Leveling Up The Startup Game Through Practicality & Mental Endurance
Gamurai, a pragmatic combination of the words ‘Game’ and ‘Samurai’, is the brainchild of 33-year-old Woo Sze Ming.
“I was reading some books about Samurais and at the same time, I was interested in playing games. Naturally, game development was the idea when we first started. I did not know how to do it back then but I know that as long as I can articulate and sell the idea, I should be able to find the people needed to build my business,” Sze Ming explains.
One of the most important skills you need is communication. You not only need to pitch and sell your business idea to investors and clients, you also need to be able to motivate your employees.
Unlike most young people with nary a clue about their life plans, Sze Ming’s goal since army days is to start a business. Knowing that he has an introverted character, he purposefully went to enrol in a Business Management Degree at Singapore Management University in the hopes of learning business skill and gaining public-speaking confidence.
After 8 gruelling years, this ambitious young man is the founder of local start-up Gamurai and has been invited to speak at various key startup events across Asia.
Why the emphasis on 3D technology? As with any young person who plays games, I believe that virtual reality space and physical reality will eventually converge to become one reality. So, it all started from wanting to create a digital identity for everyone to represent themselves in the digital world in the form of 3D avatars. In 2010, I came across 3D face modelling technology at a tech festival organised by A*Star and was fascinated because it is exactly what is needed to create these 3D avatars. That was how it all started!
But why hair salons in particular?
I initially wanted to create a multiplayer online role-playing game but somewhere along the line, I realised that game development is a tough industry and not a really big thing in Singapore. The game ecosystem is not strong here and people I have talked to, tell me that it is going to cost at least a few millions of dollars to build MMORPG. It is not viable financially and no one is going to invest in us because we were a team of fresh graduates back then.
We got to be realistic if we want to build a business.
So we brainstormed for more practical uses of 3D avatars and this idea of virtual trying-on of hairstyles stood out. I saw this group of female friends becoming very excited over this idea and that was when I know there is a market demand for 3D avatars in this industry.
A lot of startups face problems earning actual money. How did you monetise your business idea?
I thought about releasing the 3D app as an iphone or android app back then but in Singapore, most people are not willing to pay for app downloads. To sustain the business, we need to generate revenue and the B2C route is not suitable. So, we decided to do it through the B2B way and approach hair salons directly.
As a matter of fact, the salons started to ask if I can help them to develop more things such as POS system, appointment scheduler and CRM system. So, our flagship Veon@Experience cloud-based solution was designed which includes everything.
The idea is to help these smaller businesses or SMEs go digital, be more productive and be digitally connected to their customers.
What is your greatest setback/challenge throughout this entrepreneurial journey?
It is hard when you are a fresh graduate and first-time entrepreneur, with little to no financial resources, no powerful family background or connection, nor any track record to begin with. Not that it is any easier now though.
I have got to rely a lot on my teammates and myself to make things happen, learn everything, because we do not really have financial resources to hire talent. I got to do barter trade, inch towards my deliverable bit by bit, and slowly build my track record up. Over a sustained period of time after gaining trust, I work harder and I see people start pulling me up. Slowly, more opportunities and resources are opened up to me and I just keep going forward.
What was your greatest lesson learned since the start?
How to overcome the starting difficulties of a business and generate income to survive. In reality, it is hard to get funds from investors if you do not have a track record or a success story. It was tough the first few years but I just have to keep finding ways to generate revenue.
And what keeps you going even after so many years? The very fact that we are born in Singapore is a privilege. Hardly anyone dies from hunger in Singapore. Even if I do not do a startup or I fail, I think it is quite easy for me to find a job. In a way, this is like a safety net.
Life is short so there is nothing holding me back. Keep trying and keep learning!
When you start young, there is more time to level up. Also, it is not about education or knowledge. I believe success is more about having the mental capacity to handle stress and keep moving forward.
From insights about the job market to his hopes for a smart future, Sze Ming’s take on life and entrepreneurship is both candid and practical. With unwavering perseverance, he has come a long way. He has won notable awards for his software inventions and even represented Singapore in the global startup scene.
What next for this brilliant young entrepreneur? We can only wait in anticipation!
Stay tuned for more inspirational stories on local entrepreneurs and businesses!
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