Alan Soh

I am my own columnist, sharing my own thoughts and experiences!

Spirit of Enterprise

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To many of us, to become an entrepreneur is a dream.

A dream to pursue our passions.  But it also requires one to have guts, foresight , boundless energy and a winning mindset to do so.

A friend of mine, whom I came to know and worked with, when I was involved with SHINE Youth Festival 2008, took that one step forward and set up his own events management company.

Today, the efforts of this former banker paid off and he is one of the 96 nominees for the upcoming Spirit of Enterprise 2010 Awards.

He is Garrison Teo, founder and Managing Director of OMG Ideology Private Limited.

Congrats Garrison! Have a lot to learn from you! =)

Note: Established in 2005, OMG is a one-stop event and marketing company that offers comprehensive event management solutions. The team’s expertise, talents and experience to conceptualize, coordinate and execute the events in accordance to the client’s objectives often leave lasting impressions for many event participants. The company continuously strive to bring out the most innovative ideas. Together with a passion for success and commitment to excel, they turn ideals into reality!

Here is his company address – 809, French Road, Kitchener Complex, #06-168, Singapore 200809.

1. What is the nature of your business?
We are in the business of event management as well as marketing. Our core business is events and we use this strength as a platform for business marketing through trade shows, road shows, etc. We create events not just for fun but for promoting of certain campaigns and marketing of products or services to our clientele’s audience.
2. When and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur / take over your family business, if any?
I started out my career as a banker. Its something that I wanted to do since young. I was headhunted to start off WorldCard (Singapore), which is a Genting International subsidiary, to assist them in the business development. While I was in the banking industry, I was in the business development of credit cards, of which my role includes partnering the new credit cards with merchants in Singapore. With these skill sets that I have, I was asked to assist the Genting group under World Card (Singapore) to start their own programme locally. Moving on, I transferred to Star Cruises. And from Star Cruises, I left to start this business. Working in Star Cruise got me thinking that since I was involved in the corporate and events department; why not venture out on my own. I like what I was doing in my previous job, but not all events and campaigns are what I like to do. I do not have the final say of decisions. When you are working for somebody you are at the mercy of their budget and the bosses. I enjoy the feeling of being my own boss because I can choose to do what I want to do and I can let my passion lead me. When I am working for myself, I take on some projects that I am really doing for passion and interest, such as dance competition. My dad used to own a record shop many years back, so my music inclination and entrepreneurship interest comes from him. That was in the 70s to 80s. He also set up an inbound tour company with a partner. Because he had done these before, therefore seeing him do business, my interest grew.
3. What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?
When I was young, my ambition was to be a banker and I did that. True enough, being a banker I get to earn good money. Then I came to a point at the peak of optimum and that was when I knew I needed to do something different. Banking job is routine and can sometimes be boring. So when opportunity knocks, I went the plunge into a non-banking and non-financial industry. Entering the travel industry through WorldCard and then to Star Cruises. It was in creating and managing events that I felt satisfied at the end of the day. When I saw an event where many faces were lilted up, the execution was done perfectly, the satisfaction went beyond monetary reward.
4. How did you put together all the resources needed to start your business? For example: getting the start-up capital, hiring staff, doing sales and marketing, advertising, etc.
Initially when I started OMG, I had partners. We came together based on the merit of skill sets which I think were needed for the new start-up. We pull all our resources together to start the company. I was the ringleader who identified the different individuals and convinced them to quit their job to do this with me.
5. What are some interesting stories you have about your first few customers/first few years in business?
When we were a new company, we were unknown. And I needed to gain the trust of the supplier, my team, my family and most importantly the clients. Who is going to believe us that we can deliver what we promise when they have not heard about us? We had no track record and no expertise in the sense that we did not have any case story to present. That is why I believe in the importance of contacts. When I first started the company, I kept with me a very closely-knitted network of people brought along through my previous work experience. I started projects with my previous work partners, Genting, Star Cruises and World Card because they already had the trust in me. From there, I developed my new business.
6. What are some of the challenges you faced when you first went into business?
In these six years of running this business, I have encountered a lot of interesting clients. I have also run into people who try to knock us down and those who backstab us, spreading untrue rumours about certain projects we did. These are our fair share of bums and bruises; we are able to ride through the difficulties because we are doing things the right way.
7. How did you overcome these challenges?
We are never deceiving, always being very upfront and honest (to our clients and team members). To me, making money is secondary but doing what I have promise is important. I do this to both my customers and my own team. My team knows how transparent I am with the profit margin and bottom line. They know how hard we work. There were projects which we worked out our souls, pumped in few hundred thousands of dollars, yet the harvest that we ripped was minor and insignificant. However, we know we have done a good job. At the end of the day, it is passion that drives us to deliver what we have promised people. It is our spirit of excellence drives us to deliver beyond expectation.
