The pandemic has escalated the adoption of technology, forcing many brick and mortar businesses to pivot sharply to the adoption of e-Commerce. But way before the pandemic, a Singaporean businessman had already seen the potential of e-Commerce and invested his energy in this arena. This person is none other than Ng Aik-Phong, Managing Director of Fave Southeast Asia and former Team Singapore’s National Fencer.
SG Lifestyle’s Column Editor, Angela, had her fan-girl moment when she snagged an interview with him, to understand more about this multi-talented man.
SGLS: Tell us about how you got into this industry.
Aik-Phong: My journey in the business of e-Commerce started in the late 1990s when I founded a group-buy platform called Collective Juice. It was, in many ways, the predecessor of Groupon. When Groupon entered the Singapore market in 2010, I remembered one of my friends sharing the news article and texting me to say, “Bro, this could have been you!” I looked at it, felt sorry for myself for five minutes and then started working on my CV, which was a simple website, fashioned it in the form of a Groupon deal and reached out to the founding team of Groupon Singapore. The rest, as they say, is history!
It was in Groupon that I established a life-long friendship with Joel Neoh. He was then the founder of Groupon Malaysia. As I was getting good results in Groupon Singapore, he roped me in to help him develop the business.
Five years later, when Joel had the early inclinations to start KFit, I felt I had to be part of the new adventure, and I signed up for it. I invested with my own money, and together with Co-Founder Chen Chow, we started opening up markets across Asia. A couple of years on, we pivoted to Fave and in 2017, we introduced FavePay.
SGLS: Your CV is very impressive, entering Carleton university at age 16, graduating as one of the youngest in the faculty of Electrical & Systems Engineering. Would you do things differently if you were to go back in time?
Aik-Phong: Life has thrown me many challenges along the way, and I rarely regret anything. Sure, we have made some bad business decisions now and then as we were at the forefront of our industry and pushing the envelope with no 10-year-series to guide us, but to me, it’s all a vital process to uncover greatness. We adjust and move forward. At Fave, our mantra is: think big, start small, fail fast, and scale faster! So I wouldn’t do anything different professionally.
On the personal front, I would do one thing differently. After winning a bronze medal in the 1993 SEA Games, I should have aimed higher and continued training for the Asian Games and Olympics. Because high-level competitive sport is something one can only excel in at a younger age.
SGLS: What are some of the parallels between fencing and business?
Aik-Phong: Fencing is akin to Chess and Boxing. You have to plan ahead, strategise, and at the same time, be nimble and think on your feet. Hence, even if you have the most innovative plans and ideas but don’t have the mental and physical strength to execute those moves (and be able to course-correct along the way), you will lose. And these are synonymous with building and growing any business.
Fencing made me a better strategist, planner, leader and manager.
SGLS: Fave was recently acquired by Pine Labs. What are some of your plans for both the business as well as yourself following this?
Aik-Phong: The acquisition will help Fave accelerate our growth in the Asia region and unlock massive consumer opportunities across retail, F&B, fashion, and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) segments. Joining forces with Pine Labs will reinforce Fave’s market position in Southeast Asia (SEA). Fave’s leadership team will have our roles expanded to lead the overall consumer platform for the group across Asia.
We have plans to launch Fave India in the near future and will also be hiring over 100 new employees in the region to accelerate cashless payments and smart savings.
I am focusing on growing Fave’s business in SEA, specifically Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. I am extremely excited because of the opportunities in this region, the unstoppable drive towards digitalisation, coupled with a few upcoming products that we will be launching in the later part of 2021, one of which is to enable online merchants to accept FavePay on their websites or e-Commerce platforms, and also a new fintech-related product that will aim to serve the consumer segments that are often left out by bigger financial institutions.
SGLS: Could you share with us a difficult phase in your life, one that few people know about and tell us how you overcame it.
Aik-Phong: One of the most challenging phases of my life was when I encountered failure in an F&B business during the 2000s, followed by my divorce a few years after. The business failure probably set me back S$1 million and about four to five years of my life. It was a painful period, but whatever doesn’t break us makes us stronger. With a growth mindset and positivity, I picked myself up from the brink of bankruptcy and slowly crawled out of it, dollar by dollar, month by month. Having skills I could monetise (being a Fencing Coach) and the opportunity to join Groupon helped tremendously. My business failure in F&B ironically helped me be a better business partner to the merchants who onboarded Groupon and subsequently Fave because I empathised with their challenges.
Bonus Q: Who inspires you in business and in life?
Aik-Phong: It’s interesting because I realised when answering this question that I do not particularly have any one person who inspires me throughout my life. Instead, I have people I look up to at different stages and phases of my life and career and for different aspects, through their books, or simply the lives they lived or businesses they created.
For example, people like Tony Robbins (author of “Awaken The Giant Within”), Simon Sinek (author of “Start with Why”), the Dalai Lama (through his book “The Art of Happiness”), Mother Theresa (her unconditional love), Jack Ma (For his vision and team orientation), Steve Jobs (Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish), Nuseir Yassin of Nas Daily (for his amazing passion and attitude), Tony Fernandes (for his grit, guts and ability to pivot and overcome odds stacked against him). There’s also Quek Siu Rui of Carousell (for building an effective and simple user interface that aims to solve specific consumer problems at scale), Pieter Kemps and Tan Ying Lan, whom I knew through Sequoia Capital (for their sincere care, concern and hands on value-add to the companies they invest in), and last but not least Joel Neoh, serial entrepreneur and Founder of Fave, for his wonderful blend of IQ and EQ.
Fave is offering a special 10% e-Cashback for SG Lifestyle readers, capped at S$5 via the Fave app. Use code <SGLIFE>. This exclusive promo is valid on Fave Deals and eCards until 4th June 2021. Terms and conditions apply.
Interview by Angela May Tan, Column Editor & Writer.
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