Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, my name is Bryan and my name is Maggie. We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
Maggie: (00:00:23) Today we have a very special guest with us, her name is Amanda Ang, and is the founder of August Bespoke, a custom jewelry house, which helps couples skip the cookie-cutter experience of traditional stores and create one of a kind engagement rings to celebrate their love story.
Bryan: (00:00:50) Amanda, we’re so happy to have you here and we understand it’s 1:00 AM in Singapore right now. Thank you for staying up and making the podcast with us, we really appreciate it.
Amanda: (00:01:01) You know, Asian Hustle Network international, right? Across all time zones.
Maggie: (00:01:08) Thank you so much for being on this show with us today. We will just jump right into, it would love to know your background and where you grew up, where you were born, and what your family situation was they were a very traditional Asian family were they pretty much very laid back?
Amanda: (00:01:28) I’ll start from the beginning, so I grew up in Singapore and spent 18 years of my life here. I attended public school and I would say I was like a typical Singaporean student, went to the good schools, studied really hard, and got the A’s. When I graduated high school, I guess it was a little bit surprising cause my parents expected me to go to college here. I think like most Asian parents, they kind of wants you nearby, right? But I had a friend who had done like a summer program at UPenn one time or like it was like somewhere between a sophomore and junior year of high school and my dad was like should think about applying to the US.
I was like, I don’t know, that’s really far away, right? We’re literally on the other side of the globe, but he was so excited about it. I was like, all right. So in Singapore, we do the Cambridge A-level exams and we had no college guidance counselor or the way that you guys have in the US so literally after I finished my British exams, I had a week left before the US applications closed.
Back in the day, we had like the US News ranking, there’s this book with a thousand colleges, so I kind of flipped it and was like common application. Let me apply to a bunch of schools and that’s how I actually ended up in the US. Funny enough, I think my dad is a person who is quite open-minded. I had actually gotten into a bunch of good schools and my dream school was UC Berkeley. I think that’s a very Asian school in California and in Singapore, that’s a famous school. So I think when I had gotten in and everybody just assumed, well, Amanda’s going there.
I assumed I was going there because I guess in Asia, people care a lot about the name. But my dad is quite open-minded and he was like let’s go take a tour. To see the other schools you got into, so we did a college tour and started on the East coast. I happened to visit a school called Boston College, a school I got into but I was super impressed when I got to the campus. They’re a very liberal arts school which is very different from what people in Asia focus on, right? Beause Berkeley had a very good business school.
I had a very good idea that I’m going there and after a whole bunch of tours, I was like, wow, this is a very different experience than what I would’ve imagined. But then I wondered if Berkeley is right for me. When I visited Berkeley, it was a very different experience for me because they could care less if you’re there.
I remember going to the admissions office after flying 24 hours to visit and the registered woman in the office was like, I’m sorry is your name in our database? I said I flew 24 hours to come and register, she’s like, well, I’m sorry you don’t exist to us. I went back to the hotel and started crying cause for the first time in my life, I thought, hey I had this path, right. I was a student and I got into this good school and this is where I was supposed to be.
So that was the night when my dad who was quite open-minded was like you can choose any school you want. I think that was really like the first kind of unexpected decision to choose Boston college, which nobody knows in Asia. That is more well-known in the US but that’s how I ended up.
I went to undergrad at BC where I studied finance and French where I worked on my side passion and discovered a love of languages. Soon after I started working on Wall Street and graduated in 2008, which was an interesting time to graduate.
Luckily for me, I got an internship on Wall Street and then the summer of 2007. After I graduate in 2008, I started working at the Asia equity sales desk so my team was focused on basically launching IPOs from Asia into the US market. Our clients would be like us hedge funds and all the institutional guys looking into Asia. So I was working at Goldman, and it was a great experience. It really was quite a life-defining experience for a girl who came from another country, halfway across the world to be working with the serious guys on Wall Street.
I was like, wow, this is the big leagues and I ended up working there for three years. At one point my dad actually got sick and I think this was the first point where I also had to do a little bit of like self-reflection. Is this where my life is headed? At that point, I had spent seven years in the US and I think I remember one of the defining moments being that.