8. The event industry is very competitive, isn’t it?
I look beyond competitiveness and we hardly compare ourselves with other companies. Not that we are indifferent towards them, but rather we look inwards at how creative we can be and what we can produce for our clients. When working with statutory boards or government agencies, they usually require three quotations. Instead of focusing on what others are giving, we rather choose to focus on ourselves and what we can deliver. We have competitors and we cannot control their thoughts and actions, but we can control our own ideas; given the same task, how creative can we be, based on the economics of scale, we produce the best value and market it. It may sound unoriginal but we believe that the worst enemy we have is ourselves. There is truth to it, and when we see that we can break through it. We are not afraid to fail and we cannot say that we have not failed. In fact, we had. But we keep on moving forward, doing things that people don’t want to do or don’t dare to do. That’s also why we do not wait for events to come by, we create events.
9. Can you remember your worst day in business or a time when you felt like giving up? What happened that made you feel that way and how did you triumph over it?
Everyone, be it an employer or employee, would have come across a time when we feel like giving up, thinking that we may be better off somewhere. In business, it’s also the same. There are times when I thought, why not go back to work, I could be in a comfortable environment, minding my own stuff and whether I deliver a good job or not, nobody cares. Whenever I am in these difficult times, I always kept reminded of my belief that I started the business is to make my life less miserable, and to be happy doing what I am doing. I hold on to the very first reason why I started the company; that at the end of the day, this company will be my son taking care of me in my twilight years.
10. Is your family, in particular your wife, supportive of you starting the business?
I left my previous job in Nov 2005 with Star Cruises and immediately I started my business. I got married in 2006 and got my own house. A lot of things happened and it was a very tough year for me. When I made the decision (to start my business) she was supportive. However, after one, two years, she began to have doubt about it. And in business, the first few years are always the toughest because no one knows who we are. But given a choice to turn back time, I wouldn’t get married, start a business and renovate my house all in the same year. It was very tough.
11. When was the moment you realised the business would work and support you? ?
I see my team going stronger and I see the company profile grows from 8 pages to 24 pages of pictures. What is worthwhile are the fruits that we bear by the results that we see. It is the assurance that we received from our clients that keeps us going. The clients we have since Day One are still with us today.
12. What are some of your proudest business achievements to date? And why are they so important and meaningful to you?
In 2009, we did the Dance Crown of Honour, it’s a hip-hop street dance competition by OMG and Genting International. We are both the organisers and nobody has actually done this before. We organised the audition quarter-finals in the respective states. In Malaysia, it was Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur. We did not get a third party to organise this. So we ran the entirety of it renting the venues, talking to the sponsors, going there (to Malaysia) and managing the event ourselves. At the end of the day, the response was very good. The dance arena was talking about it. We went to Genting Highlands to hold the finals Singapore dancers verses Malaysia dancers. It was a heart-warming experience. They were from different background, different culture, different nationalities, yet coming together with dance as the common language. After the event, everyone started connecting with each other via Facebook even when they don’t even speak each other’s (local) language. We are hoping to make this a yearly event and to expand it regionally. We hope that in the subsequent years we will involve youths from Taiwan, The Philippines and Korea (South). The other one was a travel fair. One day we received a call and we were offered to do a travel fair by a certain meida company . We had a very short time to make our decision. After receiving the news, on the third day we went to Suntec Conventional Centre to sign the venue rental on the spot. It was a bold step but in the end it was well-organised. Some Malaysian partners saw our advertisement on Channel 8 and Channel U and called us over to Johor Bahru to partner for similar events with them.
13. Were you a hip-hopper? Why the interest in organising a mega dance competition?
I used to have a staff who is very good at hip-hop dancing and he is a choreographer. He is very passionate when it comes to dancing and is still dancing and coaching people. Once, I asked him if given a chance what event would he want to do, and he mentioned wanting to do a big scale dance competition. So we worked towards it and I fulfilled the promise by organising it last year. It’s because someone has a dream and it’s within my ability and interest. I think it’s feasible and we bring our dreams together, make it happen and put it into reality.
14. How did your business expand from Singapore to overseas?
When we do a good job, such as the Travel Fiesta, our frame spread overseas. And the other thing is about networking and vision. We do not just want to do a business in Singapore because in Singapore itself it’s very competitive. Our advantage (as Singaporeans) is that we are very well-versed in the western and the eastern culture more than our neighbours. We have a Singapore brand here. And when you are a Singapore company going to Malaysia for example, they see you differently. When we go into these markets, we bring to them new things and the way how we do our business here.
15. Where or who do you get your business ideas from?
