when the managing director of La Belle Couture, Teo Peiru, 33, and her then-business partner took over the bridal studio. To their shock, they discovered that the previous owner had left the outfit with a debt of half a million dollars and many unfulfilled orders. They were thrown into the deep end. Her partner bowed out after about six months, but Peiru vowed to press on, even taking up bank loans to keep the business afloat.

It was a hard-won crash course for the mechanical engineering graduate with zero experience in running a company, apart from the business classes she attended as an NTU undergraduate.

“I was interested in learning the basics of starting my own business, so I took a minor in business and another minor in entrepreneurship during my four years in NTU. I was in the first batch of students taking the entrepreneurship minor. Viola Tan from Love, Bonito was my classmate,” she says.

On why she did not pursue a business degree right from the start, the former class valedictorian says: “I felt I would be able to learn the ropes of running a business hands-on, so I went for a professional degree since mathematics and the sciences came naturally to me. Also, I really enjoyed making things with my hands and loved practicums and tinkering around in the engineering workshops.”

The entrepreneurial spirit runs in her family. Her father runs a software development company, while her sister, also an NTU graduate, owns an education technology firm. Deep down, Peiru always knew that she would eventually be bethrothed to her own business.

“If I wasn’t doing this, I would probably be running a tech company. In fact, I am currently working on a tech start-up building artificial intelligence bots,” she says.

Bridal boutique owner Teo Peiru  browsing a rack of formal dinner dresses

What was your undergrad life in NTU like?

I had a really exciting time in NTU. I joined many student activities and was very active in the cultural activities club. In my first year, I chaired the organising committee for the National Cheerleading Competition with 80 team members. The following year, I was the vice-president of the students’ union. I also joined the inter-hall games and planned some events for my hall of residence. In my third year, I spent a year abroad in the United States and China as part of my studies.

Tell us one highlight of your time in university.

It was when I delivered my valedictorian speech. That moment was really special to me as distinctions were so hard to come by for me and I was never on the Dean’s List. But what’s funny is that I visualised myself doing that even before I joined NTU. I watched the movie Legally Blonde and saw the lead character overcoming challenges to become the class valedictorian. I thought to myself: “I want to do that!” I believe that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve it.

Bridal boutique owner Teo Peiru standing in front of the augmented reality screen in her store

That’s so cool. So how has NTU shaped you?

Honestly, I’m very grateful to NTU because I was the recipient of the Nanyang Scholarship, which funded my studies at a time when it was much needed. The minor in entrepreneurship that I took was like a 101 on starting your own business, and that’s a foundation that has served me well. That said, I think it’s just as important to go out there and just do it. That’s the fastest way to learn.

Were there some challenging moments in university?

Like many other university students, I frequently thought about what I would do after graduation. So I took up more internships and courses than needed to try and discover my interests. The four years really flew by! I even started studying for the Chartered Financial Analyst exams in my final year. Being involved in all these meant that I had to manage my time and set priorities, including giving up some of the fun things, like going out with friends.

What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

Be brave and don’t hesitate. If you want something, don’t wait to be 100 percent prepared or sure, just go for it.