Lost and Founded Series - Renyung Ho

Find out what serial entrepreneur and modern-day adventurer-nomad Renyung Ho thinks will help make the world a better place.


Author: DBS BusinessClass, Administrator of DBS

Life, according to serial entrepreneur and globe traveller Renyung Ho, unfolds in moments. She doesn’t quite know where she’ll be in fifteen years’ time - but that’s exactly what keeps this modern day adventurer-nomad going. Believing that the world would be a better place if people connected to where and why their clothes were made, the contemplative and soulful founder of MATTER - a socially motivated business that aims to connect rural artisans and urban designers to create travel wear with stories to tell –believes that life should be treated like a creative project. Finding herself constantly straddled between spontaneous wanderlust and the ambition to achieve lasting impact, Ho hopes to see a greater ripple effect of what she’s doing now in the coming years and wrestles with the occasional urge to drop everything and move to South America to work in a tree house eco lodge.

People say you are “Renyung Ho, Founder of MATTER”. Who do you say you are?

I say I am the person I am, and am becoming. Any other label is an illusion.

Best moment in your startup life. It was so good you wanted to fly BusinessClass somewhere with someone, and pop open the most expensive bottle of champagne there.

I feel like I’ve had several of those moments and at the same time multiple terrible moments as well when I felt like I wanted to give everything up. Like they always say, a rollercoaster. I cannot honestly name a best moment because there are so many great ones, but I think it might have been the moment I decided to start MATTER. It had been an idea I hatched together with my co-founder Yvonne a long time back, since we were working in Mexico together, but it was always on the back burner.

I distinctly remember being in Sapa Valley, Vietnam, after a solo climb to Mt Fansipan on my birthday. I was sitting in a cafe balcony with the view of mountains in front of me, reading. It was sunny, total blue sky. A dragonfly landed on my book, and I knew then that whatever I had in my mind and heart, I had to take a step forward to do. At that moment I felt totally exhilarated. Starting is one of the best parts of the journey.

What secret did you hide from your co-founder or partner or parent for the longest time?  Why?

From my co-founder and partner, none. I believe in honesty until it hurts, or maybe especially when it hurts. From my parents, too many still to mention here!

What’s the most eccentric thing about you? If VCs found out, they won’t have signed the term sheet then. But hell with that now.

No VCs have signed the term sheet yet, and maybe that’s an eccentricity – I prefer not to have any outside investment because I value total control and autonomy over growth at this stage. I’m taking debt over equity finance for now. Otherwise, it’s probably the fact that I periodically have an urge to drop everything and move to South America to work in a tree house eco lodge.

Have you ever cried?  Or what was the lowest, crappiest moment in your start-up life.  You wanted to give up everything. You wanted to kill someone. (During your startup career of course)  Tell us more!

Yes…. Many times. The first shipment of our very first products came in four days before my wedding and we had many pre-orders. The colours were bleeding! I tried to save a few by soaking them in a vinegar and salt mixture, hoping that would fix the colours so we could then go back and alter the rest in production in India. I was literally stirring buckets of vinegar with pants in them while figuring out food preferences for the wedding. I learnt a lot about quality control, process management and artisan production in those early days. And also about multitasking.

What are you up to today? What gets you up in the morning?

Thursdays are No-Meeting-Days except for my one Skype call in the morning with Yvonne to touch base and a team huddle at the end of the day to catch up on key issues and priorities. I love No-Meeting-Days as I get so much stuff done.

How do you keep yourself physically and mentally fit for start-up life?

Regular exercise is absolutely necessary, as is alone time and meditation. Gratitude practice to keep the big picture in mind, and regular check-ins with mentors and peers.

Offer a life hack (or two) to a young founder

Treat your life like a creative project: list four things you love and want in your life always, and then work so that at least three of them are in your job.

Know at all times what success means to you and what it looks like in your terms. Revise that equation in your head as you go along, so you (the only person whose opinion really matters) know where you stand.

And a bit of practicality - use your calendar to plan your day of work and to do list. Schedule in personal stuff so that it stays a priority.

Finally stop dreaming and start small.

Movie or song that best describes you

None, sorry! No favourite colour, favourite book, favorite artist either.

Favourite quote

Wherever you go, go with all your heart. - Confucius

Who and what inspires you?

I am inspired by pretty much anything if I put myself in that state of mind to ponder and devote myself to contemplating that person, object or circumstance. I believe that happiness is a byproduct of presence, gratitude and giving – not something that is pursued or consumed in material milestones or objects. In that sense, everything can be inspiring, where ‘to inspire’ means, to feel connected to something larger than yourself.

If anything, usually the circumstances that inspire me the most occur when I am on the road alone.

Tell me about yourself in 2030.

15 years from now? Not to be facetious, but the fact that I don’t know is what keeps me going. Life would be extremely boring if we knew where we were going to be in the future. I find myself always straddled between wanderlust for unplanned, unknown discoveries and the ambition to achieve impact and change which requires planning and strategy.

In 15 years I would like to see greater ripple effects of what I’m doing now - an ecosystem around textile artisans, social businesses conscious designers and customers that is used as a platform and not as a product. I will be engaged in investments around ethical supply chains and capacity building.

The way I go about it is to know what’s important to me at any point in time and to know what my values are. These always combine to point me in the right direction and then I build in a considered direction. Life unfolds in moments.

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