When I started my venture, I started with $20k in my savings account. In the first month alone, I spent $2.5k on a laptop. Eleven years ago, that only got me a Digitek laptop running on Celeron chip that was 3kg in weight. I spent another $3k on a print ad for SingaporeBrides.com in Her World Brides magazine. In total, $5.5k was ‘burnt’ in the first month alone and that constituted about 25% of my starting capital. Instinctively, I knew I had to be careful with my spending as I didn’t know how long it was going to take before my venture is profitable.
During that time, many dot-coms started with having dedicated servers in local data centres for their websites and portals even though they may not have high traffic or visitors. Instead, I chose a cheap web hosting provider from the US (US$9.99 per month). SingaporeBrides.com began as a website hosted in a server in US (web-farm) with many other websites in it. I chose an open-sourced (and free!) server configuration which is now commonly known as LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) when at that time, most local start-ups server of choice was running licensed Microsoft softwares.
As I was working alone, I didn’t really need an office as I can work from home and all I needed was my trusty 56.6kbps dial-up modem and I’m connected to the cyberspace with the then available Starhub surf-for-free plan. The fired-up modem would sound the familiar chimes every morning making connection to the Internet to download my e-mails. The connection will be disconnected immediately once all my emails are retrieved to save on my dial-up phone bills. I was so cautious in my resources that I was using my friend’s office address as my registered address. I was so wary to not even wanting to spend the monthly fees of a virtual office address.
For the first year, I had only 2 clients.
And all this while, I still have to pay the monthly mortgage of my HDB loan, utility and phone bills. Thank goodness for CPF that was accumulated from my four years of working in Compaq!
From the start, I was prepared for the long haul. I just didn’t know how long. I knew I just had to scrimp and save every single cent.
When I went for my meetings with potential prospects, I never took cab. I made it a point to take only buses and minimise transfer. When the bus does not stop at the destination, I would stop at the closest bus stop and walk the rest of the way. I would be in my work attire (long-sleeves, tie and formal pants) and carrying my 3kg heavy laptop. After about 15 minutes walking under the Singapore hot sun, I would almost be drenched in my perspiration so I always make it a point to arrive 30 – 45 minutes before appointment time so that I have sufficient time to cool down and wait for my attire to dry.
There was once when I had my appointment at Chinatown and my next appointment at Delphi Orchard with 2 hours in between, I walked just to save the bus fare.
Whenever I was thirsty and if I needed a drink, I would look for the cheapest water (Ice Mountain FTW!) in the supermarket and I would buy the bottle from the shelf instead of the chiller because it costs ten cents cheaper! And if I had my meeting in Starbucks, I would buy whichever drink and size that my prospect requested while I’ll be drinking the cheapest beverage which was the smallest sized ‘brew of the day’. If I’m outside, I would usually skip lunch or buy the cheapest bread to curb my hunger.
As a self-employed and funded entrepreneur, there is no difference in my personal and business expenditures. Every dollar I spent came from the same coffer. While I work at home, I also didn’t turn on my air-con to cut down on my utility bills. It came to a point that I don’t turn on the heater for bathing even if it was a rainy night just to save on the electricity bills. I also hardly went for movies with my wife and bought any books and magazines. Without saying, we didn’t go on any vacation or went travelling.
These had gone on for a stretch of 3 years. Even though I had scrimped and saved, my savings eventually dwindled to a few hundred dollars and my CPF had long ran out of funds and no longer able to make the mortgage loan by CPF alone. I didn’t even dare to let my wife know as I didn’t want her to worry. At that moment in time, I thought I finally had to give up my dream and start looking for a job.
Just when I was about to throw in the towel, something happened. I began to have clients! It started as a trickle and eventually it grew to a constant stream! My business finally reached its tipping point on the third year!
Looking back, I was glad that I had scrimped and saved every single cent. If I had not, I wouldn’t have enough resources to last until the final moment.
Similarly, like exit strategy, it was only in my later years that I realised what I did was “bootstrapping”.