When they started their engineering company 10 years ago, they had hardly any money and no customers.
They could not afford to hire workers and they packed their own food to cut costs.
For three years, they slogged until they snared a contract that would breathe new life into their company.
Now, Hope Technik is making the news for being technologically innovative.
It has also been held up as a role model for aspiring start-ups.
Mr Ng Kiang Loong, 35, and Mr Peter Ho, 38, along with two friends, were engineering graduates from the National University of Singapore who dreamed of starting an engineering company.
Mr Ho, one of the co-founders and the chief executive officer of Hope Technik, said that when they started the company in 2006, they had a paid-up capital of $10,000 and did not raise investments until last year.
The company now owns a three-storey building at Penjuru Close in Pioneer and deals with industrial robotics and unmanned systems applications like drones.
They also work on special projects in which clients could ask for micro-robots for keyhole surgery.
Mr Ho said: "We started running our business in the most unusual way possible - there was no money, experience, portfolio and customer.
"We didn't have any income coming in and there was no salary.
"We literally used to pack food from home for lunch because we didn't have any money to go to the canteen."
He said they ran several credit card bills to pay for the equipment and did not have money to hire workers.
Today, they have more than 90 employees.
Mr Ng, another co-founder and director of the company, said they started out as a mechanical engineering firm.
The company also deals with mechanical software, electrical engineering, electronics and design and aesthetic elements.
The two other founders are Mr Michael Leong, 37, and Mr Jeff Tang, 35.
One of their first big breaks came in their third year: They were commissioned by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), in a sub-contract with another company, to improve the Red Rhino, a fire-fighting vehicle.
It opened doors for the company and they signed more contracts. Some contracts were even from overseas, including France.
Mr Ho said: "Companies saw the vehicle on the road and they were, like, 'Oh wow, that's cool, who made that?' and they came looking for us.
"When they came over and saw the scale of what we could achieve, it was good (business) for us."
Mr Ng advises those dreaming of starting a company not to give up.
He said: "There were a few times (when) we asked ourselves if this was what we really wanted to do.
"But we just put our heads down and we just kept working. We felt that resilience would get anything done."
Colonel Tan Boon Kiat, the director of Nexus, which is behind this year's Total Defence campaign, said economic defence is about building up a strong and robust economy that can sustain Singapore through economic challenges and national emergencies.
He said: "Through the years, Hope Technik has managed to successfully diversify its business portfolio, ensuring the company remains resilient even during economic downturns.
"They're a great example of how businesses can play their part in helping Singapore stay relevant and thrive in today's global economy."
This article was first published on Feb 13, 2016.
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