Based on a recent report I read, 50 percent of startups fail in the first four years. 19 percent of startups fail because of too much competition, and another 18 percent fail because of pricing or cost issues. This is in good times.
In bad times, there are two outcomes. To exit and declare bankruptcy if one cannot hold the fort anymore. Or to continue, innovate and sail out of the big storm. Learn from your experience and be even greater. Both outcomes are equally painful.
Nobody says being an entrepreneur is easy. To step out of one comfort zone, be a boss of your own, takes a lot of determination, courage and strength. To start a business is easy, to sustain and ensure its long-term profitability, is tough.
It is perhaps the notion of the unknown, the risk, and the potential returns, one might get, that makes entrepreneurship exciting, rewarding and thrilling.
However, not everyone is cut out for that. One crucial trait of a successful entrepreneur is a ‘Never Say Die’ attitude. Jack Ma, was rejected by Harvard for a whopping 10 times. For one, rejection and failing are simply an inevitable part of the process. Virtually every success story entails (often multiple) stories of failure. What’s important is that like Jack Ma you pick yourself up by the bootstraps and learn from the rejection.
I cannot imagined the struggles and challenges faced by all the business owners right now. The lockdown across the globe has been ongoing for a while. Essential services are continuing and most companies have arranged for their employees to work from home. Tuition centres and Schools have transited into an online teaching delivery mode. Spas, Aesthetic clinics, Beauty parlours, gift shops, hardware shops have all stopped operations. The bare essential services are on-going to serve the basic necessity needs of Singaporeans.
One of the motivations for being an employer is the potential profits one could gain from a business. Contrast that to an employee, an employer aka boss will earn a director salary or/and choose to take the profits when the company is profitable. The returns are potentially higher if the business does well. As higher risk equates higher returns, the draw for every entrepreneur is to scale his business, employ the right employees, and get exponential earnings from the business. One could be a sole-proprietor, in a limited partnership or start his or her own a private company. All have its own financial and legal implications.
High risk also means a possibility of higher losses. How can we expect to win all our battles? Even Goliath lost to David. It is wishful thinking that we will succeed every time in business. Notable successful entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have had tasted failure many times before they could see the light out of the tunnel. Successful and high-profile entrepreneurs in Singapore has had their five minute of fame, and we don’t hear from them anymore.
I spoke to a few business owner friends before I wrote this article. The sentiment across the market is pretty depressing. Most are not upbeat and remain cautious and worried about the next few months.
I even had a chance to read one reflection written by a female entrepreneur. She has written her thoughts about covid19 and her business. In her reflection, she described how puzzled and dazed she had become, almost crippling, but she pulled herself together to think about eight ideas which she can slowly implement for her company. I see fears in her eyes just by reading her notes.
Another gungho entrepreneur friend who owns a café said, ‘KNNBCCB’ is what I am thinking right now. I am taking the time to build new capabilities for my business’. I asked him about the government measures and support and whether they are helpful, and he opined that certain policies are not foolproof. One example is the property tax rebate given to landlords. He said that there is currently no website to check the exact rebates that should be passed down to tenants.
Another friend talked about the ‘new normal’ behaviour which we are all experiencing now. ‘Client behaviour might actually change and they might want the online lessons instead of face to face, as it saves them time and money to study at home’. This childhood friend, who owns a physics tuition centre, is concerned with business continuity, and how consumer behaviour might change once this pandemic is over.
Another friend who is in the spa business predicts that his business might be affected by 50% after the circuit breaker. People might still be concerned about getting infected and reduce their time outdoors. He continued by saying that cash flow is definitely at the top of many entrepreneurs’ minds right now. ‘How do we ensure that we have enough cash flow to pay our rent, salaries, variable expenses, in the next few months’, he added.
The same entrepreneur, who texted her notes to me, made an interesting comment. She said ‘In the past, a traditional company creates a turnover of 100 million with the help of 1000 employees. In the age of technology and in current times, in a virtual world, an online company could have a turnover of 100 million with the help of only 100 employees’.
