At just 36 years old, this Singaporean entrepreneur is already a multi-millionaire after his S$30 million sales of Singapore’s largest web hosting business, Vodien Internet Solutions, in 2017.
Now, he is coaching Singapore’s next generation of executives and founders with his Super Scaling pedagogy – a set of hard-won lessons that distils over 17 years of Alvin’s experience heading Vodien Internet Solutions into a few simple, universal principles.
TVM: Tell us more about your journey building Vodien from scratch as a young co-founder and entrepreneur. What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Alvin: I remember that as a 17-year-old kid, starting a business was actually really tough, because the authorities didn’t allow for the setting up of businesses yet for young people under the age of 21.
You can’t even set up a company bank account!
So my dad was absolutely instrumental to our business. He actually helped us set up a company – a legal entity – and also the company bank account.
I think one of the lessons learnt from this was that there’s always a way around things, that there are always other means around obstacles.
TVM: What were your inspirations growing up?
Alvin: I like the fact that my dad was a reader, and we would have lots of books around the house. So being a young and bored kid, one of the things that I will do was to read these random books.
Some of these books will be about business, some will be about self-help, some will be about personal development. One of the people whom I read about was Adam Khoo, who was Singapore’s own rags-to-riches story because he was a person who came from an ordinary background and became a millionaire.
I was also very inspired by Sim Wong Hoo, who was Creative’s co-founder. It’s just incredible that a Singapore company will be able to be on the global stage, producing a piece of computer equipment that everybody around the world will be using.
Creative produces the Sound Blaster, which was what they were the most well known for. The Sound Blaster, which was a sound card, was the industry standard. At a point in time, if you wanted to build a computer, you definitely would want a Sound Blaster inside.
That was so cool, knowing that it was a Singapore company behind that innovation. That showed me that entrepreneurship was something that was entirely possible for anyone to get into.
TVM: Do you think entrepreneurship can be inculcated in anyone, even young children? How and why is it important?
Alvin: Yes, I think entrepreneurship can definitely be inculcated. For myself, it stemmed from a place of survival and necessity. I actually had to find my own pocket money, and as a result, I was constantly looking for different revenue streams. Working part-time was one of them, but eventually, I was looking at how I could be more entrepreneurial and sell products and services.
That just led me to become very interested in entrepreneurship, because as an activity, it was just so much more fulfilling and rewarding than a part-time job.
TVM: What are some of the greatest successes and failures he’s experienced as an entrepreneur?
Alvin: One of the greatest failures that I had was definitely relying on just one channel of sales and marketing as an Internet company, back in 2010. It was a very scary period, where we were completely banned from Google. It wasn’t our fault, we had actually used an SEO agency who used blackhat methods, which caused us to be banned from Google.
One important thing that showed us was the importance of diversification, especially in terms of our sales and marketing channels.
One of my greatest successes was something that happened when I was 17 years old. I actually took my life decisions into my own hands, by deciding on which school to go to.
To give you context, as a kid, my parents were quite protective. And they would make decisions about my life for me — anything from the clothes that I wear to the food that I eat, to the subjects that I will be studying for school, as well as the school activities that I will take part in.
At 17 years old, I made the decision for myself about what I wanted to do, in terms of the course that I wanted to study and actually go for it. That has been my greatest success because after I made that decision, I actually managed to meet my co-founder. And then we started a business together, and I became the person I am today because of that.
TVM: We understand that your attitude towards business and creating wealth is centred around value-creation rather than solely on profit. What inspires this philosophy?
Alvin: I think this stemmed from when I was a kid starting my entrepreneurial ventures. When I started being a freelance web designer, it showed me the need to focus on value-creation.
What I needed to do was to provide a skill or a service that somebody would want, and they will actually pay you for that. That was how you actually got money.
TVM: When you started back in the 2000s, the internet was not that big and starting a business was not as easy? How do you think the entrepreneurial landscape has evolved over the past two decades and how can young entrepreneurs today leverage technological advancements to their benefit?
Alvin: When I started my business back in the 2000s, the Internet landscape was a lot more nascent. In this current time, it is a lot easier to start businesses because all the platforms and tools and services are already out there. You can spin up a website on a hosting company, put up software like WordPress on it, and even download templates so that your site actually looks pretty good right out of the gate. That’s something that you couldn’t do easily back then when I first started my business.
These days, entrepreneurs don’t have to focus so much on the technical aspects of the business, but that also means that competition is fiercer.
TVM: We have a lot of young readers from India and Singapore who are aspiring entrepreneurs. Any message for The Vent Machine readers?
Alvin: For people who are aspiring entrepreneurs, start your business clearly knowing the kind of value that you want to bring to people. Once you have that you essentially have a good product-market fit. It’ll then be a lot easier to start running a business that way. To whoever’s reading this, good luck with your business and I wish you all the best.
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