Wage Credit Scheme

imageDuring this year’s budget, the government has announced that they would co-fund 40% of the salary increment to Singaporean employees earning a gross monthly wage of up to $4,000. This Wage Credit Scheme (WCS) will apply to increments for year 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Similarly to Special Employment Credit, my staff’s increment was budgeted without expecting the WCS so I’ve decided to pass the credit to my staff in the form of bonus when the company receive the first payout in the second quarter of 2014. I can understand the time required to implement the scheme and computing the payout.

For every $100 salary increment, the government will co-fund $40. So my staff can expect to receive $480 (12 months x $40) in additional bonus in 2014.

I like that the government has implemented the scheme without requiring us to filling any form.This is totally frictionless implementation. Kudos to the government!

As I’ve said before, it is the combined effort of the government, employers and citizens to make our Singapore a more inclusive society. As an employer, I hope to do my part as a Singapore citizen and make our home a more inclusive society.

Year One

Looking back. My first year was one of the hardest and it also holds the most painful memories.

When I started, I thought I had a good product. I thought it would be easy to introduce my product. I was an engineer. I was never a sales person. I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable in the new role. But I knew that in order to start my own business, I had to bravely step over the imaginery line and be thick-skin about it and become a sales person. Anyway, like all fresh entrepreneur, I had the utmost confidence in my product. I had the innocent exuberance. I was a dreamer. I innocently believed that it would be easy-going and I thought my product would rock the world Singapore!

Reality bites. Ouch!

After the initial euphoria of clinching one deal within the first day, I really thought I had it made. It was sheer beginner’s luck that a deal was clinched on the first day. This made the coming failures all the more harder to accept. Unbeknownst to me, the next deal will only come 7 months later and at a much discounted price. There was tremendous pressure to lower price after 7 months of drought and failures.

One of the most humiliating expereince came during my first month of doing my rounds of sale. First, I went to this shop whereby I know the boss was at the counter with his back towards me. I was courteous and made my intention known. I went up to the counter, introduced myself and wanted to pass him my name card. Throughout the conversation, he didn’t turn around or look at me. For the whole duration, I was talking to his back and he kept insisting that the boss is not in. Feeling embarrassed, I left my name card on the counter and thank him for his time before leaving the shop.

I don’t know why but I felt humiliated. I had to calm my nerves at a nearby park. I comforted myself and encouraged myself to continue.

The next shop was not any better. The shop owner was wearing a pair of black sunglasses. I again courteously introduced myself and indicated my intention. Without missing a beat, the shop assistant suddenly stood in front of me, and blocked me from her boss. Her body just kept moving forward that I had to backpedal and suddenly, I was out of the shop and the door just closed in front of me.

I was actually very traumatised by these two experiences that happened within the same day. I didn’t expect a fellow human being can treat another in such a callous manner. I was very distraught by the experience that I kept to myself for the whole month. I didn’t step out of my home for the whole month. I didn’t do any more sales. I just kept myself glued to the computer screen and pretending to be busy. It was so bad that my wife began to worry about me.

It took me a month before I came out from my shell. Till this day, I never forget the experience.

When I started, at the back of my mind, I knew I needed to conserve my financial resources (only $20k). Instead of having my own server, SingaporeBrides.com was started on a web farm. It was hosted in a US server with many other websites sharing the server. The savings were substantial. You are talking about $10 per month vs $1000 per month!

From the onset, I didn’t buy a car. I didn’t think I would need one. I’ll just take public transport like the buses and MRT. But some of the meetings were at locations not easily accessible by buses or MRT. For example, once I was meeting a potential client at The Regent Singapore. I alighted at the bus-stop in front of Far East Plaza and walked all the way to the hotel. I have to plan it such that I’ll arrive 20 minutes prior to the meeting so that I’ll have enough time to cool down and stop perspiring after the long walk carrying a 3kg laptop. I was still wearing long sleeves shirt, tie and pants. Even though due to the hip dot-com culture then, many people has ditched the tie but I felt that wearing a tie was a necessity as I wanted to show that I respected the client and appreciated the time given to me for the meeting.

There was another time when I had walked from Chinatown Point to Delphi Orchard.

If I had to have lunch outside, I would actually look for those non-airconditioned kopitiam cause I can still order a meal at $2 instead of the $3.50 at airconditioned food courts. If I needed a drink, I’ll actually buy a bottle of “Ice Mountain” distilled water caused it is the cheapest drink in the supermarkets. I would take a bottle from the display shelves because those in the fridge are more expensive by $0.10. Probably for the fridge’s electricity bills.

