When Fok Khai Yin quit his job as adviser to JobStreet.com CEO in 2011 to pursue his dream as an internet entrepreneur, he was glad he didn’t have to sweat about how to generate a steady income stream.
“Before I quit, the first thing [then] CEO Mark Chang asked me was: ‘Do you have money?’ At that time, my internet business [on self-improvement content] was making half of what I was earning at JobStreet.com. By the time I finished my notice, I was making the same [amount] at JobStreet.com.
“Mark was kind when he found out how much my internet business was already making. He encouraged me to pursue my passion. He was my mentor,” says Fok, founder of property portal GoodPlace.my, which claims to serve 40,000 home buyers, agents, and developers monthly.
Starting his self-improvement internet business while still under employment gave Fok peace of mind, as it took five to six months to generate his online side income. “GoodPlace.my is not profitable on its own. If you already have a cash cow, it makes your transition faster, versus quitting your job and starting something like Uber, unless you’re backed by venture capitalists,” he says.
Being in a good financial position allows you to make “sane” choices and be selective in what you do, which helps keep the integrity of your business intact. “I get to turn away lots of businesses that I don’t believe in, for instance, developers with dubious projects that I don’t want to have anything to do with,” says Fok.
However, he didn’t dive straight into the online property business scene. He decided to first intern at a property consulting firm for three months. “Compared with other types of businesses, the property business is quite unique as it is more offline than online. Anyone who wants to be in this business needs industry knowledge, and to be in the trenches and pay one’s dues, versus someone who is starting a 100% online e-commerce,” he says.
Fok’s biggest insight during his internship was learning how the local property industry worked. Observing the structural problems faced by the industry reassured him it was time for entrepreneurs to go in and make the process more efficient for both buyers and sellers.
Pitfalls To Avoid
Interestingly, while Fok may look like a living example of an individual who courageously pursues his dreams, he does not advocate following one’s passion. “My real passion is playing the guitar but I wouldn’t dream of opening a guitar store. It doesn’t make money and there’s not much legacy you can leave behind,” he says.
“In a way, I am following my heart to start GoodPlace.my. I think it’s all about following where you’re going to put in your best effort. Passion isn’t everything.
“Wouldn’t it be second nature to invest your best effort in something you’re passionate about? Fok doesn’t think so.
“Usually, you might not feel so passionate about something anymore after turning it into a business. For instance, [the intensity of] being a professional musician may kill your interest in music. However, once you put in your effort in something, you will be good at it, and once you are good, then you will be passionate.”
Fok believes it’s a “trap” to translate one’s passion into business. “Some people think: `I am very passionate about working out, so I want to open a gym, or am passionate about cooking, so I want to open a restaurant: It just doesn’t work like that,” he says.
“If you open a restaurant, it’s not just about cooking anymore. Typically, if you are passionate about business in general, then it’s okay. Approach the business as an entrepreneur, not as a cook -this mindset can make or break your business.”
Fok is still passionate about his business from the impact point of view, and not necessarily as a property connoisseur. “I just want to build a tool that is genuinely useful for home buyers. That’s the underlying motivation. There’s a distinction between my passion for the business and its impact, versus properties alone; he says.
He claims many others also think like him. “I don’t think Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong was a gambler, hence he opened a casino. He was more passionate about its business potential. Likewise, Mark Chang wasn’t a human resource professional, but he started JobStreet.com because he liked to help people and could see the impact of his business on people’s lives. It’s this kind of motivation that drives us.”
Worshipping a guru or hero is another pitfall to avoid. “Don’t follow anyone’s advice blindly, no matter how famous or successful the person is, because your situation is unique, and only you will know your business best,” says Fok.
“There will be no shortage of people trying to impose their opinions on you, perhaps out of their own insecurity, or they want the validation that their methods are right.”
He believes there are two types of entrepreneurs – those who follow their “passion” to make money, and those who want to make money so that they can follow their passion. “Be clear which one you are, because your decisions are pretty much determined by which box you fall into,” he says.