is a person who pursues an innovative idea with the potential to solve a community problem. Theses individuals are willing to take up the challenges and effort to create positive changes in society through their initiatives (Investopedia, 2010).
Daniel Soh, a high flyer economist with many years of experiences decided to change his career path. He wanted to create a better society with his experiences and knowledge. Thus, he embarked into social entrepreneurship.
1. How did you get started with social entrepreneurship?
During my years as a high flyer in the corporate sector (making rich businessmen richer), I always hope to make a difference with the talents (and ‘financial’ resources) I am blessed with, and in particular, during my prime years. Notably, I do not want to go into business for the mere sake of profit, and (subsequently) distributing a meagre portion of the lucrative earnings back to the society (for the recognition as an entity with a social cause). I believe that a profit entity started out with a clear vision to create a social impact could do much more (as well as being more sustainable) than a charitable organization (relying on donations). However, there is a delicate balance between profit-making and impact-making for a social enterprise, while I choose to strictly focus on the latter (with the former as an ingredient for sustainability). From this perspective, after I left the corporate world, I did not embark on social entrepreneurship, given the lack of a clear business model and vision. While I was trying to put the “bits and pieces” together, I was invited to be an Associate Lecturer for a renowned private University, where I received consecutive years of Teaching Awards. It was, in the midst of teaching, I found a conviction to make quality learning experience available to any individual across the world, who has a keen desire to learn. Upon further research, I derived valuable insights on the (many) reasons explaining the poor reception of online learning, albeit an aggressive push (in this aspect) by big names globally. And for the most part, my findings and research provided the well-needed ingredients for a sustainable social enterprise model to pursue my vision – marking the beginning of my journey as a social entrepreneur at the start of 2015.
2. Is this your first business? If not, what were the others, and what happened to them?
My first business is a tuition center, currently named “Geno House LLP”, which has been handed over to my wife’s family. Geno House LLP has received many positive reviews from parents (online blogger included), thanks to the genuine desire among the teachers to make a difference (and backed by an intuitive teaching curriculum I developed earlier). I moved on to start SD Group Asia Pte Ltd, which focuses on curriculum development and content production, and has managed to work with a few big names and won the SME 2014 Award. At the start of 2015, when I decide to (finally) embark on the path of a social entrepreneur, my focus has been on eCapsules Online Pte Ltd – a business model started out with a social cause.
3. How did you finance your business and what was the process like?
So far my businesses were financed (majority) by my own savings, with minority from investors (who are close friends).
4. How many employees do you have? Full- or part-time?
My team is small, as most of our work require niche skills (such as media production, high-level web programming etc.). So we collaborate closely with a team of experienced free-lancers.
5. What is an average workday like for you?
The hours could range from as ‘efficient’ as 2-3 hours to as ‘exhausting’ as 14-15 hours, depending on the timeline to meet.
I believe that a profit entity started out with a clear vision to create a social impact could do much more than a charitable organization ~Daniel Soh
6. Who are your customers?
The intuitive interface technology enables the export of quality teaching in Singapore to the rest of the world. So, my customer includes (any) individual who is willing to learn in the international market. Still, for a start, in a bid to gain traction, my targeted audience would be University students (not confining to Singapore) taking Economics modules under the University of London International Bachelor Programme, given the fact that I have already developed my proprietary contents (which proved to be very well-received by students) over the years.
7. What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Being a perfectionist and the willingness to invest and try out ‘out-of-the-textbook’ ways of doing things.
8. What plans do you have for expansion?
When market traction reaches a level where the business model is self-sustaining, I aim to set up computer centers in rural districts across Southeast Asia countries (including Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand), to bring what we have developed each year to the poor (free-of-charge).
9. What outsiders have been most important to your business success? (e.g., bankers, accountants, investors, customers, suppliers, mentors, etc.)
My business model leverages heavily on niche expertise (such as programmers and media production professionals).
10. What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?
Word of mouth.
11. What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?
Many value extraction strategies proposed to me (by experts), with the aim to make myself rich first before giving back to society.
12. What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
- Keep the ‘burnt rate’ as low as possible (always expecting the unexpected – in a negative way)
- Focus only on what you believe you could offer most, not what has the potential to earn your most.
- Your customers must have a need, and most importantly, want the need to be met.
13. Do you have an “exit” strategy for getting out of the company?
If the business model takes off, there is a certainty that big name investors would be “knocking on the door”. But, social entrepreneurship is not a seasonal role, at least in my opinion. Simply put, when I decide to embark on this path, I will dedicate my life to (at least) try to make a difference, until the time when I know that I could offer no more.
Investopedia,. (2010). Social Entrepreneur Definition | Investopedia. Retrieved 29 December 2015, from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/social-entrepreneur.asp
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