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Derek Wong
SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR

tell us something about yourself.

This is always a funny question. Because when asked to tell someone something about yourself you must first know oneself. Being an entrepreneur has made me realise that I just didn’t know myself as well as I thought I did. I keep finding new skills that I never knew I had such as multitasking, negotiation, people management. Then finding out that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was in many other areas, such as organisation and financial management, the latter despite coming from an investment banking background! So, all I think I can say about myself is that I am always learning, creating, inspiring, but above all I’m just trying to swim though life with a smile on my face. 

What is your current business about?

I have several companies that are in various stages of their start up life. One is involved in trading and brokering in commodities and oil & gas products. Another is involved in gaming, not the digital app type, but traditional table games, specifically VIP gaming in Macau. But the most recent and the one that I am most excited about is a company that I started recently that is involved in the luxury Swiss watch business. This company owns the Asian distribution rights to a Swiss watch making brand with British heritage called Ellicott (www.ellicott.ch). During difficult economic times of late, Ellicott had pulled out of Asia and slowed their production down against declining sales. After also taking a minority stake in the Ellicott brand, we intend to bring on a financial partner to re-brand and re-launch in Asia sometime in 2018, starting with Macau, Hong Kong and China. Our Swiss watch distribution company also sources and procures timepieces from other luxury Swiss watch brands. In our first month of operations we had recognised US$260,000 in watch sales. 

What is the greatest benefit of being an entrepreneur?

I think the greatest benefit of being an entrepreneur is the flexibility. Flexibility when it comes to time because you are not bound by 9-5 conventions, you can arrange a meeting in an airport lounge, at home, in a cafe pretty much anywhere and everywhere. Flexibility when it comes to travel, you don’t need to apply for leave and can travel in a moment’s notice to meet with someone. And flexibility when it comes to your dress sense! With the corporate life, you are bound by so many restrictions such as work attire, work hours and work schedules, being an entrepreneur changes all that. Despite all this flexibility however, an entrepreneur must maintain a sense of professionalism, i.e. you can’t rock up to a meeting with a potential customer or investor in flip flops and sweat pants, unless you’re in the business of selling flip flops and sweat pants of course! 

What was your biggest struggle as an entrepreneur when you were just starting?

I actually had two struggles and it is a tale of two opposites. At the beginning, I thought I found my calling and started a business in an industry where I had absolutely no competitive advantage and in a foreign land - mining in Indonesia. Essentially, I was in over my head. But my personality didn’t allow me to stop even when all the warning signs were there and I had many opportunities to leave the industry, I didn’t, I re-focused, doubled down and soldiered on. So, I persisted and persisted and eventually after 7 years came to the realisation that it was going nowhere. So, something had to change. I learnt that persistence and focus is good, but blind faith is not.  

Then my second struggle was then trying to focus on one particular project. After deciding to leave the mining industry, it seemed like every project that I came across was interesting and had potential. But the most important thing is to identify what you are good at and whether you are the right person to take this opportunity forward. It might be a big winner, but if you are not the right person to execute on it, then maybe it’s better pass on it and focus on something else that you have value-add, for something better and more suitable will surely come. This world is definitely not short of opportunities. I learnt to focus on areas where I had some competitive advantage and in industries where it suited my personality.

There’s also a third struggle, money.

Which skills are most necessary for an entrepreneur in your business field and why?

I think interpersonal and communication skills are a must. Most of the great entrepreneurs that I have met in my life are excellent with people. They are great motivators and orators because as an entrepreneur, you are generally the centre of all the action, so you must endlessly create, direct, manage, execute, motivate, repeat and therefore I think as an entrepreneur you must be good at communicating your thoughts across to others, particularly in our industry where we are re-branding and building a luxury Swiss watchmaking company from ground up. 

What do you do to stay productive every day?

Every morning, after I make myself a nice coffee, I spend a good hour reading through the daily news to update myself on the current affairs of the world. I do this before I read any work emails because your work may be important, but there is always something happening in the world that you should know about, in the end it could affect your business. It may also give you new ideas. So, it’s always good to keep updated on what’s happening around you. 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Sitting next to Elon Musk on one of his space shuttles heading to the SpaceX Moonbase Delta and having a space coffee while reading an intergalactic newspaper, just before heading out for a day of Moon Golf, wearing an Ellicott watch. 

Is there a stereotype about entrepreneurs that you strongly disagree with?

Nope, all the stereotypes are true. 

What do you value most about being a member of EYES?

I value the interactions and friendships that I’ve made. I value the fact that I can meet an EYES member from the opposite side of the world and instantly feel a connection. This would not be possible without this fantastic organisation. 

Hope to see many of you at the Malaysia EYES conference in November!