[Photo: After two years with Yahoo, Mr Tan gave up a five-figure monthly pay cheque to follow his dreams. Since then, his online marketing firm has been going from strength to strength.]
By Francis Chan
THE police could have nabbed Mr Leonard Tan but they let him slip.
And it proved to be a great loss for them, as he went on to become one of the most enterprising young entrepreneurs, with a string of awards to his name.
Rather than searching for criminals with the boys in blue, Mr Tan, 31, is now a leading light in the booming online search area.
In 2006, after two years with the Internet giant Yahoo, Mr Tan took the leap and founded PurpleClick to serve the search engine's small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) clients.
This was a big decision for Mr Tan, as he was walking away from a plum job with a five-figure monthly salary.
And he was about to take on added financial responsibility. His wife, Vivian, now 31, had quit her advertising agency job for the birth of their first child.
But Mr Tan's confidence in his business plan was boosted by the support of his bosses at Yahoo and the clients he had befriended over the years.
'I told my bosses that I could invest my own money to set up my own team to support their SME clients, but I needed support in terms of letting me take care of their customer base,' he says.
'Fortunately, they saw it as a win-win model and were very supportive of my entrepreneurial efforts. They even gave me some time to prepare for the business.'
Yahoo allowed Mr Tan to transfer its SME clientele over to PurpleClick, although he had to give an assurance that his budding start-up would recruit more staff.
So far, his confidence has been well-founded. From a two-man outfit three years ago, working out of the back of a Chinatown shophouse with a zinc roof, PurpleClick is now a multimillion- dollar start-up with 22 staff.
And despite the recent downturn, the company managed to record $2.6 million in sales last year, on the back of a compounded annual growth rate of 57 per cent over the last three years.
Mr Tan said PurpleClick has hundreds of clients who buy search engine marketing (SEM) services, which essentially help them make use of keywords during online searches to channel sales leads to their own websites.
His clients range from local SMEs like Far East Flora to multinational corporations like Citibank and even government agencies such as the Central Provident Fund.
These organisations make use of PurpleClick's services to connect with target audiences who use search engines like Google, Yahoo or even Chinese platforms like Baidu.
Customer Alson Tan of Prince's Flower Shop likes PurpleClick's customer-centric approach when it comes to online marketing. 'We have been able to increase traffic and visits to our e-commerce website that ultimately led to increased online sales,' said the shop's executive director.
Mr Tan explains how the entrepreneurial bug bit him while he was at Yahoo.
'When serving the SME clients, I got to know about their business models and how they grow their sales because essentially at Yahoo, I was providing them with a service to help them optimise their online presence.
'However, when they wanted to access other platforms, like Google, I could not help because I was a Yahoo employee.'
Mr Tan, who has a business administration degree from NUS and a master of science in e-commerce from the Illinois Institute of Technology, could not resist the call to be his own boss.
He has won a string of awards in the last two years. Last month, he added the Shell LiveWire title to the Entrepreneur of the Year and Emerging Enterprise awards he received earlier this year.
The search engine marketing guru has set his sights on taking PurpleClick public in about seven years, to fund further expansion.
But for now, he is intent on making PurpleClick a global player, to help drive sales leads from all over the world to his SME clients in Asia.
Plans are afoot to expand the firm's regional network comprising Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.