Indeed this was a thought-provoking point. The perils of technology is coming closer to home than we imagined. We embrace it so closely without knowing that one day, technology is going to take us over, sooner or later.
Look at the number of zoom calls we are making, the self-delivery robots at restaurants, automated cashier systems, chat bots, AI, VR, and the list goes on.
This is an opportune time for everyone to re-evaluate his or her life. Businesses need to re-think their business strategies , and find innovative ways to survive through e-commerce and online platforms. Self-employed and freelancers would need to think about learning new skills and possibly venturing into a second income-making model. Employees will need to think about their value they bring to their company. If you are an employee and idling at home right now, it means that you might be dispensable after all. What's fearing this group could be potentially rounds of retrenchments after CB. In any case, no one is indispensable.
So who’s the hardest hit during such periods. It is unfair to point to any group without real statistics and figures. We have heard a lot about freelancers and self-employed losing their gigs and projects during this period.
Let’s not forget the business owners. They are a courageous group of individuals who have put a step forward with meaningful pursuits. They had created businesses and provided employment to a large group of workers. They have created meaningful USPs, products and services that have impacted the lives of people and society. They have contributed to GDP and the larger economy of Singapore.
Perhaps it is also a time to re-look into how we treat businesses/ brands as consumers. Do we throw our weight around thinking ‘consumers are always king’ and demand even the slightest perk we can get from our purchase? Do we remain as keyboard warriors, hiding behind our laptops, and sending anonymous complaints around?
Let’s give them some slack and show our support during this period.
They are equally at the losing end during this covid19 pandemic.
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Of Money, Passion and Life.
I was raised in a middle-income family. In fact, I won’t even say that my family is rich. My dad passed away suddenly when I was 21, and we were left with the bare minimum. My mum had to work really hard to bring up her 3 kids. It wasn’t easy for her and for the rest of my siblings.
My dad was not rich, but he was certainly a loving one. His richness came from his tender loving care and concern towards his children. Being the middle child, I always felt neglected as the attention has always been on my younger sister, Wendy. All is good, as I still love her the same way my dad and mum do.
My dad has his own way of loving me. I remember him driving his second-hand Hyundai car and fetching me to school constantly when I was in my P5 and P6. I was having intermittent headaches frequently and had to leave class halfway. Without complaints, my dad will always wait outside the school gate as I quietly walked out of school. He would always smile widely as he extends his hand towards me.
The concept of money was never fully ingrained in me. My dad will always pass me some pocket money to buy my favourite snacks. Kaka Chicken snack, a favourite childhood snack will always be my first pick. This snack is a huge hit in the 80s and 90s, as the crunchy and salty snack deeply satisfy my taste buds.
What can $2 buy me?
To be given $2 for pocket money is a luxury. I will always think about what I want to eat at the canteen during recess time. I remember yearning for chicken rice at Xishan Primary often in class. My stomach will growl each time my scary English teacher walks past.
After a hearty meal, I would be left with 50 cents. I would always contemplate between saving up or buying my favourite drink. With the last 50 cents, I will always go for my favourite Yakult Apple drink and I will be left with no money.
I believe this is a common narrative amongst primary school kids in the 80s. Times were not the most ideal, and every kid finds his or her own way to survive childhood. We were contented with little things; catching spiders, playing hide and seek and hanging out at the void decks doing nothing.
Singapore has slowly progressed into a first-world developed country. I was 24 and clueless about what to do next. I knew I always wanted to perform, but never knew how to start. I did not study in performing schools like Lasalle or Nafa. I wasn’t gutsy enough to make that choice. I took up a Business marketing diploma in Ngee Ann Polytechnic followed by Mass Communications from RMIT University (SIM). I knew I wanted to be in the media industry, just not sure on which area and capacity.