It was my dad’s 60th birthday and when you’re working on Wall Street, I used to work from 5:00 AM to midnight every day, because when Asia closes the US opens. So it’s a crazy schedule and I remember getting an email from my mom saying, hey, you forgot your dad’s 60th birthday yesterday. Which is terrible, right? This person is like a huge figure in my life. I just was like, oh my goodness. I’ve been so down in the trenches doing my work that I forgot the most important thing. At that point my dad got sick, he had kidney cancer. and then I forgot his birthday.
Around that time I started reading the book, the Alchemist. I don’t know if you guys have ever read it’s great and really changed my life at that point. I was surprised I even had time to read it because I was so busy working but at times we didn’t have Wifi on planes. So when I was flying from like Boston back to New York after seeing a client, I bought the alchemists at the airport. I just started reading it on the plane. One of the lines said, one of the reasons why people are afraid to chase their dreams is they’re afraid that if they fail, they have nothing left.
That really hit me cause I was like, thinking is this supposed to be my life? At that point um, I made a decision to move back to Singapore and spend some time with my dad. I actually did a bunch of worlds travels with him and went to South Africa, it was at that point where you sort of realized like, life is really short and you don’t have a lot of time. So I moved back to Asia. I did a bunch of jobs and eventually, I found my own company.
Bryan: (00:10:31) It’s very inspirational to hear that you started putting your family first and realized what’s most important, I can definitely relate to that. I used to be a workaholic or all the time, everything sort of guy but at one point you just kind of looked back on like, is this where I want my life to go? And
you have this, this grand plan when you’re younger and you follow that path. Then you’re like I’m going to get really good grades and we’ll go to a really good school, I’m gonna work at one of the best companies in the world. But you don’t look beyond that once, once you achieve all those goals, what else is important to you?
That’s when you start looking at the untraditional path, how can I take control of my own life again? You start reflecting really hard and you start pursuing passions that you never think that you pursue when you were younger and you find that the most important thing in life is family and pursuing stuff that you actually feel passionate about. Money is important but doesn’t get me wrong, but it’s not everything.
It’s just a tool to get to where you need to go and I feel like some people out there are so blinded by it that they create a lot of selfish thoughts like I can’t help my peers. I can’t help other people and it’s a very scarcity mindset. You couldn’t get far in life with a scarcity mindset. You go a lot further with its mindset and abundance mindset that everything in the world is besides time.
It’s so abundant that you can help out people that are worrying about anything because it’s so ingrained in Asian culture. That if I win, you have to lose. If you lose, I get to win and that’s not the case at all, but the case is like your happiness or creating more happiness. Success is a journey and it’s not a destination. I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s experience.
Amanda: (00:12:32) I appreciate that actually and was interesting now that because you really support the Asian community. Now that I look back and actually I was quite lucky because I worked on the Asia desk and Goldman in New York, which was like, they’re the best colleagues I’ve ever had. So I got very lucky right out of school.
To have a team that really felt like family and when I was going through this like a personal crisis with my dad, you’d be surprised to hear like that all these super senior partner people would take me into their office and one of the partners in the US as equities desk is super senior took me into a room and he said what you said, Bryan, family is everything.
You can have all the money in the world and what is the point right? And the other team members that I had also said on a personal level, that life is about much more than just that and once you have the expensive mortgage and the Mercedes Benz is kind of hard to go back so during our 1 on 1 it’s funny how they’ll give you sort of the advice that. They may look super like successful and happy on the outside, but there’s a tradeoff to that life. I think I was quite lucky because my dad actually said to me when he found out he was sick, that like don’t regret things in life. If there’s something you want to do, go do it. I hadn’t heard that up to that point because you’re on a path.
Bryan: (00:14:15) Yeah. That’s really deep and I absolutely agree. I live life and try not to regret a lot of things. It is very difficult, I did walk away from a very comfortable job. I’m pretty sure that you completely understand from that perspective too because I’m pretty sure Goldman like pays a lot and they’re known for doing that and to walk away from that and to enter into your business, what was that transition like? And how did that conversation come about with your family?
