Forming your own company here in Singapore requires real courage. We asked entrepreneur Willy Foo to reveal his personal journey in Southeast Asia.
Name: Willy Foo
Position: Founder & CEO of LiveStudios
I grew up in Singapore in a four-room HDB flat. My parents were thrifty. I remember having to take part in a national javelin competition and couldn’t convince them to buy me spiked track shoes. I had to wear a pair of torn shoes instead, and that’s when I realised I had to find ways to make my own money.
As a kid I wanted to be a computer scientist. I began programming at six-years old and started taking part in software competitions in secondary school and college.
I was 14 years old when I got my first job – I worked as a waiter. It was a good introduction to the working world.
When I was 16 I did a short stint selling greeting cards, but I quickly became curious as to how much the guys who distributed the cards earned once I saw the long queues of customers. This piqued my interest in business. I started calculating their ROI and profit.
I started a technology consultancy called Source Point during my time at university. I then quit university after a year to develop the business. It did well until the dot.com crash.
I’ve always been very willing to make mistakes and learn from my mistakes. I also took a great interest in a range of things from technology and marketing, to psychology and business, which are all essential in today’s corporate landscape.
My uncle was a big role model. He got me to start looking at business fundamentals and bottom lines. That led me to do a lot of business optimisation and look into ROI for each project done.
The best piece of advice I’ve been given was from a friend who ran a successful modelling agency, who told me when I started off as a photographer that I couldn’t scale it as I couldn’t be in various places at once. I took this seriously and started structuring the company to be scalable and not dependent only on myself as a single photographer.
We started off by just projecting photos we take from our cameras onto a screen. It was a novelty and people loved it. Then we started printing photos out of photo cards and people got excited receiving them. When we printed our name cards at the back of these photos, we started getting calls and attention.
The big turning point for us, when I knew that we were a really viable business, was when we started putting companies’ branding on the front of photos. This was when companies realised that this was the best way to get their brands into the wallets of their guests. It was then that it really took off.
The most difficult thing I’ve had to overcome professionally was “letting go” and not doing absolutely everything as the company expanded. I used to pick up every call and answer every email until I was swamped and eventually got bogged down.
To move forward I had to put total trust in my staff. I stopped picking up every call. I also created a quotation system so that all the account servicing staff could generate and send out quotes without having to consult me every time.
In the past, technology was my work and photography my passion. Now it’s reversed, so I spend my free time researching technology as my hobby and maintaining my social media page on Facebook, which has crossed 500,000 likes.
As pioneers of live photography we are in the best position to franchise our technology so that other photographers can provide the same service worldwide. I really want to groom more successful photographers and entrepreneurs.
We’re in a competitive market, but Singapore’s infrastructure compensates for it. However, what Singapore doesn’t have is the advantage of large numbers, which of course the rest of Asia has.
I love holidaying in the Seychelles. It’s expensive but beautiful. Fortunately, I have awesome colleagues who can take care of things back in the office, so I don’t need to check my phone or computer all the time. I just log on once or twice a day to make sure there are no important messages I’ve missed.