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How this entrepreneur overcame multiple failures and a stroke to build business revenue hitting S$1 million

Money Choice: Entrepreneur Desmond Pang, founder and CEO of Stark Media in Singapore, shares his story of resilience.

Entrepreneur Desmond Pang in black (left), Pang and his team (right).
Entrepreneur Desmond Pang, founder and CEO, Stark Media. (PHOTO: Desmond Pang) (Desmond Pang)

SINGAPORE — Entrepreneur Desmond Pang's story is one of triumph over multiple failures.

His current success in business is especially significant when the price Pang had to pay included four business failures, and suffering a transient stroke at age 38. Pang never gave up.

"It has always been my belief that if you believe (in yourself), work hard, and persevere, you will find a unique success of your own. That has kept me going until today," Pang told Yahoo Finance Singapore.

At 40, he is now the chief executive officer and co-founder of Stark Media, a creative media agency that offers events management, social media marketing, video production, and e-commerce management services. According to Pang, the company raked in more than S$400,000 in revenue in its first year of operations and is poised to hit the S$1 million revenue mark by the end of 2024.

Costly business lessons

Pang co-founded the company in 2022 with his business partner, Cyrus Chung, after coming out of a very difficult time in his life. The year before, Pang gave up his position in another video production company that he had founded in order to recover from the stroke.

Although Pang was lucky that his stroke was transient and had not caused any permanent damage, his doctors attributed the stress of running his own company as the biggest contributing factor and warned that he couldn't afford to suffer another attack. Like many other businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Pang's company had taken a hit as clients slashed their marketing budgets. With no incoming revenue, he was plagued by sleepless nights while his mental and physical health went "downhill".

Halfway through the pandemic, things briefly looked up for his ailing company when a contact reached out and offered to invest S$100,000 in the company in exchange for more than 51 per cent ownership. However, what appeared to be a financial lifeline soon turned out to be a painful lesson in business for Pang – he began have disagreements with his new partner over the direction of the company.

"Looking back, I wasn't experienced enough to deal with shareholdings. I didn't understand that losing more than 51 per cent meant that you lose control of the whole company. I was happily thinking that it would give me a 'runway'," said Pang, who suffered a stroke seven months after he began working with his new partner amid mounting tension and stress.

When I was younger, I thought time was infinite, but when I started running a business, I realised that I don't have enough time... Spend it wisely.Desmond Pang

While he managed to recoup some cash from selling his stake, Pang said that he lost more than S$90,000 from the venture over the course of nearly three years. He was also then in debt. While he felt "demoralised" for having to close yet another business that he started, Pang said that it was "only 10 per cent" of the overall sadness he felt.

"The worst part for me was not being able to feed my family when I was in debt," said Pang, who added that such tight money situations have happened several times – each time he transitioned in his career.

Not the first failure

The experience wasn't the first time Pang tasted failure in business. Earlier in his career, Pang decided to leave his role as an allied educator at the Ministry of Education (MOE) after eight years to open his own hawker stall.

Desmond Pang at his seafood bee hoon stall
Desmond Pang at his seafood bee hoon stall. (PHOTO: Desmond Pang) (Desmond Pang)

"It was a huge risk. I had some savings, so it was a question of whether I would use the savings to further my studies and get a degree or venture out there. I took the leap of faith," said Pang, who had served in the military for seven years prior to joining the MOE.

Armed with about S$25,000 in savings, Pang poured everything he had into a seafood bee hoon stall at the age of 33 years old, marking his first foray into entrepreneurship. At the time, Pang was already a father of two young children, then aged 7 and 9. His wife had a full-time job and agreed to help hold the fort at home while he ran the stall.

Once he got started, it quickly dawned on Pang that he didn't know how to read a profit and loss statement or anything about logistics. He also had trouble finding hires and admitted that he didn't even know how to cook properly. Sensing he was in trouble, Pang's wife left her job to help him at the stall for four months. Nevertheless, after operating for 11 months, the business shuttered for good.

"I lost everything. I even went into debt just to sustain my family's basic needs. When I started, I told myself that I was mentally strong, that I could do it. But the truth was the entrepreneurial scene wasn't as rosy as I thought. Everyone only sees the tip of the iceberg," said Pang.

Subsequently, Pang went back to looking for a full-time job. He eventually found an entry-level role in an advertising company where he picked up skills as a marketeer and salesperson. He was quickly promoted to a managerial role, but the call of entrepreneurship remained strong and he left after a year to start his video production company.

Experience makes one wiser

Despite the costly failures, Pang said that he drew fundamental business lessons from them. He learned how to manage finances, manpower deployment, logistics and dealing with customers. He incorporates these lessons not only in Stark Media but also as part of a service leadership module that he teaches at the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies, where he is an adjunct lecturer.

Pang noted that when he first became an entrepreneur, he "was going out there blind, pure passion". Hence, he wants aspiring entrepreneurs to know that they should be prepared for the challenges ahead and to fill themselves with knowledge.

"There are so many skillsets that an entrepreneur needs, both soft and hard skills. Young entrepreneurs who just graduated without the skills, they think that they are ready," Pang said.

These days, with more wisdom and experience, Pang feels he is finally on the right track with Stark Media. Looking back, Pang said, the most important lesson he took from the journey so far is the value of time.

"I wasted a lot of time. When I was younger, I thought time was infinite, but when I started running a business, I realised that I don't have enough time. But it can be better managed, such that every moment becomes effective. Spend it wisely," Pang advised.

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