There might not be any snow-capped mountains in this part of the world, but that didn’t stop Daphne and her partner from setting up The Ride Side, a travel company that takes people on snowboarding and skiing trips.
“It actually started out as a passion project,” she says. “The idea came about when my partner came back from a snowboarding trip and a lot of people were asking him about it. They were like, ‘I want to try it out, but I don’t know where to start and I don’t know who to go with.’”
“We realised that people wanted someone to plan snowboarding trips for them, and we thought, ‘Why not us?’ During our first season in Japan in 2015, we were fully booked over six weeks by 80 guests. Our first group of guests gave us the confidence to pursue this as a business, and before we knew it, we were organising trips for 180 people the next year.”
The certified snowboarding instructor shares that they currently host hundreds of people each time and are out of the country for six months every year—they spend three months in New Zealand during the middle of the year, and three months in Japan during the year-end ski season.
“Each session lasts for a week and everyone stays in a private lodge for 20 people,” she says. She adds that they host 10 to 16 sessions each season and that the sessions come with a fully planned itinerary, private transport in and around the ski resort and a team of hosts to show the guests around. And if you’re wondering, they cater to people of all skill levels.
The tough stuff
The Ride Side is no doubt a very niche business here, so it’s no surprise that running it comes with a number of challenges.
“We are the only company in Singapore that specialises in skiing and snowboarding tours, so we had to cultivate interest in the sport and grow the local community on our own,” says Daphne. “It also took a lot of convincing for ski businesses overseas to pay attention to what we do.”
“The bigger snowboarding brands would focus on countries like Japan and China and didn’t think about entering the Singapore market since we’re a tropical destination. It took two years of us sharing ideas and following up before they finally said ‘yes’ to providing market and equipment support. Of course, we also had to grow our business during that time.”
Daphne shares that they also struggled with acquiring partnerships with ski resorts, but that they gradually proved themselves and now have a working relationship with major players like the Niseko Tourism Board.
She also had to make sure they were frugal with their finances, even if it meant making sacrifices.
“As a bootstrapped startup with limited capital, we knew we had to be careful with what we spend on. We kept our business expenses to the minimum, especially when travelling. We also kept business costs lean by working out of cafes, co-working spaces and even our homes,” she shares.
“We didn’t hire a team early on and only did so on a seasonal basis. As a small business, it was tempting to spend money on acquiring customers, but we had to be prudent. So we traded explosive growth for steady growth.”
In spite of the challenges, Daphne finds a lot of fulfillment in running her business.
“It makes me happy when I receive recognition from the very people I created the service for. For example, when we took our guests to a special spot on a mountain, they told us: ‘Thank you for taking us there. We’ve been snowboarding for 10 years and have never been to this area,’” she says.
“And because they’re pleased with our service, they go back and tell their friends about us.” Their numbers have doubled every year via word of mouth alone.
“Another rewarding thing about my work is getting my goals realised in my own way. There’s no hierarchy or approvals to go through for an idea to germinate,” she says. “I’m entirely in control of what ideas come to fruition, and determining how they grow.”
An idea she had that she’s proud of? Choosing to foster a community instead of just handing out discounts to attract business.
“We organise free events because that’s what we feel are lacking in Singapore. We do everything from conducting workshops on how to care for your snowboard to holding screenings of snowboarding films. We’re very ready to give advice and recommendations.”
DAPHNE’S ADVICE FOR STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS
“You have to have a real passion for what you do! You’ll feel invincible when times are good, but there will also be times when you feel overwhelmed and overworked, so loving what you do is important because that will be the only thing to keep you going through tough times. And if you’re a young woman in a maledominated industry, you need to recognise your strengths and not let anyone take that away from you. Be firm and strong, even when it means subverting what men think women should be like.”