ME & MY MONEY

Teen tinkerer already a CEO at 22

Mr Justin Fulcher dropped out of university four years ago, backpacked around Asia for a few months and has now settled in Singapore. He says he is focused on developing software and building tech products as he is better at them than investing in st
Mr Justin Fulcher dropped out of university four years ago, backpacked around Asia for a few months and has now settled in Singapore. He says he is focused on developing software and building tech products as he is better at them than investing in stocks and commodities.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Technopreneur gives his all to grow online healthcare platform company RingMD

Not many teenagers would spend every cent of their savings on a bunch of outdated computer equipment, but as a young technology enthusiast, Mr Justin Fulcher did just that.

The American recalls that an online search for computer gear a few years back led him to a school which was selling off old server and network equipment.

He and a friend hauled the gear from the school in his friend's truck.

Healthcare connection
"I was travelling around Asia. That was when I saw a huge disconnect between the levels of access to quality and affordable healthcare. Being the tech geek I am, I decided to build a platform that allows people to easily access medical information and doctors online, any time and anywhere."
MR JUSTIN FULCHER

  • WORST & BEST BETS

  • Q: What has been your worst investment?

    A real estate technology company that I pursued a number of years back that was focused on building tools for real estate agents and property managers to help them market and get new deals.

    I was building it for all the wrong reasons, motivated just to try to earn some money. I wasn't passionate about it. No one else involved was passionate too. We decided to stop pursuing it because we didn't really care about the problem that we were solving.

    One of the big lessons I learnt was if you're going to invest in something, in any sense, you definitely need to really care about what you're investing in.

    Q: And what has been your best?

    Typically, investments are for the medium to longer term.

    With RingMD, it's a big blessing for me.

    The initial investment I put in was my entire savings, which was more than $100,000. It's a wonderful convergence of my passion for technology and healthcare and helping people - which I would consider my best investment to date.

Singapore-based Mr Fulcher, 22, says: "We ended up spending about US$5,000, which at that time was pretty much every dollar that we had in the bank.

"We ended up taking it back and setting up our own experimental lab in my parents' home, where we learnt a lot about networking, computers and programming at an enterprise level."

He has been investing both time and money in technology since he was young. He started computer coding at just seven years of age back home in Charleston, South Carolina, where he grew up.

The technopreneur set up a string of start-ups as a teenager, and his latest project is RingMD, an online platform that gives patients instant access to doctors.

RingMD, with 20 employees, was launched in December 2013, with Singapore as its headquarters and offices throughout South-east Asia. The firm expanded to the US in February.

The RingMD chief executive says: "I originally came to Singapore almost four years ago, after dropping out of university, and I didn't know a single soul here but since then I've made a lot of friends and Singapore my home."

He had planned to spend only a few months backpacking through Asia. "During my travels I kept passing through Singapore, and every time I felt a strong pull that this was the place I wanted and needed to be."

His backpacking trip not only brought him here, but also served as the inspiration behind RingMD.

"I was travelling around Asia. That was when I saw a huge disconnect between the levels of access to quality and affordable healthcare. Being the tech geek that I am, I decided to build a platform that allows people to easily access medical information and doctors online, any time and anywhere."

Mr Fulcher adds that he tends to be a risk-taker.

"When I have set my heart and mind on something, I go in 100 per cent. Take RingMD, for example. I have poured all of my life's savings into the company because I fully believe in what it stands for and its potential and ability to succeed."

Q: Are you a spender or saver?

I wouldn't really categorise myself as one or the other. I do live a fairly humble lifestyle and I spend only on things I really need.

I've never been interested in just buying material things for the sake of it.

When it really comes down to it, I focus most of my attention on the business and sustaining myself for rent, food and transportation.

Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?

I spend at least $4,000 every month. This goes to basic livelihood commitments and work-related expenses that I incur.

Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?

From a financial planning perspective, everything from my time and money is invested into growing RingMD to what I know it can and will be.

This is my life mission - to connect every person on the planet to quality and affordable healthcare.

I have decided not to diversify because I want 100 per cent of my time spent on growing the business, which is my sole priority.

I do not want to be distracted by other investments which may hinder progress towards RingMD achieving its full potential.

I dabbled in stocks, gold and silver a number of years ago. It was a lot of trial and error. I lost some money, nothing super significant. I realised that was not what I was

really passionate about and also I wasn't very good at it.

So I focused on things that I was a lot more comfortable with and better at, which was developing software and focusing on building tech products.

Q: Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

I lived in a fairly average American household. My mother works in the administration side in a commercial real estate company and my father works in logistics. Neither of them has a college degree and they've worked really hard to go beyond that societal norm.

One of the biggest things that they helped instil in me, through example, is that hard work is everything. They've really sacrificed tremendously to help provide me with as many opportunities as they could.

I am the eldest of three and have two sisters in high school and university in the US.

We had to work for our allowance, do chores around the house, for instance. Ultimately, they taught us that we needed to focus on really supporting ourselves, of course, in a very loving way.

Q: How did you get interested in investing?

The biggest thing that interests me about investing or entrepreneurship in general ultimately came down to having freedom - the freedom to choose how I spend my time.

I never envisioned myself to be working for a big company. I can't sit still like that in an office all day.

The desire to spend my time focusing on the things I really loved and cared about is what really inspired me to start investing. My investment philosophy is focused on building sustainable businesses that can support you over the long term.

A lot of people focus on diversification, whereas I focus on the exact opposite, which is having an incredibly focused approach and I'm 100 per cent all in RingMD.

Q: What investment property do you own?

I don't have any now, but I do plan on buying my first property in Singapore, hopefully within the next year.

I'm a fan of Tiong Bahru. I lived there for a couple of years and I really like a lot of the unique characteristics of the neighbourhood.

Q: What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?

Probably the most extravagant stuff I spend on is technology.

The most extravagant purchase of my life was the US$5,000 I spent on the old server and network equipment. My parents have always been supportive, even when I bring home a truckload of old server equipment and set it up all over the house (laughs).

Q: What's your retirement plan?

I don't plan on retiring. I don't see myself doing anything else except for working, building and creating things, and I plan to do that for the rest of my life.

When I'm in my 60s and 70s, I definitely see myself still working on growing RingMD, and it's going to be a lifelong challenge - one that I'm committed to seeing through all the way to the end.

Q: Home is now...

I live in a very small place in the Central Business District. It's quicker to get to the office - which is where I spend most of my time - or around it.

My home is very minimalist and it's a place where I go pretty much to sleep.

rachaelb@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Teen tinkerer already a CEO at 22'. Print Edition | Subscribe