Written on 30 Jun 2017

It is finally happening. After close to a year of conceptualisation, finding the right partners, raising the capital, countless heartaches with landlords, going back and forth on the build plans.. it’s finally happening. It’s almost as if someone can pinch me and any moment I will be forced to wake up from this dream.

We were conducting interviews for hires recently, and an interviewee asked me, “How long have you planned for this?”. My tongue-in-cheek reply: “Too long”.

Doing a brick-and-mortar start-up is taxing on the finances. When you throw in the upfront capital expenditures and account for runway for the operating expenditures, coupled with mysterious costs that seem to ambush you at every turn, the start-up costs can go up in a hurry. And technically we’re more like click-and-mortar, because besides building a physical place, we also need to build a digital presence. Talking about ballooning costs! I’ve learned to tabulate any foreseeable costs, throw in contingencies, and then proceed to double that amount, to arrive at a comfortable start-up budget.

I vividly recall an incident which caused much heartache. It was a leasing deal with a reputable landlord — one of the government-linked companies. After months of negotiation, we finally agreed on the key terms. We were given representation from senior staff that the deal was good to go. But alas we could not have anticipated the bureaucratic hoops we had to jump through. When the deal landed on the table of a senior director, he shot it down. His reason: He thought that our concept was neither exciting nor dynamic enough, nor fitted with the image of his building. He condemned us without even meeting with us! The world crashed to pieces around me. After coming so close, I baulked at going back to my partners with this devastating piece of news. After 10 minutes, I asked myself, “What would sulking do for me?”. Picking up the pieces, I resumed the search with renewed vigour. To the faceless person sitting in your ivory tower, I thank you. In my mind, every rejection is a pat on the back, encouraging me to do better for the next deal. I’ve always fancied being the man in the arena, not the critic.

I shall not even begin to talk about our other misses. They hurt. But from each failure I get a little better. That brings me a step closer to perfection — an elusive goal.

People have asked me, “This sounds like a risky venture. Have you considered the risks?”. Somehow, I seem to give people the vibe that I’m a wanton taker of risks. I would like to categorically state that I am a very risk-averse person. I buy shares in listed companies way below their intrinsic value to give myself a margin of safety. I took on a corporate job in a leading multi-national company (with hundreds of years of history) to learn corporate machinations and grow a network. With a team of capable (read: much more capable than me) partners, we entered into 2 franchise businesses with proven track records, with a focus on bread-and-butter businesses. No fads, no gimmicks — just services that customers will use on a repeated basis. Warren Buffet has said that there are 2 rules in business. Rule Number One: Don’t lose money. Rule Number Two: Don’t forget Rule Number One.

Andy Grove, the legendary CEO of Intel Corporation, has said repeatedly that only the paranoid survive. In fact, that’s the title of his book published back in 1996. Its principles are still applicable in helping us navigate today’s complex world. Is the industry at a strategic inflexion point? Will there be a 10X change in the business climate that could catch us off guard? These are the questions I think hard about.

So then why does a business venture seem risky to most people? I suppose it depends on one’s perspectives on risk. To me, the biggest risk is to lie on my death bed and look back on a life filled with regrets, that I didn’t set out to at least try do the things that I want to do. I may well fail, but I’ve stress-tested several scenarios, and the worst-case scenario is one that is acceptable to me. J.K. Rowling expounds on this idea of “risk” best when she said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default”.

It has been months since we’ve started dreaming about the gym. I feel like we’ve run a long way, but it turns out that we’re barely even at the starting line. The starting pistol will go off at our grand opening — that is when we welcome our first customers; that is when we must deliver what we promised. There is a long road ahead. I’ve learned that execution is almost always more important than idea creation. Executing well on an idea is difficult. My sincere wish for us is that in the months and years ahead, we can execute well.

Sitting in on various meetings with my partners together with our consultants/builders/suppliers is an eye-opening experience. I’m like a fish out of water. I do not have an eye for design — how to create that sense of space, what dimensions work and what don’t. I know very little about marketing — how to create a brand, how to build hype and connect to digital audience. There are many other things that I do not know. In fact, I know so little that sometimes I wonder why my partners even agreed to work with me. I must be the luckiest person in this world.

Being ignorant is an uncomfortable feeling. Compared to my previous job where I was relatively unfazed with curve balls even when talking to C-suite people, this is a whole different ball game. I hope to inoculate myself against ignorance by reading voraciously, so I don’t let my partners down. Management consultants have described the profile of individuals with T-shaped capabilities. Such individuals have a breadth of knowledge across different fields, with deep specialization in one field. When you put a few of these people together, difficult problems can be solved. Magic can happen.

I do not believe in the idea of a personal God, but I am convinced that angels exist in this world. At almost every turn I have received offers of help — funding, collaboration, useful books and material, astute observations and advice. They have been immensely helpful, if not for re-assurance, then for pointing me along the right direction. For all my angels, you know who you are. My ambition has always been to plant a seed that will grow into a towering tree, so that my friends can come and sit under its shade.

I cannot give thanks without a big shout-out to my long-suffering wife.

I married Jac in 2015. That year, she asked me if I was going to hold a wedding for us. I replied, “I threw all my money into Anytime Fitness Kallang Wave. I’m broke. Let me save up and we can talk about this in 2016.”

In 2016, she asked me if I was going to hold a wedding for us. I replied, “I raised more money, and threw it all into Greendot Westgate. I’m broke. Let me save up and we can talk about this in 2017.”

And now in 2017, I’m doing Boulder Movement. I hope she forgets to ask me the question this year 😉

Now that I’m entering into this “risky” venture, she has become the sole breadwinner of the household. She knows that I’m scrapping by, so she’s taken on the burden of paying for the bills. She has even put in a standing instruction for funds transfer to my bank account every month, which for the longest time has been hovering just above zero. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve her love. For our sake, I must strive to make sure that her faith in me is well-placed.

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Writes about random muses. Writes to sharpen clarity of thought.