Where others saw escalating energy costs, this entrepreneurial pair saw a business opportunity.
The realisation that building owners often do not use electricity efficiently led to a brainwave by Mr Alex Lau and Mr Charles Ong of Anacle Systems.
They then developed a system to help identify sources of energy loss in buildings.
Called the Starlight Energy Monitoring Solution, the system has been implemented in about 50 shopping malls and office buildings in Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and Mauritius.
The company's objective is to help their customers cut down on energy expenditure.
"It's possible to use the same amount of energy, but end up paying less," said Mr Lau.
The system offers a real-time overview of a building's energy consumption and power quality.
Comprising wireless units placed at various points around a building, it also includes energy management software, developed by the company, which tracks transmissions from the wireless units to identify "pain points", where the most energy is being lost.
For example, energy loss might result from inefficient building design - including automatic doors - and the deterioration of equipment quality over time.
The system costs anywhere between $50,000 and $500,000 to implement, depending on factors such as the complexity of the project and size of the building.
"After our customers have identified the sources of energy loss and taken measures to address them, they can make use of our system again to measure the effectiveness of these measures," said Mr Ong.
Mr Lau added that buildings, especially in a fast-changing environment such as Singapore, are constantly being refurbished and are "in a state of flux".
"When buildings change, their electricity needs change as well, and there is again scope for customers to make use of our system," he added.
Both electrical engineers by training, Mr Lau and Mr Ong were army buddies before they became business partners.
The pair, both 40, developed a prototype for the system in 2010 and first implemented it on a commercial site in 2011.
Unexpectedly, Anacle's customers have found an additional use for the energy monitoring system besides tracking sources of energy loss, said Mr Lau.
It is also being used to facilitate the common practice of landlords buying energy in bulk and reselling it to their tenants. The Starlight system allows landlords to track tenant energy usage and monitor it for unusual activity.
Mr Lau and Mr Ong, who founded the firm in 2006, started out creating asset management software for the property industry.
While working with building owners, they learnt that 40 to 50 per cent of a building's operational costs go to energy bills.
"Our customers were the ones who gave us the idea for this. They said, 'Your software is good, but our real problem lies in managing our energy needs,'" said Mr Lau, adding that energy prices have been rising continuously.
The company's revenues from the Starlight system have grown from less than $100,000 in 2010 to almost $4 million this year.
In addition to its energy management business, Anacle still designs various types of software, ranging from supply chain management to energy monitoring software.
Users of its software include Singapore Airlines, CapitaLand and the Taipei 101 building in Taipei, Taiwan.
The company, which focuses on retrofitting existing buildings with its energy management system, has seen revenue growing by about 30 per cent every year.
It opened an office in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year and plans to open offices in Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi by the year end.
"We are planning to internationalise, to be recession-proof... We want to be able to better serve the East Asian and Middle Eastern markets," said Mr Lau.
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