KELVIN LEE

Stepping into the world of entrepreneurship at a young age of 23 with no substantial financial backing from his family or friends, Kelvin Lee is an unlikely success story who has made it due to his perserverence and attitude towards meeting obstacles.

With no business background, he picked up his business acumen through personal expenence.

Business Profile:

Sta1ted in 2003, Datavoice Technology Pte Ltd has evolved into one of the leading key players in our industry of Structured Cabling, PABX, Audio Visual and Security. The company has a team of dedicated and experienced Installers, Supervisors & Project Managers with an average of 15 years of experience in the industry.

One of the key focuses of Datavoice Technology is its commitment to customers. Delivering customised, quality service to customers has been the company's key to success through the years, and Datavoice Technology today remains confident in delivering innovative communication solutions that will exceed customers' expectations.

Interviewer's Comments:

Itwas inspiring and slightly surreal sitting opposite Kelvin, who boldly came out of his comfort zone to start his first business when he was only 23 years old. Being 23 this year, the interview has made me reflect and question myself about my life goals and the things I am doing to achieve them.Throughout the interview, Kelvin was very friendly and tries his best to share the lessons he has learnt through his years of working with little financial and mentorship resources.

Interview:

Q1) What is the nature of your business?

Kelvin: Ok, we are actually under the services sector, we can be classified under the services doing all the technological services, we are actually in the structured cabling services. Our client base is more towards the commercial sector, we do a lot of offices, CBD area, from financial sectors to manufactur ing sectors, but most of our customers are falling under the CBD area. The nature of the business is that we are doing IT infrastructure, we're doing audio-visual systems, we're doing PA systems, quite a range of services, and we cover the full spectrum, from design and build consultancy all the way to the installation itself, to the completion, the commissioning, the user training, going down towards the maintenance portion.

 

Q2) When you mentioned design and build, what kind of design is involved? So you suggest tailor-made cabling solutions?

Kelvin: In terms of design and build, it's given a scenario, the customer gives us a scenario, and we understand the customer's requirement, understand the customer's budget, and from then we design something, propose something that can conform to the requirement and can fit within their budget. So that's what we call design.

 

Q3) Do your parents have their own businessestoo? Have they inspired you in one way or another?

Ans:No. I come from a...I don't come from a well-to-do family. My dad is a normal employee. In fact, I have an elder brother, a younger sister. My generation of... if I look at my relatives and my grandfather and uncles, none of them are businessmen, none of them own corporations, nothing.

 

Q4) What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?

Kelvin: It just so happened that... I so-called have ventured out young. I started my own company at the age of 23 after learning some skills. But back then at 23, it was not really based on a business model. At the age of 23 you don't know what you're doing. You just know that, by coming out, you have this mindset that don't want to work for people. You wanna come out, you wanna do something, you lose means you lose. So I came out at 23, and ding dong here and there, you know. You have no family to support, you have no dependency, so you have nothing to lose at my age of... there was nothing at 23, I was doing odd jobs, projects here and there.

Interviewer: I'm actually 23 this year.

Kelvin:But you are way much different than me. In the sense that you are undergrad, right? Ok, you are undergrad, I'm not. And then at about 26 to 27 I met someone, who actually guided me. So we became quite close. Today, he is my business partner, he occupied 40% of my shares. So I think it's through my journey that I've grown from like a 1-2 person kind of a dilly-dally kind of person to where we are now. So that took me like... I'm 38 this year, so it's 15 years.

 

Q4) When you started out, was it this company, or you had other business ventures besides this?

Kelvin: I started out as a sole proprietor, a very small company. It was like, me and my army buddy, we said oh, we come out, so we come out. The first company, if I'm not wrong, it was called something like Axel Technology Enterprise. It was a sole proprietor. The revenue was nothing to mention about because, like 50... the both of us could barely have $1,100-1,200 per month. So after that, we closed down within one and half, two years, simply because we were not focused enough. We did not know what we're doing, we did odd jobs, so after that we closed.

Thereafter, I started a second company, which is so-called my own company. It's a sole proprietor. I had that for about 1year, then I met somebody, and that somebody wanted to joint venture with me. At that time I was 25 like that, that's when Datavoice started. Datavoice started as a sole proprietor with 2 partners, me and another guy. But that guy left after, I think, 1year. After that it was me, and I think about one over year later I converted it to private limited. So that's how I slowly grew.

 

Q5) How did you put together all the resources needed to start your business? For example: getting the start-up capital, hiring staff, doing sales and marketing, advertising, etc.

Kelvin: Because I don't have a business background, first and foremost. Second of all, I don't have a high education, I don't have financial backing when I first started out. So when I, that's why my initial started out was like, it's just like a fantasy, you know, coming out to do myself, when I hit the age of 25, 26. I started out with like, what, $5,000, something like that, but that was 15 years ago, you can't compare.

