Me&MyMoney

From $5k start-up to $2.2m firm

Ex-corporate lawyer's interest in business was piqued when he started investing at the age of 17

Former corporate lawyer Ted Poh started digging into the financials of firms when he was learning the ropes of investing - and that ignited his thirst for business.

His first step into the business world was tuition agency Raffles Mentors, which he started with two classmates before university. Mr Poh said the business racked up revenues of $2,000 a week.

In his second year of studying law at the National University of Singapore, he made a pact with his mother to work as a lawyer for two years before leaving for the start-up world. "I left Drew & Napier on the same day my 'bond' started, on July 7. All the elective modules I took in school were corporate-related and I practised corporate and M&A (mergers and acquisitions) law," said Mr Poh, 28, now chief executive of Pegaxis, an online business-to-business platform for property maintenance services.

He started Pegaxis with $5,000 last year. With two early investors, a minimum viable product was created for $45,000. His co-founders ran the business - which was a top finalist in a DBS Bank programme for start-ups - before he joined full-time this year.

The firm moved to its new office in Ubi on Nov 17, the same day it announced that real estate firm Savills Singapore had increased its stake in the firm from 8 per cent to 15 per cent, valuing Pegaxis at about $2.2 million.

Mr Poh, who is a fundamentals investor, is something of a poster boy for financial literacy.

"I managed to convince five ex-colleagues to at least open trading accounts. Investing is an ongoing process and it gets easier, but to pick it up from scratch is difficult and daunting. I understand that and I introduce them to Reits (real estate investment trusts) and blue chips with easy business models."

Q Money-wise, what were your growing-up years like?

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A The first trade I did, with F&N. It just showed the impatience of a youth. If I had held on, my return would have been more than 100 per cent. If you annualise it, it's more than 20 per cent a year, which is great for a blue chip.

    During the years leading up to the $13.8 billion takeover by Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, it was paying good dividends.

    The minimum board lot was 1,000 shares back then, so $4,000 for a 17-year-old was insane.

    Then when it became $2,000, I went: "What's going on?"

    It recovered to the break-even mark 18 months later and I sold it straightaway.

    A couple of years later, it became $8 and that was when the Thai billionaire wanted to buy F&N. It rose to $9.55, and my grandfather sold it and said: "See, I told you."

    I told him he waited five years for this to happen. For young people, the tendency to want to earn a quick buck is always there, and I was guilty of that.

    Q And what has been your best investment move?

    A My best trade was actually a penny stock, Midas Holdings (train aluminium body maker).

    It may contradict what I said about not investing in S-chips, but I think the fundamentals of the company are good.

    I almost doubled the money I invested in three months when I was 22. I bought it at 32 cents and sold it for more than 60 cents.

    Reasons included pure luck, the fact that the economy was also going up and the SGX was favouring S-chips then.

    It's just that it's a very long play. China is supposedly building more train tracks. The firm has been winning contracts like crazy, but no one cares about trains.

    Another was ST Engineering, which I bought at about $2.87 cents a few years ago and sold at $4.40. The firm was growing and paid good dividends.

    It's a good company, so that's why I'm looking at it again. I like the defence business it deals with and it's a stable industry.

    Rachael Boon

A My parents have been running a property management firm for some 15 years, and my dad is what you'd call an industry leader. It was definitely comfortable growing up - their company was doing well. I've a younger sister, 25, who's in Australia. My paternal grandfather was a lawyer so my family was fortunate to begin with. He told my father not to be one, and also told me the same thing, but I'm rebellious.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A Whatever I first knew about investing came from my grandfather. I picked up business knowledge on my own when Raffles Mentors was running for three years.

My grandfather is a fundamental investor who reads the annual reports and financials, sees who is on the board of directors, their credentials and what sort of businesses they are in.

I started investing when I was 17, using my mum's account. My first stock was Fraser & Neave, which I bought at $4.07 in 2005, on my grandfather's advice. Three months later, the economy tanked, and it went to $2. I sold it when it recovered to $4.07 18 months later.

After my first investment, I tried to use technical analysis to trade. That was when S-chips (Singapore-listed Chinese companies) were hot. It was scary - you could double your money in two months. The run lasted only six months or so. I broke even but all the money I made during the nice six months was lost. I realised this was just all the traders behind it. They know the game better than any retail investor.

That's when I started reading annual reports of bigger companies like blue chips, which also influenced why I chose corporate law.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A As a fundamental investor, even though the market is down, I'm not too concerned. I know in the end these companies have a low chance of dying. They may not profit as much this year but in the meantime, I'm earning a nice dividend.

At this point in time, my strategy is to look for undervalued companies. I recently bought 2,000 Sembcorp Industries shares after I read a report from my broker which said buying it now meant you're virtually buying the Sembcorp Marine portion of the business free of charge.

I look at things like the price-to- earnings ratio but it differs for each industry. I also look at dividends and Sembcorp has a track record of giving good dividends.

I also like banks because I think Singapore banks are stable. I also like, for example, how DBS Bank is becoming a digital bank. I may be biased as it's one of the firms supporting Pegaxis, but it's progressive.

I also believe the future is in the South-east Asian region, because of its sheer number of people.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A Reits, which are easy to explain to a newbie investor, make up a bit more than 50 per cent, across different sectors.

I've Reits in areas like hospitality, retail like Starhill Global Reit, and offices. The average yield is about 7 per cent a year.

BARGAIN-HUNTER

My strategy is to look for undervalued companies. I recently bought 2,000 Sembcorp Industries shares after I read a report from my broker which said buying it now meant you're virtually buying the Sembcorp Marine portion of the business free of charge.

'' MR TED POH, on his investment strategy.

'I have a couple of blue chips like casino operator Genting Singapore, which I think was severely undervalued when I bought it at over 80 cents. At one stage it was $2, but now it's under $1, after the miraculous Trump rally, which confuses me and makes me believe the market is being played. This is why I swore off technical trading.

The fun thing about Genting is of all the Singapore Exchange-listed stocks, it has the biggest amount in cash right now. It's in good position to launch a casino in Japan, which will be a huge catalyst for growth.

My stock portfolio used to be six-figure last year but the market has been down so it's a high five-figure sum, and I get a yield of about 11 per cent a year.

Q What's the most extravagant thing you have done?

A I was 22, and my tuition business was generating money. I was earning close to $4,000 a month giving tuition, and also from the agency, and I decided to buy a second-hand Mazda MX-5, which still cost more than $100,000.

The money I earned came a bit too easily. At that point, it was a game to my two friends and me, to see how much money we could make. It started with $25 per hour, which was the market rate, and we started increasing it until it hit $90 an hour - the sort of rate for National Institute of Education- trained teachers - but I did deliver.

I didn't appreciate the money I had, and now that I've started Pegaxis, I've got a real taste of how difficult it is to make money. My salary has been $1 a month since July 7.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A I've earmarked about $30,000 to invest in undervalued and emerging market opportunities.

I'm looking at DBS, ST Engineering and Thai Beverage, which I've bought and sold a few times. I like it as it's in an emerging market and it's in the business of making small consumables like beer and the projected consumption is rising.

Q Home is now...

A A bungalow in the east with my family. I use a $670 e-scooter everywhere and it has travelled 700km.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 27, 2016, with the headline 'From $5k start-up to $2.2m firm'. Print Edition | Subscribe