From Model to Entrepreneur: Tips by the CEO of The Luxe Nomad

She was a successful magazine cover girl and TV host. Now, she is a successful entrepreneur, manning her own luxury hotel portal on the Internet.

Stephanie Chai, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of The Luxe Nomad, has indeed completed this transition very well. I caught up with this Eurasian beauty – who has a Malaysian Chinese father and an Italian mother – and sought out some tips from her about modelling and entrepreneurship.

Picture courtesy of Stephanie Chai, The Luxe Nomad

Picture courtesy of Stephanie Chai

To find out what Stephanie has to say, read on.

You’ve been a model, TV host and now you are an online entrepreneur. How did you make the transition from being a successful model to a successful businesswoman?

Even when I was being interviewed as a model at the age of 18 or 19, when asked about what I wanted to be after modelling, I’ve always said, entrepreneur! So it was something that was always at the back of my mind. It’s hard to leave the life of being a model and TV host because it is very comfortable. You earn in a day what some people make in a year and life is relatively stress-free. But what was missing for me, was the challenge of being in control of my career. Now that I run The Luxe Nomad, I get to learn and implement new things everyday.

As a former model who has graced the covers of many leading magazines, can you share some tips with readers on how to become a successful magazine cover girl?

Picture courtesy of Stephanie Chai

Picture courtesy of Stephanie Chai

Be cool without being cool. Don’t try too hard. I knew models who used to ask for covers – maybe once in a while it would work but I suppose it’s simple economics. If you need to ask, then there must be an issue with your demand.

And though looks may count, personality is just as important. No one wants to shoot all day long with someone who is boring!

Is it really true that models “don’t eat” in order to stay slim?

Some do watch what they eat. I remember modelling in Thailand and being the only one at the table eating. Luckily I have skinny genes in my family! Would I model if it was tough for me to stay slim? Maybe not, to be honest.

How difficult is the life of a model?

The hard part is that in a way, you are at the bottom of the scale. You aren’t in charge of the ad campaign, neither are you the editor of the magazine. So to a certain extent, you are always waiting by the phone. Even during the times where I was doing very well and my agents were charging higher rates for me to do a shoot, I was also aware that in two months it could all be over. It is an industry that moves fast and is very competitive.

Picture courtesy of Stephanie Chai

Picture courtesy of Stephanie Chai

Do you feel that your modelling background has given you a greater leverage in your entrepreneurial career?

I had this conversation with someone the other day! Actually, I ended up negotiating about half of my modelling contracts! One of my agents early on, P’Dao, was one of the best agents in Thailand and she was the one who taught me how to push for more budget and so forth. I remember meeting other agents along the way who would be scared to ask for more budget and I’d have to teach them to not give in so early. Thus, in a way, I’ve been negotiating for 10 years.

Can you share some tips with readers on how to be a successful entrepreneur?

I think I’m still learning how to be one – to be honest. Whilst we (The Luxe Nomad) have been very blessed to have our second round of funding, there are more goals to be met. I think it is something you learn as you go along. So stop reading or talking about it and just do it!

What is the most important thing that you need, in order to be an entrepreneurial success?

Learn how to listen to everyone – your team, your investors and so on. But make the final decision on your own. If you follow everyone’s advice, then you’ll never be a great leader. Look at what has happened to Apple. People used to say that it wasn’t Steve Jobs who made Apple what it was. Yes, it’s true he couldn’t have done it without the team – but could they have done it without him? I’m learning that managing a team and keeping them motivated and excited is a pivotal, yet challenging skill to master.

Why do you think some people become successful online entrepreneurs but not others?

Maybe they have the wrong business model, maybe they just gave up. There’s no set recipe to it. Though I think some people are better at being worker bees then being in charge. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just the way we are built.

Picture courtesy of Stephanie Chai

Picture courtesy of Stephanie Chai

I understand that you successfully started the wedding guide Asian portal in 2009 and then last year, The Luxe Nomad, a luxury travel portal, began. What advice would you give to people who want to start up portals?

Before I started, I took friends out for lunch who were either successful entrepreneurs or start-up founders. Nothing like learning from the pros and people always like a nice lunch.

When you set up your travel portal, The Luxe Nomad, what challenges did you face?

I knew nothing about the travel industry, technology or raising money. All I could remember from my Uni days studying finance were the WACC formula and the Standard Deviation of a portfolio – nothing that was materially helpful! But you learn as you go along and hey – if you don’t know something, google it!

I understand that you have been quite successful in getting funding for your latest portal. For example, you got close to $900,000 for this portal. What advice can you give to other online entrepreneurs who are looking for finance?

Getting funds is great for the company but make sure you get a good lawyer to draft out a fair agreement and protect you. Also, get to know your investors or co-founders. It’s like a marriage and if you don’t have the same vision it will lead to conflict and so forth. I’ve seen some start-ups fail because founders fall out with one another… don’t make that mistake!

To get in touch with Stephanie at The Luxe Nomad, please visit:

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