As mentioned in my purpose, one of the vision of this blog is to help encourage all of us, who are struggling in our own ways in life, by sharing stories of other ordinary folks who have overcome certain fears and barriers to achieve their life goals. So today, I bring the story of Mr KC Tan, Co-founder of Fontcraft Printing, who came from very humble beginnings.
Fontcraft Printing (S) Pte Ltd is an established printing company with state of the art printing equipment, providing many international customers quality-assured printing solutions and services. Fontcraft was established in 1997 and has since grown from a 1,000 square feet office to a 10,000 square feet office, and their constant strive for excellence and competitiveness has exposed them to clients across the globe in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan, USA and of course, Singapore!
Ok, enough corporate description talk. Here goes the interview:
KC, can you tell us why you decided to focus on printing? Since this is very unique industry choice.
Initially, I went into printing because that was the first response I got from sending out my resumes, hahaha. However, after I went into printing and learnt this trade, I found out that ALMOST 100% of the whole economy needed printing and paper in one way or another, be it Finance & Banking, Manufacturing, Customer Service, Government Sectors, Schools, Hospitals, Hotels & Travel…
It is true that the need for printing is pervasive! Can you share a bit more about your background and your life before Fontcraft started?
After school, I started working as a clerk in the shipping industry. Coming from a humble background, I did everything needed to do well in the industry, which including a lot of late nights, drinking, smoking and late night entertainment. After 1 year, the doctor told me my body was starting to wear itself out.
So, I decided to change my lifestyle by joining an MNC in the paper and security printing as a saleman. At my peak as a a super salesman in this MNC, I was headhunted to join a new company which seemed to have better prospects. Being young, I thought to myself “Why not?” so I moved to the new company optimistically. However, the leads I recommended to this new, small company were too huge for them to digest, causing a lot of unhappiness with my clients and my boss. So, after a short 10 months, I decided to leave this company so I can set up my own business to serve my clients better.
I then proceeded to start up my first paper trading company with 3 partners but shortly after, we failed as a partnership because the other 3 partners were not willing to give up their current job to come on board full time. But I was so passionate about the business, I decided to carry on in the paper trading company alone. This was when I first started to taste early success, the business boomed with good clients and offtake. However, the pace was extremely fast and I was exhausted from working 24/7 after 1 year.
How did you feel then?
I was taunted by the constant stress of the odds and ends of running a business – overheads, client servicing, operational challenges and salaries of my team. I even thought of going back to a corporate job where I could draw a stable monthly salary. However, I told myself that it would be a waste given I have built so many contacts in the paper industry. So, I spoke to 2 ex-colleagues from the first paper company I worked with and we went into a second partnership.
Did the partnership help you?
The additional heads working on the business definitely helped alleviate the stress. Things were doing well until I discover these 2 souls misappropriated company fund. I was so disheartened by then, I decided to leave without taking my share of profit because the company did not have enough funds in the bank then. I only recovered my initial capital, and all my friends who knew my situation were shocked, and said that I was foolish to throw away my profit (estimated $100K). But I couldn’t tolerate dishonesty and just wanted a clean start, and that was when I started Fontcraft!
Wow, that must have been very difficult for you. What kept you going during those days and starting Fontcraft from scratch after so many failures?
I think, in every business, there are ups and downs. SMEs like Fontcraft are especially vulnerable. We can be easily demolished with a blow from the economy or poor management of cash flow. What kept me going in down moments is firstly encouragement from my wife, business partners and friends. In moments when I felt fear, I share it with them and they help to push me along.
Also, I felt (and still feel) strong accountability not just to my business partners and clients, but to my staff and the families of my staff too. I need to put rice on the table of my family and my staff’s family. This thought and sense of responsibility keeps me going late into the nights, even it meant missing meals and sleep to keep working.
So what do you think are your key successes in your journey?
Success is a very wide and vast word.
How does one measure success?
Does success means having a healthy body and mind?
Does success means happily married to the special one?
Does success include forming a happy family?
Or is success measured by the amount of cash and assets to your name?
In my opinion, I think I am doing more than fine, especially from my humble beginnings. But I am still working towards being successful, because I feel I have not given back enough to the society.
Are you able to share more about your first few challenges in your career? How did you overcome them?
As a young salesman, the main challenge is how to convince your clients to switch to you and your services. While price is important, I learnt that personal touch is more important. You will eventually win if you are more willing to give and provide more than your competitor.
Another challenge was feeling rejected. However, if I don’t ask, I will never get. So I became thick skinned and not afraid to ask, even if that meant more re-work. At the end, there is no harm is asking so long is I didn’t cheat or under deliver.
The rest is the usual hard work, self belief and perseverance! But most importantly, I needed help and opportunity, which I was fortunate enough to have.
It is so great to hear how your hard work has paid off! There are so many other established printers when you entered the market. How did you differentiate yourself from others in your line?
We always try our best to be ahead of our client’s needs. Not ahead of the market. There is a difference! I always look out for tell-tale signs from the ground that are related to my clients. I don’t judge the signs to be right or wrong, good or bad, but I keep myself updated and keep these trends as mental notes. I don’t assume any signs to be unimportant. This keeps me in touch, and will lead to the best suited proposals and solutions to clients that builds my credibility as a business partner.
What advice would you give to others, especially those who are trying to be entrepreneurs or pursuing a specialized and non mainstream career choice?
My 5 tips:
- Once decided, leave all fears behind.
- Money is not the most crucial tool, human relationship is.
- Please don’t chew off more than you can swallow.
- Know your financial status and understand your trade.
- Plan your growth in stages.
I will end with this story – there is no guaranteed routes to success or failure. You have to keep adapting and improving.
Imagine if you are having grand opening for your “you tiao” stall today. You have already made marketing plans, got best ingredients, chosen auspicious date.
At 10 am, you fry 10 you tiaos and open up your stall. Wah, business is good, about 25 people queuing… quickly fry fry fry more you tiaos…
But there are still customers who left very unhappy because waiting time is too long.
So, the next day, in order to avoid the same scenario, you fry 30 you tiaos and again you open your stall at 10 am.
To your pleasant surprise, the queue is still very long, so you fry fry fry more you tiao.
Again there are customers who left because of long waiting time.
So on the third day you took the challenge and fried 40 you tiaos and open your stall at 10am again.
“BOOM, BOOM, BOOM ” disaster struck. Today, you only managed to sell 20 you tiaos because of whatever reason.
So the next day with some fear, you fried 30 you tiaos and open your stall at 10am.
WAAH… just nice, you sold all 30 you tiaos with no unhappy customers.
So next day, how??? How many you tiao to fry???
This uncertainty torture will go on and on, regardless of whether is it mainstream or non-mainstream.
The important moral of the story is to quickly learn how to tackle shortages and left-overs in every department of your company, be it orders, funds or workers.
There is no guaranteed success or FAILURE.
So ends this first instalment of the #DreamsComeTrue. I hope it was as helpful and fun to read for you, as it was for me to write. Let’s keep improving and adapting in our lives 🙂