Entrepreneurship: Advice and Perspectives from Dr Patrick Khor, Founder of iBosses

Dr Patrick Khor, founder and CEO of iBosses (Courtesy of Dr Patrick Khor)
Dr Patrick Khor, founder and CEO of iBosses (Courtesy of Dr Patrick Khor)
By Seah Loi Shun

“I believe that everyone has to experience entrepreneurship at least once in their lifetime.” – Dr Patrick Khor,  founder and CEO of iBosses

Starting and growing a business is challenging, but is there a system to increase one’s success? Yes, says Dr Patrick Khor, founder and CEO of entrepreneur coaching company iBosses. With over 15 years of entrepreneurial experience under his belt, Dr Khor shares his views on grooming a business in an exclusive interview.

“In my next life, I will practise entrepreneurship all over again,” avows Dr Patrick Khor, his eyes alight with spirit.

Dr Khor offers a rational analysis of entrepreneurship, however, it’s the ‘passion of entrepreneurship’ that fires up an entrepreneur’s enthusiasm.

Dr Khor currently helms the international entrepreneur coaching company iBosses, which he founded in 2014. But prior to iBosses, he was involved in three business ventures.

He says the hard work and time devoted to starting a business can be immense, but it is also very memorable.

“I often stayed overnight at the office, either sleeping on the floor or at the desk. I preferred sleeping at the desk,” he recalls, alluding to the old days.

“I believe that everyone has to experience entrepreneurship at least once in their lifetime.”

The Beginning

“When I was young, I didn’t want to run my own business, that is, after seeing the long hours my parents put in at their store,” he says. “However, a gaming machine business spurred me on to become an entrepreneur.”

That was during his teenage years in Hong Kong, when he ingenuously devised a gaming machine.

“During those days, gaming machine[s were] rare,” he says. Kids could play games on his machine by dropping coins into the coin slot.

His gaming machine was placed at his parents’ mum-and-pop store. The revenue generated from it was sufficient to cover half of his college tuition fees in the UK.

As a result, he became the ‘bright spark’ of the family, even before he had acquired his first job!

His Early Days

Upon graduation, Dr Khor migrated to Singapore as he had his heart set on starting a business venture with his Singaporean college mate, who was pursuing his doctoral degree overseas at the time.

While waiting for his friend to finish his studies, Dr Khor lectured at a local polytechnic, drawing a monthly salary of S$1,800.

“Since the polytechnic allowed lecturers to set up additional courses, I started to set up many courses on the side,” he recounts.

As one of the youngest lecturers, he was full of energy and zest. He taught at the lecture theatre from 9 a.m. until late at night.

Within six months, his monthly salary had increased nearly five-fold to S$8,000.

“Intrapreneurship,” he declares with a smile.

“Intrapreneurship means practicing entrepreneurial skills within the enterprise where one is working. Entrepreneurial skills are not only required of entrepreneurs, it is also a common trait of successful leaders in all walks of life, be it the CEO of a company or the principal of a school,” he explains.

“Entrepreneurship skills are one of the best skills to have in the 21st century,” he stresses.

His Ventures

Before his employment contract with the polytechnic expired, American telecommunications giant Motorola offered him a job.

He was performing so well at Motorola that his superior wanted to promote him. However, one day before his appraisal, Dr Khor resigned to start his own business with his Singaporean friend, who had just returned from abroad.

Six months later, his business had folded.

“I was the only one out of a group of six partners who quit my job to start a business. My other partners still carried on with their day-time jobs. There was a lack of commitment and dedication from my partners,” he muses.

As a result, he decided to venture out on his own and set up a software development company.

“By taking on projects from the big players, my company received million-dollar contracts,” he shares.

However, he had to close his firm during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

“With encouragement from my wife, I decided to venture out one more time,” he says.

This time, he decided to focus on training IT engineers.

His efforts paid off, and his company developed into Path Education Group, an international technology training network with over 200 staff in 15 centres distributed across seven countries. Path Education was eventually acquired by a publicly listed firm.

Coaching Gen Y Entrepreneurs

Having sold off Path in 2006 for S$15 million, Dr Khor initially planned to retire while still in his early 40s.

However, he returned to the local polytechnic—not to his previous position as an IT lecturer, but as a senior lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic’s Entrepreneurship Centre.

He says he felt compelled to share his experiences and help nurture young entrepreneurs.

During his five years at Temasek Polytechnic, he trained over 3,270 students in entrepreneurship, successfully mentoring more than 20 companies and start-ups.

In coaching young entrepreneurs, he realised that Generation Y entrepreneurs were different.

“I was galvanised by my students,” says Dr Khor. The experience inspired him to complete a doctoral degree in Business and Management at the University of South Australia, specialising in the area of Gen Y Entrepreneurship.

Later, he authored the book ‘iBosses: The Rise of Gen Y Entrepreneurs—The Momentum Behind the New Age of Entrepreneurs’.

