By Edwin Loh and Jasmine Tan
THIRTY-YEAR-OLD Vincent Tan Boon Kiat's experience is best epitomised by this line from Robert Frost's famous poem - he took the one less travelled and that has made all the difference.
He took a step off the conventional path during his university days to develop local online car advertising and resource portal sgCarMart.com.
'Everyone during my time was doing engineering; about 80 per cent of the guys were doing engineering because it's safe. It's safe but didn't have good prospects,' says Vincent, who graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in mechanical engineering. 'For my partners and I, our courses in university have always been Plan B. Plan A was to do something else but we had to figure out what it was going to be,' he adds.
Incorporated in June 2004, sgCarMart was born out of an idea that Vincent and his partners, Henry Seah and Tan Jing Lun, had when they were students at NUS. During their first summer holidays, Vincent and Henry were tossing up between giving tuition and starting their own business.
After evaluating their opportunity cost and career prospects, they decided to go with the latter. 'Our opportunity cost was very low. It was just forsaking tuition. We thought the prospects of being an engineer were also not very good,' Vincent says.
The astute entrepreneur subsequently came up with the idea of an online car portal as he found there were no big players in the market then. 'There were many small players but no one visible,' Vincent adds.
From there, he roped in his close friends, Henry and Jing Lun, and they took on different roles in the business based on their strengths.
Vincent was the brains behind the operation and focused on developing the business strategy. Henry, who was in the school's chemical engineering course, was stronger at marketing and public relations, while Jing Lun was the architect for the website with his background in IT.