Kean Chiow left his job in December 2019 to start VIO, Singapore’s first subscription-based smart light solution. While he hadn’t worked in the lighting industry, his work experience in a tech startup and his co-founder’s 10-year career in the lighting industry gives them an edge in disrupting the space.
Kean’s vision for VIO is to provide Singapore consumers with a better smart home experience at affordable prices. He explains that “smart lighting and smart homes have been growing consistently over the years, globally, especially in the US, UK, and China”. However, Singapore’s smart home and smart light adoption is “not growing proportionally to the bigger markets”.
This was an opportunity because Singapore’s space constraints actually allow it to benefit more from smart lights. COVID-19 was also an unexpected ally as it accelerated work-from-home trends. As home spaces increasingly double up for work and study, smart lighting becomes more useful and provides eye-health benefits tuning between warm and cool whites for different purposes, and by using flicker-free lights.
Rather than leave consumers to figure all this out on their own, VIO’s “subscribe-to-own” model covers all onsite repairs and replacements and provides lighting plan consultations. Though there is no contract, VIO lets subscribers keep the smart lights after 24 months.
We caught up with Kean for our 5 Questions With… column to ask him how it was like leaving his regular paycheque behind and transiting from employee to business owner.
Leaving the corporate world to become an entrepreneur, you lose the job security and a regular paycheque. What were some steps you took to reduce personal financial risks?
Every entrepreneur should be able to answer this before starting their own business. Entrepreneurship doesn’t come with any guarantee. It is always about managing risks and expectations, be it for business or family.
It is also very important to understand entrepreneurship is not just a personal thing, especially for those married. For that, I am always grateful to my family who always support me.
These are some steps that I found helpful before embarking on my entrepreneurship journey.
#1 I spent quite a lot of time aligning my goals and expectations with my family members. This is extremely important as being an entrepreneur isn’t an easy task and there would be times where you just need a little push. That’s where my family is, always backing me up. However without a proper discussion and alignment with them, it might be harder for them to support you along the way. Hence it is very important to have the discussion with them before anything else.
#2 I worked out the finances with my family for at least the next 12 – 18 months. What’s important is to itemise the expenses and reduce those that are “good to have”. In addition, spending time and effort to keep track of my expenses helped me to manage my monthly budget better.
#3 Once the budgeting plan is out, stick to it. That would also mean that you have to adjust to the new lifestyle to suit your budget. For me, it means switching Starbucks coffee and croissants to Kopi O Kosong and kaya toast, and less weekend dine-outs for my family. It is something that you have to put in conscious effort to adjust and maintain. I believe that when you want to gain something, you have to give up something in return. It is always a trade-off.
#4 Last but not least, always have some emergency funds for the rainy days. I park my emergency funds in less risky investments rather than keeping them in the bank. And when I really have to use it, I can liquidate them for cash.
You don’t just lose a regular paycheque. Entrepreneurship is also stressful, time-consuming and may end in capital losses. Why did you want to start your own business?
Honestly speaking, there were also a lot of thoughts running through the back of my mind when I was deciding to leave my job and strike out on my own. Here are some of my personal reasons:
#1 I enjoy working on things I love and work with passionate people who love what they do. That’s something I share in common with my co-founder, Wilson. What I love about my work is that we create real value for consumers when we solve their problems.
#2 I have always been quite a “challenger” myself, whether at work or in life. I feel that the moment I stop challenging myself, that’s when I stop growing. And in reality, I realised that no matter how well prepared or experienced a person is, it still takes a lot of daring initiative and craziness to jump onboard their entrepreneurship
#3 Last but not least, is to live without regrets. I prefer to take it on and work my best towards what I aim for rather than living in regrets thinking what my life could be if I have given it a try. Yes, not all things will end up well but you will only regret the chances that you did not take.
You started a company doing something completely unrelated to your background. What are some skills you think all entrepreneurs need to have regardless of the business they are running?
There are always challenges in any business that we do, be it in your domain or not. It is really up to the individual’s ability to navigate through the challenges along the way.
I feel that this is one of the must have skills in life, let alone in entrepreneurship. The uncertainties in business are inevitable. We will never know what it really takes to be successful on day 1. If a person is able to learn in any situation, even in their failure, they are more likely to build a successful business.
As an entrepreneur, the art of listening is of paramount importance. As a joke says, we have only 1 mouth but 2 ears, which makes listening more important than talking. I feel this makes a lot of sense. Often in conversations, I feel I gained a lot more information when I listen. Not only should you listen to what your consumer wants, what your team needs is also a very important factor that contributes to the success of your business.
If you can lead your team effectively, it is already half the battle won. Frankly speaking, it is a lot harder than it sounds as it requires a lot of time and effort. I feel that as an effective leader, besides defining clear key objectives and goals for the team, you also need to care for them. It is never a one man show but a team effort that brings success to the business.
Another common misconception is that entrepreneurs manage only the big picture. What are some of the most mundane (small picture) things you also have to do as an entrepreneur?
Definitely. Many people will see that entrepreneurs spend a lot of time on managing key business functions.
One of the mundane things that I will do is having a 1 on 1 session with my team members. I feel that this session is really important and beneficial for the team. It provides an opportunity to understand team well-beings and share any concerns. It often leads to better performance and avoids potential issues.
Another thing that I do often is to make sure the environment is conducive for the team. Having to work at the coolest and well-designed office is great but more importantly the culture where they feel comfortable, rewarding and happy to be in. It takes time and effort to build and maintain.
What is 1 advice you have for those thinking to start their entrepreneurship journey on the back of one of the worst economic performance in Singapore’s history?
Stop worrying and start innovating.
And that’s the advice that I would love to offer to my fellow entrepreneurs. We can’t predict or control the economy but what we can do is to focus on how we can innovate and create products and solutions that add value to our consumers. I believe that if multiple companies share the same thought, we would all be contributing to the economy positively too! I still recall one of my trainers when I was in army often said that worrying is worse than doing. Don’t let your anxiety rule you. Instead, think about how you could prepare yourself and your business better, and you should never stop innovating to stay in the game.
For those who want to try out VIO, Kean Chiow has given DollarsAndSense readers 2 months free subscription when entering the promo code DS2MTH upon checkout. There is no contract to tie users down during or after the promo period.
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