Embracing Chaos And Perpetual Crisis
The level of change and unpredictability an entrepreneur faces each day should come at no surprise.
Since the founding of his company eight years ago, Tommy Ong’s current range of product, business model and team has undergone a complete ‘facelift’ several times.
“Along the way, you will meet many different people, learn to accept that things change, and realise that nothing will ever remain the same,” says Tommy. “Ironically, the idea that eventually gets you off the ground isn’t usually the one that you got started with.”
The highs and lows
Back in early 2005, Tommy was inspired by one of his university professors to develop a health food supplement capable of delivering health benefits multiple times that of red wine, but without any levels of alcohol. He proceeded to set up a lean team of four from his Master’s programme class and participated in the Nanyang Technopreneurship Center’s annual Business Plan Competition, subsequently clinching the first runner-up prize and winning about $2,000 of start-up funds.
“We had a great idea based on a novel patented biotechnology, but the team decided not to move forward with it as everyone had their own plans after graduation and didn’t think as much of it,” recalls Tommy. The prize money was split and everyone moved on. “However, I went forth and assembled a new team with two of my friends, and we moved forward with the idea post-competition.”
Despite the renewed hope of commercialising the product with his newfound team, the team soon fell apart after six months, much to Tommy’s disappointment. “One of the three co-founders even disappeared, having misappropriated more than $80,000 of the company’s startup funds invested by an angel investor just three months earlier.” says Tommy. Prior to the unfortunate incident, the other co-founder had also confessed that she wanted to continue her focus on her existing business, which may not allow her to contribute as much to the team as she wanted to. Tommy had no choice but to make the painful decision of letting her go.
“There I was, all alone in Malaysia, not knowing anyone or a word of Malay and Cantonese, nor did I have any money left,” said Tommy. “It was one of the lowest points in my life.”
He simply vanished into thin air, leaving me with completely nothing but piles of debts and due payments.
Not one to give up, Tommy picked himself up and soldiered on, but things continued to be bleak for the next one year. With funds running low in his savings accounts and not having even a proper bed and blanket to sleep in every night, he braved through the tough times and learnt from all of these experiences to slowly improve and better his skills and knowledge as an entrepreneur.
“There were countless nights I would soak my face with tears, thinking to myself that I could simply pack up my bags, go back home to Singapore, and calling it quits.”
But each time, Tommy knew that the opportunities were still there and he could not afford to disappoint anybody, especially his family – and these thoughts quickly dissipated.
“With every rejection faced, I used the things I had learnt to take on whatever’s coming next. Slowly, but surely, you refine your skills and your confidence will come back,” said Tommy.
The slow climb
During these tumultuous periods, Tommy’s biggest takeaway was to find stability amidst all the inevitable volatility and chaos. Along the way, he changed his business model no less than four times, streamlined his products offering, formulation, packaging design, and was in a much better position than ever before. However, challenges continued to surface everyday and were always trickier and tougher than the ones before.
“The feeling of having built all of these from nothing is absolutely satisfying,” said Tommy. Presently, his company Resvenus handles the import, sales and marketing for more than fifteen health and beauty products, including a skincare range and food supplements, and is running with an operational turnover of over $4 million per year, with a portfolio of investments and real estate worth more than $20 million.
Embracing chaos and managing perpetual crisis
To Tommy, the success of a business is determined by a whole slew of unpredictable elements. While a highly regulated industry may be very well studied and provides transparency and stability, it is hard making a niche out of your business against the bigger and more established players. “Another lesson I have learnt is that we should try not to enter these industries, but instead look to dabble with chaos. This chaos acts as a catalyst, offering a sense of crisis that provides the momentum,” explains Tommy, who worked at least 16 hours a day continuously during the first two years of starting-up.
In entrepreneurship, chaos exists in many different forms – in the marketplace, the regulations, the products, the competition, the business models, the people and especially the unwritten rules of the industry. The fears of entering unchartered waters, the potential failure of your products, the lack of finances strength or unpredictable human behavior are just a few of the many issues an entrepreneur faces each day.
“It is with this perpetual sense of crisis that you will think about these problems more. And the more you think about these problems, the faster you would be spurred to find solutions to them,” said Tommy. “There are no winners in entrepreneurship. Only survivors.”
With every rejection faced, I used the things I had learnt to take on whatever’s coming next. Slowly, but surely, you refine your skills and your confidence will come back.
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Tommy Ong is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Resvenus Laboratories, an importer and distributor of premium quality health & beauty products based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His company’s network spans from Southeast Asia to Middle East and Africa and has recently set up a new office in Bangkok, Thailand.
Tommy graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2004, before going to further his studies with a Master of Science in Technopreneurship and Innovation in NTU 2005. He also successfully obtained a PhD in Business Administration from the University of Southampton in 2011.