Master of his own destiny

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Mr Kevin Foong turned his interest in fengshui into a business venture in 2012. He says that business owners still ask him for advice after they have succeeded.

For as long as Mr Kevin Foong can remember, his life has been a balancing act.

As a teenager, he once juggled three jobs to support his family.

Now, he is chief executive of Web hosting firm HostSG and IT company Keytech Group, and, at a somewhat unlikely tangent, also the founder of fengshui business Kevin Foong Consulting Group.

The 35-year-old attributes his business acumen to his upbringing. His father showed him what it was like to be his own boss.

"My dad always taught me to find ways to earn money aside from working for others. I was always with him and saw how he ran the business and entertained different customers."

At 14, Mr Foong began to sell stationery to his classmates. Meanwhile, he taught himself Photoshop and HTML editing, taking on freelance Web design projects as a full-time student.

When his father's tailoring business declined, Mr Foong left Anglo-Chinese Junior College after three months, for the Institute of Technical Education.

"People were quite surprised by my decision, but I actually had a good idea of what I wanted to do back then," he said. "I kind of had the idea that I could spend less time studying and have more time to do business."

Earning his own keep soon became a huge responsibility. When his ailing father's shop shut down later in 1997, Mr Foong became the breadwinner of his family.

However, he scrimped and saved enough to put himself through an advanced diploma course in infocomm at Singapore Polytechnic and the computer science course in the University of New South Wales. He chose to drop out of the Australian university in his first year.

Moreover, Mr Foong never abandoned his start-up dreams. At 19, he co-founded Web hosting company SG.GS with his friend and chief technical officer of HostSG, Mr Tan Heng Chai. It was renamed HostSG in 2010. Mr Foong said: "Starting up was difficult as we were not businessmen to begin with. Our experience in the Web hosting arena was limited."

A series of well-judged moves propelled HostSG to its current standing as a global service catering to some 220,000 users.

During this period, Mr Foong also co-founded Quest Venture Technologies (now Keytech Group) in 2007 with Mr Kevin Sasmito. The group devises system integration technologies that improve the productivity of small and medium enterprises in their daily IT operations.

Despite all these commitments, Mr Foong still made time to dabble in fengshui. He began taking lessons on Chinese metaphysics in 2005.

He said: "Fengshui has always been a key interest. When everything came falling down... I was pushing for a lot of answers. I started to ask 'Is there really a method in which we can kind of know the future?'" Fengshui's Four Pillars of Destiny thus appealed to him.

Foong's interest became a business venture in 2012. His 29-year-old wife, Ms Florence Pee, helps him coordinate his schedule and prepare for seminars. She also manages an e-commerce business, Le Vogue.

Mr Foong's pursuits led him to clinch the Spirit of Enterprise Awards in 2010, and a series of other accolades, including the Asia Pacific Brands Award last year.

Now that his start-ups have taken off, he is on the lookout for promising start-ups. "I've managed to meet young people working on start-ups now and listened to their ideas. This era has better ideas than what we used to have back then, due to Internet technologies. Who knows, one of them could be the next Facebook co-founder."

Master of his own destiny
  • I'm not an expert in property investment. Only 20 per cent of my income goes into policies and property, but 30 per cent goes into businesses and start-ups. So far, most of my investments in businesses have generated positive returns. On average, the start-ups return yields of 30 to 40 per cent.
  • When the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997, everything came crashing down. My father's business closed down and he developed health complications, which made him unable to work. I had to find ways to support the family. At 19, I was working for Singtel and CyberWay (now StarHub), while starting SG.GS with a friend.
  • When I was 18, people still used faxes and did not think they needed e-mails. Getting people to believe in technology was initially difficult, but the experience made me feel strongly about investing in new start-ups too.
  • My BMW car that costs about $400,000. It's almost every guy's dream to own one, but it felt unreal to me because I was struggling financially just 10 to 15 years ago.
  • I'm looking to retire at 45. Part of the plan is to grow the company till I can possibly exit the market.