So I think best stait with Datavoice. So when I started Datavoice as a sole proprietor, I think I had a $5,000, so I did small revenues. I opened a small office at Jalan Besar, my office was the size of like my room, something like that. So I had a few staff, I think I had 3-4 staff. I bought my first vehicle, I remember it was a 19-year-old van, you don't know when it's gonna break down. So from there, we did small jobs. I'm actually, in my line we're actually like a contractor. We are actually falling under the M&E scope, I don't know whether you're familiar with this construction, renovation sector, so we're actually under the M&E scope. We're actually classified as a contractor, the only difference is that the way we are right now, I would say that we are more of a premium contractor. So contractors, there are many, many levels.

There are people that do big jobs, you know, CBD areas, so big contract sums. So that's where we are moving towards. There are contractors right at the bottom level, those are those who wear bermudas and slippers. So many, many years ago I was right at that kind of bottom level. So we did small jobs, then we slowly grew from there, slowly took on medium sized projects, until where we are today. I didn't pump in any money, I didn't have any bank loans. So it was a slow process, with hard work, with luck - you need luck - with the right people, you meet the right people on the way, with pitfalls, when you fall, you cry, after that then you need to wake up and you need to work again. With a lot of doubts. So, with no financial backing, I didn't have [any]. Until my current partner stepped in, I think it was 10 years ago, I think I spoke to him at about 10 year anniversary. So 10 years ago he stepped in, he bought 40% of my shares, I think he bought it at $30,000, something like that. I think it was a cost, it was audit valuation cost. And that $30,000, we just rolled for more projects, and along the way we built rapport with our suppliers, so we had good support, we had good pricing, we have good payment terms, so that helps to move along thejourney.

Interviewer: That's actually quite an impressive story, given that you started without any large sum of financial help.

Kelvin: Actually there will be quite a lot of, there are actually quite a few that sta1ted off next to nothing. Ittakes many years if you want to start next to nothing, it's difficut and in, I don't know you've done many interviews, you've meet big bosses, outside you know, I don't consider me as a big boss. I'm definitely not. I'm actually classified, I would say, if people ask me, I would say I'm a SSME, Super Small & Medium Enterprise. We are small, less than 20 staff, 18 staff, roughly around there. But we are trying to move. So, with no strong financial backing, this is a true fact,with no strong financial backing, you don't have half a million to throw down, you don't have a strong family business background, so these are factors that would very much determine how far you can go. In the business world, we talk about relationship.

Everything is about relationship. Ifthere is no relationship, there is no business. There is nothing to talk about. So if you mingle with the big boys, then you get something; it's a true fact oflife.

 

Q6) Does your company have any vision or mission?

Kelvin: This so-called vision, everybody got vision. When you are young, when I was like 26, everybody got this vision when you come out: I want to make my first million. Everything I want to do big. As the years go by, as you are in this for the long haul, as you do projects, as you meet many, many people - I meet an average of 2-3 clientele a day - as you grow, as you talk to people, whether in this line or in other line, as you talk to other managing directors, you come a day that you would have motivation to grow, but then you must also know how to be realistic. What can be achieved, and what cannot be achieved. I'm poised for growth, we are growing, but we are also careful on looking at the steps ahead, looking at the government grants, you know, looking at the initiatives by the government. Today, whatever the government do has an impact on the economy, and as we rely, our nation, our business rely heavily on investment, which means to say that we rely heavily on companies that invest in Singpaore, that set up establishment in Singapore, and we rely on companies moving from A location to B location, so very much we rely on the economy of Singapore to move fmther. We are growing within our services, we are growing within our sector. I believe in upgrading, I believe in training, I don't believe in standing still, so we expand within our sector and within our services. Take for example, today business, it's veiy difficult to say what's your core expertise. You say that my core expertise is doing this, and you refuse to diversify from your core expertise, that is ve1y difficult.

Interviewer: It's a limiting factor.

Kelvin: Yes.

 

Q7) When you mention training and growing, have you in any way conveyed this to your staff or your partner in the business? Are there any examples that you can provide?

Kelvin: I believe that training sta1ts from the top, right down to the very last man. My staff range from managers, senior managers all whom are inside the room, and actually my managers who are my core members, they are all, if you look at this whole general market, they are all very young, they are all early 30s only. Maybe because the boss [isyoung too]. So I always encourage them to go for courses, my supervisors, my installers... so, relevant to their expertise. I have office managers, I have operation managers, I have project managers, I have sales managers. So example I have my operation manager who would go for relevant to his expertise, skill sets, in terms of upgrading, knowing what is the Work Safety Act right now, you know, project managem ent courses, stuff like that. And my installer, supervisor-level would go for product courses, example there is a new product, so we would talk to the distributor or the manufacturer to hold some course, and then they will teach in product training. So likewise for my sales team.

 

Q8) When you first went into thisbusiness, were there any challenges - obviously there are challenges - can you describe some of the challenges you have faced and how you have solved them?

