From Goldman Sachs to luxury startup CEO: How Lelian Chew is crushing it

Lelian Chew, the founder and CEO of boutique luxury sites The Wedding Atelier and The Floral Atelier, knows a thing or two about hustle.

As a young graduate of the prestigious Nanyang Technological University, she accepted a role as an intern at Goldman Sachs. By her own admission, the path to this internship was arduous given her lack of prior knowledge of finance. 

By the time she left the bank a decade later, Lelian had established herself as a critical member of its elite A-team, managing investment portfolios of high networth individuals across Asia. However, she was fueled by a desire to reinvent herself as a business owner and felt that she was a critical juncture in her career.

The fateful decision to quit a lucrative career in banking and start the Atelier & Co happened about six years ago.

“I think I was just curious about this whole journey of being a business owner. So I looked at different businesses that I was interested in, and I just basically fell into it,” Lelian tells Shopify. 

“At the end of the day, it's really servicing the same kind of clientele as what I was previously. At Goldman, I was managing the wealth of the tycoons in the region, and right now I'm managing the biggest celebrations of their children. The clientele was still very similar, it's just offering a completely different service.”

The Wedding Atelier team

Customized events and celebrations

It was Lelian’s prior exposure to client management and relationship building that gave her a leg up in her new venture, The Wedding Atelier. 

“Back in school I read hospitality, so this is almost like coming full circle and putting what I had studied to better use,” she explains. “Plus at that time, six years ago, there wasn’t one company that did regional luxury events. It was the knowledge and context that I had built with a particular client segment and matching them with my education and the opportunities available at the time that brought it together.”

Lelian reveals that the spend for her customized events and wedding celebrations can go beyond the seven figure mark as no expense is spared for the biggest day of one's life. While she has a lengthy list of clients, her team doesn’t take on more than one event each month in order to maintain exclusivity and uniqueness.

“We are always looking to push the boundaries in terms of trying never to repeat a destination, nor a concept. The guest lists of our clients in our events overlap so much and many come to us because they attended an event put together by us,” she explains. “That’s one of the biggest challenges, needing to constantly seek out new locations and surprise attendees when they arrive at the destination.”

The Floral Atelier location

Planting new seeds

Lelian’s second venture, The Floral Atelier, was initially built to complement her wedding and event business as well as to cater to demand for unique floral arrangements. But since then, it’s evolved a brand identity of its own and aims to “spread the magic to a bigger audience,” in Lelian’s words.

The entry price floral arrangement starts at an attainable SG$85 and that helps her cater to customers with smaller budgets wanting a piece of the magic.

The Floral Atelier works on a hybrid acquisition model. The ecommerce site is there for anyone who would like to purchase online, but there’s also two retail spaces in Singapore, one of which is located at Paragon Mall.

Lelian reveals that the brand is a dedicated florist for companies like Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Balenciaga, and Ferrari. Plus, it’s also managed floral arrangements for several celebrity events.

The synergies between the two brands are obvious: a recent event in Maldives was managed by The Wedding Atelier while all decorations and floral arrangements were handled by The Floral Atelier. It’s allowed Lelian to build separate teams with specific skill sets.

Using Shopify

Even though Lelian only sells online under The Floral Atelier brand, both her sites are powered by Shopify. She remains a fan of the product.

“Not just for the end user, but for the team internally, [Shopify] is something that is user-friendly,” she says. “I like how there is regular support, if something fails, there is somebody that we can speak to quite quickly, so that is really important, especially for an e-commerce site.”

As part of a major site redesign six months ago, Lelian reveals that her team deliberated at length whether to stick with Shopify or go with another platform. Eventually they didn’t make a change and persisted with Shopify, confident that it could support the next wave of growth. 

Getting it right

Lelian believes it’s important for businesses of all shapes and sizes to invest in core processes and systems from day one. For example, she’s not a fan of shortcuts like using Excel as your core accounting system. The reason to start a business, is always to scale and get to a certain stage and that’s why it’s important to get all the systems and processes right from day one. 

For those looking to take the leap into entrepreneurship, she says there’s no such thing as a perfect time to do so.

“If you have a good job, you’ll feel like it’s a waste of time. If you’re struggling in your career, you might doubt your capability to take the leap. Take a calculated risk, assess the situation, think about the potential, and be prepared to work extremely hard,” she outlines. 

With an existing core team of 19 spread across Singapore and Hong Kong, Lelian believes she’s in good shape to keep scaling her businesses in the years ahead. The Atelier & Co. recently marked another major milestone by unveiling its global headquarters in Singapore and expanding its two core businesses – The Wedding Atelier and The Floral Atelier – within Asia. 

The 7,000 square feet space houses its planning arm, design studio, floral cold room, education division with workshops and masterclasses. As a brand synonymous with luxury events and design, there will also be a dedicated event space for hire and retail segment consisting of specialty products sourced from the team’s global travels.

Asia, however, remains the core focus of both her companies. 

"Right now we have a physical presence in Singapore which is the heart of Southeast Asia, and in Hong Kong which oversees our North Asia business. We are in the midst of launching our third office, this time in Shanghai, to better serve the China market. This will round off the trinity that will propel us to the next stage of growth, tapping on our expertise in understanding how celebrations are done in this part of the world."