Unlike many youths who depend on their parents to pay for their university tuition fees, Zhao Dexin has not taken a cent from his parents since leaving junior college.
The 26-year-old graduate from National University of Singapore (NUS) Engineering School started his own business – Imperio Trading LLP – in March 2010, the same year he entered NUS. Imperio Trading LLP is a startup that offers apparel, corporate gifts, design work, and printing services. Three years later, he founded Slingprint LLP – a social enterprise which provides a crowdfunding platform for customised merchandise.
“I think I was quite stringent with myself during my NS days. I saved up every bit of allowance that I have. You can easily have $15k to $20k from the allowance. These savings were the capital for the business,” he reveals.
Besides that, Zhao is helping his parents’ engineering firm with business development. The filial son is also a proud volunteer and Chairman of SAFRA Entrepreneurs’ Club (SEC).
“I usually work on weekends too. There aren’t weekdays or weekends per se,” says Zhao.
Why is a young lad like Zhao so diligent compared to people his age? “If not now, then when?” he replies simply.
‘Doing Good Well’
Three years ago, Zhao had a brainwave: other than for-profit business, he could provide printing services from a non-profit and social enterprise angle.
Soon after, he started Slingprint, a social enterprise that helps organisations and NPOs to raise funds through crowdfunding and online sales of corporate gifts.
Zhao shares with us a book – ‘Doing Good Well’ by Willie Cheng, the former chairman of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre.
“Doing good is like charity. ‘Well’ means making it sustainable. How do you do a charity well but (also make it) financially sustainable?
“So the best balance is a social enterprise,” Zhao explains.
Innovation is a very big word in business.
Being ‘Chief Everything Officer’
Whether to work for others or to be your own boss is a question that has perplexed many. As a young startup owner, Zhao redefined CEO to be ‘Chief Everything Officer’.
“You have to do the sales and delivery yourself. You have to clean up the mess yourself. You work doubly hard than the rest. Only when it becomes successful, that’s when people call you the boss.
“But they don’t see the years of hard work and times when you are alone and stressed,” says Zhao, who runs marathons to train his perseverance.
Being a ‘Chief Everything Officer’ is definitely not an easy job, and having the right attitude is important. Zhao’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is not rosy either.
“To be a business owner, you have to sacrifice, put in a lot of effort and get your hands dirty,” says Zhao.
“It is really not easy to start up a business. Many people give up halfway. Besides EQ and IQ, your AQ has to be very high too – your ability to deal with adversity,” he asserts.
His Business Philosophy
Zhao believes integrity is a core aspect in business dealings. He is an admirer of the company 3M and an advocate for 3M’s tagline – ‘Innovation’.
“I believe in 3M’s [philosophy of innovation]. They invented simple things like scotch tape and post-it, which change people’s lifestyle,” he shares.
“Innovation is a very big word in business,” he affirms.
While 3M’s ‘innovation’ inspires Zhao as a businessman, Warren Buffett is his go-to guru for investment matters. In terms of personal development, the young entrepreneur gets essential tips from Stephen R. Covey’s book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.
Learning Though Travelling
Travelling to Silicon Valley during his NUS Entrepreneurship exchange was an eye-opener for Zhao. He visited the headquarters of Facebook, Google, Twitter as well as Linkedin and gleaned profound insights from his exchange.
Through his visit to the world’s renowned startup hub, Zhao has acquired new knowledge and different business concepts, for example, the LEAN Startup model by Eric Ries.
“When you have a business idea, get out and ask people whether they are willing to pay for your product. ‘Connect with the customer’ – do a survey before the product is launched,” Zhao points out.
Steve Blank’s ‘nine blocks of business’ is also another concept Zhao thinks is critical for startups to initiate.
“In meetings, you can use the nine blocks of business by Steve Blank. Fill in the different aspects of business in these building blocks, e.g. who are your customers and supplier chains, what’s your cashflow statement and structure, how do you build company relationships,” he says.
“If you can fill in everything in the building block, then you have a business model.”
“Next, try out the business model using the LEAN Startup model,” he adds on.
SAFRA Entrepreneurs’ Club
Zhao used to be the president of the NUS Entrepreneurship Society (NES). After 1.5 years of volunteering at SAFRA Youth Network, the young entrepreneur discovered that there is a large number of NSmen who are interested in entrepreneurship within SAFRA – and SAFRA Entrepreneur Club (SEC) was born.
SAFRA Entrepreneurs’ Club (SEC) was formed to serve as a platform to help NSmen cultivate continuous learning and skills which enhance their career and wealth building needs. Through SEC programmes and networking activities, they can gain valuable insights and business strategies, and connect with local entrepreneurs, find co-founders or meet investors.
“Besides targeting entrepreneurs, we are emphasising personal development in terms of having an entrepreneurial mindset,” Zhao, the Chairman of SEC, shares proudly.
SEC’s enriching events include the Social Enterprise Festival, which attracted 2,000 attendees and 15 different social enterprises two years ago. Last year, the event was on again, albeit with a different theme – Promoting Social Enterprise through Technology.
On top of the Enterprise Festival, SEC organises events and talks that bring speakers together to share their views in business.
“Once, we invited four to five F&B owners to share their entrepreneurship journey in the F&B industry,” says Zhao.
SAFRA members and spouses can join the SAFRA Entrepreneur Club to enjoy discounted/free admission to all talks, business seminars, networking events. Connect with industry leaders and receive exclusive invites and discounted rates to partners’ events.