Enter stage right
As the director of Azure Entertainment, Lady Velvet Cabaret and the WA Performance School, Stella is no stranger to the world of business. Yet what makes her story so incredible is that she started her first business when she was just 15.
Stella moved briefly into the corporate world, working in business banking. However, she returned to working for herself when her passion for performing identified a gap in the market.
“Around eight or nine years ago, when I was still working in the corporate field, I just started to notice that in the entertainment industry, especially in WA back then, it was quite segmented,” Stella recalls.
“For example, we had dance competitions that only showcase dancers. We had open mic nights for comedians, and that's all you got to see for that night.
“There was no variety show that brought all of that talent together. So, I just thought, ‘For fun, I'll put a show on myself that brought everyone together,’ and it ended up being a massive hit.”
Stella’s variety show brought all different kinds of performers together, including singers, dancers, actors, mime artists, acrobats and comedians from all over Australia.
“That was when I started to think, ‘Wow! I've got something here that's actually a really good idea,’ and then we started to do more shows.”
This is what kicked off Azure Entertainment, which specialises in live entertainment for events and functions, as well as performance troupe Lady Velvet Cabaret.
Cornering the market
Having built successful businesses attracting sizeable crowds, Stella found herself repeatedly being asked by customers where they could learn how to perform, and how to enter the industry. At the time, Stella did not have an answer.
However, she found herself with an opportunity to help answer those inquiries and an opportunity to jump into a third business: the WA Performance School.
“Not long after we started Azure Entertainment and Lady Velvet Cabaret, the opportunity came up for me to purchase my own dance school,” Stella says.
“I personally didn't feel ready because it was something that just popped up really suddenly – it was something I always wanted, but I didn't think it would happen so fast.
“So at that point, I had to decide whether to basically put a lot of money into purchasing this business and risk everything, or just let it go and wait until I was ready. I think the best business decision I made was, at that point, to just decide to go for it, trust my gut, trust my instinct, and have confidence in myself.”
By taking that risk, Stella was then able to centralise her service offerings and strengthen all three businesses.
“I'm able to have a studio space that I can provide classes, have a meeting point [for] my performers to rehearse... basically have a home for my business,” Stella explains.
When you hit an untapped demand, customers will generally be clamouring for your products and services. For Stella and Azure Entertainment, Lady Velvet Cabaret and the WA Performance School, her businesses hit the market so strongly that she struggles to keep up with the demand.
“We are in such a niche market, and we are in Perth as well, which is a big place for a small town. [But] when it comes to entertainment, I think a lot of our audiences are quite hungry for it, so when we put on shows, when we have classes, it's generally people are begging for it,” she says.
Another challenge for Stella comes down to determining which performances to take on, and managing the competing egos and creative differences of employees.
“In the arts and entertainment industry, a lot of the people we deal with are younger people, or they have different personalities, they have different creative visions,” Stella explains.
“Art, whether it's performance or visual, it's a very personal thing for a lot of people. Often, I might [not] see eye-to-eye with someone else when it comes to creative vision, or as the director, I might have to see things from more a business perspective, and some people might not understand where I'm coming from.
“The biggest challenge has been to find that sweet spot between myself and my employees, to make sure there is that mutual respect there [and] ensure that our communication methods are tailored for different personalities because some people hear things and understand things better when information is presented in a certain way.”
Despite having an award-winning business, Stella has not always been standing as confidently as she does as a businesswoman today.
“As an Asian child growing up in Australia, confidence hasn't actually been my strong point,” Stella shares.
“When I stepped into business, I just learned to have a thick skin very quickly, because when it comes to business, a lot of people, they don't care about your feelings. They don't care about if you've had a bad day. They just care about the results.”
In order to build up that confidence, Stella learned to let go of the smaller things experienced in business that other people may fervently latch onto.
“That's helped me quite a lot, especially in the last few years as well, to just have that mindfulness and mindset and not worry about the small things – just thinking from a higher level, rather than still being in the business and just worrying about all these little problems that really amount to nothing in the end,” she says.
Business name: Azure Entertainment, Lady Velvet Cabaret, The WA Performance School
Industry: Performing arts, entertainment
Established: 2009 (the latter acquired in 2011)
Employees: Up to 30, including around 20 performers across the three businesses
Location: Perth, WA