Nic was approached for an interview by an undergraduate of an Australian university just last week. It is part of the undergrad’s project paper of an Entrepreneurial course.
Since Nic answered all questions, we decided to reproduce the Q&A here. Here are some of the lesser known facts and background about Nic who is usually a lot more low profile than me. It was also good as a reflection of how much we’ve grown!
What is your background like? (Where you from, education, hobbies and interests, etc).
I was born and bred in Kuching, Sarawak until I came to USM Penang to further my studies in Education in 1992. I love to draw and paint, practise martial arts (taekwando and Chinese wu shu) and reading about elite forces such as SWAT. I like to buy and sell things too, something which I did as young as 7 years old. I used to buy superhero stickers and sell them to my classmates. That started my entrepreneurial journey when I realized I could make some money from this ‘hobby’ of mine.
What was your childhood ambition?
I didn’t have a specific ambition as a child. I didn’t aim for any ambition; I enjoyed my school days though.
What is your company’s name? When was the company founded?
Redbox Studio was founded on 10th October 1998. It was a scary time because of the Asian financial crisis. Luckily a number of friends supported my business in the early years, many of whom remain my good friends and clients to this day.
I started this company after 1 year of working as an art director for a famous Penang advertising agency. I got fed-up of the management style and felt I could do better on my own.
I started with one Dell PC which cost me RM8,000 back then. Initially, I worked out of my rented room. I didn’t even have a car then – I rode my Honda motorbike to meet with clients. I was doing everything – I met clients in the day and came home to work on the client projects at night.
Was it tiring?
Yes. Was it tough convincing clients when one was just starting out? Very much so. No one trusts you and everyone wants you to lower prices. But every business person goes through these experiences. It’s how you face it: either you hang in there long enough to see the results or you quit. I focused on the web design business because I could foresee that the Internet was going to be a big thing even then (despite having a dial-up internet line back then!).
And having a virtual business will allow me to live and work anywhere I choose to as long as I have an Internet connection. In 2004, my wife quit her corporate job and joined me in the business. Still, we were working from home until 2006 when we moved our business operations to USM Penang as we were collaborating with USM School of Arts. We are still running our business office in USM Penang till today.
What is your business philosophy?
To provide superior service in return for premium payment. To help clients maximize their profits using their websites without sacrificing integrity.
What are the products and services offered by your company?
We offer website design, ecommerce and web marketing consultation and programmes for serious businesses. We also maintain and upkeep websites for clients. Our strength lies in creating business websites which generate sales results for clients based on a methodology we’ve used throughout the 12 years we’ve been in business.
Who are your typical customers?
They are usually business owners who are forward-thinkers and who want to grow their business leveraging on the use of the Internet. It helps if they are hands-on and intent on using technology to outperform their competitors.
Why use your services instead of competitors? What makes your products stand out?
We’re marketers who can help you get results from your website. Our clients’ success stories are our best testimonials.
Who are your main competitors and how is the industry like?
Most people assume that other web designers are our competitors but that is far from the truth. Web designers usually design for visual appeal, we design for solid business results. We focus on content on the websites, most web designers don’t. They just go for Flash websites, hoping that is where they will impress their client and get them a higher asking price for the design.
The web design industry is growing and evolving and it is an exciting industry to be in, especially with today’s apps and technology. If you have the passion to learn, there’s a fantastic future in this field. Jobs are created in this field as the industry evolves. Now we have search engine marketing consultants or social media consultants where before no such job ever existed before the technology appeared!
How do you keep up to date? (skills, advances in technology, customer,etc…)
We are always reading online (blogs/websites) and offline (books/magazines). We subscribe to lots of online magazines and portals mostly dealing with business and marketing. We attend workshops, exhibitions and seminars regularly. We even do research while travelling abroad. We have friends in diverse industries who keep us informed of what happens in their fields. In this day and age, everything which happens outside your industry can and will impact you so it helps to know more than the average Joe.
Was your entry into this industry planned?
Yes. I wanted a business which would allow me to live and work anywhere if I choose to.
How did you find this opportunity? How did it surface? What did you do to pursue the opportunity and why?
I thought long and hard. I didn’t want a business where I had to have lots of space for warehousing or keep inventory. I wanted a business with a low starting overhead. But back in 1998, I had no clue about the Internet or HTML or web design, web hosting management or marketing. I learnt them all through trial and error. I am lucky that I have a good memory because I remember all that I read!
How much research did you do before starting the business?
Not much research but I knew I didn’t want to be involved in the advertising agency business. As I had been an art director in an ad agency, I knew that work hours were long, employees were paid little and every agency was trying to undercut each other in terms of printing prices just so they could win a client over. I didn’t want to go head-on and compete as just another advertising agency. I had to have something more compelling and worthwhile but I still enjoyed designing. For me, designing on the Internet fulfilled my criteria. I wanted to do something with the Internet and use that as a foundation of my business.
Could you describe how it was like when you first started? How do you convince your first customer?
You have to give first if you want to get. There is nothing wrong with doing pro bono work provided it can be used as your stepping stone and portfolio to convince paying clients. But your pro bono work must be good enough too. Pro bono work does not mean lousy work.
How is the situation different/similar between now and then?
Now it is easier to learn. Whatever you don’t know, you can always refer to Google. In those days, you need to buy books and in those days books were limited and expensive. One had to have proper skills. Now you can contact clients quicker – you have email and Skype. In those days, you had to phone clients, set up appointments and sit down with them to discuss their projects.
Any exciting new ideas, services or products?
Plenty! Our next step will be about sharing knowledge as courses and workshops online and offline. We are working on social media programmes and we are positioning ourselves as the “go-to experts” for creating results online. In the pipeline are also joint ventures with other specialists of the Internet field too.
What are you planning to do in the future? (Expanding your product range? Hire more workers? Giving back to society? Etc…) Why?
We believe in karma. What goes around comes around. As we receive the good and abundant in our lives, we are also helping to give the good and abundant into other people’s lives.
If you had the chance to do it all again, what would you do differently?
I would build up a team faster and set up the operation systems earlier. This would free me up earlier.
Any other things you would like to add?
Get a good accountant when you start. If you are in business, make sure you have a reputable website. People these days check your website before they meet with you. Always be learning. Most business owners stop learning when they think they’ve succeeded. Never be afraid to learn from those younger than you are. Always be open to new ideas. Treat your employees like how you would like to treated if you are an employee.