33-year-old Suen Tat Yam (affectionately known as TY by industry peers) is no stranger to adversaries. After being in the finance industry for 7 years, he decided to leave a cushy highly-remunerated career to start a walking tour company at a time when walking tours were seemingly unheard of in Singapore.
That was in 2015 and today, he is the owner of Monster Day Tours, the biggest walking tour operator in Singapore, and he also helms UBE Singapore.
UBE is a unique tour concept specialising in startup and business innovation tours.
Through connecting with various businesses across industries, working closely with government stakeholders such as STB and JTC, and collaborating with educational institutes, TY’s goal is to curate and offer tour experiences with entrepreneurs based in Singapore.
Chatting over a cup of coffee, he explains how his entrepreneurship spirit stemmed from his dad.
“Since young, I was taught that hard work will bring you somewhere. It is better to acquire skills and rely on yourself because ultimately, if everything fails, you can only fall back on yourself.”
“Back then when my parents first arrived in Hong Kong from China in the 1990s, they only had HK$1,000 (approximately S$200) in their pockets. At the beginning, my father did all kinds of odd jobs and picked up various skills. He decided that tailoring was his passion and eventually saved up enough money to start his own tailoring business. Subsequently, my family moved again to Singapore and we had to restart all over".
"With hard work and determination, my parents continued to run the business in Singapore even till today ,” he recounts fondly.
It was a bold step of his dad to move to a foreign land in pursuit of a better life. And this arduous journey of his dad inspired TY to adopt the same fighting spirit.
So how has life changed for you?
As compared to a regular office job where you are trained to carry out what you need to do, starting my own business has made me see life in a much broader perspective. I find more purpose in what I do. Having my own business means I have to constantly innovate to keep up.
Life is not only more challenging and fun, it is also definitely more meaningful because I am building something of my own.
What made you start UBE?
As an entrepreneur myself, I realised that there are many good business concepts (be it new startups or traditional businesses adopting innovation) but there is not enough exposure for them. Most of the time, they are only known in their own industry.
Since I run a travel business, I thought this is something I can be involved in. I want to help promote these businesses to fellow Singaporeans and also to the world.
The whole idea of UBE is to conduct regular startup and entrepreneurship tours where we can showcase our local talents so that Singapore will be known for our strength in innovation within the region. I really want the rest of the world to recognise Singapore as an innovative hub and not just a great tourist attraction.
Through all the ups and downs, what gives you the greatest satisfaction?
To see your ideas come to fruition! When I first started my tour company, no one wanted to come for our tours even though I know that the tours offered are really interesting and unique.
Satisfaction is when I earned my first dollar, when I got my first positive review, when my team grew from 1 person to a team of 10. But the greatest satisfaction is when I finally see my company moving into the direction that I want it to be!
And what about your greatest challenge?
The ability to prioritise my tasks and strike a balance in everything I do. As business owners, we will have many ideas and it is impossible to do everything. It is important to prioritise which are the more urgent objectives and which are just ideas that are good to try and can be shelved to a later timeline.
In terms of entrepreneurial ambition, Singapore ranked last of six SEA countries in a recent survey by World Economic Forum. What is your take of the entrepreneurial scene in Singapore?
I think this is because Singapore has a really good infrastructure with strong economic stability. Given the safe environment we are in, young people may not want to take the risk to step out and venture out of their comfort zones, unlike our counterparts in the neighbouring regions. But I feel that as a whole, we are moving in the right direction and there is an increasing percentage of young entrepreneurs in the market.
Schools such as Polytechnics, Junior Colleges and Universities are placing a bigger emphasis on entrepreneurship. There are also many initiatives set up to enourage startups and groom new talents such as private and public institutions and also government incubators.
I do believe that in time to come, more Singaporeans will embrace and embark on this path of entrepreneurship!
What do you think is one important strength that entrepreneurs must possess?
Haha I think it has to be the willingness to accept failure and adjust your strategies accordingly!
With his considerable success, TY remains an affable humble person. A value he attributes to his parents’ teachings again.
He ends off with these wise words, “I believe the sky is the limit when you venture out of your comfort zone. I may not be the smartest person but I strongly believe that I am one of the most hardworking person around. This is what has been inculcated in me since young and I know I will succeed.”
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