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FocusW | Sept 3-9, 20160404
A lot of hard work and several failures,
coupled with a d...
Sept 3-9, 2016 | FocusW 0505
One of the
properties in Tan’s
Luxury Boutique
company, which
is also li...
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  1. 1. FocusW | Sept 3-9, 20160404 PEOPLE Arisktaker inlife andbusiness A lot of hard work and several failures, coupled with a determination to have a choice in life, are experiences that have made entrepreneur Andrew Tan who he is today A NDREW Tan has an impressive résumé.At36,hehasdonemorethan most of his Gen Y peers. He has worked in a coffee shop andacarwash,beenanewspaperdeliveryboy, a trader at the night market and as a waiter at clubs. In his time, he has managed up to five businesses, including telecommunications, recycling and property. He has even gone through two bankruptcies. Despite his varied experience, as well as his failures and successes, Tan remains modest and grounded. He drinks his coffee black and insists he will never overeat – a trait that traces back to his humble beginnings and the tough life he led. “Most people want to be rich, to drive fast cars. I have gone through the harsh reality of not having enough to eat, or always worrying aboutwhetherIwouldhaveenoughformynext meal,” he says, standing at almost six feet tall and looking dapper in a grey suit. “Hence, I am not committed to be rich. To me, it is about changing my environment… to haveachoiceinlife.”Hehaschosentosharehis experiencesbygivingtalksonentrepreneurship and investing in property under his stage name Drew Hasper. Entrepreneurial discovery Tan, whose rags-to-riches story will inspire many,wasbornandraisedinBatuPahat,Johor. His parents owned a coffee shop. At age eight (he only started school at nine) Tan started working at his parents’ shop, I always believe that to be successful you need to get your hands dirty and to be on the ground to understand the business flow.” – Andrew Tan helping to sweep the floor, wash the toilet and crack large blocks of ice for drinks. He was “promoted” to dishwasher three months later, because his parents were initially worried he would break the cups and plates. He would walk to his parents’ coffee shop some 4km away from home every morning passingthroughahousingestate,TamanPantai. Even at that age, Tan was already displaying an entrepreneurial spirit. On his own initiative, he started approaching some of the houses in Taman Pantai to sell newspapers to make an extra buck. While some families agreed to take on his services, most declined. From there, Tan learnt his first lesson in entrepreneurship: the meaning of supply and demand. “We can only sell something to people who need it. There are some people who just don’t readnewspapers,sonomatterhowhardyoutry to convince them, you just can’t sell it to them,” he says. His business, however, didn’t last long, and he eventually moved onto other odd jobs, such as working at fun fairs and a car wash during his teenage years. After he completed his Form Five examina- tions, he moved to Kuala Lumpur and enrolled in a private college. “Due to my family’s financial constraints, I had to work to pay my tuition fees as well as my living expenses. So I worked as a waiter at night clubs and even sold stuff at night markets, just to survive for the two years until I completed my studies,” he says. After obtaining his diploma in computer science, Tan went to the United Kingdom to further his studies in Middlesex University, majoring in Business Information System. Life in the UK Tan says his life in UK was a real test. He had to scrounge and save to get by. “I only brought £1,000 with me to last as long as I could. For the first few months, I was basicallyeatingbreadsoakedinwater.Ilost5kg in the first month,” he recalls. “And travelling to a foreign country alone, not knowing anybody… that was tough. So I decidedtojointhealumni(tomingleandgetto know people). Eventually, I became the alumni leader and the go-to person for students who needed anything, from trading textbooks to lookingforasupplyoffoodandevencigarettes.” TanspentfouryearsinUK.Aftercompleting his degree, he worked with Tesco and eventu- ally got an internship with eBay. Nine months later, in 2002, he returned to Malaysia and set up his first company with a few friends to sell telecommunications services such as ringtone downloads. “Within a year, our company got listed and we were riding high. I thought we had made it big and naturally, ego got in the way. There was so much deficit spending and we lost so muchmoneythateventuallythecompanywent bankrupt,” he says. “Wehadnostrategythen…merelyspeculat- ing shares. That was our major downfall.” So he packed his bags and returned to the UK to do his masters in international trading and e-commerce. Taking big risks When Tan returned to Malaysia in 2007, he bumped into a few businessmen friends from China who were going into the recycling business. “They approached me with a deal to supply defective electronics material for recycling. I saw that as a chance to get into business as I already had the contacts in the telecommuni- cations field,” he says. “I would help telecommunications compa- nies to clear their electronics waste and supply them to the China bosses. The whole business went well and I was earning quite a big cut.” His business grew fast and within a year, he had a processing warehouse and four outlets nationwide. He had also expanded overseas to Dubai, Singapore, Germany and Spain. But just as fast as he grew, his momentum stalled. By the end of 2008, Tan again hit rock bottom, when in October that year, he couldn’t A seven-year-old Tan with his younger sister Jackie by RITA JONG
