You know the phrase “Success is not what you have, but who you are”? And who we are is defined by what we do — all the habits, hobbies and methods that shape us day by day. Here’re some interesting habits that eight successful entrepreneurs in Singapore have incorporated into their lives — these might not hold the complete secrets to their successes, but they can probably enlighten you on the building blocks that, eventually, created these go-getters.
1. Sleeping very little
“If you look at my Fitbit, you will realise I hardly sleep. I sleep an average of 4.5 hours a day. So it doesn’t take a lot to get me up in the morning because I don’t really like sleeping in the first place. I believe every moment I spend sleeping is an opportunity lost and that doesn’t sit well with me.”
— Roshni Mahtani, founder of digital publishing house Tickled Media, in an interview with DBS
Singaporeans clock an average of 6.5 hours of sleep a day, and we’re among the cities with the least hours of sleep globally. Think of how much you might accomplish if you were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed an extra two hours every day — it’s no wonder that Roshni Mahtani’s Tickled Media was ranked among Singapore’s 10 hottest startups by the Singapore Business Review in 2012. Unfortunately, for the rest of us mere mortals, we’ll have to settle for excessive amounts of caffeine instead.
2. Reading ancient Chinese philosophy
“When one is young, one should read “The Standards for Students” (弟子规) to learn the basic requisites for being a good person and guidelines for living in harmony with others. When one has grown up, one should familiarise oneself with “The Golden Rules of Business Success” by Fan Li (范蠡 ) and “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu (孙子兵法) to learn strategies and tactics on how one should maneuver in business… When one has attained success… one should study the human resource management skills of Zeng Guofan (曾国藩), a Confucian scholar… In the later years of one’s life, one should read the works of Confucius on how to let go of things.”
— Hoon Thing Leong, founder of Kim San Leng coffee shop chain, to The Epoch Times
We place precious little focus on learning Mandarin nowadays, let alone age-old Chinese philosophy. But the ancients still have much to teach us about how to live a successful life, and about our roots. Armed with the wisdom of Confucius and Sun Tzu, it’s no wonder that from his humble beginnings, Hoon Thing Leong went on to become known as Singapore’s “coffee shop king”.
3. Writing down your dreams
“When I first started my hairstyling career, I was 19, and I actually wrote down my dreams. I learned it from a friend who said everything you want, write it down so I wrote down my dream that I want to be a millionaire by 25…You know I encourage everyone now to write down their dreams and how you’re going to get there.”
— Elim Chew, founder of streetwear fashion retailer 77th Street, speaking with The Story Exchange
Doesn’t everything seem more official in black and white? Suddenly that idea in your head isn’t just a fanciful dream — it’s got a blueprint and a plan. In any case, it seems that the habit of writing down dreams worked: Elim Chew’s 77th Street revolutionised Singapore’s streetwear scene, establishing itself as a leading fashion retailer here. And yes, she did become a millionaire — not by 25, but around 27, which isn’t too shabby either.
Loh Lik Peng, founder of boutique hotel and restaurant group Unlisted Collection, admitted to The Peak Magazine that he is “a bit of a hoarder”. He collected Star Wars toys and Marvel comics in his childhood, and his ‘karang guni’ habit hasn’t ceased since. His current hoard comprises “more than 50 designer chairs and over a dozen barber chairs”, along with “enamel advertising signs, weighing scales and vintage electric fans.”
A penchant for collecting might lead to success if you like hoarding the right things, for example gold bars — or hotels. Besides his eccentric assortment of chairs, Loh Lik Peng also has seven hotels and twenty restaurants in Singapore, Sydney, Shanghai and London to his name. It was his zeal to acquire and reopen old buildings that originally led to his first few boutique hotels. So go ahead, keep at that traffic cone or fortune cookie collection — at least you can always say it’s preparation for your entrepreneurial path.
5. Talking to yourself at work
“I also tend to talk to myself while I work. A lot. It’s therapeutic and helps me clear my thoughts…[Lee Jun Kiat in 2030] will continue his eccentric ways and continue to talk to himself as he works. That’s only probably because he’s still working on cool ideas/businesses to challenge the norms.”
— Lee Jun Kiat, co-founder of F&B queuing and reservation app Ticktok, in an interview with DBS
Let’s admit it: we all hold conversations with ourselves — at least when no one else’s around. But considering that talking aloud is said to improve everything from visual perception to memory retention, getting those odd stares from your coworkers might be worth it. After all, by the time Lee Jun Kiat’s Ticktok system was acquired by The Chope Group in November last year, it had already gained more than 100,000 users every month.
6. Singing a company anthem
Neo Kah Kiat, founder of food catering company Neo Group, said to SG Five Leaders that he “motivates his staff by singing a company anthem and recites a pledge every morning and evening. He also introduced the work safety pledge to all kitchen operations employees to recite it every day.”
You know those dreary morning assemblies that you went through for at least ten years of school? They might not rank among your best memories of school, but you can’t deny that assembly in the parade square was a distinctive part of school life. Similarly, the habit that Neo Kah Kiat instituted for his company went far in creating a sense of camaraderie among employees, producing the leading food catering group we know today.
7. Living the digital lifestyle
“I am hopelessly in love with technology, especially quality-of-life tools. I try to do everything digitally, from taking notes and audio recordings, to invoicing clients. Everything gets archived and stored in the cloud. If there’s a way to do it digitally, I’d be onboard faster than you can ask ‘Why?’. Unnecessary printing and other wastage really irks the environmentalist in me.”
— Jonathan Lee, co-founder of overseas laundry storage service Packnada, to DBS
Love it or hate it, the digital lifestyle is undeniably here to stay. Our cultural overreliance on technology doesn’t seem like something to cheer about, but Jonathan Lee’s unbridled love of technology is standing him in good stead in terms of innovation: he describes Packnada, a laundry service for frequent travellers to store their essentials, as “cloud storage for clothes”.
8. Being overattached to your business
“I’m practically attached to my work. Sometimes even during my free time [when] I have time, I hang out at my restaurants.”
— Eldwin Chua, founder of restaurant group Paradise Group Holdings, speaking with HungryGoWhere
Entrepreneurs truly are a different breed. While it may be a quirk to people with 9-5 jobs, having no work-life divide to speak of is something all entrepreneurs can likely relate to. It probably comes with the territory — since the business is also their passion, they have no qualms about putting heart and soul into whatever enterprise they’re heading. Overdoing it sounds…unhealthy, but it does seem to be leading to success for Eldwin Chua. From a small zichar stall in an industrial estate, Chua’s Paradise Group has expanded to over 30 restaurants across Singapore.