Kelvin: My earlier years, I think I didn't have the mindset in my earlier years, so I think I will not go to my earlier years. So at the age of about 26-27 as I mentioned, Datavoice Technology Pte Ltd was officially founded with my partner coming in. So the challenges that we faced, like many, many other small tiny companies, at that point of time I had me, myself and I.No managers, I had 3-4 installers, we had nobody to teach us, nobody to guide us. We had very limited finances and resources. And being at the bottom of the game, you don't get to see the big picture, in the sense whereby you don't get involved where the big boys are.So you always, you're at the bottom of the food chain, put it this way. So, example, maybe you have a big customer like X, something like that, 300, 400 staff moving, so when they move they contract it out to the big boys, then they slowly escalate down. You are at the bottom of the food chain.

So these are the kind of challenges that I faced. Not knowing the correct people, number 1. Number 2 is that, because you have nobody to guide you, nobody to teach you, you do not how to position yourself, you do not know what is your position. You only know that you want job, that's all. You needjobs to survive. So you go around scouting forjobs, not knowing whether thejob iscorrect or not. You only know you need jobs. So many a times because you are at the bottom of the food chain and business is realistic, there will be issues that you will face, whether be it manpower issues, payment methods. So are things that I have slowly encountered, learnt, and from there start to realise the food chain, where the food chain sta1ts, start to visualise the lower steps of the ladder, and you start to move slowly up the ladder.

 

Q9) Are there any examples you can share, so for, like, any actions that you took to solve the issue of being at the bottom of the food chain, or not interacting with the bigger guys in the industry. Are there any steps that you took to address the issue?

Kelvin: Ok, maybe I just name one example that I saw the problem, the problem that I saw.At that time, I was not dressed like that. I was like a polo tee, a jeans, I was like an installer, you know, bringing 3 of my guys and run wires, stuff like that. There was this case that happened 10 years ago, which is still a constant reminder to me. At 10 years ago, I think I was around 27 years old, when Datavoice just sta1ted about 1year. I had a big break. Back then, my deals were in the few thousands, thousand over, two thousand, you know, small little tiny deals. So, through referrals, someone referred me to this client, which I won't say the name. This client was a SME, the number of staff they had was about 150. So that to me was something that is big, to me at that point of time.So they had the intention of moving from location A to location B, and so they needed some services. My referral friend told me about this and he told me that he's willing to tie us up, so I said ok, sure, no problem. So through that referral I went to meet with this lady, I think a personal assisstant or something like that. So we go through a work proposal,blah blah blah, and my contract sum if I remember was about 100 over thousand, it was about $140,000, which at time to me was a huge amount. I never seen a contract sum that's $140,000 before. Itwas signed off, all right, I was really happy, I thought it was my big break, and I thought that with this I could start to move somewhere already. And then, because they were moving from location A to location B, I ordered all my materials, I stand by all my suppliers. And a week before I was scheduled to commence work at the new place, the lady called me, and over the phone she told me that "Kelvin, I'm sorry, our company decided to terminate your contract." So I was really surprised, I told her I said, "But why, why you want to terminate my contract? Because I already ordered everything already, and I already scheduled to start work." And she didn't give me any reason. Thereafter, I realised from my referral or something like that, that my client has actually nominated another company, which I won't name, another company who is a big boy, to undertake all my services. So after I heard that, you know when we were young, 25-26, we were impulsive, and we were stubborn.

So I called her, and I said I really ordered everything, my suppliers are delivering the things to me, how can you just cancel my contract? Because I have a black and white, signed and chopped contract. So she didn't say any reason, sheju st refused to answer me, she didn't want to reply to me. So after that I went to see a lawyer, the lawyer is actually also a customer. A small lawyer - I think it was a 2 men show - a small lawyer. So I told the lawyer what happened and he said ok, Kelvin, why don't you send a letter of demand? I said ok. Itwas a nominal charge, and at that point of time, you know, I was not thinking clear. I was like, you know, I was like cheated, you know, I was like, behind got so many issues, my suppliers are going to deliver to me, they refused to let me cancel my order, so I just wanted to do something. And so the lawyer wrote a letter over to them, stating the reasons, you know. So it was $140,000, you know, it's not right to cancel the order like that, and he demand the $140,000. The reply was supposed to be 7 days. After 7 days no reply, so my lawyer say, they called me and say hold hands first. I said ok. And a week later my lawyer called me and they sent me the reply from the other lawyer. And when I see their lawyer letter, half a page of the lawyer letter is all the solicitor names. Half the page on top is, what, the legal, the shipping, the finance, blah blah, more than 80 names inside there. So obviously I won't say the name of the lawyer firm as well; after that I went to ask, they say top 4. So I went to speak to my lawyer, and because my lawyer was actually, maybe he sympathised with me. And he told me very frankly, he said Kelvin, contractually you are correct to move this, but Ijust want to let you know that if you want to fight, I'm a lawyer and I'm willing to take up your case. But this law firm will go all the way. They will not stop one. So he didn't say a yes or no. So he told me, Kelvin, you go back and think about it. So I asked him back one question, I said is it wo1th it or not. What is the chances of winning. He very frankly told me that he cannot give my any promises. So I asked him back, I said I have a contract you know, I have a black and white contract. And the lawyer says that, oh in the lawyer letter it also states that the lady who awarded me, she was dismissed, so the M.D.stepped in. So at the end of the day I dropped the whole case. So that was a really hard lesson for me. I went actually into, I would say, mild depression. During that 2-3 weeks I just refused to do anyjob, as a man I also cried in my office. So from there it was a turnover for me. From there I started to change, I started to examine myself. This was just one case. There was another case, maybe I'll just say it - five minutes.

