About MoonshiPlaying to Win™: My Growth Journey

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My Journey So Far

After 20+ years of building businesses - some of which successfully grow, scaled and exited, and a few more that imploded, leaving me in debt (which I recovered from), leading me to lessons I needed to learn. To date, I’m still learning and navigating this journey of life and business with just 1% daily improvement.

As you’ll see below, I’ve experienced business from many lenses, from selling t-shirts at a cart at Lau Pa Sat, being a director at a 300+ employees company, founded a company that grew to nearly 100 employees, and securing multi-million dollar contracts and partnerships with companies like DBS Bank, Facebook, IBM, Alibaba, Lazada, etc.

Throughout my endeavours in the trenches to the boardrooms, I not only pieced together the rules of the game - but also an efficient strategy to win, win big, win consistently and most importantly, win together with clients, partners and employees.

I call this strategy the Scaling-Up! Playing to Win™ Strategy to Execution framework.
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How It All Started

My first memory of business was the aftermath of my father’s venture collapsing. He had migrated our entire family - five of us, including my mother and two siblings - to Malaysia, to run his frozen meat, chicken poultry and packed 'belachan' (shrimp paste block) business. He lost his business due to a poor partnership that left him cheated and was left with nothing, and we had to return to Singapore.

Our family now lacked a stable source of income, so I dropped out of school at 14+ years of age to help make ends meet. In those years, I tried my hand at many jobs, from toilet cleaning to petrol pump attendant, crew at McDonalds and a sales promoter at department stores.

Eventually, I found myself doing well in sales, and I started a small CD shop in Marina Square. By then I had already discovered that every business needed a unique proposition to stand out; I would start my days early every morning listening to every album in the store. I just needed my customers to hum a tune, and I could tell them the album and track number - even Chinese songs! My favourites are still Beyond, Jacky Cheung, Grasshopper, Leon Lai, Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok, and a few others.

Soon after my 17th birthday, I had to cease the business to report for National Service (military service).
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I Discovered IT

I served my National Service at the Singapore Police Force, and it was a very eventful time for me, where I crossed the toes of many high-ranking officers, and also received many awards. But, those are stories for another time!

The biggest life-changing event, though I didn’t know it at the time, happened to me when I was at the Police Academy. I met a fellow trainee, Benjamin, who introduced me to the world of computers.

Something just clicked in my head - to this day, I can’t explain it. I fell in love with IT and computing, and stayed up for hours past our ‘lights off’ timing with a torchlight to read IT books, PC World magazines, MS-DOS and MS Windows instruction manuals. I found out how computers could control traffic lights, and I devoured all I could about motherboards, RAM, 16-bit ISA bus, VGA adapters, floppy-disks, sound cards and everything in between.

Once I was posted to a Police Division HQ, I started helping fellow officers repair or fix their home PCs. Before I knew it, I started taking house calls after my shifts and making extra pocket money. I also became a shareholder of a PC shop in Johor Bahru, supplying and repairing Intel-486 and Acer PCs, which add a few thousand dollars of income per month.
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My First Career

After NS, I applied for a job at Altron, a computer training school. I had no qualifications, but I convinced the hiring manager, Arthur, to try me out. About 2 weeks later, one of their lecturers had an accident, and I was hired to take his place teaching students! Then, my manager left to join a new company (Information Edge) and asked me to follow him as an IT officer. That company was acquired the next year, and I became a Systems Engineer. (Horizon.com)

My career progressed quickly over the next few years, riding the waves of the IT dotCOM boom. I went from Systems Engineer to Pre-Sales Engineer, to Technical Manager, Systems Manager, Director of IT and VP of Products & Services. I was getting poached from company to company. I was more valuable to my bosses than other colleagues. Perhaps because I didn’t have a formal education, I became good at strategic thinking and solving real-world problems while taking a long-term approach to problem-solving, and that led me to solve bigger problems for the companies I worked with.

In July 1999, I found myself alone in China, tasked with nearly an impossible problem to solve. I am implementing a factory system and need to secure the network with a firewall but there was no budget in the project to procure a firewall! There was no pre-packaged or free firewall software solution that I could install on the Sun Microsystem server. Even after scouring all the forums using the Alta Vista search engine on a slow internet connection, accessible via a 28.8 kbps modem, I could not find any ready solution. Long story short, I discovered Linux OS, rolled up my sleeves, learned it, and within 2 months, built my solution from scratch - a network firewall using Linux. I published my guide online, “Linux Firewall with IPFWADM”, on how to build a free network firewall with an open-source system.

