Spirit of Enterprise 2008 interview (Part 2) – Andrew Chow

http://www.soe.org.sg/files/interview2008.php?i=256&a=&c=&year=2008 

6. What are some interesting stories you have about your first few customers/first few years in business?

When Ideamart first started, although I am one of the founders, I actually look upon my partner, Mr Andy Lai as my mentor, and I always seen myself “working for him”. I was still green then, and Mr Andy gave me a lot of valuable information and lessons on being an Entrepreneur. I learnt a lot from him, and we went through hard times together, for example the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis in my 3rd year. And at the end of 1998, when the economy is recovering and we are also improving, Mr Andy wanted to focus on his other businesses. That was then I decided to buy over his share. Therefore, you can take it as I am taking over a company I was working for. Around year 2000 when China joined the WTO, everybody started to look into China for cheaper goods. This was then I made one of my biggest decision in life without my mentor participation. I wanted to address the premium market, people who prefer premium quality goods with more QC and standards. Therefore, I went for the top 20% of the market, while leaving the rest of the 80% to my competitors. As a result, I had a better margin but a lower turnover. I learnt then that in my line of business, margin is more important than volume.
7. What was your childhood dream? When did you decide that you would strike out on your own instead of working for someone else?
I actually dreamed to become a doctor when I was very young. I find that saving lives and making a difference in the society is something very satisfying. I decided to become an Entrepreneur after finishing my regular term in the army at 26.
8. How different is it being your own boss compared to working in the army or a company
In the army, I learnt basic rigid structure, learnt to obey ranks and files. The system in army is a good training for me. However, I recognized some of the fundamental weakness of the army system. For example, when I started out, avoid making mistakes like blind obedience to orders, etc. Therefore, one of the major difference being your own boss, is you have to be very flexible, but in the army, you have to be very regimented and obedient. In a big company, you have all the policies in place, for example staff policies, sales, production, distribution channels. All the system administration and policies are in place. You are just one of the people in the company that makes these systems work. However as an Entrepreneur, you have to start from scratch, and create these systems. This is one of the greatest challenges of Entrepreneurship. You need to be visionary, to start from scratch. You also need to be hands on. That is why many people after working for a long time for people, who come out on their own to be their own boss, thought that since they are able to earn $300,000 a year in their company, they should have no problems earning enough to support themselves. However, many of them are shocked that they could not even make $30,000. This is because none of the proper infrastructure are in place yet.
9. What are some of the challenges you faced when you first went into business?
The challenges was not to have my mentor to guide me anymore, I am on my own since 1998.There are a lot of decisions in the past where I can seek an opinion or consensus. Now it is all up to me. In my dating business, the first huge challenge is to break the social stigma of singles social events. People had negative mindsets about singles, and the phrase towards these social events organized by SDU and SDS are for “single and desperate” people. In fact, it is a taboo for many people, and even they attended such events, no one likes to talk about them.
10. How did you overcome these challenges? Please share some specific examples of the action you took to overcome the challenges.
Credit (MICE). In my MICE business, credit line from the bank was an issue as previously the bank has granted credit facilities to the company based on goodwill of my mentor. After I took over the company, I had to use my personal saving to back up the credit facilities, By doing so, that seriously affected my company’s cash flow. I had to shorten my terms to my customers and negotiate suppliers and vendors for a longer credit term. Social Stigma (Dating Biz). To overcome the social stigma in my dating and matchmaking business initially, I introduced creative dating angles for media stories. The media is always very interested in new and unusual concepts. When the media and press talk about it often, my comments through the interviews will serve as an encouragement to many singles who are seeking for the one but are just too shy to come out of their comfort zone of meeting new people
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