  2. 2. Sept 3-9, 2016 | FocusW 0505 PEOPLE One of the properties in Tan’s Luxury Boutique Accommodation company, which is also listed on Airbnb Tan co-authored a book entitled Die with Massive Debt secure enough waste material to process and to extract the precious metal to supply to his China counterparts. His company again went bankrupt. “The whole process took a while and we were officially declared bankrupt in mid-2009. This time, however, we were prepared as we secured all the stock and let the company go bust,” he says. “However, I had always believed that there was an untapped market in South Africa. I knew there was a lot of waste there that no one was managing. So I bought a one-way ticket to Johannesburg with US$30,000 (RM120,000), to either make or break.” Tan was there for six months. He went from staying at three-star hotels to sleeping on bunk beds but he did not quit. As he began looking for ways to find contacts, he picked up a phone book and randomly called logistics companies asking them to help him find companies with an abundance of waste materials. “Inbusiness,Ialwaysfindwaystoaddvalue to others or bring business to people. That is my main intention. So, I liaised with logistics companies to help me locate these places and if I managed to strike a deal with them, I would appoint the logistics company. “AguycalledAlfietookuptheofferandtook me to a place on the outskirts of town. But I was not allowed in the premises despite a week of buying coffee and cigarettes at the front door. Oneday,outofangerhesmashedawindow with a rock. That was how he was allowed into the premises. Fortunately, Tan was not assaulted because he offered to pay for the damage. “That was how I struck my first deal. We were shipping more than 80 containers every month from South Africa. We also became one of the major trading houses in Southeast Asia. Thatwashowmyrecyclingcompanyeventually turned around. We expanded to Europe and managed to earn enough to pay off the debts within eight months. “That year, I was overseas a lot just securing deals and selling papers (contracts) as this time round,Ididn’thaveawarehousebecauseIdidn’t want any more overheads. I would secure the contract,shipeverythingbackandtakemycut.” Tan eventually cashed out of the business and told himself he didn’t want to have any- thing to do with setting up any businesses anymore. With cash in hand, he began investing in real estate. Going into real estate Tan invested in real estate in his personal capacity. “I would buy distressed and secondary properties in prime locations, refurbish them and rent them out to expatriates,” he says. “Whenyoudonotwanttowork,youneedto have cash flow every month. So between 2009 and 2010, I managed to acquire 32 properties.” In 2013, when the ringgit started depreci- ating and the expatriates were leaving, most of Tan’s properties were left vacant. That was when he came across the Airbnb business model and put his properties up for listing. “Four months later, I realised that I could make 30% to 40% more on rentals because I was letting out space on a daily basis. But this required more management effort,” he says. “This became my main business and I’m happy to deal with tourists,” he says. His company,LuxuryBoutiqueAccommodation, now manages the Airbnb listings here. He also became Airbnb’s super hostforachievingfive-starreviews from about 90% of the guests. But it was all hard work. At the start, he did everything – from key exchange to room service. “I always believe that to be successful you need to get your hands dirty and to be on the ground to understand the business flow,” he says. Tapping into venture capital Last year, Tan moved into venture capital and set up AppShack, a company dedicated to investing in tech start-ups. “A few of my friends and I raised US$1 mil (RM4.04 mil) and invested it in the enterprise,” he says. Through AppShack, they invested in 16 companies, cashed out from three companies and managed to exit with three to five times more than they had invested. Recently they sold the business idea to a government-linked company. InMay,hewentintoanotherventurecapital business call TinkBig Venture Sdn Bhd, a man- ager of equity crowd funding, which is licensed by the Securities Commission. He says he now focuses on companies that BESIDES being an entrepreneur, Andrew Tan is also a technical diver who does exploration with National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Tan, who picked up recreational diving at age 17, realised his limitations (if there are strong currents or bad weather) and decided to get past it by going into speciality diving. As a member of a non-governmental organisation, International Diving Research and Exploration Organisation (IDREO), Tan contributes to Mother Earth by doing conservation work. He has explored shipwrecks and underwater caves, and has seen manta rays and thresher sharks. “When I am underwater, I find that I am focused. There is a clear objective and it teaches me about teamwork. “The best part is when you are underwater, it is so tranquil. All you hear is your heartbeat,” he says. Seekingsolace underwater arereadyforexpansionandcommercialisation, by showcasing them to a bigger market like China. Giving back Despite his many business successes, Tan says his proudest moment was when he saw a spe- cialneedsindividualwhomhehadsupported become independent. “This ‘boy’ is 32 years old but has the maturity of an eight-year-old. I first met him at a home for special needs children on Jalan Gasing two years ago. He could not really communicate. “I would visit him as often as I could. I’m so happy to see that today, he can help around at the home, like sweeping the floor or do filing work on his own,” he says with a smile. He points out that those in the mentally disabled group are the most neglected in society. One other pursuit Tan has is to co-author a book entitled Die with Massive Debt, in which he and his friends share the tricks of investing in real estate. All proceeds from the sale of the book, which was published this year, go to asylum seekers. They managed to sell 2,000 copies in four months. In the book is a note asking readers who have benefited from reading the book to also donate to the cause. “I’m not here to be rich. My main aim is to have that option in life and to change my environment as well as never having to think whether I have enough to eat. “My success is not measured by the money I have, but the positive impact (I have on) the people around me,” he says. Tan is now also looking at investing in social enterprises with business model aimed at creating a better environment. Despite all the turbulence and tribulations, he has taken it all in his stride and has never given up. “My whole life has been a roller coaster. But I have always believed that when God closes a door somewhere he opens a window,” he adds.