If I'm not wrong it was after this case. There was another enquiry, also quite big, I think it was 70-80 thousand dollars. Itwas also a referral, it was also quite a big company. So I went to do the proposal and everything. I didn't get to see the boss of the company, it was like a IT manager, something like that. I spoke to him, I quoted him, I didn't really propose. At that point of time you don't know what is called proposal, you only know, what you want, you know like a typical, you renovate your house right, ok what you want, you want plaster ceiling, how many square foot, I just write down everything, and at that time the computer was not frequently used so we faxed over. So after I quoted, I followed up 3-4 times, you know, how's my price, everything. He said, yeah, ok, your price is competitive, your chances is high. So I was... that I was still high hopes. I told my supplier we're gonna get thisjob, so I told my guys, you know, this will be a big break for us, to move to a bigger sector. Then after I think about 3-4 weeks laters, I followed up (that was my 4th or 5th call), then they told me they have already... the boss decided to award to B. So, same thing, you know, you are impulsive, then you ask, "Eh, why? You told me my chances are high, you told me my price is really lowest, before you award you should let me know. If I'm still expensive I can move down one, I still can move down, I want this job." I told him that frankly. So his reply to me was that, "No, Kelvin, actually it's my boss's decision. I'm very sorry."Then I think I insisted 3-4 times, and at all times he repeated himself that he's sorry. "Kelvin, I'm sorry, it's my boss's decision." After I put down the phone, I felt very, very dissatisfied, I felt very angry, you know, I was already the lowest. You know, you always think that lowest means you definitely get thejob. Lowest, nobody else can go lower than you. So that again left me very down, very upset. Then I think it was a couple of weeks later, after I thought about it, then I start to realise that these two set backs really pushed me to feel that... why he tell me so courteously, so nicely that he's sorry? Itmade me realise - that was when I was 26, 27 years old - it made me realise that this guy has been very nice to me. He just simply does not want to tell me the fact. The fact is that Kelvin, you're way too small. Your company is way too small. I was not a GST-registered company, so non-GST registered automatically people will know your revenue is less than $1,000,000. I was not even a private limited.So that was the true fact, but he just does not want to say it to me, which made me realise - I mean, he kept apologizing to me - so that was a turning point that I start to realise I'm right at the bottom of the food chain, and to move like that there's simply nothing.

So coupled with my existing partner 10 years back, you know, he... before he was my partner he always ask me, Kelvin, what is your direction, Kelvin, what do you want in life - I was not married then - so he say Kelvin, what you want in life, other than your drinking at the pub, you know, what else you want in life. Have you ever thought about what you want? So that set me thinking, and I slowly moved on from there, to look at myself, that, no, I'm behaving like a contractor, I'm talking like a contractor, I speak Hokkien and everything. I said no, this is not the way, I'm at the bottom of the food chain. I start to change my nature, my character, my outlook. I start to be concerned about how people look at me. Soit started from there. I stait to realise that, you know, $1,ooo, you need to look like $1,ooo; $10,000, you need to look like $10,000. So that's how I slowly - it was not an overnight thing - so it was a gradual... these 2 was one of the biggest incident that made me turn.

 

Q10) Was there any moment in your time with this company that you realise that the business is going to work?

Kelvin: No. Every line, every work, every business, can definitely support you. What they say, ff ff :±l    7G. I think business, irregardless, will definitely have the big pie. Every business. Of course every business has a life span, a life cycle. The longer the life cycle within this business, then the sh01ter your business. But I believe that every business, irregardless, every line, everyjob, you can definitely support yourself.

Whether can excel or not is very difficult to say. There is something that I always emphasise to my people, my core team members. Many years ago I manage my installers, my operation team, I have about 12, 13, that was a long time ago, that was like 4, 5 years ago, so right now I hand over everything to my operation manager, I let him handle the whole thing. I always emphasise... because my core members, when they came in, they were all not highly educated. So they came in as supervisors, as admin staff, and they followed me through the years, through my journey. They learn a lot with me, grow with me. I always tell them in such a way whereby business is like people. First you start at the bottom of the food chain. Out of 10 people, for example, from 10 installers, to move up to senior installer, out of 10, there is only 1. From senior installer to move up to supervisor, out of 10, there is only 1. From supervisor to move up to manager, out of 50, there is only 1. And from manager to move up to director, maybe out of 1,000 there will only be 1. So it's the same thing when it comes to business . Every business is at a certain level of their own food chain. Datavoice, in our line, in our industry, we are actually in the mid level in terms of our revenue and in terms of our turnover, revenue and head count. We are mid, that means we are neither high nor low. There are pros, there are cons. The cons you say that I'm too big to do small, I'm too small to do big. But the way I look at it is that there is a balance. So I'm looking on my reputation, on website.