The Future of the Local Entrepreneurial Scene

Dr Khor was astute enough to foresee a surge in entrepreneurial interest among Singaporeans, despite the ‘iron rice bowl’ concept fostered by Singapore’s civil service.

Over the last few years, Singapore’s entrepreneurship environment has indeed been thriving. Business magazine The Economist even dubbed Singapore’s start-up hotspot, Block 71 Ayer Rajah Crescent “the world’s most tightly packed entrepreneurial ecosystem”.

According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, technology start-ups alone are projected to contribute two percent to Singapore’s GDP by 2035.

But entrepreneurship perils may be looming on the horizon. Since the 1980s, every seventh year in three of the last four decades has been plagued by a financial crisis: the 1987 Black Monday; the 1997 Asian financial crisis; the 2007 US subprime mortgage crisis and the ensuing 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers.

2016 was a sluggish year for the global economy. In Dr Khor’s opinion, the chances of another financial crisis in 2017 are pretty high, with Asia the likely centre of the economic meltdown.

“Pointing out the above is not to incite fear, but to get people prepared,” says Dr Khor.

“Recession is always the best time to start a new business. During times of prevalent unemployment, it is best for fresh graduates or retrenched professionals to create their own jobs by practicing entrepreneurship,” he advises.

With Singapore’s flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystem, Dr Khor expects not just millennials and post-millennials to plunge into entrepreneurship, but for working professionals and even retirees to explore the prospect of starting a business too.

As a result, Dr Khor started the entrepnreneur-grooming company iBosses, which provides a host of training and mentoring programmes to help entrepreneurs overcome some of the major hurdles.

Solving Problems for Start-ups

Capital is always an issue for start-ups, Dr  Khor says.

Start-ups usually begin with seed funding, followed by series A or B funding. However, this can be a very challenging process.

“I advocate ‘Setting IPO (initial public offerings) as the goal from the start.’ To walk the talk, I had planned to have iBosses publicly listed from day one,” he discloses. Established in Australia, iBosses raised S$2.7 million during its IPO in 2015.

Dr Khor explains, “By growing quickly and [getting listed] on the Australian Securities Exchange, iBosses has set an example of how start-ups can grow to a stage where an IPO or trade sale is possible—and all within a relatively short period of time.”

According to Dr Khor, the above can be achieved by moving up iBosses’ trademark entrepreneurship maturity-level model. This model can be used to measure a company’s growth.

Besides going public, some start-ups may be bought up by other companies, one example being Sample Store. It is one of the web businesses established by Kingsley Peh and Elfaine Tan, alumni of Temasek Polytechnic.

Under the mentorship of Dr Khor, Sample Store grew to a point where it was acquired by SingPost for S$1.2 million.

Sample Store members can obtain free cosmetic samples by submitting reviews of items they’ve sampled. These reviews are helpful to both consumers and cosmetic companies, which collect consumers’ feedback to plan their market strategy.

But not every start-up can attain that level of success, and one of the perils of entrepreneurship is the high risk involved.

The prospect of quitting a well-paid job to start a business – with a statistical failure rate of 95 percent – is pretty daunting, especially in Singapore where the cost of living is relatively high.

To address this, iBosses created the Part-Time Start-up Programme to allow people with a passion—especially working professionals—to start their own business at a greatly reduced cost, without disrupting their present commitments.

“In conventional business start-ups, lots of resources go into creating the product or service prototype to test the market. iBosses can help start-ups validate the idea, to see if there is the market before building their product,” says Dr Khor.

Moreover, entrepreneurs can tap into a range of Singapore government grants and related programmes to help with early development activities.

“Family businesses are very common in Asia. But, for a family business to be sustainable in the long run, there has to be a successor. Sometimes, it is difficult for the current business owners to train their children,” Khor says.

“iBosses can help train the successor, enabling him to acquire the entrepreneurial skills required to grow and manage the family business.”

Platform Is the Future

“The next big thing is digital entrepreneurial platforms,” says Dr Khor.

iBosses is building a digital platform—a community where like-minded entrepreneurs, investors and related parties can network and interact with one another.

This platform would also become a financial and talent-resource hub for start-ups to secure funding, resources and overseas partnerships.

“In the next five years, we aspire to be the online and offline entrepreneurship platform with 2,000 centres present in the Asia-Pacific region,” he says.

Currently, the firm has licensees issued in Malaysia, Philippines, Australia, Hong Kong and Fujian City, China, as well as offices in Singapore.

Dr Khor foresees the emergence of boutiques stores not only in the retail scene, but in the online arena as well.

“Lazada and Qoo10—two popular online shopping websites in Singapore—are like physical department stores Robinson and Sogo,” he shares.

Following this line of thought, “professional entrepreneurship would be the future direction”, said Dr Khor. Professional entrepreneurship refers to professionals like doctors and lawyers providing specialised services via digital-age entrepreneurship and by utilising the concept of platforms.

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