Delane Lim (above) the founder and group chief executive officer of youth-leadership training company Agape Group Holdings, which has grown from a one-man show to a 20-staff outfit that made $1 million in revenue last year.
When Mr Delane Lim wanted to set up his own business nine years ago at the age of 20, his parents told him he was crazy.
“They did not want to fund my venture. But now, I fund them and they are happy,” he says, laughing.
The 29-year-old bachelor heads Agape Group Holdings, a youth development organisation which has grown from a one-man show to a 20-staff outfit that made $1 million in revenue last year.
When he started it in 2005, all he knew was that he wanted to run leadership, character-development and team-building programmes for young people, but he had no idea how to get the funds to do so.
He credits his vision to Singapore Youth For Christ, a Christian organisation that reaches out to the young, where he had volunteered after secondary school.
“I told myself that if I had a company, its focus would not be to make money, but to make a difference. I wanted my business to touch lives,” says Mr Lim, who has a diploma in marketing and advertising from a private school.
The impetus to strike out on his own came after he worked for 11/2 years as a trainer at a sports and adventure company in 2004.
“I faced four problems with that job. I did not like the pay, the boss, the lack of growth and what I was doing. I felt I was not empowered to make my own decisions,” he says.
He quit the company and registered Agape as his company. However, with little money to execute his ideas, he decided to take up another full-time job as a procurement and quality manager at an adventure training company.
He worked there for two years and realised there was money to be made in being a consultant to schools and companies.
He decided to turn Agape into a business consultancy so that it could finance its own programmes.
His first customer was a secondary school in 2007, which hired him to run a character and leadership training camp. He spent $8,000 of his savings running that. He did such a good job that the school started recommending his services to others.
Slowly, business picked up. Besides schools, his current clients also include the Timbre Group, which runs several live-music restaurants and bars and other music-related businesses, as well as agencies under various government ministries, for whom he conducts team-building activities.
“An entrepreneur needs resilience,” he says.
“Between 2005 and 2009, there were some months when I was ‘eating grass’. Income was unstable and I was extremely stressed in 2008 as I was in national service, and trying to study and run my business at the same time.” “Eating grass” is a Chinese phrase which means earning so little that one cannot afford to buy food.
That year, he completed a distance-learning course to earn a business administration degree from Australia’s Curtin University, as well as a post-graduate diploma in human capital management from the Singapore Human Resources Institute.
However, his body could not take the strain. After suffering breathlessness and flu for three months in 2010, he went for a check-up, which uncovered a heart blockage.
That year, at the age of 26, he went for a heart bypass.
Today, he still suffers from health problems which he declines to elaborate on. He chooses not to let these get him down and focuses his energies on his never-ending workload instead.
“There are days when I feel like giving up. In fact, every year I ask myself, to continue as an employer or to be an employee? There are so many things to worry about all the time,” he says.
His employees, aged 19 to 56, top his priority list.
“If I shut down, where will my staff go? This company is not just about me, but the people working for me and the families they have to feed.”
As a former employee, he is also all too aware that they could have the same grouses he once had about his employer. “I need to make sure they love me, the boss, and that they love what they are doing and love the pay, and also feel that they can grow in this company,” he says with a grin.
Some of his employees have left the company to join his competitors so he says he tries his best to pay them the “market rate”. He also allows some employees to run their own businesses outside office hours.
“I’ve been there before. As long as they declare their business and it does not clash with company interests, I’m fine with it,” he says.
He knows he would have fewer worries if he were an employee or a freelancer.
“But I’m an entrepreneur because I want to provide meaningful employment. Who knows, maybe 10 years from now, I may decide to be an employee and I may end up being an employee of a current employee,” he says.
Extracted from The Sunday Times, 16th February 2014. Journalist: Bryna Singh