 

Q11) If you were to describe the proudest moment in this career, what would it be?

Kelvin: Proudest moment...

Interviewer: Or the most meaningful thing that happened?

Kelvin: Ok, you see, for... when you're in that position such that you are supposed to lead and many people are actually looking at you. You always remind yourself that you got many, many people looking at you, so you must set a good example. You never think about certain things that you have done, you're very, very proud. You ju st think that... Is it correct for you to do. You will feel proud or you will feel happy when it is a compliment from somebody. And when it's a compliment from somebody who knows your business, who is someone that is higher than you. So example, a businessman, you got a revenue of $10 million, if you were to tell me, Kelvin, not bad, after 12 years, start from nothing, now you have a revenue of $2-3 million, you have properties, got 2 commercial properties, you're doing ok for yourself.That, I think, will make me happy. But in terms of my proudest moment... Don't really have. But I can say that I'm happy with where I am right now.Work can never be too happy, so I'm ok. But proudest moment... don't really have.

 

Q12) Looking into the future, what plans do you have for the company, say, for the next 5 years?

Kelvin: For the next 5 years? Every year we are expanding new services. New services as in maybe this year we are doing structured cabling, the data, the telephone, the design of cabling. So next year we learn something new.We very little oppo1tunity ­ because we're in the services sector - so very little oppo1tunities for us to go beyond the shores of Singapore. I've done a few projects only, 2 in KL, 1in Shenzhen, Hong Kong. But it's because my local client in Singapore, theytrusted me and they willing to pay me a little bit more premium for us to fly there. Other than that, for us to move beyond the shores of Singapore, it's going to be very difficult, because we're in services. So moving on for the next 5 years, we are right now enhancing our corporate image, enhancing our corporate branding, because the name has been with us for the past 13 years, and branding and name and profile and references are very impo1tant in this businesss. So this is something that I'm very focused on, branding ourself to fit our profile. And moving forward, we are always moving up the corporate ladder, we are always focusing on where the premium clients are, we are always thinking of what the premium clients want, we are very focused on service, how to, what kind of service expectations does premium clients looking out for.So we're trying to rebrand ourself, reposition ourself, and to make ourself fit into this category.

Q13) In your opinion, what do you think is good and ethical business?

Kelvin: That is a very good question. Good and ethical business...My business model, I believe - this was something that I started many, many years ago, and I still believe in it right now - I have 2 hands, ok. I believe that my left is for making money, and I believe my right hand is called the heart. I call the    ''o                                                                                                                                       Both must balance out; you have to make money, but in the process of making money you must have a heart. You cannot have a heart and you don't make money, you don't work. You don't make money but yet you don't have a hea1t. So this is something that I personally believe in. So in terms of ethical business practices, I will say that it falls more to the hea1t.

Because, in this line whereby you have clients, you also have suppliers, vendors, sub­ contractors, to move, to be in this line long, for the long haul, you need not only the client's suppo1t, you need the back end support. So, to achieve the back end support, you need to be so-called ethical. So in terms of payment, I think in terms of payment... you talk about ethical, to me, it's ethical business practices, the first that come to my mind will be payment. Have to maintain that relationship.

Interviewer: So having good, kind of healthy, ethical relationships with your business partners on both ends would kind of help you do better business as well.

Kelvin: Very much so, very much so. Because we are neither big nor small. In the corporate world, in the business world, eve1ywhere you go, it's about numbers. It's about how much numbers you're able to give. This is a very realistic one. It is about your buying power. So, being in the middle, you don't have big, huge buying power like the big boys, so when we talk to suppliers, because you don't have that monster buying power, you need to be... I won't say ethical, you need to be honest, you need to be frank, as to tell people that I need your suppo1t, as much as you need my suppo1t. Being a big boy, it's ok; if you got that buying power, you don't need them, they need you. You bang the table and they will fly down here within seconds.

Because we are not in that category, so we need suppmt from vendors and suppliers. So if we can get the big project, we will need these suppliers and vendors to give us suppo1t, in terms of material fulfillment, in terms of proposing the correct product. You cannot have everybody, all skill sets in the company, because we are in the services sector, and we deal with CBD clients, whether the banking, the hedge fund companies, all these companies, they are on the high end. They have the staff, they know what they want. And their expectation is such that, because they know what they want, they don't expect somebody or a supplier or a contractor to know less than what they know. So with that in mind, when we propose -because the products are very diversified - so we need reliable suppliers to tell us, if the customer got this A requirement, so we need to talk to suppliers and make sure the supplier can conform to requirement and not just tell us that the story that they probably can do everything. So I think that's important, and it's a mutual beneficial relationship, so it has to be both ways so we can meet the client's requirements and to move on with the reputation.

