By Mr Imran Mohamed
In the throes of a technical recession, can our young Singapore entrepreneurs create the next billion dollar company? In the US, out of the more than ten thousand tech startups founded each year, less than 20 typically go on to reach $1 billion-plus exits. 645 Ventures based there noticed a trend – that market cycles did not affect the number of these billion dollar companies created each year.1 Based on current trajectories, there is hope – with some key success factors that business, government and community can keep in mind, because their successes are ours.
Supporting the next generation of B-dollar companies not only means tremendous wealth creation for those companies, shareholders and employees, but for many others in their industries, supply chain, and Singapore as a whole. Possibly, this could contribute to ensuring Singapore’s competitive edge and prosperity for years to come. Indeed with many retrenchments, complete exit or shutdown of international companies, growing local businesses may provide the jobs and economic moat we need.
Most notably, Razer, Grab and SEA (parent of Shopee and Garena) are Singapore HQ-ed billion dollar companies. Acknowledging their rising success, the next question would be, what would it take to nurture the next batch and are there already seeds planted in our ecosystem to nurture to that stage?
Firstly, companies to adopt a mantra, “Disrupt or be disrupted.”
Shamir Rahim, CEO of VersaFleet, came from a family in the logistics business. Looking at challenges and inefficiencies of managing vehicles, drivers and routes, his desire to automate management led to the creation of his software.
Today his software powers large companies like Resorts World and their fleet of vehicles and in 2018 received a Series A funding of S$2.8M2 on the back of growing revenues 350% annually for 3 years in a row.
Whether in a traditional industry like logistics or new, the pace of technology, consumers and markets changing is fast and the Winners are those that continuously improve and obsess on adding value to customers.
Secondly, for our local businesses, we have to leave your hometown.
While Singapore has a population of over 5 million, just across our border, in Malaysia lies a market of 31 million, and Indonesia at more than 300 million.
Pondok Abang is a prime example of this, starting from humble food stall beginnings, before the 2nd generation owner, Hasan Basri, set the vision of packaging and exporting delicious Singapore Malay cuisine internationally. Sowing the seeds can take time and in this case, it involved setting up manufacturing facilities, cold storage, international licenses and multi-territory Halal Certification, and getting the Enterprise Singapore Tasty Singapore Brand Ambassador recognition in order to sell globally. Further, our strengths of knowledge of language, culture and religion of regional and Muslim markets should be tapped when expanding.
Thirdly, technology must be embraced.
In school, Faizola Nordin and Ahmad Sarib were considered social outsiders. Yet their curiosity and affinity to pursue the new meant that they were positioned to develop new ideas and technologies to help decision makers make better decisions. This led to the creation of DataVis, where through data visualisation and analytics they work with public agencies to plan resources and services better. Their outside perspective allowed them to embrace the possibilities of technology to see the insides of public and private services with a different eye – and that has brought them to national trade delegations to various countries around the region to help them expand.
Lastly, as a community, we must rally together.
There will be few that have the vision, execution and tenacity to build a billion dollar empire. That said, everybody plays an important part. For every successful founder, there is a management team, a team of dedicated employees, a community of supportive family and friends. For every successful enterprise, there is a network of suppliers, clients, partners and industry contacts that benefit from their growth. Our bright future lies in us joyously and courageously lifting each other up without selfish expectation.
Government, industry, individuals that have benefited from the system must rally together to support the rising companies. Venture and corporate funds do exist to identify and back such companies. For example, Secret Lab, the gaming chair company with cult following was invested in by Heliconia Capital Management, a Temasek Holdings Subsidiary at a $300M valuation.
Yet, while capital is the common thing entrepreneurs cite as needed support, it isn’t sufficient. Therein lies the role of organisations like SMCCI. While business can be a lonely journey, entrepreneurs in organisations like chambers can network, support one another, and not just through commercial deals and connections, but through a supportive community and peer mentoring through the highs and lows of running and growing a business. For some, they may strike a hot deal, and for others, knowing they are not alone, suffices in them taking their next step in the journey.
Our hope for the future lies in the leadership of our youth today. In business specifically, support from the government, having industry captains to support and mentor the upcoming entrepreneurs, businesses banding together with individuals daring to dream, put the correct level of action
corresponding to their dreams without being discouraged by setbacks, is the only logical way to build tomorrow’s success stories, one step at a time. Boldly, yet surely.
It is time to rally, dream big, and act now – or risk being irrelevant. If not us who? If not now when?