Mum was there to help when he 'lost everything'

They say that behind every successful man is a woman.

In the case of Mr Douglas Gan, 33, it was his mother who stood by him through thick and thin.

She provided the capital for his second business when he was broke, lovingly prepared food for him and his staff, and even went to court to handle a dispute for him.

Mr Gan smiled and said: "She was very supportive. She always told me to focus and do something I loved.

"She said if I loved it, I would excel in it."

He was only 18 and still studying at Ngee Ann Polytechnic when he wanted to start a hosting company for Internet services.

Instead of objecting to her son's plan, Madam Mary Jane Tan, 57, an insurance agent, started the company in her name.

Mr Gan graduated with a diploma in information technology and started a University of London Economics and Management course at the Singapore Institute of Management.

But when he decided to quit after one semester, Madam Tan supported his decision to become an entrepreneur.

She also helped him when he ran into trouble - a lawsuit was filed against Mr Gan after a dispute with a client.

As they could not afford a lawyer, Madam Tan, who was the sole breadwinner for their family, ended up representing the company herself.

Mr Gan said his father was unemployed at the time and was kept in the dark about the lawsuit.

As Mr Gan was serving his national service then, Madam Tan did not want to worry him. He found out that she represented the company in court only after he booked out. "Thankfully, we won the lawsuit," Madam Tan said with a laugh.

By 2007, Mr Gan had become a millionaire at the tender age of 23 after selling two companies to investors and dabbling in the stock market.

But later that year, the market fell and Mr Gan panicked.

"I sold everything," he said. "That turned out to be a terrible mistake as half an hour later, everything went back. I lost everything."

Once again, his mother was there to help him.

Madam Tan said: "After the loss, he took me to the bank.

"He told me to help him take charge of his expenses and only give him pocket money of $200 each month.

"He gave me his savings book and ATM card. He didn't even know his PIN. He told me he didn't need to know."

Madam Tan took $7,000 from her savings and lent it to her son, who went to Indonesia to kick-start Shownearby, a location-based mobile app that informs users about the amenities near them.

Once again, her help did not stop there and she got an accountant friend to teach her the ropes.

Mr Gan said: "She became my admin assistant and my accountant. She was with me every step of the way."

Madam Tan also cooked and cleaned for his team after Mr Gan moved his office back to Singapore from Indonesia.

Madam Tan said: "Their office had a kitchen, so whenever I had time, I would cook for them.

"I started when they only had four people, all the way till there were about 20.

"If I couldn't clean his office on weekdays, I would go down during the weekend. I went almost every day, unless I was overseas.

"I got mattresses and set up rooms for them to rest as they would sometimes work until the morning."

Their hard work eventually paid off. Shownearby grew in popularity, topping the Android charts for free apps in Singapore in 2010.

It was acquired by Yellow Pages later that year.

Today, Mr Gan runs Vanitee, a beauty-service booking app that provides a platform for independent beauty artists to find customers.

He co-founded company with sister

He was offered a place to study mass communication at Nanyang Technological University.

But he turned it down as he wanted to focus on his business.

Mr Wayne Goh, 24, told The New Paper: "I applied because I wanted to keep my options open. But in the end, I thought I could make better use of those four years.

"At that point of time, my company was struggling to keep up. I felt my company needed me more than I needed the university."

Mr Goh and his sister, Miss Goh Yiping, 34, are co-founders of AllDealsAsia. The website aggregates deals and discounts in South-east Asia, from household items and stationery to apparel and beauty services.

It was founded in 2010, when Mr Goh was still a final-year accountancy student in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

On their inspiration to start the business, Mr Goh said: "At the time, there were about 20 to 40 daily deal sites that came out weekly.

"We thought visiting multiple sites to find the best deal was too time-consuming, so we aggregated the deals from these sites and compiled them."

Mr Goh said their website, which has about 500,000 subscribers, handles over a million dollars' worth of transactions each month.

It is currently in the midst of being acquired by the Lippo Group, an Indonesian business conglomerate.

Mr Goh said he thinks he and his sister complement each other well in running the business from their office near Lavender.

He said: "We both have different areas of strength. She's good at building relationships, so she does external liaising with new partners and gets new investments for the company. I'm good with the internal stuff."


Miss Goh agreed, saying: "We're both go-getters, but he's more of an internal hustler while I'm more of an external hustler."

She said: "It feels like he has been an entrepreneur for many years.

"He's someone who is much wiser and more mature than his age. He's very logical and makes very professional decisions."

While conflicts between partners are inevitable in the business world, Miss Goh said the pair, who have another brother, have hardly ever fought.

She said: "There were definitely times when we disagreed, but we believe that everyone should be entitled to their own opinion.

"Our relationship is a lot about having discussions. Even at home, we believe we don't have to win every conversation or argument."

He didn’t want to burden grandmother

He wanted to spare his grandmother further financial hardship.

Instead of treading the usual path, Mr Alvin Yap decided to start his own company when he was a final-year student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

"I come from a humble family background," said the 30-year-old.

His divorced parents had left him in the care of his paternal grandmother when he was just a baby.

Mr Yap said: "My grandmother was the one who raised me.

"She had to take on odd jobs to support us. She would rent out rooms, take care of children as a nanny and clean offices.

"We had to be frugal. That was why I started work when I was very young. I wanted to provide for myself - I didn't want to burden her.

"That was also why I chose to go to a polytechnic. If I went to university, it would have delayed my ability to generate income for a few more years."

Mr Yap, who was pursuing a diploma in business studies, was on a school trip to China when he met several companies. They shared with him the idea of selling customised covers for laptops and mobile phones.


Inspired, he brought the concept back to Singapore and started his own printing service, producing covers with customers' faces on them.

Mr Yap skipped school to tend to his business during his final semester, but his lecturers were understanding. They gave him an exemption and used his business to grade a part of his module.

Mr Leow Teck Sim, 43, one of his lecturers, said: "He was very resourceful, tactful and managed to convince his customers... I think I gave him an A."

Mr Leow added: "Alvin is someone I have high regard for because he's a 'never-say-die' person.

"When it comes to entrepreneurship, I would give him 99.9 points."

Mr Leow's confidence in his student was not misplaced.

Last year, Mr Yap founded Laku6, an online business based in Indonesia that sells certified used phones.

Today, his company enjoys immense success, having raised about half a million dollars worth of investments in less than a year.

Mr Yap had some advice for young entrepreneurs with dreams of becoming their own boss.

He said: "Think big and start small. Doing your own business is so hard that it's not worth it if the idea is not big.

"Always aim to change to world. That way, you can attract the best people to work with you."

This article was first published on March 26, 2016.
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