 

Q14) Just now you mentioned some payment terms with your suppliers. Could you share some details of what kind of payment terms do you have with your suppliers that in a way ensures a fair deal or ethical business with them?

Kelvin: Ok, when we talk about payment terms with suppliers, distributors, the word 'terms' come into the play. When you first start, or when you're just a small boy, when you're just a nobody, nobody talks payment terms to you. Because your buying power is simply too little. I remember 10 years ago, when I bought so boxes of cables from supplier A and it was $12,000, so after I ordered from them -that time it was using mouth - so when I say, ''I'm calling from Datavoice,'' and the first thing she asked me was, "Datavoice?                           ff Wr:ii." Ok, /Fffl     ... In our line we use a lot of Mandarin . I told her say it's ok, nevermind, I need so boxes of cables, I say I have this order, so I say how much you're selling me? So she's selling me at $X, so I was like ok, can, because I need it urgently, so I say ok, confirm. So can you arrange a delivery for me? How should we move this thing? Can I sign back? So after I sign back everything then I ask her when she can deliver. And she says no, no delivery.

Only so boxes, you have to self-collect. And one box is like s-6kg. So I was like, huh? Shocked. Can't help it. I need you. And they are the sole distributor. So I said ok. The next thing she said to me is that, "When you come and collect, please bring your cheque. We need to clear you cheque first." In other words, either you bring cash down, or you bring cheque down, we bank in, 3 days later we clear your payment, then you come and collect.

Interviewer: Because as a small company, you don't have much credit worthiness.

Kelvin: You don't have credibility, you don't have long-standing relationship. To them you are just a small player, and you are a one-time buyer. That's how they look at you. So to them it's like you want, you take, you don't want, then you source for alternatives. So as the years go by, you increase your purchase power, you maintain your relationship, then you slowly talk to them, you know, 30 days terms, 14 days/3odays. So now we have suppliers that are... because right now we are established, we have projects going. Last time we always beg people to sell to us, but there comes a time when people know about you, your reputation, the market spread around, "eh, this project awarded to Datavoice,'' stuff like that. People start coming over to you. You start to have people introduce their product, their services, to us. So today we work even on new suppliers, people who come to introduce their product to us, we tell them that we are working on a minimum of 30 days. So our regular suppliers are giving us 90 days. So you need these to be productive in your cash flow. It's very imp01tant.

 

Q15) How would you say are some ways that you differentiate your business from other competitors?

Kelvin: In terms of the game of business, there is also this thing that I strongly believe in:the longer hand grab the meal. Whoever that has the ability, that is capable, that is fast, will be the person that grabs so-call the contract. This has always been a constant reminder to me, and this is something that I always share with my people, my guys. I don't believe in working 365 days.I don't believe in working till midnight. I always tell my guys, if you work from 9am to npm, you don't tell me anything. You don't tell me that you are very hardworking, every cent that I pay you isjustified .No, I don't feel this way. Ittells me that you have very poor management of your own things, you don't know how to manage your own time. So I believe a lot on time management. But yet again, I tell my guys if there is something that has to be done, even on a weekend, ifyou have to do it, means you have to do it. Other than that, my emphasis is that during office hour when you are at work, you have to twitch yourself to your working, so you have to be fast. Today, the economy, the client, as the years go by, I'm sure that you have heard that client today expectation have risen a lot. You have a younger, the next generation of buyers. The older generation of buyers are, what, 40s, sos, 6os, where they talk over coffee, they talk over KTV and stuff like that. Today, buyers are younger, we are seeing, me myself am seeing age group that is in your age group, the early 20s, early 20s they already rose to managerial level. If I meet senior managers, most like they are in their 30s, the oldest is the early 40s. So this group of buyers, they are educated, their expectation is there, they know what they want, and they expect you to be able to serve them. They expect to see a difference. So it's something that I always ask myself. Me, A, versus another person, B, what is the difference? Why should the client award to me? So if I cannot find that answer, then it's very difficult for me to survive. So I'm always looking for that answer, between my A and B, or A, B, C and D. So as I go along, it doesn't bother me today, whether it's B, C, D, E, F, G; it doesn't bother me whether there's s competitors or 6 competitors, it doesn't bother me who is my competitor. I believe that ultimately it is you, yourself, that you need to counter. You need to bring out the best in you.So in terms of presentation, in terms of discussion with the client, in terms of how you present yourself, present your company - all these play a huge part, other than the Sn. Initially I always thought that Sn is the major pait, the cheapest will grab everything. So now even you see the government tender, they put 40% price, 60% other criteria, expertise, expectation. So it's moving towards that direction. So competency, I think. For me to stay over an edge over my competitors, ultimately it's about competency and it's about service. Service and competency would equate to reputation .So as you do bigger projects, you have compliment from clients, they tell you that oh, I'm ok, the project go smoothly, that's enough already. So you'll achieve that kind of reputation, and down the line you have the edge.

 

Q16) Where or who do you get your business ideas from? Are there some ways that these business ideas have impacted your company?

