Yap Kim Seng spent many years in the banking industry advising SMEs on loans. But after he started his own business, an online platform for renovation companies, he found the pockets didn’t run deep. It’s been challenging but enjoyable, he tells JOY LEE.
Why did you go into business?
I have always wanted to start a business but had no idea what to do and had no capital. I thought maybe I could continue with my mum’s bakery. But F&B is hard work and very time consuming. You don’t get any holiday.
My mum started the bakery when I was in primary school and we had to help out. We hardly get to have dinner together or travel because we had to work. So I decided to get a job outside first. I worked in the banking line for nine years. Then I came out to do freelance consulting for SMEs about three years ago.
At the time, there were many business opportunities that my clients offered me in retail and manufacturing. But they required big capital. I didn’t want to take a loan because I had no fix income.
I still had to pay for my house and my car, and I wasn’t familiar with the business. So I decided to start an online business because I thought the capital would be smaller.
What inspired the online business?
I was renovating my house about three years ago. When I searched for renovation companies online, I realised the top links were big companies and were expensive. So I focused on building a platform for renovation companies. We started renof.com about one year ago.
Was it a challenge to finally start your own company?
At first, I thought we didn’t need so much capital for an online business. We were doing it part-time. Maybe RM4,000 to RM5,000 per partner. But it turned out to be a bigger business and we needed more capital — about five times more. We don’t have technical skills, so we had to hire another company to build the platform for us.
But since I‘ve already started this business, I have to continue. I’m not so focused on my freelance work, so my income is reduced but I have to keep spending to build the business. It’s not easy. You don’t know when you will start earning. Personally, I’m running at a lost every month. My other partners still had full-time jobs so they could pull out any time. But what I know is that there is no U-turn for me. I just have to keep going. There is no alternative.
Of course, I’m worried. I still got bills to pay. But I’m quite confident we’ll make it.
Do you like being an entrepreneur?
Yes, I enjoy doing this because I get the freedom to do what I want. I’m interested in the business, and I like going to see clients.
How has the business progressed?
The platform is quite stable now. We have about 200 companies on the platform and they are registering on their own now. The number of visitors is also increasing and we still have many ideas that we want to include in the website. We want to expand our income through advertising and we have clients that have approached us. We also want to introduce fee-based registration. We need to earn from this website so that we can keep investing into it and in new things.
At the moment, we are all working from home. We are looking for an office, which means our cost will increase further.
What other plans do you have?
I have to make Renof a success before I can start other things. But the second idea will be a lot easier and faster because we have gone through the process before.
What would you advise other entrepreneurs taking the same path?
Focus on the process and not how much you need to put in.
We spent a lot of money on the wrong things. If someone had advise us how to spend the money more effectively, it would have helped us. For example, we changed our development engineer and designer a few times because they could not deliver, but we still had to pay them.
And we spent on advertising but the results could have been better. We spent a lot of money to learn (from our mistakes) but they could have been better utilised.
If there was a mentor, it could have been better.
So you would advise budding entrepreneurs to find a mentor?
If you can find one, it would be better.
Do you expect things to get busier from now?
I think so. The business is on my mind 24 hours. I’m always thinking about how to fix the bugs, how to improve user experience, how to improve the system, and to look into emails and enquiries. But it depends on how you arrange your time. I need to keep meeting people and look for business.
I can’t just sit at home and look at reports. It doesn’t work that way. You have to keep generating income. It’s quite stressful.
How do you de-stress?
I listen to music. Cantopop. I travel once or twice a year but it’s harder to plan ahead now because I’m busy.