No technical analysis, just good gut feeling

That's how the GM of Deliveroo Singapore goes about deciding whether to invest in an e-commerce start-up

A decade ago, Mr Tristan Torres' father suffered a heart attack in front of him at the dining table and passed away, aged just 56.

"It was really hard, I thought I was not going to move on," Mr Torres, who comes from Spain, recalls.

"You are 24 years old. Your dad is like your star. He was a doctor, working between Spain and the United States. My mum was not working... Suddenly, there was not a guide for me."

The tragedy, however, left Mr Torres - now aged 35 and father of a girl aged six and two boys aged five and one - braver and more decisive in taking risks if he thinks they will pay off.

"I don't know what is going to happen tomorrow so (if I) have a good feeling about something, I just act and enjoy the present," he says.

For Mr Tristan Torres, 35, the future in e-commerce is the online marketplace. He looks for companies that can take charge of the whole process from collecting orders to delivery, like Amazon. The father of three plans to stop working at the age of 55. ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

This mindset influenced his decision to move to Manila from Spain four years ago to work as a vice-president for e-commerce company LivingSocial.

In fact, Mr Torres, a fitness fanatic, made the decision in two minutes despite not knowing much about Manila, he says.

"Who wants to go to Manila with two kids? No one. But I had a feeling that South-east Asia was going to be a growing market when it comes to the online space."

When asked if the safety of his family crossed his mind, he says Manila is not a place that is as complicated as, say, the African nation of Angola.

"If something goes wrong, I just take a flight 13 hours back, I come back to my house in Spain, I just find another job," adds Mr Torres, who has always been a natural risk-taker.

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What was your best investment?

    A The best investment in my life has been moving to Asia.

    It was not so much the monetary gains involved in moving, it was more the psychological benefits of moving from the First World to the Third World in Manila. Who wants to go to Manila with two kids? No one.

    My salary was five times more but the experience was the more important thing.

    Because we were alone in a country where we didn't know anything and were completely different, from a family perspective, it made us united, like a bloc.

    My kids also became multilingual - they speak English, Chinese and Spanish - and they changed their mindset.

    They can play with any type of kids and are more open.

    In Spain, they would only play with their friends and family; now they have become worldwide citizens.

    Giving them that experience and letting them see the big picture of the world was a big thing for me.

    Q What was your worst investment?

    A Investing in a company whose business I didn't know.

    I invested in a global fund of funds - a fund which invests in funds in different parts of the world. I thought I knew what was the mechanics of the fund and investment strategy but it turned out I didn't have any idea how it worked.

    So in one month, I lost 35 per cent of the €20,000 (S$31,300) I invested and I sold it then as my wife was starting to be a little bit scared.

    It was a new product offering a 15 per cent return a year. The guy selling it to me was a good salesman. It was 2005 and all the financial institutions were just growing massively. So I was excited and I just put in the money.

    Jeremy Koh

The going in Manila was not smooth at first. During the first two months, he found it "really difficult" to communicate with employees owing to cultural differences between Asia and Europe.

However, he worked with a coach for 12 months and learnt to understand and pay attention to his employees' feelings.

He spoke less loudly and gestured less than he used to in Europe as sometimes this was seen as offensive.

Also, he learnt that certain issues should be raised with employees privately as opposed to in the presence of others.

"It's about losing face. I didn't know what was 'losing face' until I arrived in Asia, to be honest."

After doubling the business in Manila and increasing the head count from 120 to 190, he moved to Singapore in 2013 to take on a more senior role as chief sales officer for Ensogo, an e-commerce company.

However, when his wife experienced health problems, he left the post in June last year so that the family could move back to Spain and his wife could undergo treatment.

But they returned to Singapore once she recovered even though he was jobless at that stage.

A contact then told him that online food delivery company Deliveroo was looking to start operations in Asia. He jumped at the chance, thinking that Singapore lacked a reliable food delivery business, and started the business here in October.

In three months, the business has grown to having 26 permanent staff members and 220 riders. Business is growing steadily, said the general manager of Deliveroo Singapore.