Kelvin: Business ideas... Nobody will teach you how to do business, unless the person is very close to you. In the business world, when you are the top dog, you are your company's top dog, when you talk or you discuss matters, revenue, business with another business owner, it is about business. This is something I learnt along the journey also. It's nothing personal. Nothing is personal; it's about business. Can you do the business? Whether you talk about revenue, whether you talk about... many things, sales, revenue, business, this business can do, that business can do... Like I mentioned to you, I have this business partner, 40% of my share, he's the head of the company also... I don't really get my business idea from him. My relationship with him is that of, I respect him a lot because he's able to guide me. He don't teach me, he have a very funny way of so-called teaching me. He guides me, he pokes me, it's just like, you know, I ask you what you want in life at 23, what you want to achieve, where you want to go, you better start to think. You go back, think... 3 days later, you tell him - his name is Brandon -hey Brandon, I was thinking, this year my revenue... so next year I don't know how to... So he'll ask you the next question. He'll say, like that, then you need to think about A, you need to think about B, then you come out the solution C. So he won't tell you what is right, what is wrong. So a lot is about poking and then you go back and think. Because ultimately, whether it's right or it's wrong, you make a decision. And if it's right, you reap the benefits of your right, if it's wrong, then you have to accept what you did wrong. So in terms of business idea, a lot is about... I don't derive my business idea from a certain picture or medium or whatever. I believe in keeping the eyes open, which means to say that whatever that you do, whether it being in the office, go out shopping, spend time with your girlfriend, whatever, sometimes it's just about keeping your eyes open and looking out for things that you find interesting. Because we are in this line, we are always constantly thinking about how to improve our business. So there may be about, what 300,000 people like me, everyday thinking how to improve revenue, so I'm just 1of the 300,000, so end of the day it's that who have more vision, whose eyes is bigger, that's all.

 

Q17) Do you think your business has made positive contributions to the community in any way?

Kelvin: I think in terms of upgrading the skill of the workers, employing Singaporeans, I don't think that is considered giving back to the society.I think this is something that is of business nature. Ifyou need to employ Singaporean, then you need to employ them . We look at skill sets. To me, in business sense, it's not a question of nationality, it's not a question of religion, it's not a question of skin colour, it's about question of who can get thejob done. And then if a local, Singaporean, can get the job done, and because government also encouraging, then we will most likely go for the locals. In terms of upgrading, I think upgrading the workers is something that's necessary to the business. Your workers need to have a necessary skill set in order to move your business. So I don't think in a sense that is contributing or giving back to society. So coming to the giving back to society, actually have not really... personally, you know on a personal basis, we do the normal donation, that is nothing one. But on the business nature, as of now, actually that has not crossed my mind. But it seems that you are telling me, you are reminding me that, so maybe that is something that I would give a thought to. In terms of the company giving back to the society, there are many ways to give back, whether in the financial way... oh yeah, financially, we actually donated during one of the corporate functions, I think I donated $2,000, something like that. Whether it's in a financial way, on a voluntary basis, I notice that, yeah, quite a few companies are going for that direction. But that one, it has to... there must be a mindset tweak. Because it's something that, even the boss wants to do it, you cannot make it mandatory, just because the boss wants to do it means all people must do it.

Interviewer: I think recently there's been quite a bit of conversation about skills-based volunteerism. So it's a bit different, because in the past maybe companies or people tend to think that you volunteer means maybe you just clean up the old folks' home, etc. You're not really applying what you know in best way. Sothere'sthe new wave or new mentality towards community service, like say your company has expertise in this area, so they would offer the skills, maybe at a lower price or free to people who need the services. So that's kind of a new...I think the government is trying to push that mindset also. I think it's quite interesting to explore.

Kelvin: We have not encountered this yet. No doubt we did a few hospitals, but those are not classified as charitable organisations. So far we have not encountered yet, we are open to this idea. I think contribution of skills on a corporate level, I think this will be more appropriate, compare to the voluntarism. Because it's something that is... not everybody is... it just doesn't mean that the boss want to do it, the boss got to bring the whole gang down, it's something that happens, you know, on weekend. So I think skills is something we'll be happy to explore, if given the opportunity.

 

Qi8) What do you think entrepreneurship means?

Kelvin: This is a very heavy word.

Interviewer: It is, it is...actually that has been what you've been doing since the age of 20 plus when you came out.

Kelvin: Entrepreneurship, what does it mean to me... Like I said, entrepreneurship is a big word. In my own words, entrepreneurship would mean that you never stop. First of all, you must be open minded, open hea1ted. To move, to grow, to advance, you need ideas. To have ideas, you need to listen, you need to look, you need to study. You can always, everyday, remind yourself that I want to expand, I want to whatever, but you simply have no idea. So I think open mind is impo1tant, other than the relevant, the hard work, the whatever, those are the foundation, those you must have. You must have determination, you must have a never-say-die attitude. When you set yourself out to do something, you must be determined to get it done. And if you, for whatever reason, it cannot be done, then there must be a reason to explain why it cannot be done, and you must resolve the issue and move on. A lot of determination, I think a lot of hard work, not on a personal basis, on a teamwork. To be classified - not successful - to be classified as entrepreneur, it's never a one-person thing. No one man can really call himself an entrepreneur. You need a team of dedicated staff behind to help you, so called is your core team.And core team is not something that you dump X amount of money, you're gonna have a core team. So, hardworking, determination, perserverance, be willing to sacrifice, ethical, these are the few things. You must have a vision of what you want.