No one person or source in particular. I enjoy reading books and newspaper, especially the politics, social and entertainment section. My team plays an important role in contributing to our ideas during our panel of meetings on what is doable and what is not. I get ideas from all angles, even from watching movies. I need to be creative. This is a prerequisite of my job. I need to look at different places (for ideas) and read news to find out what’s happening around the world. I get my inspiration from brilliant ideas that someone else did, and I modify them to come up with my own ideas.
16. Do you agree when others say that Singaporeans are not very creative?
The person who says that Singaporeans are not creative is true for him. His ‘Singapore’ is his world and basically that is what it is for him. What people are trying to say here is that it is not that Singaporeans are not creative but that they don’t dare to be creative, because of the rules and regulations, social pressure, family demands, and what the society demands on them that they do not dare to be creative. We are evolving (as a society). But a lot of Singaporeans are holding on to the old time mindset that we should listen to the rules and go by the book which does not go very well with creativity.
17. What do you see for your business in the next 5 years, and does it include any plans for expansion?
Our immediate plan is to establish an office in Johor Bahru or Kuala Lumpur. We are looking at how to expand the team, how we can develop and establish a stronger team and make OMG a stronger brand that people will talk about. For example, mention concert organisers, people will think of UnUsUal Productions; mention conference organisers, people will think of Pico Art. But when it comes to event organisers, nobody can give you a name. And we are working towards OMG’s brand to place there.
18. What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
It means to sacrifice and to take risk. Entrepreneurship allows me the freedom and creativity. It gives me the highest level of satisfaction. Entrepreneurship is not just about one thing but multiple factors put together. By going there and doing something out of nothing.
19. In your own option, what other qualities do a person need in order to be successful in business?
The important thing is to be well-prepared. You need to be prepared ‘knowing your environment, knowing your own resources, knowing your own ability, and knowing avenues that you can actually get your businesses in. You have to be prepared because if you fail to prepare then you will prepare to fail. Preparation is not just about having funding for six months, or a great business idea, a great business model, office and staff. It’s not about that. When I said ‘prepare’, I am also saying that you must also be prepared to fail. When it comes to getting funding or business model, everyone else can do that. But when it comes to you as the person, are you prepared to fail? If you can answer yourself this question then go ahead and start your own business. If you cannot afford to fail, then don’t. Because business is like a wave and when the wave hit you super hard, can you afford to sink? If you cannot, then business is not for you.
20. How important is it for an entrepreneur to keep improving himself?
Absolutely important. We need to upgrade ourselves through literature or through peer sharing. There is always something new to learn and if we give up opportunity to learn then we will be fools. We can learn things from our daily life, sometimes while playing with my son, I learn something from him. Sometimes through interaction with my team, I learn something from them. Because all of us grew up in different eras and generations, sometimes what they are talking about I don’t have any knowledge of. I need to understand the culture and current likes and dislikes of the society, because in events we need to be creative. So I need to listen to all these avenues.
21. Are you reading any book(s) now?
I am currently reading ‘ It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be’ by Paul Arden. It’s a motivation book that talks about being great and making the impossible possible.
22. Can you share some of the more significant events / incidents that affected or shaped your business philosophy and the way you conduct your business? I.e. SARS, new competition or shifts in market behaviour and trends, etc.
For OMG, we are pretty fortunate because we have some good strategies, which are networking and delivering what we promise. These are things we believe in and we hold very close to our hearts. We deliver things that we promise our clientele and we try to be very creative in what we can deliver. Therefore we are different and we survive based on these factors. Another thing I want to highlight is that OMG has never done any form of marketing or publicity for the company itself. We believe that the strongest and the best way of publicity for us is still the word-of-mouth. Since we started till today, most of our clients come to us based on a referrer or that they have seemed our events before. Most of our businesses are clients who call us and we don’t even do any cold calling or door knocking.
23. With the changes in the market today, do you think it has become harder or easier to succeed in business? Why do you say so?
I would say that it is easier to do business now because we have established ourselves. But if you are talking about economic environment, I think that it is actually more difficult now (for someone) to do business. There are more social media channels, people are getting smarter and the world is getting smaller because of internet. Almost anybody can register a company to do events as long as they are more creative, they can get things done. The competition is greater now.
24. What advice would you give young Singaporeans who want to start their own business?
You need to know how to network and to be creative. You need to be able to manage multiple levels of stuff. Profit margin aside, you need to value-add for your clients. Have determination to see yourself through. When I feel like giving up, I always remind myself, ‘You choose the path, you be responsible for it.’

Author: alansoh79

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