While most businesses are born out opportunity, it takes a certain level of unrelenting passion to see through it for the long haul. 30-year-old Daryl Chew created the first iteration of Nail Deck, a beauty start-up specialising in nail polish, close to 7 years ago back in 2011.
Before you make assumptions about Daryl’s sexuality and draw parallels to famous male beauty mavens like Jeffree Star of Jeffree Star Cosmetics, Daryl is your average Singaporean guy – devoted husband and father, worrying about BTOs and fussing over the current state of Singapore’s mildly erratic weather.
I notice that his left pinky is painted a bright purple and he quickly fills me in on his latest nail polish collection based on the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2018 (it’s Ultra Violet if you’re wondering).
“There’s no top coat and it hasn’t chipped after three weeks and a trip to Bangkok,” he adds.
A Boyfriend’s Kiasu Gesture Of Love
The idea for Nail Deck first manifested when his then-girlfriend (now wife), wanted to buy from a US brand by the name of Blaze, which produced colour-changing nail polish.
Like any kiasu Singaporean, he thought, why not buy in bulk to offset the hefty shipping taxes?
And so, he bought 500 bottles.
He went on to become a distributor of nail polish in Singapore, beginning his foray into the technicolour world of the beauty industry.
Over the years, in spite of the bumps, hiccups and missteps, the Nail Deck dream is still alive and kicking and it’s certainly not because Daryl’s wife still needs nail polish after all these years.
“I stayed in it partly out of passion and partly out of luck.”
Citing his passion for colour and a supportive network of friends and partners, Daryl has no plans to leave the beauty industry anytime soon.
The Nail Deck brand has since evolved to include a mobile app which allows users to snap photos of objects and create matching bespoke nail polish colours.
Daryl personally fulfils and creates all of the custom nail polish requests and even sources and tests of all of the ingredients himself.
Prior to Nail Deck, Daryl was running a custom road bicycle business where he provided custom design services for bikes, dealing with suspensions, gears, frames and rims. He still deals with suspensions, but of a different sort.
“You need a specific type of suspension base to make a glitter polish.” Other nail polish jargons like “jellies”, “cremes”, “pigments” and “topcoats” roll off his tongue effortlessly.
Deciding to start a business fresh out of school is almost certain to raise some eyebrows, let alone a man entering the beauty industry traditionally dominated by females.
And it’s in these moments of madness that one finds out who are the sceptics and true believers. Unsurprisingly, Daryl’s parents and family had their fair share of doubts.
“At first, my parents and family were sceptical that I would be able to make a decent living from this but over time I managed to prove that I could and I guess that was enough,” he comments.
In time, he managed to quell the apprehension surrounding his unconventional business decision. “My friends thought I was brave to do this (I thought maybe I was stupid) and were mostly encouraging,” he adds with a laugh.
After all, he was featured on an episode of Xiaxue’s Guide to Life on Clicknetwork.
Where Male Is Minority
Like most minorities, being a male in a female dominated arena has its complications.
Not being a typical user of the products himself, customers and potential partners sometimes express incredulity when engaging in business with him, especially since beauty is a very personal and unique experience for women.
However, being an outsider can sometimes prove to be beneficial to running a business.
“I actually feel that being a male has more advantages than disadvantages.”
As a non-user of nail polish, Daryl shares that it helps him to dissociate emotionally from the product, compelling him to look at hard data and numbers to make objective business decisions.
It has also demanded that he keep abreast with beauty trends and technological developments in the beauty industry, something that has paid off for him dearly.
Daryl was quick to jump on the customisation trend in beauty and switched from being a distributor, to providing nail polish customisation services.
He is even in partnerships with a couple of businesses to create customised nail polishes for their brands, with some coveting the technology behind his advanced colour search algorithm.
Most recently, Nail Deck has expanded its nail polish customisation options and launched their first self-branded physical product in 2017 – the Nail Deck Lacquer Kit – something that Daryl has spent over a year and a half working on.
By mid-2018, you can expect a full beauty customisation experience with Nail Deck’s physical Lacquer Bar II – a self-service retail experience for customising nail polish on the spot and on the go.
Made in Singapore?
The beauty industry is a tough nut to crack, and Daryl can vouch for a fact that it’s no longer enough just to create strong products, but to create strong experiences as well.
Furthermore, beauty start-ups face the same problem that any physical consumer product will face in Singapore – a domestic consumer market that is just too small.
“It’s almost to a point where you have to think of how to be regional or global from Day One.”
The difficulty of running a start-up increases exponentially because local founders like Daryl have to think about marketing and retailing to different customer groups, international fulfilment options and even logistics solutions – right from the get-go.
That, and a general reluctance of Singaporeans to support local.
It’s not uncommon to find local brands engaging blonde hair, blue-eyed influencers or claiming to use “premium ingredients from US” to give themselves an international edge.
However, this doesn’t seem to faze Daryl.
He constantly seeks out collaborations with other local beauty companies and has even organised events to rally the local beauty start-up community together.
Asked if he plans to stay in the beauty industry, Daryl replies, “Yes for sure.”
So what’s next for Nail Deck? “Customised lip products!”
To make your own customisable nail polish colours, you can visit NailDeck.com or download the Nail Deck app for iOS. The Nail Deck Lacquer Kit also retails in Naiise, Megafash and various other offline stores across Singapore.