Confessions of an entrepreneur (Part 1)

I will forever remember my graduation day, the day I received both my Bachelor and Masters degree in Political Science from then-President of Singapore Mr. S.R. Nathan. I stood there amongst my fellow graduates grinning from ear-to-ear, knowing my proud parents stood at the higher floors overlooking the auditorium, knowing that once I step out of the auditorium, I had a job.

I stood there ignorant, prideful, naïve, cocky and ambitious. This was June 2009.

About a year earlier, my childhood friend Christopher along with a few of his buddies decided to journey down the tech startup path. None of us knew how to write codes, develop programs, edit photos, process videos, build a website, create a social-media platform, compute Profits & Losses, manage cash-flow, balance ledgers, structure an SME (Small Medium Enterprise), organize marketing campaigns, and the list goes on… We assumed that our ideas would work, that we had sufficient money to tide us over, and that we had all the right connections in the right places.

After months of endless-discussions with the web developers (who we researched and found online), planning and strategizing accompanied by many sleepless nights, we went on to register the company in December 2008. We believed whole-heartedly that hard work and sacrifice will eventually pay off. That, and many cans of coffee and Red Bull.

I won’t bore you with too much details as to what that particular tech startup was about (some of you may know or remember 8flo). What I am trying to get across is that no matter how much we suited up, how energetic we were, how devoted we were, how dedicated we were, it was not enough.

Within months, we were bogged down with internal disagreements on how finances should be managed, how the social-media platform we wanted to build should function, how the website layout should be, how the company should be structured and restructured, how the company should be branded and marketed, etc… We were basically equal partners with equal say, meaning if three of us motioned for something and the other three vetoed, there would be no progress. Furthermore, we were running out of money. Fast!

About fifteen or so months after our very first discussion back in May 2008, I bowed out as gracefully as I could. Three months after graduation and I was already out of a job, but I wasn’t worried. I had a few interviews lined up, which included a position with Sky News and MediaCorp Radio. Furthermore, continuing my studies and getting that Doctorate was also another viable option on the table.

Then one night while accompanying one of my closest friend Reginald study for his exams, it struck me as illogical to pull myself out entirely. Aside from being the ‘Marketing Director’ in 8flo, I was also the ‘Head of Automotive Media’, so why not develop a website focused primarily on the one industry I loved? (Yes, the original plan was to build an automotive-based online platform and not go into the monthly print-magazine industry, but that is a story for another time…). That, and the fact that during my two and a half years with the Singapore Armed Forces Infantry, I worked on my free time as the ‘Sales and Marketing Manager’ of Cool Customs Garage! The automotive industry beckoned…

He eventually stopped studying and joined me for beers while we toyed around with possible names such as MaxPower, Bolts’n’Nuts and BurnOut. Thank goodness for Google too, because I liked the name BurnOut but a quick search showed that it refers to emotional depression more than tyres screeching. By my ninth beer (this was pure coincidence), a very tipsy me started typing automotive related words randomly into the online thesaurus: Engine, Turbo, Performance, Horsepower, Nitrous

So yes, when people ask me how I came about with the name for what is today’s fastest growing and most recognizable automotive media brand within South East Asia, my answer is “I had a beer too many, the creative juices flowed, voilà!”

While the 8 in 8flo symbolized an infinite loop of knowledge shared within the community we never got to build, the 9 in 9tro represents longevity (长久) in the Chinese language. The 久 in 长久 is pronounced as jiǔ in Mandarin, identical to how the number 9 (九) is pronounced. Symbolic interaction between the Asian culture and my desire to start, build and grow not just a company for the long term, but also a community of like-minded enthusiasts breaching borders.

With that said, it goes without saying that 9tro ultimately symbolizes one thing and one thing only, an immense surge of power and an addiction for high performance! The first tagline ever to accompany 9tro, was a simple Get Addicted.

Having convinced myself and the people whom mattered most, I decided to incorporate the company and begin what I initially thought would have been easy-as-pie. As I walked out of the Business Registration building, I basked under the warm Singapore sun, feeling as I did just a few months ago, ready to conquer the world.

I was still ignorant, prideful, naïve, cocky and ambitious. This was December 2009.

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Henry Ford

Feature photo above: First photoshoot 5th December 2009. Notice the original 9tro logo up on the top left corner?

Published by Hong

Driven by Passion, Powered by 9tro!