Continued from Year Two (Part 1) Event 3: During year two of my entrepreneurial venture, there were always thoughts of quitting. It was especially disheartening when a competitor gets funding and a…
Blog post on my year 2 of my 14 years journey
Last Wednesday, we launched some new features for wedding photographers in SingaporeBrides and revamped the listing page. Previously, the wedding photographer’s page will consist of their contact details and a maximum of twelve images to showcase their works. We had wanted a page with all the necessary info at one glance so that it’ll be convenient for wedding couples to shortlist the wedding photographers for their consideration.
Time has changed since then. In the advent of social media and the increasing popularity of Instagram, we are constantly bombarded with images. Twelve images per photographer seemed insufficient in this age of information overload.
Since the introduction of DSLR cameras and compact flash cards with ever increasing capacity and decreasing price, the barriers to entry of wedding photography industry has come crumbling down. It didn’t help when a wedding photographer was interviewed many years ago and reported to charge $10,000 per job. These have led to a large increase in people (having a DSLR camera and shooting wedding photography does not a professional wedding photographer make) offering wedding photography services. When supply increases and demand remains stagnant, this increased competition has driven the price sharply downwards and sometimes to unsustainable levels.
I like to look at beautiful photos. If not, we at SingaporeBrides would not have spent so much resources on showing our vision of wedding fashion. I also think that wedding photography is a very important segment of wedding. How else do you capture and immortalise the beauty, the love, the romance of the most memorable chapter of your life, the beginning of building your marriage and family with your life-partner? (The other pivotal chapter will be the birth of your children.)
So how do we help our wedding couples choose a wedding photographer whose style matches their sentiments? How do we help the wedding photographers show their many beautiful albums of work?
We are doing this by introducing 1 terabyte (TB) of wedding gallery with 6 different themes to showcase the work of wedding photographers. This way, the photographers no longer have to worry about online storage charges and bandwidth. They can now upload and showcase their work to their hearts’ content.
Would this cost us? Of course.
But wedding photography is important for the wedding couples so this is how we want to help our wedding couples who visit SingaporeBrides.
Many, many, many years ago (circa 1996), just after I graduated and started working (yes… that long ago), I had an idea, different from what I am doing now, so I gathered my 3 best pals from university and suggested the idea to them. All were excited by the idea and were fired up to start the business. Many nights, we met in a cafe after work and basically just talked and discussed about our future venture. Like many internet start-ups (who wasn’t dreaming about being a dot com then? It was dot com fever/rush), we doodled on paper napkins and planned the steps we needed to take. We talked about our visions, our hopes, our aspirations and how big we were going to be. We would talk until the shutters came down and the cafe closed. We would then all return to our respective job the next day bleary eyed and yet feel pumped up again when we meet in the evening. It was a very happy time. There was a strong bond and sense of camaraderie among us.
Then it was finally time to start the real work.
Based on our strengths, I assigned tasks for each of us. Even then, I had the knack of identifying individual strengths and weaknesses. The next meeting would be one month later.
When we met again, E brought in another friend of his, J. E was responsible for the graphics and design portion of our internet project. During our many early discussions, we identified web programming as the weakness of our team. At that time, PERL (cgi programming) was the language to use and B was assigned to take up that responsibility. Apparently, E was not confident that we would be able to resolve our lack of technical skill, so he brought in J.
J was a programmer and he was proficient in PERL and web development. The problem was, J already had his company and it was a company of 4. If we collaborated, it would become a company of 8. Too many chefs in the kitchen.
During the many meetings after J joined, J gave me the feeling that he looked down on our team. He felt that our success solely depended on him. He gradually treated us like second class citizens and put us down.
As time goes by, the meetings became more and more infrequent and then they just stopped. I didn’t call for any more meetings because I knew then that the team would have many friction and disagreements due to J’s involvement. He did not respect nor value our contribution. We just quietly went our separate ways.
From that point onwards, I vowed that I would do something on my own and not depend on anyone in future. I started buying lots of books and did self-studying, getting myself ready for my next eureka moment. I paid attention to ideas that I can do on my own.
It took me another three years before a new idea (my current venture) came upon me which I believed I could do it on my own. In between, I read up many technical books and kinda become Jack of all trades but master of none.
The first 3 years of my own start-up was one of the toughest periods of my life. Something about the New Year eves then would always make me feel very blue and down. Even though I may be surrounded by party revellers, I would feel like an island in the sea of people. When people were out celebrating, I would be wondering if it was time to give up. It didn’t seem like I was getting anywhere and I still had bills to pay. Self-doubt was a monster which constantly challenged me.
Yes, working alone was really tough. When I had problems, I had no business partners to share the burden with and I had to do everything on my own. However, I was fortunate to have married a very supportive and understanding wife. It was my wife who held my hand and walked with me through the darkest patch of my life.