The ideal market valuation from the sale of HostSG is $50 million. We're still expanding, so we're using the next five years to make the firm attractive to buyers.

Once I exit HostSG, I would like to be a venture capitalist or an adviser to new start-ups.
  • In 2000, my friend and I started an online business. We created a virtual mall for various brands to "lease" a space. We probably should have set aside funds to get a third party to test the market for us. I lost slightly below $80,000 in all. It was an expensive lesson.
  • In terms of HostSG, one of my best investments was in 2012. I injected around $1 million to expand our network presence. It enabled us to have the widest coverage in the Asia-Pacific region.

Q: Are you a spender or saver?

Saver. I spend only when necessary, or 30 per cent of my monthly income. I invest 50 per cent and save the rest.

Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?

Around $6,000, the last time I checked my bill.

Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?

I'm not an expert in property investment. Only 20 per cent of my income goes into policies and property, but 30 per cent goes into businesses and start-ups. So far, most of my investments in businesses have generated positive returns. On average, the start-ups return yields of 30 to 40 per cent.

Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

I was originally from a fairly well-to-do family. My mum was a housewife and my dad ran a thriving tailor shop at Lucky Plaza.

However, when the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997, everything came crashing down. My father's business closed down and he developed health complications, which made him unable to work. I had to find ways to support the family. At 19, I was working for Singtel and CyberWay (now StarHub), while starting SG.GS with a friend.

However, I remain thankful. Without any of this, I wouldn't be in business. I would probably graduate with a degree before working for multinational corporations.

Q: How did you get interested in investing?

I remember stumbling upon Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. He said if you want freedom in life, you have to build a business that generates income, even when you no longer work there.

I realised that my income is derived from my working hours. So what happens if I'm unable to work in the future? So I attended a few forex courses, but later found the risks to be pretty high.

When I was 18, people still used faxes and did not think they needed e-mails. Getting people to believe in technology was initially difficult, but the experience made me feel strongly about investing in new start-ups too.

Q: Do you own any properties for investment?

Yes, a condominium in Loyang for investment.

Q: What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?

My BMW car that costs about $400,000. It's almost every guy's dream to own one, but it felt unreal to me because I was struggling financially just 10 to 15 years ago.

I see the car as a reminder of my efforts and the need to keep striving.

Q: What's your retirement plan?

I'm looking to retire at 45. Part of the plan is to grow the company till I can possibly exit the market.

The ideal market valuation from the sale of HostSG is $50 million. We're still expanding, so we're using the next five years to make the firm attractive to buyers.

Once I exit HostSG, I would like to be a venture capitalist or an adviser to new start-ups.

I would also continue with my fengshui consultancy, as there is no end to learning its systems.

Many business owners still approach me for advice after they have succeeded. The consultancy allows me to cultivate a social circle too.

Q: Home is now...

A jumbo flat in Yishun.

Q: I drive...

A BMW M-5.

BEST AND WORST BETS

Q: What is your worst investment?

In 2000, my friend and I started an online business. We created a virtual mall for various brands to "lease" a space. Like a role-playing game, customers could navigate their way around the "shops" and make purchases.

The site performed well initially due to its novelty, but the market just was not ready for e-commerce. People had qualms about revealing credit card details online, so sales were affected.

We survived for a year before running out of funds. I learnt that in every market, there has to be a certain level of acceptance, be it in branding, technologies or products.

We probably should have set aside funds to get a third party to test the market for us. I lost slightly below $80,000 in all. It was an expensive lesson.

Q: What is your best investment?

With regard to start-ups, I injected close to $100,000 into a firm with the technology to bring property buyers, sellers and agents onto the same platform.

Its business potential is huge. If I cash out now, my returns will stand at close to 330 per cent, or around $300,000.

In terms of HostSG, one of my best investments was in 2012. I injected around $1 million to expand our network presence. It enabled us to have the widest coverage in the Asia-Pacific region.

This move boosted our branding and company revenue increased by 180 per cent.

hphyllis@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 26, 2015.
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