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Money Choice: What an award-winning company did when business failed

·5-min read
 Kenneth Poh, founder of Apostrophe Films. (PHOTO: Kenneth Poh)
Kenneth Poh, founder of Apostrophe Films. (PHOTO: Kenneth Poh)

SINGAPORE— What does an award-winning company do when faced with dwindling profits and clients? Most would probably give up on their sinking business, but Kenneth Poh saw that as an opportunity instead.

The 47-year-old founder of Apostrophe Films, a film and video production house, pivoted from producing traditional films and advertisements to focusing on the online and digital space. He started Voltmeup, a new brand under Apostrophe films, focused on helping businesses develop social media strategies and content to boost their online presence and sales.

What was the main reason for the business decline?

“I set up Apostrophe Films because I craved creative freedom over my projects and felt I could offer more than what I was doing at my previous job as a director at another film company. Hence, in 2001, Apostrophe Films was born. We produced original content like feature films and TV programmes, commercial content, and did post-production works too.

We certainly did well for a while and won 27 international awards in our heyday. But as time went by, I didn’t manage to grow the company properly. Costs were also going up while clients’ budgets were decreasing. A lot of the younger generation were also starting their own businesses in the industry, which meant increased competition for us.

My fatal error was probably focusing too much on profits, and not enough on what made Apostrophe Films unique. Looking back, the company didn’t have a soul or purpose, which is something I should have fixed to guide our approach to help us stand out from the crowd.

How did you make the shift?

Because business was dwindling, in 2015, I shifted my attention to the social media sphere. I was still dabbling in some small post-production works, but I wanted to focus on the online space from now on. Social media was picking up a lot at this point, and transitioning from traditional TV production to the digital sphere was a natural response to where the market and consumer consumption was going.

And so, in 2020, I set up a new brand under Apostrophe Films – Voltmeup. My two team members and I provide business consultation services and creative solutions for businesses – specifically, small businesses. We create social media strategies and content for businesses tailored to their specific business problems.

Most importantly, however, Voltmeup was a result not of success but of failure, so I was determined to learn from my errors of the past and have a clear purpose. We focus heavily on helping small businesses because I feel that these are the businesses that really need our help. With small budgets, they are often left in the lurch.

How did the change transform the business?

When I set up Voltmeup in 2020, online businesses were picking up because of lockdowns due to Covid-19. I think this probably also helped us garner some traction. We managed to turn a profit about six to seven months in, and business is going well. We’re always fully booked till the next quarter.

I think Voltmeup really transformed when I worked out the purpose of the company. It very naturally changes the way you speak to prospects. You’re no longer merely selling; you’re listening to their problems and thinking for the customers. And so, very naturally, the business will come.

Something I’m interested in exploring in the future is having a partnership programme with some of the businesses we see great potential in. We will create their social media campaigns, websites, and do their advertising for free, for a small percentage of their future profits.

Biggest learning

Overall, although the journey has been challenging, but it’s also been a hundred percent worth it. Yes, I made mistakes, but that’s how I learnt. Failure was my best teacher, and once you start to dissect your failures, you learn a lot. If I had had a cliché or rosy journey, I wouldn’t have become as good a consultant as I am today. It’s precisely because I’ve been through these challenges that I’ve become someone who can help my customers. In a weird way, I hope to make more mistakes in the future, because I know it’ll help me become even better.

My biggest takeaway would probably be that it’s okay to be afraid of the unknown – just don’t let it paralyse you. There are answers out there and one day, you’ll get it.

Advice to entrepreneurs

As a small business owner myself for the past 20 years, I personally know the challenges SMEs face. Apostrophe Films was my biggest success but also my biggest failure. I know that when your business fails, you become very lost and you’re just hoping for some sort of guidance and visibility for the future. Hence, I hope to be able to help these small business owners by being a torch to guide them through the darkness they’re in right now. I don’t want to see them make the same mistakes I did, and if I manage to make a small difference, that’s a really rewarding feeling to have.

For entrepreneurs out there who are going through a rough patch with their business, you probably know by now something isn’t right. My advice would be to ask for help. Look for help, and you’ll be able to find it. It’s possible to turn your business around, so don’t worry too much. You just need a core belief for your company to centre around. Don’t give up, and most importantly, be bold.”

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