By Chelsea Ong
SINGAPORE — Running his own business has always been a dream for Frankie Wong. The 53-year-old dabbled in the CD business for a year in 2004, but decided to return to a salaried job when CDs went out of trend. Now, nearly 20 years later and seven months after buying a new house for his family, he made the leap to quit his full-time job to start a business and become the exclusive distributor for Singapore and Malaysia for Debo, a German kitchenware brand.
Here’s his story.
“I was first asked to be the exclusive distributor when my business associate in China invited me to market the brand in Southeast Asia. He had invested in a master franchise in China and sales were good, so he thought this was a good time to expand to other markets. At that point in time, I was still working full-time and didn’t give his proposal much thought.
A few months later, COVID-19 hit. I started working from home, and had more time to look over his proposal. At that point in time, many people had started taking up cooking and baking at home, and I realised that there wasn’t really a household brand name for kitchenware in Singapore. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that there might be a gap in the local market that I could fill.
Furthermore, I had been in my previous job as an IT accessory distributor for almost six years, and had a desire for new challenges. My current business partner is also a seasoned businessman, so I did feel more reassured with him by my side. This combination of push factors eventually led me to take a chance on this business opportunity.
Seven months after buying my new house, I left my job. The timing was coincidental, and both decisions were independent of each other. I already had money set aside to pay for the house, so it was not an important factor in my decision to start a business. My wife and I had always intended to buy a new house sometime down the road because my three children are growing up and need their own space at home.
My business partner and I gave ourselves two years to make our business a viable and sustainable one. I have also put aside savings to ensure my family is taken care of and all expenses are paid for these two years. I am optimistic that this business will do well as I’m selling a good product with a potential market, and I hope to be profitable in our first year. It’ll be good if I can replicate the system in Singapore for Malaysia as well, and eventually expand to Southeast Asia in the long term.
If the business doesn’t turn out to be profitable after two years, I’m not sure if I’ll go back to being an employee. The business environment is a dynamic one – who knows, maybe I’ll pick up some other business opportunities along the way that I can work on if this business doesn’t work out.
Perhaps my mindset can be summed up as “I’ll learn as I go”. As I am in a new industry now, I face a steep learning curve. I have to learn about e-commerce which is the future for businesses. I’m also looking into marketing and advertising strategies with influencers and celebrities to create top-of-mind product awareness, so it's a lot to learn.
In total, I’ve invested about S$20,000 to S$30,000 in the office and other expenses. The Productivity Solutions Grant from the government did offset about 70 per cent of the website cost, so I was able to save on that front.
Through it all, I’m fortunate that my family has been supportive. I ask my mother about her thoughts on my wares, and she gives her expert opinion from her years of experience of cooking. As my target is generally younger consumers, I also ask my children for their thoughts.
Overall, I don’t think I’ve faced many challenges yet. I’m only three months in, so I’m still relishing this new experience. Of course, there is a transitory period in getting used to being self-employed — like not having a regular paycheck coming in monthly — but I have no regrets about my decision.
A philosophy I’ve taken to heart throughout this whole experience is that one is never too old to learn. Starting a business is a risky business, but it’s also a good learning opportunity.
For those who are thinking of starting your own business, you need to carefully consider your circumstances. There’s no one size fits all solution – everyone’s situation is unique. For myself, even if my business doesn’t take off, it will not affect my family’s finances or plan for the next 10 years. If you have a family to support as well, make sure you think this through and carefully consider all scenarios before making a decision.”
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