Within days, it became a hit! Multiple big-name websites including LinuxWorld published my article, and I became like a small celebrity in the tech community. I received job offers from 11 companies.
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My First Boom… and Crash

I went for multiple interviews and chose to work with WizOffice.com, a B2B e-commerce company. I started as a Systems Manager and became an IT Director at just 24 years old. Within 3 years, we scaled the company to 300+ employees, and soon after we brought the company public through an IPO, raising about $49M. Now that I understood the financial rules of the game, I was hooked on the new possibilities of growing and scaling a business, while leveraging the power of technologies.

Like the dotCOM boom, it seemed like my career growth had no limits - until it came crashing down overnight. I had put all my savings into a portfolio of tech stocks, having grown it to more than half a million dollars, no small sum for a 24-year-old. After 2001, I was left with just $7,000 cash.

At the same time, there was another bubble within me that burst, bringing me down to the lowest point of my life. For the past few years my ego had gone unchecked - I was probably the most cocky young IT professional in the IT industry in Singapore. When I started my own IT business, it failed horribly, ending in a long-drawn-out lawsuit.

In those dark days, I was forced to reflect and accept responsibility that I was the problem. It was clear that beyond technical skills, there was much more to running a business that I had to learn.

CommGate

With this new mindset, I cautiously started my next IT business with my last $3,000. So, in 2005, CommGate was born.

Over the next 12 years, we pivoted 3 times. We started as a Systems Integrator and then doubled down on CRM and ERP systems for SMEs between $5m - $30m in revenue. It was through these years that I found huge success in combining soft skills with my refined problem-solving framework. This became the foundation of the Scaling-Up! Playing to Win™ Strategy to Execution framework that I use, teach and facilitate for SME leaders.

At the peak of CommGate, we discovered a huge potential market for one of our ERP modules - inventory management. It is a $1.3 trillion problem globally. Due to the e-commerce boom, there were over 9 million merchants across Asia who struggled to manage multiple e-commerce marketplaces platforms like Alibaba, Qoo10, Lazada, Taobao and more.

We created a SaaS solution - and through partnerships with Alibaba, Lazada, Qoo10, DBS Bank and Facebook, we were given opportunities to serve 180,000+ merchants worth over $290m worth of annual contracts!

In the journey of creating a great SaaS product, we were also developing our internal product "the CommGate Culture". I was very proud of the team I built, and this was memorialised when CommGate won the “Top 10 Best Tech Companies to Work for Awards 2015” by the Singapore Computers Society, alongside global companies like Microsoft, Red Hat, Ubisoft and LinkedIn.
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Today

Today, I use my life and business experiences, knowledge and journey to facilitate the acceleration trajectories of businesses in Southeast Asia.

I founded Scaling-Up! Ventures as a Strategy Innovation, Growth and Service design company to introduce, teach and facilitate strategic thinking, planning and implementation of the Playing to Win™ Strategy to Execution framework, which is proven to grow and scale businesses sustainably, no matter the industry.

In the last 5 years, I’ve helped over 30+ companies grow and achieve their desired business outcomes, adding a total of $210m in revenue to these businesses.

In 2022, I was approached to lecture at SMU’s (Singapore Management University) Enterprise Leadership for Transformation programme, taking charge of the Strategy, Strategic Thinking and Strategy Execution module.

In 2023, I was deeply honoured to have been appointed an Affiliate Faculty at SMU. Can you imagine, a secondary school dropout teaching at a top university?

Wow! I had tears rolling when I saw the email invitation.
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The Future

Throughout my life, I’ve demonstrated that no matter how many times an entrepreneur fails or falls, they could make a comeback again and again as long as they have the Grit, Mindset, Values and ability to apply the Scaling-Up! Playing to Win™ Strategy framework.

This is exactly what I want to impart to thousands of SME leaders across Southeast Asia and create a legacy of ethical businesses that win, win big, win sustainably and win together with their clients, employees and key partners to create a symbiotic ecosystem that is sustainable.

I hope we can work together one day to give your business Purpose, Clarity, and Direction and work towards achieving your desired business Outcomes, delivering one Outcome, every 90 days.
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