As a youth, Mr Andy Wong delivered pizza by motorbike for 12 hours a day on weekends.
Now, he has business relations with eminent figures such as former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and magician David Blaine.
Mr Wong, now 31 and a father of two girls aged 10 and three, started to build his network when he hosted a radio show on 95.8FM in 2008 and 2009. He interviewed local entrepreneurs in a one-hour show every Sunday called Bosses Club.
He befriended a number of them, and they brought him into their social circles and networks.
Worst and best bets
Q What would be your best investment?
A My investment in Midas Touch Asia. Midas, which is in its third year, is still in the red, but through its platforms, Miracle Entertainment and myself have built connections that money cannot buy.
Because I know billionaires through this platform, I can broker billion-dollar deals and earn commissions ranging from 0.1 per cent to 10 per cent.
Every year, we ploughed between $200,000 and $400,000 into Midas. In the first year, we lost over $200,000. Last year, we lost over $100,000.
Q What is your worst investment?
A In 2008, I borrowed money to invest in two zichar coffee shops in Upper Cross Street and they flopped big-time.
We invested about $30,000 to pay things like rental, staff salaries and the food suppliers.
We didn't understand the zichar business and the demographic of the area enough before going in.
We put a lot of money into getting good ingredients like crabs and fish, but that area was not affluent enough. We were looking for orders of the crabs or fish, but we had a lot of hor fun and fried rice orders worth as low as $3 to $4, which really didn't make us a lot of money.
The place was busy in the daytime but had only small dinner crowds.
Compared with yong tau foo and wonton mee, zichar is not as easy. You need more than one chef, need to buy and prepare many kinds of meat, and dishes are not as standardised. Labour was expensive too; hiring people was not easy.
It was a good three months before we called it a day.
Now, Mr Wong earns significant commissions from brokering business deals between high-net-worth individuals.
"I would say I'm a high-power broker who probably knows most people out there who are able to make things work," he says.
His network has grown so wide that it now includes well-known global figures. He invited Mr Annan to speak at a business forum held in August by a company Mr Wong founded - Midas Touch Asia Institute. That event was attended by business and government leaders.
Midas Touch Asia Institute is now discussing with Tun Dr Mahathir the possibility of him sitting on its international advisory board.
When asked about how he built such a network, Mr Wong says he starts by finding out the needs and interests of the parties he intends to deal with before meeting them: "Everybody has needs, you just need to identify a need and address it and naturally the doors will be opened to you."
He was a lazy student who liked to do hands-on work as opposed to sitting in classrooms. He passed only four subjects for his O levels and dropped out of polytechnic in his second year after failing a first-year module twice. At 18, he started working part-time as a sound technician at an events company. In 2003, he decided to set up a similar company which also rented out and helped set up sound systems for live shows.
Eventually, others approached him for help with enhancing and promoting their shows. This business is now called Miracle Entertainment Group, a company which, according to Mr Wong, professionals have valued at US$10 million (S$14 million). He owns an 80 per cent stake.
Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?
A I didn't come from a well-to-do family. I came from a single-parent family and I grew up in a three- room flat with six people living in it. I shared a room with my mother and grandmother. My mum did administrative work and supported my side of the family.
I have always loved to work. When I was 12, people were playing Sega video games and I was the only one going around asking for part-time jobs like selling Christmas cards.
When I was 15, I enjoyed selling accessories like can openers, scissors and colouring sets to individuals at hawker centres and coffee shops. One colouring set would sell for $10 and the commission was $2. My earnings were a few thousand dollars every month.
I did deliveries for US Pizza once I got my motorbike licence when I was 18. I earned enough in 11/2 months to buy my own motorbike for about $750. In one week I could make between $70 and about $100 plus. As I was schooling, I would work 12 hours on both Saturday and Sunday and also work on weekday nights.
Q How did you get interested in investing?
A I invest only in my company, Miracle Entertainment.
It started out as a sole proprietorship with about $3,000. Within a year, it broke even. It was incorporated in 2011 and made its first million soon after that year.
Q Describe your investing strategy.
A I have ploughed all my earnings into Miracle Entertainment, so I can fully focus on one thing.
Miracle Entertainment adapts and fine-tunes the acts of live performers such that they resonate with their intended audience. These live performances range from topless cabaret to magic shows to violin performances.
Last year, for instance, we helped fine-tune the 11/2-hour performance David Blaine staged in Singapore as part of his Real Or Magic Asia tour.
Miracle also sells live performances it has distribution rights to, and helps performers find venues to host their performances.
Q What's in your portfolio?
A Miracle Entertainment owns a 90 per cent stake in Midas Touch Asia Institute. Midas organises events that bring entrepreneurs, government leaders, senior management and high-net-worth individuals together to learn and network. It is a platform for us to expand our business contacts.
I personally also broker business deals between companies and high-net-worth individuals.
This year, for instance, I helped broker a deal between Tong Chiang Group and Serial System International. In that deal, Serial System would invest about $5 million in Tong Chiang Group in exchange for Tong Chiang shares.
Tong Chiang approached me saying they wanted to enter the China market and list. They were looking for someone to invest in them and mentor them with regard to these plans, and I put them in touch with Serial System executive chairman Derek Goh.
The commission for such deals can be from as low as $50,000 to six figures. I successfully broker around two to three deals a year.
Q What does money mean to you?
A It's a tool to do good. I think the first article in The Straits Times about me was about how we sponsored a PSLE pupil who had no money to go to school till she reached polytechnic.
When I reach the day where I think I have made enough money and no longer need to grow my business - say when my assets are worth $100 million - I will probably plough 99.9 per cent of my money in a structured way into philanthropy because by then my kids can take care of themselves.
We have been ploughing back 10 to 20 per cent of Miracle's annual net profits into donations since five to six years ago.
Q What's the most extravagant thing you have done?
A I took a helicopter ride around the Grand Canyon, and I stayed in a different hotel in Vegas every day for four to five days. This was not so much to enjoy myself, but for my business. I wanted to really know what is "high life" and what entertainment is really about. The helicopter ride of about an hour cost about US$1,000. The Vegas hotels were about US$300 to US$400 a night.
Q What has been one of your biggest regrets when it comes to investing?
A It was when I trusted the wrong person. I knew someone who was always in and out of prison. However, he cooks very good wanton mee and told me he really wanted to start afresh.
I gave him about $20,000 in 2008 to open a coffee shop stall. However he gets very temperamental when he quarrels with his girlfriend and then the stall doesn't open.
I realised I should have sat back and evaluated the whole situation before acting. I could have first offered him a job of being a chef, or at least have a senior chef chaperone him, instead of giving him the money to open a stall.
Q What are your immediate investment plans?
A Miracle is now focused on buying - and developing its capacity to operate - a cruise ship with say 200 to 300 rooms and 100-over crew members.
When we have our own ship, we will be less beholden to partners who own these ships. Such a project would cost around US$40 million and it could take us about three to five years to save up to purchase the ship.
Q How are you planning for retirement?
A In five years' time, my business will grow to a point where I'll probably not need to work and be able to earn a passive income from Miracle Entertainment for as long as I live. Also, I estimate that I will have a good low-eight-digits in my bank account in five years.
Q Home is now/I drive...
A I live in a five-room flat in Khatib, Yishun with my mum, wife, two kids and my domestic helper.
I drive a Nissan Prestige MPV. I bought it because I have a lot of guests. At this stage, I don't believe in a Porsche or Ferrari - I don't need that. I think practicality is much more important.