For Ademco’s Toby Koh, entrepreneurship requires the willingness, tenacity, and sometimes just sheer guts to not only rise to the challenges, but also accept the lessons that come with it, no matter how difficult
Toby Koh, Group Managing Director, Ademco Security Group
I believe that life is about sharing, learning and experiences. What is living if one does not go through feelings of joy, fear, anticipation, relief, anticipation — especially as an Entrepreneur. Below are just a few of my experiences and learnings that my fellow or would-be entrepreneurs might find interesting and perhaps even benefit from:
My entrepreneurial journey had in fact started in secondary school when I printed t-shirts and sold them to my schoolmates netting me a profit of S$2,500. I did it simply because one day, a classmate remarked that we only had one type of school t-shirt and he wished we had more. I thought that it was simple and all I had to do was to find a t-shirt factory and print some new designs.
The lady at the factory was very kind to allow me credit terms of 60 days by which time I had sold all 500 shirts and paid her. Thank goodness I was not found out, as it would have been a quick end to my academic career.
The lesson I learnt was that ideas come from everywhere and anywhere. It is vital that I stay alert to opportunities. The other lesson was that sincerity always wins the day, as I had to convince the factory boss lady to grant me credit terms.
Fast forward to my first full time job in corporate banking for over two years, where the pace was fast and furious and where the turning over of million dollar deals on a daily basis was exhilarating for a young man. The defining moment in my career came from a conversation with my Manager who professed that he would have loved an opportunity to run his own company, but was clear that entrepreneurship was not one of his strengths.
Seeing the potential in me, he advised me to get into Ademco (my family business) and do some “real” business rather than stay as a banker. The sincerity in his words struck me deeply and was what started me on the journey of entrepreneurship. The lesson for me was that one should always keep an open mind and listen to opinions which can be life changing.
I started my Ademco career at ground level as a salesman in 1995. My father was a man of hard love and hence there was no preferential treatment for me. Not only did he cut me no slack, but also made sure that I had to go out and get my own clients. So I pounded the streets, did door-to-door sales and had many doors slammed in my face but perhaps I am simply an optimist and believed the next door I knocked would be my next customer.
I was fairly successful as a salesman through sheer persistence, effort and knowing my products well. As a salesman, I learnt that persistence is half the battle won and it helps if you truly believe in what you sell. Even now, after all these years, I still get great satisfaction when a client calls me up and tells me that the security system I had installed for them had prevented a burglary.
Ademco then and now
In 1995, Ademco was centred in Singapore with a headcount of 50 and a turnover of S$5 million. Now, we have fully staffed subsidiaries in seven countries namely Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, China, India and Vietnam. Our revenue is S$35 million, and we have a team of 400 across the Group. With growth comes rich experiences, difficult decisions, and valuable lessons, all of which have shaped my philosophy of life and approach to business.
Protect your brand, because your team and clients need to believe in it
Your Brand Promise is perhaps one of the most important assets in your business. Guard it fiercely.
We installed a CCTV system for a factory in the Western part of Singapore. However, there were bugs in the system and the manufacturer could not resolve them for more than a year. Our client was extremely patient and understanding. After a year and by which time the warranty had expired, I still made the decision to tear out the faulty system and replaced it with a new system at our cost.
Legally, we had no obligation to do so and could simply hide behind the expired warranty. But that would have been a betrayal to our client as well as to our Brand. Needless to say, our client was flabbergasted when I told them my decision to replace a S$200,000 system. Ten years on, this client has awarded us multiple projects in nine countries across the APAC region. Back up your Brand Promise with real action. It will be worth it. Besides, it helps you get a better sleep at night.
Never be daunted by competition, always remember David vs. Goliath
When the Integrated Resorts were announced and approved, my team and I decided that we were going to get a piece of the action. Many of our peers in the industry laughed at us, saying that there was no way possible that a small SME will have a sliver of a chance. We persevered and put in great effort in our proposal. Our focus was on how we can use our proposed Security System not only for security but to help Resorts World Singapore (RWS) enhance and manage their business operations. We even considered how we could increase efficiency in their operational process so as to boost staff morale for our client.
We fought against global MNCs such as Tyco, Honeywell, Siemens, Johnson Controls, Chubb and more. And we won the project even though we were not amongst the three lowest bids. RWS recognised the value of our proposal against all the other bidders and gave us the contract. The sharing here is that bigger does not mean better. Smaller can be more nimble and effective and it is the commitment to delivering the best that counts.
As an entrepreneur, a life well-led is in a job well done. This requires the willingness, tenacity and sometimes just sheer guts to not only rise to the challenges but also accept the lessons that come with it, no matter how difficult.
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