This Singapore Millennial Quit Law to Run A Start-up in Kazakhstan

I came across an interesting article in the newspaper about a young lady who decided to set up a travel agency specialising in tours to Kazakhstan, of all places in the world.

Kazakhstan
Charyn Canyon (Source: Queenie Lee)

This is the story, journey and dreams of Queenie Lee, 25, Deputy Director of Aveneer LLP.

1. Can you share more about Aveneer?

Aveneer is a Business and Tour Consultancy company.

Kazakhstan
Kolsai Lake, underwater forest (Source: Queenie Lee)

We specialise in Business and Investment Tours to Kazakhstan for our clients who are looking to expand their business into Central Asia.

We further assist them in setting up their business here and also run operations for the business as well.

We also do private bespoke luxury tours for clients who wish to come to Kazakhstan for leisure.

Kazakhstan
With Singaporean tourists in Almaty (Source: Queenie Lee)

Why did I start Aveneer?

The idea of only catering bespoke tours came from my partner and I wanting to offer luxury tours to our clients at their price and budget.

Kazakhstan
Big Almaty Lake in Winter (Source: Queenie Lee)

The world has the mentality that anything bespoke would insinuate that it is expensive, this is the mentality that I wanted to change and at the same time, educate people in Singapore and in South East Asia about Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan
Charyn Canyon, second largest canyon after Grand Canyon (Source: Queenie Lee)

2. How did you get started? What made you take the leap?

I first ventured into Kazakhstan when I was 22 years old in 2014 and saw vast opportunities in this beautiful country.

Kazakhstan
Big Almaty Lake in Autumn (Source: Queenie Lee)

I only started the business in the fall of 2015.

However due to my commitment to start my legal training in Singapore, I left the business largely to my partner.

It was tough juggling both my legal training and my new start up, Aveneer.

As a legal trainee we worked long hours often going home only late at night.

I could only do the marketing for Aveneer in the wee hours of the morning.

The challenge became too overwhelming where I was not excelling in both my legal training and Aveneer and I wanted to give my best shot at Aveneer.

Hence I made the decision to move over in 2016 and have been based here since.

Kazakhstan
Medeu ice skating rink in winter (Source: Queenie Lee)

3. Who helped you get into this business in Kazakhstan?

My partner, Adilet Koichumanov, was the one who led me to this.

We went to the same university in England and decided to start this business together.

However, not speaking the language initially and knowing nothing about Kazakhstan and the culture, Adilet was the binding element of this company.

Being both local and educated in England, he knew how to assimilate both cultures and language into the company.

4. How has Aveneer done so far?

We are a young business and tour consultancy company which is about a year old but have been very blessed to be able to do very good works which are not measured by monetary reward alone.

Kazakhstan
With American Tourists in Almaty (Source: Queenie Lee)

We tend to outsource part of our work if it is cost efficient but we will tell the service providers our expectations and so far it has worked.

With the outsourcing we don’t have to carry the burden of having a big office space to accommodate the various type of work.

We work with lawyers and tax consultants, limousine service for our VIP guests and whatever our clients need for their unforgettable experience in KZ.

Kazakhstan
Taking American tourists on a hike in Almaty (Source: Queenie Lee)

We have successfully introduced and facilitated Singapore companies to have a foothold in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in oil and gas and hotel development.

For confidentiality reasons we are unable to disclose identity of our clients but they are listed companies in Singapore.

Some of the rewarding projects which we worked on were not compensated in monetary measure, but as part of me giving back to Singapore.

In 2017, our revenue has tripled due to the immense amount of work associated with World EXPO in Astana.

Kazakhstan
Astana, new capital of Kazakhstan (Source: Queenie Lee)

I prefer not to disclose the exact figures but suffice to say, it has been a good year for us and Aveneer is very thankful to be able to make waves in a foreign land.

I believe we will be able to continue to grow because we are a niche consultancy company and we understand how the Singapore companies work and what the Kazakhs need.

Singapore is known for its 1st class workforce because we are conscientious workers and always do our best and go beyond.

The same Singapore spirit is applied here and greatly appreciated by our clients from Singapore and the USA alike.

Kazakhstan
Taking American Tourists on a Hike in Almaty (Source: Queenie Lee)

The fact that I can speak and understand English, Mandarin and Russian also helped our overseas investors tremendously.

5. What plans do you have for Aveneer?

We hope to be the bridge connecting the world to Kazakhstan and Central Asia.

Kazakhstan
Great Kazakh Steppe (Source: Queenie Lee)

We too hope to soon expand our office to Astana, the Capital of Kazakhstan and to Dubai.

The field is ready for harvest and Aveneer is poised to harvest.

6. What are some constraints or struggles that you face?

Russian is the common language in KZ .

My working partner’s native language is Russian so he used to be my translator.

The first couple of months were the toughest because I did not understand Russian at all.

I am a very hands-on person and would like to be in negotiation and participate in meetings.

It was very frustrating for me that I have to rely on someone to translate and hence holding up everyone.

It became acutely clear to me that I had to learn the Kazakh and Russian language quickly in order to be useful and have meetings conducted in an efficient manner.

It drove me to learn the language quickly so that more gets done.

I am pleased to share that I have picked up Russian sufficiently to hold a decent conversation and be able to become an effective link between my clients and the KZ.

Kazakhstan
Bridging Singaporeans and Kazakhs at Khorgos (Source: Queenie Lee)

7. What are your personal dreams / ambitions?

Prior moving to Kazakhstan, I always wanted to run my own business and to be a successful entrepreneur.

I wouldn’t call myself successful just yet, but it has been a dream come true running Aveneer for the past year and a half.

Looking back, I wish I had completed the bar in Singapore.

I hope to return to Singapore some day and become a lawyer, even though I might not need this certificate, it would feel absolutely rewarding to be able to complete what I have already started.

8. What do you want other women in Singapore to know?

Even though we live in an era of gender equality, it is often underpracticed.

When I was a child, my dad used to ask me the same question a day before the school year starts: “Do you want to be a leader or follower?”.

This stuck with me as I was growing up and I had made a resolution within myself that I did not want to settle for anything less, other than being a leader.

I have been in various different industries, where my path would take me to a different place as I am in today.

I have tried my hand in sports (I attended the Singapore Sports School in the 2nd year it opened), where I thought I would be passionate and play sports all my life, but I did not fit in and instead stuck out like a sore thumb.

I pushed myself through Law school because I thought being a lawyer was my calling, however upon graduating I realised that practicing law is not what I was passionate about.

Life is not about speeding up the process of earning money, graduating early or fast forwarding the years; it is the journey to discover what you have the passion for, to know you wake up every morning with the fire in your eyes, looking forward to going to work/school and to conquer the day.

Kazakhstan
Entertaining Singapore Tourists (Source: Queenie Lee)

9. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I would love to go back to Africa again some day.

There is just something about being in nature that makes me feel calm and at home.

Another place I would love to visit would be the British Virgin Islands!

10. What are 5 things every female traveller should carry?

The things I can’t leave home for travel without are:

Hand cream
Lip Masks
A Planner / Notebook
Offline Map
and of course, my phone.

Check out Aveneer at http://aveneerkz.com/

Special thanks to Queenie Lee for the email replies and photos used in this article.

This is a series on #SGfemales to feature women whose stories make up part of this island we call home.


Also published on Medium.