The first year was probably the toughest. It is also by statistics that 99% of startups will fail and give up. I remember wallowing in self-pity during the last night of the year 2000. The future looked so uncertain and bleak. The sense of hopelessness was very engulfing and self-defeating. While many people were happily partying, welcoming the new year, I dreaded it. All the singing and laughter ringed empty in the abyss of my heart. I didn’t know if I should give up but I didn’t know how. By sheer stubborness and pride, I didn’t want to give up. With a simple decision like that, I became the 1% of startups that survived the first year.

My Little Struggles In Life

Primary School (6 years) I was a student who didn’t understand what exams were when I was a young boy. Until my PSLE, that is. For some reason, I suddenly showed some semblance of brilliance during my PSLE. My result was 406 when the top score that year was 425. My parents were very proud of me then. Looking back, I’m glad that I had once made them proud.

I was from an all boys primary school and I had wanted to continue studying in the same secondary school but my mom forced me to choose a co-ed secondary school. She wanted me to grow up in an environment where there were both boys and girls, which she felt would be more conducive for my development. Maybe she was right. That was where I met my wife. 🙂

Secondary School (4 years) Anyway, my sec 2 results were not good enough for me to study ‘A’ mathematics in sec 3. I knew then if I can’t study ‘A’ maths, I won’t be able to do ‘C’ maths and ‘F’ maths in junior college. Then I may not have a good grounding for the engineering course which I had hoped to study in University. I may not even be allowed to choose Electrical and Electronics Engineering. My results in sec 2 would have defined my future life. I looked at my results on my report book then. I did a calculation. My maths result was actually 49.4 and the school rounded it down to 49. If it was 49.5, it would have been rounded up to 50 and I’ll be allowed to study ‘A’ maths and my future would be secured again. I took my report book and with thundering heart, approach the maths department head and appealed. I told her that I only missed the mark by 0.1. I begged her to reconsider. I was only 14 then. It was kinda unheard of at that time to approach the teacher yourself to make such a request. Many would have brought their parents or just give up. I did it on my own and managed to convince the department head to allow me to take ‘A’ maths in sec 3.

Junior College (2 years) Soon, it was secondary 4 and my final year school results were not good enough for me to get into the junior college (JC) of my choice for the first 3 months. I got a score of 16. The JC that I managed to get in during the first 3 months, didn’t allow me to take ‘F’ maths because my results were too poor. The Economics lecturer also refused to teach for the first 3 months while we were there. She said that most of us would leave and go to another JC anyway when the GCE ‘O’ level results were released. She saw no point in wasting her effort. She was right. I had 6 points (for GCE ‘O’ level, the lower the better) and I would be accepted in any JC of my choice. I left and enrolled in one of the top 5 JC in Singapore. But in the new JC, I was strongly discouraged to take ‘F’ maths as I had missed many chapters for the first 3 months already. Because I wanted to study engineering, I knew I had to take ‘F’ maths for my own sake. Many other students dropped ‘F’ maths after the strong discouragement. I held on and struggled. Truth be told, the teachers gave good advice. I never did catch up with both ‘F’ maths and Economics which I missed during the first 3 months. At the end, my ‘A’ level result was not good enough to get me a place in Nanyang Technological University (NTU). The irony was that I passed GCE ‘A’ levels and thus I was not allowed to retake ‘A’ levels again in my JC. Instead, the students who failed their ‘A’ levels were allowed back in the JC to study another year before retaking their exams again. I was stuck. I was neither here nor there. I was in limbo.

Days Of Being A Private Candidate (1 year) I knew my father wanted me to get a degree. He wanted me to be his son who has a degree among the sons of his brothers who had degrees too. I wanted to fulfill my dad’s wish and thus polytechnics cannot be my choice. I can either study in US college or retake my ‘A’ levels at the end of the year as a private candidate. I enrolled in a private school but also took my SATs and TOEFL. When my SATs and TOEFL results were released, I could have studied in US colleges but knowing that my dad would be struggling to support me financially, I kept the results to myself. It was tough being a private student. The private school was not really equipped to teach ‘A’ levels. In fact, we didn’t even have the labs to do our practicals for Physics. Fortunately, we had a teacher who worked hard and found us a secondary school which allowed us to use their labs at night. Unfortunately, secondary school lab was not really equipped for our practicals but beggars can’t be choosers, right? It was tough studying in the day and then attending practicals for two nights a week. But we cheered each other on. We all felt that we were the outcast of society, the rejected. Nobody will be giving us a chance but ourselves. I managed to enroll into NTU.

