Net worth of youth

PHOTO: Net worth of youth

Their Web business was acquired by SingPost last month for up to $1.2 million and this propelled Mr Kingsley Peh and Ms Elfaine Tan into start-up heaven. Welcome to the era of Internet entrepreneurs aged 30 and under, who leverage on relatively barrier-free cyberspace to turn an idea into a business. SundayLife! meets five of them.

Singapore's Internet entrepreneurs under 30

  • 25 years old
    Company: EK Media, which runs a website that gives out free samples of beauty products and another site that charges clients a fee to customise social media publicity campaigns.

    The company employs six full-time staff in a 2,000 sq ft office at Shun Li Industrial Park in Kaki Bukit Start-up cost: $50,000 from Spring Singapore's Young Entrepreneurship Scheme for Start-ups, awarded in 2009
  • 21 years old
    Company: Alldealsasia.com, an online shopping deals aggregator which employs 25 full-time staff in a three-storey shophouse in Jalan Sultan

    Start-up cost: About $5,000 from personal savings for the website and design; up to $3,000 from Ngee Ann Polytechnic's EnterpriZe! scheme, awarded in 2011
  • 26 years old
    Company: Happy Fish Swim School, an online platform that links more than 250 freelance swimming instructors with 10,000 students. It is based in a 1,400 sq ft office in Jurong East and employs four full-time staff

    Start-up cost: About $200 from personal savings for the website
  • 30 years old
    Company: e27, which runs a tech news website, organises conferences for start-ups and does content-strategy consulting for technology companies. It employs 12 full-time staff in a 1,000 sq ft office in Ayer Rajah Crescent in Buona Vista

    Start-up cost: About $30 for a Web domain

KINGSLEY PEH & ELFAINE TAN
25 YEARS OLD

Company: EK Media, which runs a website that gives out free samples of beauty products and another site that charges clients a fee to customise social media publicity campaigns.

The company employs six full-time staff in a 2,000 sq ft office at Shun Li Industrial Park in Kaki Bukit

Start-up cost: $50,000 from Spring Singapore's Young Entrepreneurship Scheme for Start-ups, awarded in 2009

Start-up date: May 2008

Frustrated at not being able to try beauty products before buying, the two decided to set up a website that gives out free samples.

"When I ask for a sample, most counter staff look at me like I am a cheapskate," says Ms Tan.

So in 2008, she and Mr Peh set up Samplestore.com, where users select from about 200 products, with a limit of up to four different samples a day, then write a review of each to collect points that let them redeem more samples.

Samplestore.com, which is part of EK Media, carries samples from brands such as Hada Labo, Bioderma and Garnier.

Ms Tan says: "We encourage a cycle of consumer behaviour. If trying beauty products before buying becomes widespread enough, people will be more willing to open their wallets as they know that the product is suitable for them."

Mr Peh and Ms Tan persuade beauty companies to give them samples for free and make money from the website, which now has nearly 90,000 subscribers, through data mining and online advertising.

In July 2011, they expanded the business to include Appsbomb, a marketing agency that charges clients a fee to customise social media publicity campaigns, with apps and widgets used for contests, games and events.

The two websites under EK Media were acquired by SingPost last month. Mr Peh and Ms Tan are paid each time they hit a performance target set by SingPost, and the total payout is capped at $1.2 million.

The first thing they did when they received their first payout - a sum they decline to disclose - was to find a bank with a good interest rate so as to grow the money, says Mr Peh.

They plan to invest the money in other new start-ups, but will be treating themselves to a trip to Bali this weekend.

The couple are not new to doing business.

As teenagers, they rented stalls at night markets to sell second-hand clothing.

When they started the sampling business in 2008, their rooms doubled as warehouses for sample boxes while Ms Tan's taxi-driver father, 54, delivered samples to customers so they can save on postage. Her mother, 54, is a beautician.

The two also did not pay themselves salaries for the first 11/2years. Mr Peh, who was doing his national service then, drew on his allowance while Ms Tan relied on her personal savings to get by.

Mr Peh and Ms Tan, who have been dating for 12 years since they met as classmates at East Spring Secondary, graduated from Temasek Polytechnic in 2008. Mr Peh has a diploma in infocomm and Ms Tan a diploma in biomedical informatics and engineering.