Then came star search 2001 organised by Mediacorp. I never imagined myself getting into the top 12, on my way to realise my dreams; to act, to perform, to be a celebrity. It was a dream come true. Six months of training and publicity got us recognised, everywhere we went. But it was short-lived, the competition ended and everyone went our own way.
An employee mindset
From 2003 to 2009, I spent a good six years becoming your typical employee. My concept of work was a traditional one. I subscribed to the notion that earning a stable income will help me progress well in life. As I have studied marketing, most of my full-time jobs involved building brands, managing profit and loss for product lines, developing advertising campaigns, organising roadshows and exhibitions, etc.
I was also able to travel to many countries like India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Myanmar, Japan, USA. In fact, I truly enjoyed my time as I was given the opportunity to work on regional and international marketing campaigns for my companies I worked for.
One of the best trainings I had was with Panasonic Singapore. In particular, I learnt many good lessons from the Managing Director, Paul Wong. He was a dictator, no doubt. Everyone was scared of him. He reminds me of Donald Trump, in a good way; someone who really gets his way around.
Being an employee has its merits. I was able to observe great leaders in action. As long as we set our goals and achieve them, we are good. It was not difficult. As long as you follow the corporate rules and regulations, work hard, you will get your promotion one day, I tell myself.
I wasn’t happy even though I was able to earn a good salary and have saved enough to buy my first car. I was travelign frequently have even earned myself a Master Degree in Mass Communications at the age of 30. I was tired of the corporate life and questioned whether it was what I wanted for the rest of my life.
This was when a book changed my life. I picked up Rich Dad Poor Dad and was exposed to the cash flow quadrant. I was deeply moved and intrigued by the 4 fundamental ways of making money!
Employee : where you have a job; the amount of active work determines your income.
Business Owner: where you own a system; your income does not depend on active work.
Self Employed: where you own a job: The amount of active work determines income,
Investor: Where you own investments: your income does not depend on active work.
Lecturer and Entrepreneur: Fundamental Change
With this concept in mind, Interestingly, I became a lecturer at age 31 and an entrepreneur at age 32. How could this be possible, you might ask. Looking back, a lot of things have been impossible. I never imagined myself becoming a lecturer. Friends who know me when I was younger would attest that I am not the academically strongest. I am always that guy who provided good inputs and psychological support for group projects, but never the smartest. So, to become a teacher?
At 32, I wanted to own a business badly. I was looking around and brainstorming what I could do. I wanted to start a café. I thought it would be a cool thing to do. I checked out a few ‘businesses for sale’ websites and actively talked to a few potential sellers. One day, I found out that a lady was trying to sell her foot massage business. That was in 2012. Together with a close friend, we met the seller and agreed on a price. It was around SGD35K to take over a one-year old business, Feet Haven Reflexology.
I was excited about this new venture. I can now call myself an entrepreneur, and really work towards a more ‘business owner’ cash flow quadrant. The beginning was tough. My business partner and I spent endless nights discussing about how we can build the business. As it was my first attempt as an entrepreneur, it was one of the most stressful times in my life.
There were really thousand and one things to do as a business owner. You are in charge of everything. The first few months were tough. We hired new masseurs. We redesigned and redecorated the shop. We were at the shop every day to ensure the smooth operations of the business.
Our hard work paid off as we started to see profits stream in at the start of our fourth month.
I started to realised that if we don’t put our first step forward, we will never know whether we can make it. If I had second guessed myself, I would never have started. There could be many people in this world who are trying to change things and do something different. What’s holding them is perhaps just one word: FEAR.
And fear is real. The constant ‘What If’ keeps bugging our head. And that’s when we buy into the notion of status quo. ‘Why don’t we just play it safe’? ‘I have been in the company for 5 years, why not another year’? Such thoughts are constantly mulling in our minds. It’s human nature, I get it.
