Long before start-ups were in fashion, Mr Dilong Goh was already a serial entrepreneur, having tried his hand at various businesses before the age of 30.
As a communications student at Nanyang Technological University - a course he switched to from business at the last minute in order to have more free time - he tried businesses doing IT projects and even sold mist fans.
Mr Goh, 40, also became an insurance agent at AIA a month before matriculation. Saving his earnings enabled him to start doing business after graduation.
He eventually joined his father's one-man marine engineering firm in 2004 and grew it to 13 staff. The managing director (MD) calls it "the only business that has survived and allows me to upkeep three kids".
He has a five-year-old son and two daughters, aged three and one, with his wife Jade, who runs embroidery firm Shevron and Pick Me Up Cafe in East Coast Parkway.
His firm, which provides specialised marine and offshore equipment and services, recently changed its name to Giantech Engineering from GIA after a round of private equity funding.
Worst and best bets
Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?
A After graduation, I entered a franchising agreement for a cafe in Beach Road.
It wiped out my savings, as my friends and I were swindled by a couple who went to jail while we were still dealing with them.
My identity card, which I had given to them to start the firm, was used to buy an overpriced Toyota Harrier. When I asked, they told me it was a mistake and accused me of not trusting them.
We lost at least $80,000 of our investment in the cafe. Doing business is not easy and it wasn't the nicest thing for someone fresh out of university to go through.
We invested a six-figure sum in gold at the end of last year. I'd say it was stupid because we've never done something like that for years, and left it for a few months.
A month ago, we checked and about 60 per cent of the value was left. Business and investments are the same - you need to spend time on it. Like, for property, we visited a lot of places and attended seminars.
Q What has been your best investment move?
A Giantech. The firm has been through a lot, such as the 2008 crisis when sales fell by slightly more than 50 per cent. Now, we are of a decent size, with 13 people.
When I came in, we had to come up with working capital of about $100,000 to grow the company, including hiring staff and buying property where we could work.
The firm has doubled its growth in the last few years and it has been stable in generating cash.
Mr Goh knows how to deliver a sales pitch. He said: "I've always been interested in sales and it's an important set of skills you must have to be a boss."
Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?
A My dad was a good engineer and, to keep three kids "alive", he also drove a taxi at night for 17 years. We lived in a four-room Housing Board (HDB) flat.
We weren't extravagant but life was comfortable. My twin brothers, now 37, and I got our weekly dose of McDonald's.
The younger twin is a venture capitalist who was from Goldman Sachs, and the other is a Singapore Airlines pilot.
Q How did you get interested in investing and business?
A At university, I was just trying out doing business to earn more cash. As a financial planner then, I put money into instruments such as endowment plans and unit trusts, which were just starting to be popular.
I also started investing in stocks at university because everyone around me, classmates and those outside who were more senior, was doing it.
I read books about technical analysis and traded for about five years but when I became busy with my business, my stocks went down.
I got more interested in property after an investing workshop in Kuala Lumpur in 2010, held by a major investor who said that you just need a small downpayment and then get someone to work hard five days a week to help you pay the mortgage.
It sounded simple but we didn't dare take the risk. With investments, it's usually about familiarity. No one around us did property investments, so we took a while.
Q Describe your investing strategy.
A My businesses and investments are very much tied together with my wife's. It helps that she is a business owner, as we see things the same way and have similar risk appetites. You should not get emotional when you invest and you should try to go in with someone more level- headed - that's why investing alongside my wife works.
We invested in industrial property because it had the lowest barriers to entry. We look at the per sq ft (psf) price and the potential yield. We don't have specific targets, but places such as Kaki Bukit should command higher prices.
Things to consider include whether to buy a property with a 30- or 60-year leasehold and if they are Business 1 (B1) or Business 2 (B2) projects. B1 developments are suitable for lighter industries, compared with B2.
Buying and selling different industrial properties over those years gave us an investment fund of more than $1 million, which allowed us to invest in other instruments. We ploughed the money back into our businesses and overseas investments, such as residential properties in the United States under overseas entities.
'' MR GOH, on channelling industrial property investments to other businesses.
As for investing in other businesses, we are new, so we're still learning. For now, we like technology-based firms and usually invest in the seed or Series A rounds.
Q What's in your portfolio?
A Giantech and small investments in other companies, and I'm also investing in other businesses through the private equity firm that's helping Giantech to grow.
In the last four to five years, we have had nine industrial properties at different times. We're left with two, including one that is 1,400 sq ft, and they are partly for usage as well.
Buying and selling different industrial properties over those years gave us an investment fund of more than $1 million, which allowed us to invest in other instruments.
We ploughed the money back into our businesses and overseas investments, such as residential properties in the United States under overseas entities. We bought a few condominium units at about US$20,000 each during the subprime crisis with capital gains of about 35 to 60 per cent on average.
We also bought a condo in Kuala Lumpur in 2012 for about RM600,000.
My investments in other companies range from $50,000 to $100,000. Examples include a logistics start-up and an overseas engineering company.
Q What's the most extravagant thing you have done?
A I buy a decent amount of camera equipment, some of it with my dad. I started getting into photography in 2009 when I got married, and now I'm moving into videography.
The collection includes three camera bodies, more than nine lenses, flashes and all, and it is worth more than $60,000.
Q What are your immediate investment plans?
A Although we can invest in residential property, we think the market is not in the best state now. We sold our HDB flat in Ang Mo Kio last year and we are just looking around.
Instead, I'm actively looking for investment opportunities in other companies, through the private equity firm.
I'm also looking at how to grow our businesses. Giantech is trying to expand aggressively and we are looking to go into other places such as Dubai, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia with our private equity partner.
Q Home is now...
A A rented condo in Bishan.
Q I drive...
A A seven-seater Toyota Estima and we also have a Mercedes 220.
We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.