Me & My Money

$1.3m business loss proves priceless for property couple

Losing their first venture taught husband-and-wife team the value of diverse income streams

In 2017, entrepreneur Germaine Chow and her husband Shawn Lee lost $1.3 million when their business venture turned sour. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because they realised the danger of relying on one source of income.

"I was working extremely hard for my business, and it fell into the wrong hands of partnership. We had to restart everything that we've built in the last four years," said Ms Chow, 30.

Besides setting up businesses, they invested in industrial properties to build multiple streams of passive income.

The couple met in 2012 when Ms Chow, who was embarking on an online business, needed help with coding the website. A friend recommended Mr Lee, now 31 - who then owned a Web development business - to help her.

What started out as a common interest in business soon developed into a lifelong partnership when they married in 2013.

That year, they started a digital marketing agency, Streamline, with start-up capital of $3. It was sold via a share swap two years later. However, they subsequently lost the business and decided to restart their digital marketing agency, calling it MooMoo Digital, in 2017.

  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A My biggest investing mistake was to allow our first start-up to be acquired by another company via a share swap. My husband and I were young and eager for success and were "sold" by the IPO carrot that the chief executive of the company dangled.

    We did a 100 per cent share swap of our company, and we ended up holding a minority share in the holding company.

    The shares were worth $1.3 million. The then CEO of the holding company continued to raise funds and raised over $1 million in angel funds. About nine months later, the CEO ceased operations.

    We lost $1.3 million and became jobless overnight with two children to support. However, in hindsight, I am grateful for this experience.

    If not for this business failure, we would never have considered property investing. The business failure fuelled us to start multiple businesses and enjoy multiple sources of passive income.

    Q And your best investment?

    A Investing in myself through courses. In the past two years, my husband and I have spent over $30,000 just on courses. This has given us the mindset and knowledge to be who we are today. Lorna Tan

Besides MooMoo, the couple own The I Quadrant, an education business which runs the flagship programme Property Income Mastery.

"We started The I Quadrant in late 2018 with $12,000 in capital and broke even in two months. Our 2018 annual turnover for MooMoo Digital, which we started in 2017, was $600,000, while The I Quadrant's turnover was about $800,000 from November to February this year," said Ms Chow.

The two firms' total staff strength is nine in Singapore, eight in Vietnam and two in the Philippines.

Ms Chow obtained a diploma in marketing and public relations from Murdoch University in 2016 via Kaplan University. She and Mr Lee have two children: Isaac, five, and Rachel, three.

Q What is the next stage of growth for your businesses?

A We will be expanding The I Quadrant regionally. We are targeting to reach and impact lives in three different countries by next year.

MooMoo Digital is focusing on building multiple in-house brands, as we strongly believe in empowering our team members to take on an intra-entrepreneurship role and run our business units.

Q What is in your portfolio?

A My initial allocation of investment funds was 20 per cent in business and 80 per cent in property.

The portfolio has since evolved to business (45 per cent), properties (45 per cent) and insurance (10 per cent).

In terms of real estate, we own six industrial properties under our personal names, another five industrial properties via partnership with our friends, and one residential property.

The leasehold of our industrial properties is between 38 and 52 years.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A I will continue investing in industrial properties in Singapore to gain high returns of rental income.

At the same time, my company has started exploring overseas properties to provide passive income after deducting expenses. My property investment strategy will always follow these two rules, of leverage from bank loans and positive passive monthly income after expenses.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A My business partner Ivan Cai, 38, has always been my biggest inspiration. He was the one who pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to learn about investing on a deeper level.

I went for different courses, both overseas and local, to open our minds. The greatest learning came when I bought my first investment property and it fuelled me to embark on this journey as a property investor and then trainer.

Our first investment property was in Ubi. The 1,842 sq ft industrial property was bought at $745,000, with a 40-year leasehold. It offered positive cash flow of $1,212 a month after deducting mortgage, Management Corporation Strata Title fees and property tax.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A Our strategy is to have 80 per cent of our investments in a vehicle which has high control, and it must generate a passive income as we have businesses to run.

We select industrial properties in Singapore due to the source of passive income after deducting expenses. For the other 20 per cent, we generally start businesses with low or no capital.

We have mainly hospitalisation plans, accident plans and term insurance to ensure we have the coverage.

Q What else is in your financial plan?

A Before we started investing in properties, we bought a whole life plan that can benefit three generations with an annual premium of $12,000. To cancel it would mean a loss of at least $80,000 so we decided we would continue with this plan despite much lower returns, as this will always act as our fail-safe investment plan.

For our children's education, we bought two endowment plans and have written a will to allocate our assets.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A Both Shawn and I love working on our businesses. We reckon we will retire before 40, but have the option to continue working.

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

A My mum was a car saleswoman, while my father was a businessman. My brother Marcus owns Marx B, with two outlets in Marina Bay Link Mall and VivoCity.

I learnt the importance of saving from my mum. She has always been my role model. My parents separated when I was two, so she was the sole breadwinner of the family.

I learnt that sales was one of the most important skills we need to have. I've always been provided with everything that I needed and wanted by my mum. She was really thrifty with herself and would always know her expenses.

Q What does money mean to you?

A Money is printed paper. If we don't invest our money into assets - to put money into our pockets monthly - this printed paper will lose its value over time due to inflation. Leaving money in the bank, with its minimal interest rates, would definitely not help us hedge against inflation.

Money is also a tool for me to achieve my goals, provide my family with a life that we enjoy and live to the fullest, donate to charity and do the things that matter to us.

Q Home is now...

A A four-room Build-To-Order HDB flat in Tenteram Peak. It is currently under the minimum occupancy period. I rented a three-bedroom condominium in Thomson Grand for our parents and children. We go over from time to time to enjoy the facilities and spend time bonding.

Q I drive...

A A Corris grey metallic Jaguar XF.