During the Chinese New Year period, Deliveroo will give away 88 golden hongbao with $88 in them together with its deliveries. It expects the number of deliveries to increase during this period.

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

A My grandfather was a doctor and a general in the military during the war in Spain, so I come from a really classic and wealthy family.

I am the second of four brothers - the middle one that no one likes.

My family owned a decent number of properties in Spain. Monthly allowance when I was about 14 was about $100 a week. I was skiing every single weekend and travelled twice a year with my family. I don't remember any instance of not doing things because we had (no) money.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A It was around 2003 and I was 23 years old and the branch director of a local bank in Spain. I invested $5,000 in Telefonica, a telco company.

During this period in Europe, everything was growing. I remember the first two weeks when I started to work in the bank - any share that people was buying was growing like 10 per cent, 15 per cent. The investment worked really good.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A I invest in two main categories. The first is investing in e-commerce start-ups - about $10,000 to $20,000 per start-up - because this is a sector I am familiar with.

The value of these companies can be zero or can go to $1 million. If you invest in 20 of these companies and only one succeeds, then you're going to cover your investment.

These are shorter-term investments - a company can launch an initial public offering in two years - which I engage in for fun.

I will read about the moves this company is making, its operational cost and its market size. If I develop a good gut feeling that the company will grow, I will invest. I don't use technical analysis or financial modelling for these companies.

For me the future in e-commerce is the online marketplace so I won't invest in a discount site like Groupon. I look for companies that are increasing the number of products on sale on their online marketplace. It would be even better if the company can take charge of the whole process from collecting orders to delivery, like Amazon.

As I also need to secure retirement for me and my wife and provide for my three kids, I also invest long-term in blue chips. For these, I have a horizon of 10 to 15 years.

For such companies, cashflow is super-important for me because it allows you to invest in creating better products. I also assess how quickly the sales are going to grow.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A Sixty per cent of its value is from property co-owned by me and my family in Spain. I don't manage this 60 per cent.

Of the remaining 40 per cent, 60 per cent is invested in blue chips and 40 per cent is what I use for "playing". The value of the latter component is a six-digit amount.

Returns from the long-term component have been stable at about 4 per cent per year for the last five years.

For the short-term e-commerce component, I lost 25 per cent last year. Over the last five years, however, I'm up 40 per cent.

One of the stocks in my e-commerce portfolio is Ensogo and a stock in my blue-chip portfolio is Google.

Q What does money mean to you?

A Money is a way to get happiness and something I need to provide for my family.

I make sure that I cover one to two years of my family expenses and save for my retirement and my kids' future.

The rest of the money, I use to enjoy life.

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

A The day that I got my bonus from my previous company, I went and bought a five-digit triathlon bike.

It's the fastest bike in the world for triathlon. I do triathlons, and am training for the Ironman in March.

This morning I just swam 3,000m in the swimming pool. Then this afternoon I need to run 15km from the office to home. Tomorrow I need to bike 120km in the morning.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A I am investing in my wife's travel company. She helps individuals and corporates plan travel itineraries to Spain. There's a huge increase in inbound travellers from Asia to Spain.

I am considering investing more than $20,000 in an online sales company but I can't tell you more as it's a really good idea and there'd be a lot of people saying, "Wow! I want to do it."

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A I want to stop working at the age of 55. Why 55? Because my youngest child is one year old, so I'm assuming that in 21 years he will be a graduate so I would not be paying more university fees.

I'm assuming I'm going to live 72 years, so from 55 to 72, my wife and I will live alone in my house in Spain. For two old people with the kids paid for and not at home, the minimum I want to have is about $8,000 to $12,000 a month.

Every month I'm putting 20 to 30 per cent of my salary in that retirement plan to reach that amount I need. If I have enough money, from 55 to 72, my dream job would be to just invest in more start-ups and advise start-ups. By then I will also probably have sold my investments in blue chips because that is to fund my kids' university fees basically.

Q Home is now/I drive...

A I live in a rented four-room condo in the East Coast. In Singapore, I just use the MRT and my bicycle. I bike to the office every day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2016, with the headline 'No technical analysis, just good gut feeling'. Print Edition | Subscribe