When people think of becoming an entrepreneur, they usually think of starting a single business. But what if you’re someone who is interested in different fields and wants to be involved in many different start-ups?
Being a venture capitalist is one way to do it. And that’s exactly what Rina Neoh decided to do a little more than a decade ago. And she hasn’t looked back since.
A graduate of Computer Science with an MBA in International Business, Rina began her career working for a Microsoft reseller and later for an IBM subsidiary before teaming up with some associates to found Mercatus Capital to invest in start-ups in this region.
Rina talks to SAVVY about how she got started in this business, what it takes to be a start-up investor and how she manages a hectic lifestyle which requires her to maintain homes in three countries.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I’m not sure if I’ve always wanted to be one but I have been one since I was very young. My first entrepreneurial experience was at the age of eight when I started selling snacks around the block at my home in Rifle Range Flats in Penang. I don’t recall not having to work part-time throughout my schooling years — including being a shampoo girl in my mother’s hair salon — but I actually enjoyed it. Through it all, I learned a lot about the importance of listening to customer needs and expectations.
Rather than stick to one business, you have chosen the route of investing in various companies. Why?
The size of your success is measured by the size of your dreams, the depth of your passion and the strength of your determination and I asked myself why stick to one when I can do more.
How many start-ups has your company invested in so far?
Since 2006, through our own network of angel investors, we provided seed capital to more than 50 promising start-ups in Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
What are your strengths as an investor?
I have a knack for identifying new businesses, finding new markets, creating unique value propositions and creating sustainable revenue streams.
What are the most important qualities to have as an investor of start-ups?
It’s important to have intestinal fortitude and inexhaustible patience when investing in small businesses. I work with the premise that for every runaway success story, there are hundreds of other businesses that may not book a profit for many years. Investing in start-ups is a hit-or-miss affair.
But if you don’t take a risk and invest, you won’t have any successful companies. My goal is to find the next game-changer so I’ll continue to invest in promising start-ups knowing that some will fail.
Investing in start-ups is a long-gestation play. How do you support yourself while waiting for the businesses to mature?
I have directorships in various companies including Mercatus Capital but also in other companies that we have invested in. We also get management and professional fees from such companies so there is some income but obviously that’s not where the big money is.
What kind of businesses are you interested in?
We have invested in all types of start-up businesses from technology apps, pharmaceuticals and healthcare technology to food products, educational services and FinTech. So, it’s quite a diverse range. The selection of industry sector is actually less important than the level of innovation and competitive advantages these companies have.
How do you source for start-ups to invest in?
We do this mainly though research and referrals from business associates, bankers and partners. We have built up our name and reputation over the years and the community knows how to reach out to us.
What kind of role do you normally play besides being an investor?
In general I don’t take an active managerial role in the businesses I invest in. Rather, I focus on guiding the core team so they can take the company to the next level of sustainability and profitability. I recognise the tough challenges young entrepreneurs face and I see an opportunity to make a difference in their lives by linking them to resources normally beyond their reach.
You jet set quite a bit. Where is home for you?
I reside primarily in Singapore, although I have homes in Malaysia and the Philippines as well. I am planning to spend more time in Kuala Lumpur these days as I am currently working with one of Malaysia’s most dynamic entrepreneurs in the tech sector.
What’s a typical day like for you?
It’s probably not as hectic as you might think. I’m very organised so I’m able to maintain very reasonable working hours. I like to get up early, around 6am and start my day at the fitness gym in my condo or in the hotel when I’m travelling. After breakfast, I’m usually at my desk by 8am. Then it’s calls and meetings with clients, business partners and colleagues. Lunchtime is spent mostly in the office as I try to avoid going out for lunch to save time. Then it’s more meetings in the afternoon. I usually call it a day by 6pm. I relax after dinner by listening to music or catching up with friends and family through social media. I also try to do some reading before going to bed before midnight.
How much time do you spend on the Internet every day?
Again, it’s probably not as much as you’d expect. I use the Internet for about two hours a day, mainly for work-related matters but also a bit on social media. I spend much more time thinking, planning and strategising than being online.
You got married recently. Will that affect your working style?
I tied the knot very recently yes, but I believe it won’t affect work or lifestyle. All of us have got 24 hours a day. That’s a lot of time if you know how to manage it well.