A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline ‘Saving for a rainy day’.
Growing up on a farm in the countryside in Japan gave entrepreneur Akiko Yokota valuable insights into the benefits that the minerals in rice and seaweed had on the skin.
This was a time when skin care products were not widely available in the market.
“I always wondered why my family members had relatively very good skin and I realised it’s because of the ingredients we come into contact with on the farm,” said Ms Yokota, 48.
Her journey into the skin care sector was a roundabout one, starting when Ms Yokota graduated from a university in Japan in 1990 with a degree in international business.
She then went on to become a stock trader at Shin Nihon Securities in Japan before following her Indonesian-Chinese boyfriend Eddy Syahputra, now 43, to Hawaii in 1994. While he pursued his studies, she worked as a branch manager in a company, Crystal Stone.
The two got married in 1999 and decided to settle down in Singapore. Her first job here involved setting up the Singapore branch for Japanese recruitment company Tempstaff.
But her deep interest in natural beauty and skin care led her to ditch her corporate job and become a certified bridal make-up artist in 2003. Her job as a make-up artist meant she got to see the skin conditions of brides before their weddings.
Worst and best bets
Q What has been your best investment to date?
A My skin care business V10 Plus is my best investment. My products have been designed to have no paraben preservative, no chemical fragrance or artificial colour, and are custom-made to suit individual skin problems using natural plant extracts.
I launched it on March 3, which is celebrated as Girls’ Day in Japan, in 2005 – the same year my girls were born. So I had three babies to take care of that year – my twins and my business.
My husband and I spent all our savings on this business, and we are happy to see our products selling in 25 countries.
Last year we successfully introduced our products in Paris’ most exclusive department store called Le Bon Marche. And this year we have signed another deal for the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) market with a prestigious company based in The Netherlands.
Q What has been your worst investment decision?
A I would say that my car would be the worst investment mistake. Automobiles depreciate in value over the years. We spent $365,000 for the car and it has depreciated almost 10 per cent yearly. I would prefer to have gone for a cheaper car.
Ms Yokota became frustrated when she found that people were using heavy amounts of make-up to hide their natural beauty rather than enhance it.
This gave her the idea of launching her own skin care line, one that was all natural and based on plant extracts, such as those from rice and seaweed.
That same year, she contacted a friend who was a chemist in Japan to discuss the finer points of a product for her skin care line, now known as V10 Plus.
She and her husband invested $750,000 in savings into starting the skin care line, confident that it would do well globally. V10 Plus was launched in March 2005.
The brand now has a presence in 25 countries, including Finland, France and Belgium, and has plans to expand in Asia and the United States. Its products are sold at more than 1,000 outlets.
Q Money-wise, how were your growing up years?
A My family was very thrifty and did not waste anything. Our main source of income was farming – selling the crops we produced. This meant that our livelihood depended on the size of the harvest, which was affected by many unforeseen factors such as the weather.
As a result, my family would never waste anything and always felt the need to save for a rainy day. We would even save the spring water used for washing the rice and reuse it for bathing, washing the dishes and more. As a child, I used to help my grandparents in the rice field during the school holidays. They would give me a small sum of money in exchange for my help.
This taught me the value of hard work as I realised that money does not come easily. I also learnt that in life, you reap what you sow and the harder you work, the more you will receive. Work hard, but save for a rainy day.
Q How did you get interested in investing?
A On the farm, another source of income for my family was the renting out of our shed. It gave my family a sense of reassurance, knowing we would not have to go hungry because of a bad harvest.
This is why I started to associate property investments with stability. Having had my twin girls at a late age of 35, they were very precious to me. This was especially so because up until 2005, I had been trying to have children unsuccessfully. I wanted to give them a comfortable and stable life. This is why I started investing.
Q Describe your investing strategy.
A I am an individual who really cannot take risks when it comes to investments. I prefer to invest in things with a physical presence, things I can see and touch. This is why I choose to invest in property rather than stocks. I feel that stocks can be more of a gamble and this comes from my experience working as a stock trader for a Japanese company.
Things are constantly changing in the stock market and investments need constant attention. I have also seen how dealing with stocks can influence one’s character. People get greedy. So I would rather steer clear of stock investments.
Aside from property, I invest a lot in my company and my children’s education.
I am a very careful investor, I like to plan my investments way in advance. For example, although my twins are only 12, one of my daughters wants to become a kindergarten teacher. I thought the University of Melbourne would be a good choice for her and bought a townhouse as well as an apartment in Melbourne to prepare for this. Although it is important to be flexible, planning early gives me a sense of security.
Q What’s in your portfolio?
A My portfolio consists mainly of properties and is valued at approximately $5.5 million.
I bought a three-bedroom condo unit in the Queenstown area in 2001, which is worth $1.2 million.
I also own two office units in Westech Building in Pandan Loop for operating my V10 Plus business.
The first, which I purchased in 2009, acts as my administration office and I spent more than $200,000 renovating it. It is worth $1 million.
I purchased the second one in 2012. It is where we carry out some of the manufacturing processes for our products. I spent close to $300,000 renovating it and it is now worth $1.2 million.
Additionally, I bought a Melbourne townhouse, located in Camberwell, two years ago which is worth $1.1 million. I also have an apartment in Melbourne worth $800,000, which I bought last year.
Lastly, I bought an exclusive condominium studio in Kemang Village, Jakarta, in 2008, as a family holiday home. It is worth $300,000.
I invest in property based on where I see myself and my family in the future.
Q What are your immediate investment plans?
A We will be investing in the launch of a new series of skin care products called “V infinity” in June. Machines are required for the application of this product, which is why it is targeted at salons for professional use.
Q What does money mean to you?
A Money for me is an indicator of achievement in life and a tool for family enjoyment. Right now, my family means so much to me.
My money allows me to care for my family and provide them with the best opportunities.
Q How are you planning for retirement?
A Until now, the thought of retirement has never crossed my mind. In fact, I am thinking of new ways to expand the business. One of my twin daughters wants to become a dermatologist and I cannot wait to work with her in the future. I feel that we can really take V10 Plus to the next level with the expertise of a dermatologist in the family.
Q Home is now…
A A condominium around the Queenstown area where I live with my husband and daughters. Our home has an unobstructed view of a park. So we basically feel like we are living in the park with a lot of privacy. I can watch my kids play soccer or volleyball at the park with our neighbour’s kids.