Amanda: (00:14:43) I think my mom like, oh good, my daughter’s like working in a Wall Street firm and she’s fulfilling her life potential. So I think when I left because of my dad, she understood the aspect of it. But after that, I started doing a lot of things. I had that conversation with her about how life is short so I moved to Paris and studied French for a year. I always wanted to become a food writer. I love food, travel, and language and became a food writer for a while.
I decided to join a startup It was basically the predecessor to Airbnb experiences. When I joined them when they were like five people and my mom would say like, is this even a real job? Do you even have health insurance? You’re like building this company, like launching a new market and doing something from scratch. She was just like, you went from like Goldman to this? I think that transition was hard for her to see, and I actually quite hard for me personally, to hear it.
As I’m older, I realized I was trying to prove something to them and show them that, hey look, I’m like doing okay. So when your mom says to you, like, is this even a real job? At that point, it super hurts to hear your own mother say that and I think to this day, so I started my own jewelry company. In a way, thank her because my mom is a gemstone collector. She’s passionate about it. So I’ve been around it my whole life. So the ironic thing is like, even though she loves the industry, I mean, there is the part of her that still, like, I bet you secretly wish that I was not starting my own company though.
Bryan: (00:17:22) I can totally relate because when I left my engineering job, my parents didn’t talk to me for like six, seven months. They’re just so disappointed because they’re like you’re so comfortable in your engineering job, then you left it for uncertainty. I was lying I’m unhappy and they’re like, what is unhappiness? What does it even mean? You’re living the American dream. Like we came over here to sacrifice for your, for your life and to make sure that you have a lot more opportunities than we did, and for you to just leave it all beause you’re unhappy,
Maggie: (00:18:02) Yeah, exactly, and that also resonates with me and my parents too, because while I still have my nine to five, I’m obviously starting the conversation with my parents about working on Asian Hustle Network full time They have this perception of how do you even make money like that? How do you even make money with that type of company or like with other Asian entrepreneurs in AHN?
I think that story resonates with a lot of our members because of our parents. Most of them immigrated here from Asia to the United States and they did that to provide a better life for their children. To make sure that they go to a stable job and go to college go through the safe route. If you tell them I want to go through entrepreneurship, they oftentimes, don’t even know what is right. They expect you to become a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant or something very stable and I think that’s very relatable to a lot of our AHN members and so would love to know, if we take it a step back, what was your experience like at I’m on Wall Street and what was your experience like being, especially a member of a minority and a woman in that industry as well?
Amanda: (00:19:16) I would say it really was a defining moment with my first interaction with Wall Street started when I was a summer intern in 2007. I mean Goldman was always famous for the summer internships and having gone through it myself, I will say that I understand why, because the way that the summer internship is structured, at least in the securities division where I intern was 200 of the best and brightest and we’re talking to Harvard, Yale, Princeton.
We’re talking about like the cream of the crop showing up on their first day and the way that summer internship worked was it wasn’t clear which desk was hiring. They would give you a list of desks, right? So during the 10-week internship, you’re going to have the rotations but they wouldn’t give you a list of desks and they would basically say, we’ll start you off and in your first desk, we’ll put you somewhere, but your next two rotations are going to be up to you. So it’s kind of like the way they structured. It is really to sort of test how you’re able to network with new people and try to in a very genuine and sincere way be interested in their business, but at the same time, figure out are you hiring or not.
The other interesting thing about this internship is that we have name tags, so I would have like Amanda at Boston College, any full-time employee at Goldman could stop me in the hall and be like what do you think the price of gold is going right now. Hey, Amanda, like pitch me a stock, like as I’m walking in the hall and going to lunch right.
That because they have your name and your school they really are sort of looking at you from a 360-degree angle right. You’re eating lunch when you’re interacting with people or you’re interacting with staff like they know your summer intern. So the only way to test is to give us tasks like going to get lunch for the 35 traders on the 50th floor.
So getting lunch right. I mean, it sounds like a simple thing right? Go get lunch for 30 traders. We’re talking about hungry, like traders who all have specific requests it’s they want to dress on the side. They want like chicken, that’s like fried, not grill, trying to get all those little details right. Would be how they would test you as interns, can you get like the basic things right.
So that we can trust you with like a hundred million dollar transaction down the line. I would say it was a very interesting experience having to be on24/7. I mean, working really early until really late. I swear, I’d be like slow motion. Like in a movie he would slip be like, pray, please don’t call my name.