University (4 years) During my second year, I flunked 3 papers and had to resit them. All my seniors told me that it was quite likely that I’ll only be able to clear 2 papers. It was quite unheard of to clear 3 supplementary papers. If I didn’t pass all 3 papers, I’ll have to retake the whole of year 2 again. I was worried but I just studied as hard as I could anyway. Miraculously, I passed all the papers. In my third year, my dad had a major stroke and slipped into a coma. He was the sole bread-winner of the family. My mom was distraught but she put up a brave front. I had to be strong even though I was emotionally weak. My dad finally managed to regain consciousness after 2 weeks but he was paralysed on the left side. His speech was slurred but he never felt sorry for himself. That’s the way my dad was. Strong. With the financial aid from my uncles and study loan, my family struggled on and I eventually graduated. My mon and dad attended my convocation. He was very happy. I was glad that I could fulfill his wish. Many years later, after my dad passed away, my mom would remark to me that she thought that my dad woke up from his coma because he was worried about me and my sister. He couldn’t just leave us to fend for ourselves then.

After Graduation I rounded up my good buddies and we toyed with the idea of setting up an online portal selling CDs. We were very excited. We were all bitten by the dot com fever and we met at a cafe after work many days a week for many weeks. We even scribbled our ideas on napkins and behaving like wannabe technopreneurs. It was fun then, all the make-believe. We didn’t have the required technical knowledge to setup a portal so my friend invited another person into the group. He was supposedly good at web development. As he knew that we depended on his technical knowlege, he didn’t treat us like his equals; he treated us as though we were beneath him. Eventually, the enthusiasm just faded away and we stopped meeting. It was fortunate anyway that we didn’t start. Just a few months later, Napster would have swept the world by storm and it would have killed our start-up. But I did learn an important lesson: it is better to depend on yourself than others. From then on, I started studying about web development on my own for the next two years. I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet, but I knew the extra knowledge will come useful. I also didn’t want to depend on others again.

Epilogue My wife would remarked one day that through my life, I never gave up when there were setbacks. I would just quietly soldier on. Maybe that’s the quintessential quality of an entrepreneur.

Dont’ give up.

Debris

imagecomics:

Team Hellions has the first advance review of DEBRIS #1 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Riley Rossmo: “some of the greatest creations ever seen on a printed page.”

Kurtis J. Wiebe, creator and writer of DEBRIS, will be signing at Comic-Con in the Image Comics booth #2729.

If you are not viewing this on Tumblr, click here to see all three images.

The Price of a Dream

If you are an executive earning $10k a month, you had a dream but you chose to give it up so you can keep earning $10k a month and more in future. That would be the price of your dream.

If you were a poly lecturer making $5k per month but you gave up the job to pursue your dream of being a volunteer to take care of stray cats at a much reduced income. However, you are happier and derived satisfaction from the volunteer work. That would be the price of your dream.

If you have a dream but currently you are working in a job to earn enough savings for you to realise your dream, even though you may or may not enjoy what you are doing now but that is the price you are willing to pay to realise your dream.

What is the price you are willing to pay for your dream? What was the price I paid for my dream?

I was an engineer making $40k a year. I risked it to develop a product which I thought would benefit and bring convenience to Singapore wedding couples. It took me 3 years before there was a sufficient revenue stream. So in terms of monetary value, the price I paid to pursue my dream was $120k. However, in actual fact, it may be more than that. Assuming a 30 years working lifespan with no increment, my economic value as an engineer would potentially be $1.2 million. If you were me, would you be willing to pay the price?

I was lucky. I wasn’t intelligent as I didn’t consider so many factors. I attribute it to the brashness of youth. I thought my idea was going to be a runaway success so I just ran (pun intended) with my idea. I was naive. On hindsight, it wasn’t such a bad thing.

Maybe I was also stupidly stubborn. I didn’t know when to give up. And I stupidly persevered for 3 years, so much so that I was almost unable to pay my bills. That was the price I was willing to pay.

After 12 years. Now. Looking back. Have I gained more or lost more? Does success have to be measured that way? I would rather choose to contemplate and be satisfied by what I’ve gained.