 

Qt9) Who or what motivates you throughout all these years?

Kelvin: There is the "who" and there is the "what" also. I think the who will be my partner, he is the managing director of a company. He is 3 years older than me, so that makes him 41 years old. Because he and me started off young, he started I think about 23, 24, so actually we grew together. So I always regarded him as my elder brother. His education status and mine are almost the same - we don't have a high education. But his character and the way he uphold himself, his dignity, the way he carry out his business, the way he shows heart to his staff, to his employees. Like what I mention, you know, one hand you got the money and one hand you got the heart, the way I see him balance the thing through his career, how he manage his staff, how he manage his business. So through what he have done and through the journ ey that he have guided me, he poke me, and how he move his business, how he expanded, how he do purchase, someday he encouraged me to buy some property, so he is someone I respect, and because I respect him, I think he is very much a motivation to me. Other than himself, I think the "what"... I don't think there is a "what". It's about what you yourself, you want. So you have to counter that question of... you must know what you want. So to me it's business first, family second, friends last. So I always tell my core members, to you guys, family first, work must come no. 2, then friends. So that's the balance. We have to come business first because we are the number 1.

 

Q2o) Are there any business values that you would like to pass down to the next generation of business people or people like me?

Kelvin: I think so-called there's the business value of what so-called as a start-up or young entrepreneur must have, I think it's quite standard. People always telling you, first of all you must be hardworking. Hard work is something that you definitely must have as a start-up. They say JJ"*        x{f, you have to sweat first, you will have to bleed first, before you can enjoy, or before you can stand at where you envision yourself to stand.

If you are somebody that has never fallen before deep inside the well, you do not know how to climb out of the well. It's gonna be difficult. Because sooner or later, through your journey, you will definitely fall inside the well. It's when you fall inside the well, how deep is the well. So in my case I was lucky, the well was shallow, I managed to climb up, it's not something that will kill you. So I think one must be hardworking, one must be mentally strong. I think mentally strong is important, your mind must be strong. You must be determined. These are the few important criteria.

As to financial standing, it depends on what kind of a business you want to do. But I think hardworking, sacrifice, must be willing to sacrifice. To be classified as an entrepreneur, people always say you wanna open a company, it's very simple. You go ROC, you dump like $80, $150, you get whatever name you want. It's about sustaining the company. So the real challenge come in sustaining the company. And you must be lucky, you must have the correct contacts, people who are willing to guide you, to teach you something. They might not teach you everything, but at least certain words that they can give you, I believe that if you are able to absorb the words, it might help you in the long run, to break through your own shell. It doesn't mean that just because your dad throws you $1,000,000 - I have seen cases like that, I even did a customer like that. The dad gave him half a million, he told me, within 4 months, finished. The whole company closed down. He collaborated with an Australian to do this new venture. Within 4 months. My deal was about $100,000, and he bought other things. It was half a million. He was very young, he was like 25 years old. Initially, when I heard about this business venture, I met his Australian partner, his Australian partner was in his late 40s, so he was in his early 20s, so sometimes you go through these things, we see something not really correct, but I mean to us, it's not something we can intervene. Who are we to say this is not correct? You can't do that. It's only when the whole thing fail then his Australian partner left, so he shared with me. You know, at that point of time, you don't criticize that person, you just tell him that you pick up where you left off. And life has to go on. Just take it as whatever that you lost has been lost. So you have to be determined, there are many factors.

To say not to be na1ve, you can't put it that way also. Ifyou tell yourself that... you know when I was young, people were telling me that the business world is cruel, you must always be careful, you will be taken advantage of.People always tell that to me. But then I realized that actually the business world is not cruel, you know, the business world is realistic. It is not cruel, it's realistic. You talk about business, you talk about numbers, you always talk about mutual benefit. Ifa company say, I want to merge with you, merger and acquisition, I want to work together with you, I want you to be my partner, so the first thing you need to discuss about is to be realistic. So, what is the mutual benefit? We don't say what is in for you and what is in for me, we say what is the mutual benefit. So, both must have mutual benefit. Ifit become such a way whereby only the benefit is yours, and I got no benefit, then this is not business sense. That means you yourself are being na1ve to move into this venture, you cannot see where is the other party's benefit. So I think you have to be realistic. But this is part and parcel of growing up. Ifyou have a mentor, you have a father who is doing business, then you just leap 8 steps up. He will give you the contacts, he will tell you this can do, that can do. You leap 8 steps up, but when you fall, you fall 8 steps down, that has to be remembered also.