Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Road Less Travelled

People have always asked me to tell the story of Tuitionhamster.com so here it is.

Ever since I was a boy, all the older people around me told me the same thing


"Study hard now and get good results so you can get a good high paying job when you graduate."

So, when I went to university, I picked the course that would naturally lead me to one thing:
To be an investment banker because investment bankers get paid plenty from day one.


Everything I did in life was towards this goal. I studied hard in school and at university. During my summer holidays I did summer internships with foreign investment banks in KL to gain some experience and increase the chances of me getting a job there when I graduate. All this changed last summer when I decided to try something different for once and worked with two friends on Tuitionhamster.com.

I've always wanted to do business, something everyone in my family has always known
but my father never took my ambition seriously and I can't blame him because at this age every ambitious young man talks about doing business but few ever walk the talk.

So I decided to do Tuitionhamster.com not only to do something out of the norm for once in my life but to prove to my father that I like to do a little more than just talk.
That very summer holiday about a year ago, I was lucky enough to be offered internships from 2 foreign investment banks in KL.

I knew I couldn't possibly do both Tuitionhamster and work at the same time (since investment banks alone work you to the bone) but I had no choice: I needed to earn money to fund Tuitionhamster.com so I began my work-filled life.

I started work at 7am each day and I got off work at 9pm on an average day, sometimes even later depending on the work load.
By the time I got home, had my dinner and took a shower the clock would read 10.30pm and it would be time for me to start working on Tuitionhamster.com.
My baby would drive all the way into the city to see me after work just to do nothing but watch me work on Tuitionhamster.com.

Then came the weekends.

My weekends were spent fully on the Hamster. I would be out in the sun giving out flyers or visiting tuition centres asking (
actually begging) for their support.

We were sometimes turned down but we never gave up.
Because we lacked funding, the first version of Tuitionhamster.com (which was pretty much a DIY job) looked very much like a 9-year-old girl's homepage with only 9 teachers signed up with us and an average of only 20 unique visits a day.

Yet, 6 months since we started work on the site and 3 months after we launched the beta version of it we were lucky enough to get some publicity help from Jeff Ooi, Mack Zul and a few other very nice bloggers out there.


Then came the newspaper interviews. I can remember the day when our article first came out in The Star. I was back in London by then when my father gave me a call just to tell me

"
Son, when you first started this, I thought it was nothing... but now you've proven to me that you can walk the talk and if this is what you want to do when you graduate, I will give you my full support".

Today, we haven't touched the website in months partly due to our exams but we're still lucky enough to have over 400 teachers signed up with us at Tuitionhamster.com.
The website sparked off a trend of online tuition agents which charge commissions to make good money (Tuitionhamster.com wasn't designed to make money). Today there must be over 10 of such tuition websites.

Since we started we've had more than 600 messages sent from parents who visit our site to the teachers signed up with us
(of course unfortunately, since we have so many teachers and the service was free, not all our teachers have been getting tuition jobs from us).

And all this was done with just a total cost (including marketing costs).

At our peak, I reckon we used to be among the top 5 tuition sites in Malaysia. But since we've left the site alone on auto-run without any further marketing efforts, its popularity has dropped from before.

We're not doing much for the site anymore since we've run out of money that is necessary to bring it further (its just there today to serve its existing users). So it is just a matter of time before Tuitionhamster.com dies off (though it is very surprisingly still being frequently used by teachers and students on a daily basis).

Yet, it was the experience we had in building up the website that made this all worth it.

Shortly after graduation, we were faced with the choice of whether to sell Tuitionhamster.com or turn it into a full-time internet business.

In spite of receiving interest from a potential buyer, my partners and I decided to keep it running as a free service for as long as it will last on its own (since our capital was so low, we didn't need the money).


For months now I've been working on a business plan in partnership with a fellow internet entrepreneur from Singapore named Ming that founded the e-retail internet business Gadgeit while he was still a student..

We've been making plans in preparation for what we believe (and dream) will eventually be the biggest dotcom in Southeast Asia.

Yet, the big test of faith came when I received a call from my ex-boss at an investment bank in Kuala Lumpur asking if I was interested in applying for an opening they had which offered an excellent opportunity for fresh graduates like myself.

I thought about it for a few days and I came to realize that what I really wanted to do was to achieve something meaningful. A few years down the road, I want to be (or at least try to be) a successful South East Asian entrepreneur.

My partner was relieved that I didn't fall for the temptation. Today, I sit in my new dotcom office looking out the window at the island of Penang.

When some people look at Penang, they see a small forgotten city in the North of Malaysia. Yet, my partner and I see a city with endless opportunities. Hopefully there is an opportunity waiting for us.

This is the story of my life and the story of my life to come.

To accomplish great things,
we must not only act but also dream,
not only plan,
but also believe.



29 comments:

Alynna said...

Good luck... Timothy! :)
Note: Yeah, this is the first time I'm calling you by name, tee-hee..

Jazzy wazzy said...

Hey Ewe Tiam! Not sure if this is my first time leaving you a comment but I'm sad that I won't be able to read Lengmou anymore..(seriously) On the other hand, I'm glad and relieved that you're starting a new blog!! All the best in your business! =)

pinolobu said...

Good luck. I am looking forward to you sharing your journey. It's not everyday one encounters a fresh grad who's offered RM5K+ and turns it down for a stab at dotcom glory.

こうゆうけん said...

Cool Entrepreneur! Really wish to learn!

William Leong said...