But he would point to someone and it’d be like pitch me a stock. And if you didn’t know the answer or like he said, okay, what’s the price of gold today? If you didn’t know the answer, you’d have to say, I don’t know, but I will find out and I’ll be back. So you got to use your social skills to then go ask a trader to let you borrow his Bloomberg terminal to go find the answer and then come back.
It’s not really about always knowing the answer, it’s about being able to find out, right. So there are a lot of like life lessons that I think they taught me. A lot of, even my fellow analysts who started with me will say that we take to this day things like Goldman’s all about like under-promise over-deliver, right? So that’s like kind of drilled into our brains. So I would say it was a very formative few years of my life.
Bryan: (00:24:29) I like that too, if you don’t know something, you have to go find an answer and that’s very much an engineering culture works as well. It’s like, none of us know everything about coding, structures, and everything, but we know that we can Google anything and everything.
Maggie: (00:24:51) As nerve-wracking, as that sounds to me personally, I think the whole purpose of that is just to go outside of your comfort zone. We have a lot of people in America who think that I have to get your coffee I’m not, I’m not going to stoop down to that level but I think that’s a really good perception if you can apply those. Same basic tactics and make sure that you’re diligent in your work, especially, or even like getting lunch for the traders right. If you can do that, right, then you will apply those same habits to everything else.
Amanda: (00:26:15) I feel like that’s something that supervises I’ve hired as interns and people through the years. As I was hiring people in like multiple years after Wall Street, I felt like I was almost pitching their job to them.
Maggie: (00:27:26) I also wanted to point out that Bryan mentioned um a lot of people feel entitled and that’s a really big problem because we have the opportunity to work and make money and learn from those experiences. But a lot of people actually are really entitled I’m so ungrateful for my job but I never heard you once say that you had a bad experience on Wall Stree and you were able to really appreciate your experiences there and learn from that
Amanda: (00:28:01) I’m grateful. For an international girl, I went to a new country, went through college, and then here I am working at Wall Street with these people that I was like looking up to so people are who are so smart. I got lucky. I can’t speak for every team, every division, but I just had people that were just so not just like smart, but actually kind and nice. They really treated me like family and my boss treated me like family. When my parents came to town, the entire team went out with my parents, which not all colleagues in the US would do that right go with their parents so I think I was very lucky.
Bryan: (00:28:51) Yeah, that’s awesome to hear. want to dive into your business now, can walk through how your business works and all the operational stuff behind it.
Amanda: (00:29:12) Well let me tell you a story about how I got started, how I started a jewelry company and came from like Wall Street jewelry. I mentioned to you guys, that my mom is a gemstone collector. When I was growing up, she would always like to quiz me on the four C’s of diamonds and show me stuff. At one point after I moved back to Singapore. I was like working in startups and everything. A lot of my friends started getting engaged and so people would know my background and then I would kind of be like the secret detective. I go with them to stores. I would help them do research because the guys can’t tell that many people, but they want someone to kind of give them a second opinion. So I will do the research with them online and offline.
And I realized the jewelry industry does not make the experience easy for a customer right. So anybody listening, if you’ve ever bought a diamond ring, you know exactly what I’m talking about right? So you walk into a store and you kind of feel like there’s a lot of stress here, right? They’re judging you. How much money are you going to spend then the store? The structure of the industry is such that they basically take out loans to buy the inventory to them, put it in the store, and then hopefully get you to buy as you come in right. So they jack up the price and they put a huge discount and they go this is on sale. If you want to get your fiancé something or your girlfriend, something. You don’t really have neutral advice because everybody’s incentive devices tell you something, right?
Bloggers, are you making money off of affiliate links right? Big brands have a great markup and jewelry stores just want to tell you what they have. I felt like there needed to be a different way to go through this process. It was more meaningful and so that’s when I started August Bespoke we’re different from other jewelry companies and I actually have no inventory.
