Running a business as a couple, the example of Esi and Charles with Kulturë
Theresia (Esi) and Charles de Crémiers, French-Indonesian couple, decided to start a business together in Singapore by launching an online boutique website, Kulturë Home Decor in 2017. As in any entrepreneurial project, there is a personal story behind, which began with their love Indonesian crafts. After numerous trips to Indonesia, they wanted to get more involved in promoting craftsmanship, but also to support humanitarian projects like the Bethesda orphanage in Batam, Indonesia.
Thus was born the Kulturë Home Decor company, which offers a fine selection of home decor objects and original furniture, intended for all people who've had a love affaire with Balinese culture!
Le Petit Journal of Singapore met them via Zoom so that they could tell us about this adventure as a couple, explain their vision of a development "at their own pace", and how they created a pure e-commerce project with a “clean and ethical” angle.
Lepetitjournal.com: Charles and Esi could you introduce yourself and tell us about your journey?'
Charles de Cremiers, 38, French and living in Singapore for 12 years now. I arrived in 2008 with a suitcase and since then I have become a permanent resident and father of a family (2 children). Before Singapore, I lived in the Netherlands for 7 years and also 2 years in Gabon when I was a child. All these stays have nurtured my taste for adventure and the discovery of new cultures. This passion further developed with the discovery of Asia, in particular Indonesia, which I find fascinating thanks to its multicultural richness as the creativity of its craftsmen.
Right now I work for an OOH media buying and consulting agency. On the side, I co-founded Kulturë Home Decor with my wife in 2017. She now manages the business and I advise her from times to times.
Theresia (Esi) Situmorang, Indonesian of Batak origin, permanent resident in Singapore where I moved whe got married in 2015. Before settling down here, I lived in Jakarta for 3 years and in Manila for 7 years, studying business management and working in financial publication industry. I am, like my husband, very fond of traveling and discovering new cultures!
I keep a very strong bond with my native country. It is important to me to get involved in the development and export of Indonesian craft, especially from Bali and Lombok, where we often travel with the whole family.
Since I moved to Singapore, I have been working in the digital marketing field. In addition of taking care of our 2 children (Cécilia, 4 years-old and Joachim, 6-months old), I manage Kulturë Home Decor on a daily basis!
Tell us about your company and its “socially responsible and sustainable development” commitment?
Esi : Kulturë Home Decor is an online store that offers "niche" decoration items handcrafted in Indonesia, delivered to our customers within 5 working days.
We offer wooden furniture, carved mirrors, decorative wooden panels, bed headboards, bamboo baskets, paintings (…) reflecting the Balinese history and lifestyles.
Through Kulturë, we are also involved in humanitarian and sustainable development projects, some of which started before the creation of the company in 2017.
For example, for the Bethesda orphanage in Batam, we donate 5% of our annual profits, and we regularly organize fundraisers for them. The last fundraising took place in April 2020, during the COVID-19 period, allowed us to raise 5,800 SGD thanks to the help of our network and Kulturë customers. We eventually exceeded our goal, and it allowed the people in charge at the orphanage to buy food, basic medicine and fresh vegetables.
We also want to support the artisans who work for us. When we visit them, we provide them with basic equipment to protect their health during their work (masks, gloves ...), and we ask that women to be paid on the same basis as men. It is a process that takes time but we believe in it. We also recently started taking part in trees planting in Sumatra, Indonesia.
What is your background? How did it help building Kulturë Home Decor?
Charles: Although coming from two very different countries, we both have a similar education and background, both in terms of curriculum (business and management) and soft skills. We have both been exposed to multiple cultures, and we are very open-minded. We had no specific knowledge of e-commerce or digital marketing when we launched our online store, and we had to demonstrate a great capacity to learn in a rather short period of time.
How did you come up with the idea for Kulturë?
Esi: We were in Bali with Charles' father in 2015, and we stopped by an artisan store that sold hundreds of wooden decorative items.
Struck by the vast choice and diversity of products produced by Mr. Wayan, 5 years later, he has become our most important supplier!
At that time, we had just bought some souvenirs, and we understood the difficulty for people who wanted to bring back locally-made objects or furniture: large sizes, arduous negotiations, transport prices etc. So Kulturë was born both from the desire to showcase the diversity of unique, artisanal products made in Bali and the need to facilitate their access to people who were in love with Balinese culture.
How does your company differ from other sites selling decorative items and furniture?
Esi: The vast majority of our customers are women who are looking for an original decorative item to add a special touch to their bedroom or living room. We highlight the ease of the order process and delivery within 5 working days. We also offer the possibility of personalizing certain products.
Charles: Our strategy is primarily focused on e-commerce. We do not have a physical store and are able to ship the majority of our products to more than 80 countries.
In terms of offerings, we remain in a well-defined niche, and are in no hurry to grow exponentially.
Finally, our humanitarian and sustainable development projects are at the heart of our long-term strategy. We want our customers to know that when they buy a product in our store, they contribute to these causes, even if it is on a small scale.
How do you see the development of your business after 5 years?
Charles: We are attached to the idea of developing at our own pace, and growing organically . Our starting capital was really insignificant and our marketing budget is (still) very small. We limit discounting to very few items only. Our main areas of development are the regular creation of new designs with our craftsmen and the opening of the B2B market in the long term, especially with interior designers. We are also starting to get interest from wholesalers outside of Asia, which could help us to develop internationally. It is therefore necessary to maintain the balance between sustainable growth and the company's capacity to remain financially healthy.
Doing business in Singapore is different from doing business in Europe according to your personal experience? Are there any special features to this market?
Charles: We have the impression that in France we observe a heavy administrative burden when setting up a business. Charges and very high taxes make entrepreneurship difficult, especially for young people who do not have large means or existing network. It's a shame, because there is no shortage of talent or resources in France. In Singapore, everything can go very quickly, especially with the implementation of digital management tools, and the fact that small businesses are not heavily taxed. We also observe that failure is perceived differently in the two countries: it is seen as the end of everything in France, while here people encourage you and help you bounce back.
Tell us about your experience as a couple? What does it change? Does this impact daily life or family life? What are the advantages?
Esi: It was difficult at first, because we set up our business just after the birth of Cécilia. Since we took care of everything (product photos, website creation, order management, etc.) and we had to manage our daughter, we were on the verge of burnout.
2017 was a very intense year, but once the business started, it became easier. In terms of decision making, we have always tried to keep the dialogue going and separate business and family life, which can be very difficult when things don't go as planned!
Charles: Esi is now in charge of the company. The advantage is that she works from home as she wishes. We also took a helper at home, which relieves us enormously in the management of daily tasks.
You are a couple with two different origins / nationalities, tell us about this wealth to develop the business.
Esi: It is indeed a strength to have 2 different cultures in terms of contribution to the management of the company. We complement each other in a rather harmonious way (overall!). Charles has a more analytical approach and a long-term strategic vision of the business. I am more focused on the creative part (marketing) and the management of artisans in Bali, because most of them do not speak English and do not even have a computer! In addition, the Balinese are not as direct as the French in the way they communicate (smile); you often have to know how to round the corners to achieve your goals.
Any advice for those who want to get started?
Charles: Start early! I regret not having started an e-commerce business before becoming a father. Don't be in too much of a hurry to scale-up. Become profitable before raising funds.
Esi: Continue to find sources of inspiration every day and love the products or services that you market!