Being employers is the toughest part of being young business owners, they say, citing the example of a woman in her 30s who went for a job interview but left after a handshake, saying she had another appointment.

Their youth - or their sparse office - could have put her off, says Mr Peh, whose father, 52, is a bus driver and mother, 54, is a part-time housekeeper. "But it is part of the package that comes with striking out on our own," he adds.

The average age of their employees is 25.

However, he thinks their youth came in handy in daring to take risks and having "little to lose", says MrPeh.

Ms Tan adds: "What we hope to chart is a graph shaped like a hockey stick: After the first few years of hard work, the curve hooks up and we start to see results."

WAYNE GOH
21 YEARS OLD

Company: Alldealsasia.com, an online shopping deals aggregator which employs 25 full-time staff in a three-storey shophouse in Jalan Sultan

Start-up cost: About $5,000 from personal savings for the website and design; up to $3,000 from Ngee Ann Polytechnic's EnterpriZe! scheme, awarded in 2011

Start-up date: August 2010

To get the best online shopping deals, Mr Goh used to visit multiple group-buying websites to compare prices before making a purchase.

Then 18, he thought: Why not compile the deals in one website for fuss-free, one-stop shopping? So in 2010, he set up Alldealsasia.com with his sister, Ms Goh Yiping, now 31.

The aggregator website lists deals from a range of group-buying sites, including Deals.com.sg. Mr Goh, now 21 and doing his national service, makes money from fees that the group-buying sites pay, according to the number of clicks on deals which redirects users to their domain.

"It has become a revenue model, where we get paid for sending traffic to other sites," he explains.

He declines to give a specific figure, but says his monthly profit is a five-figure sum.

The site now draws about 30,000 clicks daily. It has also caught the eye of angel investors such as Iconic Ventures, which sank a six-figure sum into the company in September in 2011.

But the rapid dearth of group-buying websites - The Straits Times reported last year that the number has plummeted from more than 70 four years ago to just 19 - is cause for worry.

To cope, Mr Goh introduced the company's own deals in April 2011, employing sales staff to ink independent deals with merchants.

The deals it offers cover food, travel, fashion and gadgets, such as a $15 buffet meal, less than $100 for a Batam hotel stay and less than $50 for a spa massage.

And instead of promoting flash daily deals, he persuades merchants to give deals lasting three months or more, which lowers the risk of the merchants dropping out after a month.

Because of his age, Mr Goh, who is dating a 21-year-old undergraduate of a private university, admits it is tough to be taken seriously. His sister and older colleagues are in charge of interviewing potential employees, he says.

His mother, 55, is a housewife and his father, 61, is a taxi driver.

But youth has its advantage, he says, as he has fewer commitments and can afford to take more risks. He says: "I have the opportunity to try new things since I have few obligations, so now is the time."

He has shown an entrepreneurial streak since his teenage years. When he was in Secondary 2 at Zhenghua Secondary School, he bought herbal toothpaste from a supplier, marked up the price by 50 per cent and sold it door-to-door. He made about $500 a month.

Ultimately, he says, business is about taking the plunge with a good idea.

"If you keep thinking, planning and worrying, it may never happen. Just do it. The wonderful thing about online businesses is that the start-up cost is not that high so it is a risk that young people like me can afford to take."

TAN JIAN YONG
26 YEARS OLD

Company: Happy Fish Swim School, an online platform that links more than 250 freelance swimming instructors with 10,000 students. It is based in a 1,400 sq ft office in Jurong East and employs four full-time staff

Start-up cost: About $200 from personal savings for the website

Start-up date: October 2007

At 18, Mr Tan spent his free days at the pool coaching youngsters for a fee.

But last-minute changes and students who defaulted on payment would disrupt his schedule and halve his monthly earnings. It was also a hassle travelling to various locations.

So in 2007, at age 20, he started an online platform linking swimming instructors with students. He takes a cut of up to 25 per cent for each successful match, depending on the duration of the class.

Happy Fish Swim School handles duties such as hiring instructors, verifying their training credentials, setting class prices, collecting payment and rescheduling postponed classes.

It also matches instructors who prefer a certain location with students.

"As I was a freelance instructor, I know how these problems can affect the joy of teaching people how to swim," says Mr Tan.

His company branched out in 2008 to conduct classes for infants and special needs children. It also holds women-only sessions and triathlon swimming in open water, says Mr Tan, who was born in Johor Baru and is now a permanent resident here.