I’ve more time to spend with my family. I can spend more time with my wife. I’m able to see my children grow. I can be part of their childhood. I’m there for them when they need me. I can be more flexible with my time. Please do not be mistaken for a second that by doing your own thing, you have more freedom or more free time. On the contrary, you have less freedom and more stress as there is no moment when you are not worried about your venture. There isn’t a moment in time where you stop thinking how you can do better and how to outrun your competitors. I work longer hours. Many a times, I sleep for less than 6 hours.

It is also a fact that what I’ve achieved can be lost in a whim and through no fault of my own.

What made me do it then?

I just had to know. I just had to know for sure if I can make my idea work and realise my dream. I don’t want to regret for the rest of my life if someone had successfully implemented a similar idea and it wasn’t me. I don’t want to be plagued by what ifs? If I had tried and failed, at least I would be satisfied with the knowledge that I wasn’t the better person to make it work. In that sense, I’ve also realised my dream, even though it was a failed dream. But at least, I’ve dreamt. I’ve lived.

Do not blame Singapore or the people around you if you dare not live for your dream. Do not blame the society that it does not tolerate failures. The truth is that you don’t tolerate your own failure.

There is a price to every dream. The question is: Are you willing to pay the price?

You Can (Not) Do It

Many years ago when I just started working as an engineer, I had an opportunity to attend a seminar organised by Intel in Penang, which was also where their factory was located. The seminar was related to the introduction of a series of new chips which will be using ball-grid array (BGA) arrangement. The seminar was to let us know how the BGA packaged chips may impact our printed circuit assembly process. As my ex-company was a large customer of Intel, up to four engineers were invited to attend the seminar for free, with flight tickets and hotel lodging provided. The procurement engineer from our company had included my name as he felt that I should attend as one of my future new product will be using BGA devices. We were to fly in on Friday morning, with Intel plant tour and seminar the next day. We’ll be back on a Sunday flight. The only thing I needed to do was get approval from my manager. I thought it would be easy since my department did not have to pay a single cent for me to attend. Boy, was I wrong!

I met my boss at the factory floor with the machines nosily pounding chips onto printed circuit boards.

“Boss, there is an upcoming conference organised by Intel in two weeks time,” I said. “It is about the new ball grid array packaging technology. The procurement engineer has included my name for the seminar and it is free. Just need to get your approval for me to attend.”

“No.” He replied.

I was shocked.

“Boss, but it is about a new technology that we’ll be implementing on the assembly line, it is good that I can attend. Besides, it is free and we won’t need to budget for it.”

“No.” He said again. “Why do you want to go? This packaging technology is not related to our department. It is about how our completed PCAs will be packaged in a box and shiped. It is about packaging technology, which simply means, it is just about boxes.”

When did Intel start making boxes?

“Boss, I think you misunderstood. You can check with the procurement engineer and he can confirm that it is not about boxes.”

“No need. The engineer has already called me and I’ve already told him you won’t be going.”

“But boss, I really think I should go, it is related to my work.” I can feel my temper rising but I spoke with a controlled tone.

“No.”

“Fine. Then I’ll apply leave and attend the seminar. I’ll pay on my own.”

“No, you can’t do it.” He insisted.

“Why?”

“Because it has not been done before and I won’t allow it.”

A short shouting match ensued but it was drowned out by the assembly lines so no one overheard our ‘conversation’.

“Fine. Ok. I won’t go. Happy?” I stormed off.

Two weeks later, I applied leave knowing that my boss would have forgotten the exact dates of the seminar. As expected, he approved my leave. I bought my own flight tickets to Penang making sure that I am on the same flight with the other engineers of my company. I’ve arranged to ‘bunk’ in the room with a colleague whose boss of another department had approved his attending the seminar.

I was glad that I attended the conference. I learnt something that was related to my work. In fact, it gave me a better understanding and I was able to have a better appreciation of the problems related to BGAs in the later months when one of my new product started using BGA chip devices. In fact, I thought that the knowledge was important enough that I actually conducted a short and concise introductory course to my fellow engineers in my department – minus my boss, of course.

Ever since then, if I ever come across any arguement simply stating that “it cannot be done because it has not been done before”, it would really irk me.

Did I regret my decision? No. Did I break rules? Maybe.

Don’t ever let people convince you that you can’t do it because they can’t. Don’t limit your potential based on other peoples expectations. Realise your own potential. Believe in your dreams. You have yourself to answer to.

P.S. The title of this post was inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion.