Zen Chin, 42, and Aston Chia, 34, Founders of Overdrive, are young men at heart with plenty of experience in the tech industry to share. Having started Covexis in 2007 at the start of the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, they have been through the worst to be where they are today.
A Zen Attitude Towards Crisis
Zen’s humility as a entrepreneur comes from his struggles in the past. “I was a mature student, doing night distance-learning classes in Singapore for almost 3 years.”
Zen finished his final year of study by moving to Monash in 2004, where he met Aston.
“In 2007, the subprime crisis hit and I was out of a job and I was thinking about my future, but I also saw a lot of erosion, or a lack of brand names that were coming out into the world.” Zen, wanting to “emulate those who say that they want to change the world and are not satisfied with the status quo,” started Covexis with Aston.
Aston’s experience as an entrepreneur started when he opened his first company at 20. It sold a phonebook backup service, but he hit some roadblocks in his business and decided to drop everything to study. Aston wanted to learn more at a big company to gain experience on how companies are run, so he worked at Bayer before reconnecting with Zen and starting Covexis together.
Starting Covexis was an “opportunity”, shares Zen. “I could have started anything and probably contributed well with my experience with technology, especially when you see that any company in today’s context uses some form of technology. It was a gathering of both chance and opportunity that I started the company with Aston.”
Braving the Economic Crisis as Covexis
To this, Aston talked about their struggles in trying to survive in a poor economic climate. “At the time, as a result of the trickle-down effect of the subprime crisis, we had to do everything in order to survive. Covexis had to become a mash-up of several products.”
Aston and Zen had to cover a large range of markets in order to keep Covexis running, and they soon became stuck with a brand that was hard to explain to clients. Covexis made programs, but never had proprietary programs they could refer to easily. They made things for others, but both Aston and Zen wanted something they made to be the difference maker.
Aston and Zen wanted to become proactive instead of reactive. “We took the essence of what we wanted for Covexis and we put it into Overdrive. We rethought the entire software and launched Overdrive as its own entity.” Instead of being just a program, Aston said, Overdrive is a platform where people can become involved with the Internet of Things(IoT) through.
Changing Their Focus to Overdrive
Again, Overdrive was about timing. “It took about 3 years to come up with Overdrive,” says Aston. “At that point of time, there were no devices that could do what we envisioned, but once our manufacturers showed us something that could, we started building and developing Overdrive immediately”.
“The type of chip has been around of a long time” adds Zen. “on-board diagnostics has been around since 1996, but the concept of connecting things has only been toyed with, waiting for technology to become mature enough and economically viable to be launched as a user-product”
“Although now we can say Overdrive is a platform for IoT, there weren’t such terms we could use in the past.” recounts Zen. “All we could say was that we wanted to connect many devices, and we got to design it in a certain way which allows us to scale it as automobiles have so many standards by themselves!”
With Overdrive, Zen and Aston had the solution to the problem they were only dreaming about in the past: connectivity platforms for companies to work with. In line with Smart Nation, the need for such platforms can only rise due to the benefits connectivity brings to resource management for companies.
Driving Change as an Entrepreneur
Overdrive comes from both men’s perspective on “not being content with the status quo and wanting to make a difference.” Zen believes that brand names aren’t built in a day, but rather by the masses of SMEs that compete and become more successful until a prominent brand emerges.
“South Korea has its giants like Hyundai, LG and Samsung, but there are tons of successful SMEs over there as well. I wanted to make a change in the IT industry, shaping the future into what I want it to be and create a brand name. It’s a lot of hard work, so it’s never about the economic success but about the change you want to see in the future.”
Even with ideals in mind, to be an entrepreneur is also to struggle constantly.
“The startup scene is not a superstar competition,” says Aston. “Things have to be done with hammers and nails and you have to hit your way out. Even to stay at the top, you have to keep hitting with better hammers and better nails.
Zen laughs, and adds, “I’ve got friends who come up to me and say that I’m a entrepreneur, saying oh you’re a big boss now and you’re out on your own, and I tell them I’ve never taken a single month of salary for the last couple of years and they don’t believe me. “How do you survive?” they ask. You will survive! It’s only how you survive. It’s only the degree of lavishness with which you survive.”
Embarking on Their Passions
We asked both men what drives them and what passion means to them. Aston said, “It’s about seeing things work. Doing things that someone else said is rubbish. If someone else is doing it, ask why they are doing it. If you never try it yourself, you’ll never know it you can make it better.”
Zen, however, had a different perspective. “People don’t realise that there are days where it’s going to be down. How will you handle that? It’s more than just passion, it’s about a strong faith or belief that what you’re doing is going to make a difference, because you’ll get questioned by people, whether loved ones or friends and then self-doubt sets in.”
Zen speaks as a much more experienced man, and while appearing more realistic, both founders are visionaries when it comes to their ideas. Zen adds, “Looking at Razer and Creative, I think a lot of us should be a little bit more confident that we are able to be on the world stage, but it will take a lot of hard work. That’s what I believe in and that’s what I want to drive Overdrive into.”
Even if they both have different perspectives, there’s a synergy between them. “We’re daydreamers to a certain extent,” says Aston. “People will say that we have foolish ideas.” To this, Zen commented: “With all the daydreaming, it meets reality when we meet our customers and get down to what works for them. The small steps we take towards our goal are from customer to customer.”
Fuelling Their Actions Through Mistakes
Learning from your mistakes is a good mindset to have, and being candid is the best way to learn from mistakes as Aston shows. “When we first started we were really ready to make mistakes, but we did not know we’d make that many mistakes! (laughs) But yes, those mistakes allowed us to listen better and learn how to take in and filter. Taking in everything people say is not right, and you absolutely have to decipher and decide what is best to do next.”
Filtering information is a necessity, but Zen also believes in remembering advice that might have not been taken in the past. “There’s an element of humility that is needed and there’s no shame in admitting you made a mistake, even to the point whereby probably at first, the advice was not suitable. Having the humility to revisit it back in time later on in the future and asking yourself if it would have been better allows you to make the necessary corrections.”
Taking action is an entrepreneur’s lifeblood, as nothing would get done otherwise. Aston shares a quote by Michael Dell at the recent Microsoft convention: “Stop standing in line, in the queue and just go do it. Stop asking for advice and just go get it done. I think that, I would say, stays true as someone who is out there to create.”
Zen echoes the idea of spurring yourself into action, especially for Singaporeans.
“I feel that we need to be more adventurous and get out there. You have to be open, take in all the information whether good or bad and make the decision to act on what you think is good for you. Be aware of becoming too comfortable in your current position, and I’m not speaking geographically, but rather how you’re serving your customers and how your product is doing.”
As the two men behind Overdrive bring their lessons learnt from Covexis onto the international technology stage, there’s a lot to learn about how they perceive the journey of an entrepreneur. We learned that it’s less about the end result, but more about the consistent journey you undertake towards your goal.