“I fell into an antisocial, hermit crab phase”
October 30, 2011 by Sharon Lourdes Paul
This is the third article from the “Mistakes made, lessons learnt” series. Check out all the articles here.
Websites & founder: SingaporeBrides.com, SingaporeMotherhood.com, Ng Chin Leng
Biggest mistake made: Assuming that everyone will think highly of his idea and participate.
Most memorable setback: Having only two clients in the first year of business.
SingaporeBrides was never funded by external investors, and it is far from being the new kid on the block. Instead, Chin Leng built it up over the course of 11 years with an initial capital of S$20,000.
Today, the website brings in 3-4 million pageviews per month, with another 8 million over at SingaporeMotherhood. Together, both sites generate an annual revenue of more than SG$1million (US$0.8million).
Unlike the previous two interviewees in this series, Chin Leng has never made any detrimental mistakes. Instead, he experienced many small revelations while moving his business forward.
“Dream big. But remember that the reality is to build your business Internet bit by Internet bit.”
Fresh out of retrenchment in 2000, Chin Leng found himself toying with the idea of setting up a portal for wedding planning. While preparing for his own wedding, he noticed a lack of relevant information online and wondered if there was a demand to be met. With a reassuring nudge from the wife, the journey for SingaporeBrides began.
Lesson 1: Recognizing the importance of offline support
Back in the old Web 1.0 days, persuading bridal shops to jump onto the web bandwagon and advertise on the Internet took great effort. Advertising cost was not the main barrier. Rather, many bridal shops and wedding service providers did not even have an Internet service, let alone a website to showcase on SingaporeBrides.
Realizing this, Chin Leng modified his pitch to bridal shops: He offered to design their websites for free so that they’ll be enticed to advertise on his website. For some clients, he even went to the extent of providing offline support such as setting up a free Internet surfing plan (then, it was Starhub Surf-for-Free) and email accounts. His hard work paid off, and the bridal shops became more receptive.
“I fell into an antisocial hermit-crab phase.”
Very candidly, he narrated two very demoralising and humiliating incidents that happened in a single day when he went out for the first round of sales visits. These incidents caused him to be so depressed that he stayed home for an entire month.
At a potential advertiser’s shop, Chin Leng stood opposite the business owner, pitching an idea that was uncommonly heard of. However, in return, the business owner failed to display any social courtesy and had his back facing Chin Leng throughout the conversation.
At another boutique, Chin Leng was not given the chance to explain his business idea — with just an instructive glance from the owner, a boutique staff stationed herself between the two of them, took a step forward with each word she spoke, effectively forcing Chin Leng out through the door of the shop.
Lesson 2: Dark days will come after the Honeymoon phase
Being an newbie in sales, these setbacks were too much for him to take. I asked him, “What was your darkest moment?”
“New year’s eve,” replied Chin Leng.
With the need to support a family, and having such poor sales, it’s no wonder that this supposedly celebratory occasion turned into a day to reflect on his fears for an uncertain future.
“In the Internet world, there can only be space for Number One.”
Out of the blue, Chin Leng handed out this advice: “In the Dot.com world, in whatever space you’re in, there’s only place for a Number One.”
This hit me pretty hard. It is true that in the online realm, your competitor’s website is just a Google search or a click away.
Lesson 3: Find the “hook” for your business
To become that Number One, your business needs to have a “hook”. That hook must answer the key question your targeted users have.
For SingaporeBrides, it was a Banquet Price Comparison List that compares the rates of wedding banquet venues. For SingaporeMotherhood, it was a forum that allowed new mothers to share their happiness and teething problems. Both solved immediate needs that the soon-to-be-wedded and mothers-to-be have when preparing for the next phase of their lives.
With many other nuggets of wisdom shared during our meeting, it was hard to pick out just a handful to write about. Nevertheless, throughout the three-hour chat with Chin Leng, it is clear that these three lessons have defined the success of SingaporeBrides and SingaporeMotherhood. His persistant adaptation to the constant changes of the Internet turned his ideas into a fledging business today.
To end off, here’s a final quote from him:
“Building a company is exactly like conquering the levels in a video game. With each level up, things will only get harder and harder. Seldom will it be easier for you. ”
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About The Author
Sharon Lourdes Paul - Resident Contributing Writer
Sharon is the co-founder of SPACES, Singapore's portal for creative venues. She was formerly the co-lead of StartupRoots Singapore programme 2012. Aligned to these formal pursuits, her personal raves include UX, architecture/space design, urban planning, city living and cooking. Spot her at her blog and @sharonlourdes.Read other posts by Sharon Lourdes Paul