We started Teledirect in 1995 in Singapore with a really tiny set-up and we now have 5 offices in Asia employing 1,500 personnel. Our growth has been driven by demand in outsourcing of call-center services in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Our clients include Singapore Airlines, Nespresso, Louis Vuitton, Intel, Citibank, Google, Standard Chartered Bank and many others. Our focus is in high-end, high-touch services for organisations that demand maximum performance. We provide them with the infrastructure, personnel and overall call-center management to meet or exceed their service levels.
We have recently ventured into online and particularly the distribution of insurance through two new online portals: Comparexpress.com in Singapore and gluaygluay.com in Thailand. These two portals support our financial sector clients and leverage online demand and integrate it with the call-center. The combination of an online and call-center delivery for our clients delivers outstanding results.
What makes a pioneering idea a successful business?
The problem with pioneering ideas is that clients usually doubt their effectiveness, as few benchmarks are available. So the role of the pioneer is rather ingrate. He/she goes around markets evangilising and once clients have adopted the new idea, competitors rush in to copy the innovative service. That’s inevitable and the pioneer needs to understand that and have the perseverance and foresight to continue to innovate despite the hurdles, and the frustration.
The success also depends also on the quality of the idea and the execution of the business model. The world is full of ideas that were too innovative too early or that were poorly executed. I believe that success comes 10-20% from the idea and 80-90% from execution. Timing plays an important role and could account for quite a big chunk of your success.
Why did you set up your business in Singapore?
The big driver for me was safety and ease to set-up. As a foreigner, I felt Asia was quite diverse and business risk for a small player was lowest in Singapore. I was right however, the market size was not very large and the appetite for our services was not very high. It took some time to get traction but very quickly we were able to expand into South East Asia and Singapore was a great platform both from a logistics and reputation standpoints. As we are a Singapore based firm, the country’s reputation in Asia and in the world does weigh a bit in our client’s decision to appoint us.
What was the most difficult challenge to overcome on your entrepreneurial journey?
There were so many challenges. The first one was to start a business with no money. However, eventually, I realised that having no money is more of an asset than a disadvantage. It forces you to be more entrepreneurial and to invest sparingly in what matters most. With more financial resources, one tends to overspend and the return on this spend does not necessarily materialise. Not owing money to anyone also brings you peace of mind and allows you to really focus on your dream and not on pleasing anyone else.
The most challenging part however was to convince customers to try our service and to deliver this service despite our limited capabilities initially. I used to handle accounting, marketing, finance, IT, HR, training, Management and I would occasionally be the cleaner for the company.
But those were great times and I would do it all over again if I had to.
Could you share a few tips for new entrepreneurs?
Humility is a great quality to have and everyday we are reminded that it pays to keep cool and to listen. The few tips I have are:
1. Start on your own. Don’t take an associate. Especially a friend, who does not bring enough to the table. If it is a financier, then it is something else. You can always offer shares eventually to a strategic partner but do not take a partner early because you are afraid to be alone.
2. Don’t listen to all people telling you that what you are doing will not work. Nobody knows until they try. Imagine trying to convince an investor that you are going to set-up a Starbucks next to a Killiney Kopitiam in Singapore and charge 6-7 times more for a coffee. They would laugh in your face.
3. Once you fail, start again. Big corporations like Microsoft and others have had countless and costly failures. Your chance to succeed as an entrepreneur is probably a 1 out 5 or 1 out of 10. But that one time will pay for all the other failures. So don’t give up.
4. Persevere. Everything takes so much longer than anticipated. Someone once said that overnight success usually takes 15 years.
Your motto in life
Have no regrets, move forward, don’t look back !
Your business motto
Persevere and Listen.