So I tell my clients, that I’ve literally aligned my interests with yours. I don’t actually care what you buy because I’m certified in diamonds and gemstones by GIA or Gemological Institute of America. My job is to give you all the information that you need to make the best decision for you, because what’s right for Bryan may not be right for Maggie. If you’re two different people, I’m going to give you different advice and read stuff online, Google and if buy A or B like 500 people will say, yeah, buy A and 500 people say buy B and then, in the end, you’re like more confused than when you started it.
I wanted to start a company that was very personal and that really like makes one of the kinds of things for our couples and our clients. I’ve always been into making people well happy is why I’ve always been in sales my whole life. That part has been really rewarding. That’s why I tell my clients also that when you create jewelry with me, you’re not putting it into anything else about your jewelry. Now instead of meeting clients, one on one pandemics actually sort of pushed me to get online and teach people how to buy an engagement, which I used to do 1 on 1. I step out of my own comfort zone and you’d be surprised like most of my clients actually don’t see me. Because some of my clients are all over the world right. They find me on Instagram or they’re referred by a friend and so the whole process is done remotely. So I have a phone call with them right. I try to understand what it is that they’re looking for and I have workshops everywhere. I have workshops in Singapore or Hong Kong or Chicago so I can make jewelry and ship it to you anywhere.
In the past, I have traveled to see clients but nowadays people are so comfortable sitting at home, looking at diamonds. I tell my clients it’s actually better to see in a video on your phone where you can rotate it with your finger, that’s struggling to go into a store.
So nowadays technology has actually made the process so much easier, right? What you do need though is a person who is knowledgeable and like actually knows the stuff to actually tell you what’s the difference between like A and B right?
A lot of my online competitors just dump sort of like a huge list of things for you to basically sort through on your own and then they’re like good luck because usually for guys, at least like the people, or at least if people proposing this is the first time you were buying fine jewelry for the person you’re proposing to, right?
Amanda: (00:36:07) I will say that’s interesting about the jewelry industry at least for me coming into it was how everybody in the jewelry industry is a man. I believe in entrepreneurship for women so I feel very passionate about that because jewelry, ultimately women enjoy jewelry. I guess my motivations too, like building a business in an industry, dominated by men.
Maggie: (00:37:12 I noticed that too like every time I go into a jewelry store, it’s always a man approaching me. I don’t know why it’s men and maybe you have more insight into this, but maybe it’s because they are just more persuasive I would say I don’t know.
Amanda: (00:37:30) If you’re in the jewelry industry, I love you, but it has a little bit of an old boys club. It’s like the dudes talking to the dudes when it comes to this sort of really expensive luxury items, I feel like they keep it a very closed network. I think that’s the same across all industries right?.
Maggie: (00:38:09) I think in a lot of industries and probably all industries, it’s pretty much male-dominated and that’s something we want to change with AHN too but I’m very curious. So I have a two-part question for you. I know that a lot of people might say the jewelry business is saturated and I’m very curious to know what your response is to that and how you deal with competition because there’s so much competition in the jewelry business.
Amanda: (00:38:42) Yeah, I think that’s a great question. It’s kind of like saying the restaurant business is saturated too, right? I think what I like the most about the jewelry industry is that it really is a very trust base personal business right? A lot of my clients have just straight up become my friends because they really care about their love stories. I always joke with people. I can’t make your ring until I know your story beause people come to me with a transactional questions.
My question is always; well for example, well, I want to around diamond I just got this today. I want around the diamond, 0.8 carriers. I want a D color VVS one and then my question is. Like why? So I’ll tell them that’s, you’re overpaying for something, for example, I have clients who buy flawless diamonds and they buy it because for their own personal reasons, maybe for prestige, but they make that choice.
My job is to help them understand their options and that’s how I operate, but when it comes to like how saturated it is, I think they’re just different types. I always joke, my second job is I’m a couples therapist because the guys are stressed and then sometimes women can’t be honest with them.
Maggie: (00:41:24) I love that mindset and I love how you are doing more to hone into the relationship between the two people who are getting married and two for you to ask them and what their story is just going to show that you care a lot about the process. It’s not just going to work and making money, but it’s about the process of learning about your customers. It’s about going into their lives and learning more about themselves.
Bryan: (00:41:52) Definitely. I’m a little bit curious about like logistic part too. What kind of early mistakes did you make in your business and how did you overcome them?