"One Road, Smooth Wind" & "Horse Reach, Work Complete" in your business...

I know it's not CNY yet, but it doesnt matter ;)

yothemans said...

are you serious doing your dot com business?
so next time when your dot com company appears in The STar remember to forward it to me .

Boss Stewie said...

alynna, one of my favourite readers... thanks for the encouragement and thanks for your everlasting support.


jazzy: thanks very much jaz.. hope citigroup's treating u well

pinolobu: haha pino, i might actually regret it in time to come :P


koyuuken: i am the one that's learning from u

william: HAHAHAH WILLIAM U CRACK ME UP ... what a quotation

yothemans: hehehe.. i don't know if that'll happen anytime soon dude, but thanks

aL said...

hi stewie... or timothy now?

been a silent reader of lengmou since the beginning. i must say u guys are really good =)

anyway, just wanna let you know that i'll be a regular here too..heh!

WMD: Wife, Mother, Daughter said...

Good Luck. Admire your courage!

Alex said...

cool idea.and all the best. maybe i'd need some help when to get my kids (tat'd be zillion years ahead) a good tuition teacher :)

Jason said...

Good luck dude! Hehe, when you have suceeded, don't forget us! And I can boast, that I shook hand with Timothy Tiah before! :D

So, if I come Penang, got free time to entertain me anot?

Lance said...

I'd swear that isn't you on the article... no... I must be dreaming... yes... i am dreaming...

Nicholas said...

Dude the blogosphere became more interesting after lengmou came online. This blog is just much more better than lengmou because of the that personal touch u've put in it. Orlando Bloom in tights will congratulate u personally for your accomplishments

Boss Stewie said...

cal: i've been waiting all this while for silent readers like yourself to come out in the open... there's nothing more fulfilling about blogging than getting to know your readers.

wmd: thanks... sometimes being courageous can also mean being stupid :P

alex: thanks but actually.. the dotcom my partner and i just started is not tuitionhamster.com. we've decided to let tuitionhamster run on its own until nobody's left visiting the site. we're working on something new that we believe will be huge.. something a lot more technologically advanced than tuitionhamster... sigh it will be challenge... whether we can pull it off or not.. i guess we'll all know in time to come.

jason: of course got time to entertain jason lioh lah!! come with louyau!

lance: hahaha yes lance.. it's a dream... :P

Boss Stewie said...

AUUGHH NICHOLASSS

SPARE ME THE THOUGHTTT

but thanks... i think people tend to overrate leng mou a little... but thanks very much for your confidence in my poor blogging skills

cely said...

i still prefer to call u boss stewie, dah biasa with it. :p

i wanted to tell u how i felt after read the whole thing:
It was like i am reading a biography of a successful businessman/entrepreneur.

I m so touched and u are working so hard to make your dreams come true.

Really admire that. Good luck.
I believe i'll be reading the real biography of you in future.

slacker said...

hey timothy,

been a reader of your Leng Mou blog for a short while now .. ever since towards the end when your bet was about to be completed..

anyway, congratulations and good luck on your career choice.. it really takes alot for a person to choose this over something else that offers as much as an Investment bank would :)

i'm saying this from the perspective of a person who's been...'self-employed' (i prefer to use this term to describe myself as entrepreneur or businessperson sounds just too flashy for me :)) right after graduation and have been on it for about 2 years now.

I never leave comments on blogs that i read, but your story kinda reminds me of what i went thru sometime ago and its great to share some common ground with ya.. just want to drop a message here wishing you all the best and believe in what you do..

Boss Stewie said...

cely... its more a story of a wannabe right?

slacker.. thanks very much for the encouragement. before just coming clean on my blog, i used to tell people that i worked for a small IT firms but some of my friends finally told me that it wasn't right i lie like that. so when people ask me now in person of what i do, i just say i 'do my own thing'. but i think 'self-employed' would be a better term don't u think :P

we should meet up one day. would really like to hear what you do on your end.. it's always inspiring to hear about a fellow 'self-employer'

slacker said...

timothy,

yeah.. do agree with u on that:) 'coming clean' eh? reminds me of the term 'coming out of the closet' hehe..

anyway.. was the same.. some of my friends thought i was just bumming around as they thought I wasn't employed at that time (I chose not to divulge on what I was doing for some time).. i use the term 'self-employed' now even though some ppl i work with assume i'm a 'newbie' graduate working for an IT company :)

would be great to meet up with ya sometime... maybe if i drop by in Penang someday?

Boss Stewie said...

yes slacker... drop by penang any time..

Ianfluenza said...

OH, so your name's Timothy. Your visionary is very inspiring and all I can feel is nothing but shame after reading this post... All the best with your dreams...

Boss Stewie said...

ianfluenza.. remember that i am after all a young punk which has plenty to learn... i'm sure i would have plenty to learn from you!

Puteri said...

Tim, I am so bloody proud of you and good luck in your endeavours. Very few people have the courage to do what they really want and very few have the determination. So I am very happy for you man and you know- if you need some lawyerly advice- you can come to me- hahahah! ( promo siutt...:P)

Boss Stewie said...

hahahaha alright puteri.... you're not going to charge me by the hour are u?

Emily said...

Good luck in your venture! So if you ever need a photographer... Just kidding :p

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Anonymous said...

I like it! Good job. Go on.
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Anonymous said...

Very pretty design! Keep up the good work. Thanks.
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The Envoy said...

Hats off to the person who took the road less traveled.