He came to Singapore in 2005 to do an electronics, computer and communications diploma at Nanyang Polytechnic.

Along the way, he met his wife Jacqueline Seow, 26, at an external finance course and she now helps with the business. Mr Tan's father, 57, is a shipping parts businessman and his mother, 56, helps in his dad's business.

The couple decline to reveal the business' monthly revenue.

They live with Ms Seow's parents in an executive Housing Board flat in Jurong East. They bought two condominium units, one in Bedok in 2011 and one in Bukit Timah last year. Both projects are under construction.

The couple, who have no children, are now looking to move offline: They plan to buy a site for a private school and install a heated, non-chlorinated pool that is safe for infants.

Their expansion plan is motivated by a desire to ensure that everyone can swim, says Mr Tan.

"I also find out that many parents who take their children for classes cannot swim," he says.

Besides the online platform, he manages another business. Last year, he bought an 800 sq ft unit on the second floor of a shophouse in Tan Quee Lan Street in Bugis for $1.2 million, which he converted into a seminar room for rental. He paid for it with his earnings and an investment from a partner.

Being young has had no impact on his business, as partners do not usually ask for his age, he says. "It is about my business model and the value I can bring to people. After all, people who want to engage our services look at our brand, rather than the owner."

The swim business remains his first love.

Asked if he would give up his business for a corporate job, he says: "If I ever sell the company, I would want to at least retain a small stake as I would like to see it grow and transform from what I've started."

MOHAN BELANI
30 YEARS OLD

Company: e27, which runs a tech news website, organises conferences for start-ups and does content-strategy consulting for technology companies. It employs 12 full-time staff in a 1,000 sq ft office in Ayer Rajah Crescent in Buona Vista

Start-up cost: About $30 for a Web domain

Start-up date: July 2007

As an intern and sole employee at a Silicon Valley start-up in Sunnyvale, California, for a year in 2006, Mr Belani learnt to work with what little he had.

When the American online shopping company, iStorez, could not afford to send him to a conference for online retailers in New York, Mr Belani wrote to the organisers and asked to work at the conference in return for airfare and a conference ticket.

What turned up in his mailbox gave him lasting respect for start-ups: The organisers gave him what he asked for and, in return, ordered him to learn as much as he could.

"It is the start-up culture. When you show that you are genuinely interested in learning, people help and there is a pay-it-forward mentality," says Mr Belani.

He had landed the job under an overseas exchange programme by the National University of Singapore (NUS), where he studied computer engineering. It allowed him to intern at a start-up company and study part-time at Stanford University for a year.

When he returned to Singapore in 2007 at age 24, he launched a news website with an NUS schoolmate to build a community of tech start-ups.

The regular networking sessions with start-up owners led him to the money-making arm of his business a year later - an events business that organises yearly start-up conferences, attended by technopreneurs and investors.

It now holds 10 satellite conferences across Asia, with 1,300 participants from more than 20 countries each year at the main event in Singapore.

In 2009, his company branched out into content-strategy consulting for technology companies such as Microsoft and Amazon Web Services.

The company made more than $1 million in revenue during the last financial year, which closed on Aug 31 this year.

In February, his company secured a $760,000 investment from venture capitalists, including Facebook's vice-president for Asia-Pacific, Mr Dan Neary; Japan's B Dash Ventures; Taiwan's Pinehurst Advisors; and Ardent Capital from Thailand.

Four months later, the company invested in an Indonesian tech start-up website, Daily Social, for an undisclosed sum.

But before the company took off in 2009, he did not draw a salary for two years and lived off his savings instead. It bothered him, he says, when he heard comments from industry acquaintances that he was driving his website as a "side distraction" to make his resume look good, he says.

"But the comments inspired me to push myself even further, to show that this was not true," says MrBelani, whose father, 59, is a businessman dealing in electronic goods and jewellery and mum, 52, is a housewife.

Being young, Mr Belani, who is engaged to a 26-year-old public relations manager, says he has no financial commitments. This leaves him free to pursue his interests and ideas.

The company's name is a nod to entrepreneurs and what he says is the median age of start-up owners.

"I don't want a corporate job because I feel I make a much bigger impact in driving and encouraging the spirit of start-ups with what I'm doing."


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