Amanda: (00:42:01) Well, my early mistake and this is why I tell people now I have no inventory. I think my early mistake was, that I used to guess what people want. I started out by spending thousands of dollars of my own money going and pushing it on social media but no one wants to buy it. Whatever I thought people want, it’s not what they want. I’ve made that mistake of trying to do that and then I realized I don’t like this. I like helping people discover what they want so I think one of the things that I look back going I had to do to learn the lesson.
Bryan: (00:42:56) Yeah. It’s also curious too, in terms of marketing, but how do you use your budget and spend your marketing dollars for your online business? Do you like to focus more on like Instagram ads, Facebook ads, any other ads or everything is by word of mouth?
Amanda: (00:43:11) So for a long time, it was all word of mouth. I think when you make people that happy, then they just tell everybody and it’s always nice to work with friends of friends nowadays, I think because I’ve gotten like good Google reviews, I get a lot of organic reaches that way.
I’m not selling products as much as I am saying, hey an hour and a half with me, and let me give you my insider secrets. So that is the thing that I think has really worked for me and again, it’s part of my personality. I don’t like pushing products in that sense of trying to compete on that level.
I really believe in education so my marketing is focused on informing people, and teaching them things if you follow me on Instagram, a lot of my posts are helping you understand the history behind the Emerald cut. What like what kind of personality is going to like this particular design?
What are some behind the scenes in the industry that people don’t really show you right? think that’s the part for me that people don’t get to appreciate as much because I love diamonds and gemstones. I love the process. The craftsmanship of it is amazing right. You’re actually working with precious metals. It’s something that’s taken hundreds of years to like cut a diamond, so I feel a sense of responsibility to educate people. I think all my marketing right now is really driven towards that, like the educational side and come and spend time with me and learn something and then if you want to make a ring, great and then if not, at least you’re more educated, you know what I mean?
Bryan: (00:45:05) Yeah, definitely. I love that too. What is your entrepreneur journey life? You make you sound so rosy. I’m pretty sure it was like ups and downs. And there’s a lot of hardship that goes into entrepreneurship. I want to make sure that we highlight those points too.
Amanda: (00:45:18) In general, it’s a very lonely experience. I’m sure entrepreneurs will tell you, it’s a 24-hour job, replying to people, for me, I want to be very hands-on because everybody who follows me, I actually read your stuff. I actually folly actually know who you are so I think that part of it is a lot of work, right? It’s lonely. It’s a lot of work and sometimes I wish I had a cofounder and it’s hard because I wish I could multiply myself. I have to manage my social media because I’m a person who is certified in diamonds and colored gemstones.
Maggie: (00:46:40) Would love to know what is one piece of advice you can give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Amanda: (00:47:05) I would say focus on making your customers happy, I think a lot about customer happiness, how to make it, how to really go above and beyond right. I guess in my experience, even just as a customer, of like hotels or restaurants, it’s like people will do the bare minimum right and if you’re a company that goes above and beyond.
I delivered his ring at like 5:00 PM. He was gonna propose it at 7:00 PM in between and I ran to the restaurant and dropped off cards for them. This is just cause I love it right. I want to make people happy. To entrepreneurs, whatever business you’re in, just care about making your customers happy.
Maggie: (00:48:46) Yeah. That’s amazing. Yeah. Love that advice. Well, it was amazing hearing your story, Amanda. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Bryan: (00:48:55) Yeah. Thank you so much again for staying so late.
Maggie: (00:49:31) Yep. Our whole goal is just to support Asian-owned businesses and empower and uplift each other. And it’s just amazing hearing your story. And so for our listeners, how can they learn more about you?
Amanda: (00:49:41) I think the best way is to follow me on Instagram guys in August, like August the month of August Bespoke. But I was going to say I have a super, Asian reason for having August bespoke as my name, but I was born in the month of August, and August is the eighth month of the year. So if you rotate the number eight by 90 degrees, you get the infinity sign. I always tell people that my passion is to help them make memories last forever. So that’s where the name comes from.
Maggie: (00:50:34) it’s amazing. I love it too. Well, it was great having you on the show today, Amanda. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Bryan: (00:50:42) Thank you so much, Amanda.