But if we were to think this way for the rest of our lives. We might regret ourselves not pursuing things we once dreamt of. I profess I had made a lot of risky pursuits from age 32 to 42.
And here goes:
1) I opened The Influencer Network with a Blogger Friend, running a second company alongside my Foot Massage Business. We started with only $5K capital.
2) I took over a Nail Spa business at 17K and managed it for 3-4 years before the government ‘forced’ us to close down. This was due to the change of rules where nail spas are expected to apply for licence as well.
3) I opened a second- and third-foot Massage branch at Serangoon Gardens and Bukit Timah respectively. Friends will know that I closed the Bukit Timah branch within one year.
4) I took up the courage and went back to pursue acting at the age of 37. I was once scolded by a director who said I shouldn’t be acting at all. I have used this incident to push myself further.
5) I became a financial planner at the age of 41. And I am still figuring out my way.
Looking back, if I have chosen to rest on my laurels, I would not have made things happened. I could be a marketing director for an established business/brand by now. But I might be facing all the pressures coming from the economic slowdown and covid19 pandemic.
A lot of us are afraid to take steps and make changes in our lives. I can fully understand. Even now, I am constantly reviewing what I truly want to do for the rest of my life.
Amidst the covid19 pandemic, I had the time to reflect and I knew it has to be these three areas:
I want to be a serious actor. And I have been constantly going for auditions and improving my craft. I want to be a good lecturer. And I have been keeping my teaching roots by taking on part-time teaching assignments with Curtin, Temasek Polytechnic and MDIS since 2014. Managing campaigns for clients keep me rooted in the PR and advertising industry. I want to be a good financial planner. And I have been trying to improve my personal selling skills.
Is it possible to do so many things all at one go, a lot of people ask me? I really don’t know. Would I be happier just concentrating on one full-time pursuit? I suspect not. Would I be richer concentrating on one-full time, I suspect not.
I am happy with my own modus operandi for now. All I know is that if I set my mind on something, I need to make it happen.
My rich dad has taught me about the 4 cash flow quadrants. He has opened my mind about the 4 fundamental methods of earning a living. For the last few years, by not being a full-time employee, I was able to travel to many places without having to worry about my work. I remember the times I travelled to Bhutan, Bali, Maldives, UK, Italy, Turkey, Japan, etc and I know it is all worth it. In a way, I was able to relieve myself from all other unnecessary work stresses and demands, and concentrate on what I truly love.
I was also able to pursue my love for acting and volleyball on a more intimate and professional level. All these are possible because I chose to make it happen.
I will however never forget what my (poor) dad has given me. To be compassionate even to the poor and needy. My dad might not be the richest. But his heart for people will always remain in my heart. I might not get there in my altruism or philantrophy, but in the current covid19 period, let me remind myself to always stay true to myself and to do my little part to help whoever who might need my help.
My dad visits me once in a while in my sleep. Each time he visits, my mind is even clearer on what my life is called for. I hope he does it more often, and I will keep thanking him for whatever he has given me thus far.
If you are facing a crossroad in your life, or unsure about what's ahead for you, feel free to contact me at whatsapp 96566947. I would be more than happy to listen to you and share with your my thoughts.
Official Website: www.iamdennistoh.com
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About the Author:
As an Actor Model Entrepreneur, Dennis is on a personal Mission to encourage people to Explore More with their lives. After reading a book titled ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’, Dennis vows to stop working full-time for companies and began his entrepreneurial journey, starting a foot reflex brand, a nail spa, and an influencer marketing agency. Dennis believes in exploring his life options to the fullest. After a short stint in the entertainment scene when he was 24, of which he entered into Singapore Star Search final 12, and after a Long hiatus, he started his modeling and acting career once again in 2015. He is now the face of several notable local commercials, and was also involved in 2 mediacorp shows from Channel 8. Amidst all these, he is also a part-time lecturer with Curtin Singapore, MDIS and Temasek Poly and a Financial Planner with AIA.