No risk, no gain: Man's shrewd investments helped to grow his start-up company

Mr Terence Zou has an appetite for risk.

It caused him to lose $20,000 in a week when he was in his 20s.

And it helped him turn $50,000 worth of investments into $1 million in four years.

Now, 20 years after he started his investment journey, Mr Zou is working on a start-up company.

The 41-year-old launched carpooling app Ryde in 2014.

The former scholarship holder and Harvard Business School graduate had to be financially independent from a young age.

He says: "I lost my mum when I was 15. I had to plan for my future early."

His father was a cabby and Mr Zou, who has two younger sisters, needed a scholarship to study overseas.

He became fascinated with investors like Warren Buffett and read books to understand how some people became successful.

Among the books he read were classics like Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor and Security Analysis.

Mr Zou opened a brokerage account, putting in $5,000 - his savings from providing tuition services.

He was then 21.

"Because of the small amount, I could buy only small to mid-cap stocks, which were riskier by nature.

"At that time, I was just punting. I followed hearsay - whatever people say is good, I follow," he says.

He dabbled in penny stocks and traded foreign currencies like the yen, pound and US dollar. Soon, he was hooked, betting against the house.

Within a week, he lost $20,000 of money saved from part-time work.


He says: "It was no better than going to a casino. Forex is highly risky. You should not touch it if you do not understand it.

"Leverage is double-edged - it can 'blow you up' but it can also make you big money."

In between, Mr Zou served in the navy after graduating and worked in investment banking and private equity after getting his masters' degree.

But he also continued investing, this time in blue-chip stocks.

He decided to invest during the global financial crisis in 2009.

Mr Zou liquidated some holdings and an insurance policy to come up with $50,000 in capital for his high-risk trades.

He then invested the amount and grew it to $1 million in four years, using leverage in a rising market, generating 20 times in returns.

Mr Zou, who studies global trends and makes macro bets, says: "I like high growth stocks with exceptional capital gains. I take concentrated bets, I am a risk-taker."

One of his best bets was investing in Genting Singapore. He bought heavily into the stock at $0.70 in 2009. The first casino here opened in February 2010.

He says: "I knew on the back of economic recovery and the lucrative prospects of the first two casinos in Singapore that this would be an excellent trade with minimal downside."

He traded the stock to about $2 in 2011 before liquidating all positions when it was fully priced.

"This was also the time when retail investors started to pile on the trade. When toilet cleaners and taxi uncles start talking about a stock, I knew it's the signal to get out," he adds.

He also bet on property and made a 150 per cent return on his capital in three years from buying a freehold apartment at Telok Kurau.

Now, as the economy is slowing, Mr Zou is focusing his energy on the start-up, hoping that it will be his best ever investment to date.

He says: "Before this, I was investing in other people. Now, I'm investing in myself. Hopefully, it can generate many times in returns."

Mr Zou, who is financially free, says entrepreneurship is a risky investment.

"You don't know what's going to come but I'm taking another bet. There are no returns yet as I'm still growing the business."

This article was first published on March 27, 2016.
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