But many of the lessons I learnt then made me who I am today. I was trialed by fire.
After many years on my own, I am now very used to making my own decisions, implementing my own ideas and solving my own problems.
That being said, I would encourage people to have a team. The trick is identifying the right partners and managing the ego and expectations of each individual. Usually, with the right team, you should be able to achieve more in a shorter period of time. Working alone, I was usually constrained by what I myself can do.
I don’t think there is a definite answer to the question if a startup should have a co-founder. Different circumstances require different approach. My circumstances pushed me to walk the path alone.
Mabye, just maybe, I was born to be a lone wolf.
Year two was pretty similar to year one in many ways. The prospects still didn’t look promising. More competitors joined in the fray. I was still drinking non-chilled bottled water just to save 10 cents. I was still eating cheap meals or plain bread when I can’t stand the hunger. However, there were three events that I believe altered the course of my entrepreneurial life.
I made friend with a contact’s brother, P. He was an insurance agent but was always looking for better business opportunities. I guess my business intrigued him. He had expressed interest in my business so we met up. During our meeting, I told him honestly that it had been difficult for me to get clients. I showed him my business model and told him the selling price of my product. He told me as my concept and product was new, I needed to relate my product to its most similar existing product. Also, he asked me to raise my price based on the similar product. Before I met P, I was marketing my product in a totally different angle (website design and hosting). After I met P, I was essentially still selling the same thing but repackaged my product and was promoting it to the potential clients from a new angle (advertising) which they can relate to and understand. Because of that, I was able to raise the selling price of my product to 3 times the original selling price but it was 50% cheaper than then comparable product (print advertising).
Initially, I was very skeptical. How could I sell my product at the new price when I had tremendous difficulty selling when it was 300% cheaper?!
P also taught me to use Powerpoint for presentation. When I was working as an engineer, I hated powerpoint presentations. I thought powerpoint presentations were very pretentious, ‘wayang' and a total waste of time. I thought it was something the suits dreamt up to make themselves look busy. :p
Anyway, P gave me a few pointers regarding the preparation of my presentations. It needs to contain facts and figures like market potential, what my product can do for them, how it compares to current similar products, advantage of my product compared to the similar but non-online products.
P verbally indicated interest in becoming a partner of my business and he promised to join me when I meet potential clients. In the end, P only joined me in one meeting and he just quietly disappeared from my business venture after that. I guessed he figured that my business was not going to be profitable and he has thus lost interest. I didn’t call him. If he was no longer interested, there wasn’t any reason for me to pursue the matter with him. Lesson learnt: No one is more interested in your own business other than yourself.
However, unknown to me at that time. It was fortunate that he recommended that I increase my selling price by 3 times. If not, I would have to sell to 3 times the current number of clients that I have to generate the current level of revenue. Assuming that I’ve 33% market share now, it means I would need to have nearly 100% of the market to have the same revenue which is impossible. If I didn’t increase the price to the current rate, my business model would not have been sustainable.
The powerpoint presentations also helped. It made my presentation a lot more coherent and the clients were able understand more. It was a lot more convincing than before since I’ve included data and facts. This had helped to clinch some deals for me. There were still very little confirmed clients but it was a mark and definite improvement.
Note: This event has made me realised, many years later, that selling cheap is not the only strategy. In fact, competing by price alone is one of the worst marketing strategy.
Met KL, an ex-hostel mate from university. At that time, I still wasn’t sure if I should adopt the new (increased!) pricing strategy. I shared with him my uncertainty. Then he told me about his own entrepreneurial experience. He told me there was a time when his business was going to cease as his company has introduced a totally new web service to the Internet for free. The web service was so popular that it constantly ate up their bandwidth. It was so popular that users from all over the world were using it. When the monthly fix amount of bandwidth he and his business partners bought from the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were used up, they had to pay more to increase their bandwidth. However, as soon as they bought more, the bandwidth was used up again and their website will be inaccessible. They also realise that it was impossible for them to keep using their own savings to pay for the bandwidth. Their savings were limited. They finally decided that the web service would no longer be free. Subscription fee would be required. They realise that all the users may abandon them and stop using their service. To continue providing their service for free, it means a definite end to their business; but the alternative, even though it may end their business, at least there exist a fighting chance. Based on this bleak scenario, the obvious choice was to choose the path that offers a slim hope, no matter how small.
They were surprised that many users were actually willing to pay for their unique web service. Not only did it help to avert the financial crisis, they became highly profitable! Just do the maths, they have users from the world, and they charge a subscription fee, estimate their revenue. :)
After hearing that, the decision became obvious to me too.
To this day, KL and I are still in constant contact. We’ve shared many business experiences and remain firm friends.