An ace at crunching numbers

Jace Koh started her company, UVentures, with true grit and little else but is now reaping the fruits of her hard work.

A REGULAR day is hectic enough, but add juggling several businesses to the list. Sounds impossible? Not for Jace Koh, founder of UVentures.

UVentures, established in 2010, is a company that offers accounting and bookkeeping services to various SMEs of different industries. Through this, Ms Koh had to juggle several businesses at once.

When Ms Koh first started UVentures, she had set out to start a mortgage broking firm. With her expertise in accounting, Ms Koh teamed up with a friend from work.

However, the plans fell through. Left with a space she had already committed to, Ms Koh decided to go ahead and open her accounting firm as it was the only thing she knew at the time.

Taking a chance

"I needed to make a lot more money than I had. I was only 26 years old when I started. So I told myself, I can always start another company if this doesn't work out," Ms Koh says, on why she chose to start the company.

When she first started, Ms Koh says she had to subsist mainly on bread, as she had ploughed all her money into the business. She also ran into debt and had to face discouraging remarks from friends and others, who told her she was making a wrong career move. Also, the firm started from zero - they had no customers, and had to build everything from scratch.

However, Ms Koh is quick to point out that these are the run-of-the-mill problems that every entrepreneur has to grapple with. "I think every entrepreneur will go through this, because you don't succeed from day one."

For Ms Koh, UVentures is special to her because of the time she has spent on the firm. "In my 12 years of being in the accounting profession, I've only worked for the first four years. For the next eight years, I've been running this place and learning."

Currently, UVentures focuses on a technology-friendly approach. With a young team, the firm tries to be "futuristic accountants", something many businesses are beginning to appreciate and adapt to.

The firm helps various SMEs, which means Ms Koh needs to be well-versed in all industries. She also helps startups. The process often begins by Ms Koh sitting down and ensuring the entrepreneur is ready for the job.

She goes through their ideas thoroughly to ensure entrepreneurs who do not have very practical ideas are prepared for the challenges ahead.

Due to the firm's experience with different companies, they are able to impart this knowledge to the companies they help.

For instance, through their interaction with different companies in the ecommerce sector, UVentures has acquired different insights from different companies.

This will be useful when the firm helps another ecommerce company, as UVentures can then compound this knowledge for the company.

Ms Koh explains: "My clients are very young. They're very new, so they don't know what to expect. I can only share other people's stories with them to tell them what to expect, so they are ready and it'll be a sweeter path for them.

"I started in a community of young staff members who were very, very helpful," Ms Koh says of the firm's humble beginnings.

From there, the company began to take off. Today, while the community is still small, the hard work of her previous staff has paved the way to allow her current staff to receive better pay and a better environment to work in.

However, they still face challenges. Since she is so busy helping other companies, she often finds that she has no time to help her own.

Helping other companies is easier for Ms Koh, as she is able to see the big picture and problems quickly.

When it comes to her own company, though, Ms Koh is already knee-deep in the day-to-day running of the firm and cannot easily step back and look at it objectively.

To address this challenge, she hires staff who are experienced and knowledgeable. This enables the firm to stay on-track.

"Within my capacity, what I've built today is the maximum I can do. I cannot reach beyond what I am reaching for now because I've hit a bottleneck." She believes that her peers are the only ones who can replicate what she has done.

A woman of all trades

Currently, the firm is preparing to create a grants department. Ms Koh believes that there are a lot of SMEs that are not well-versed on how to tap goverment grants.

Additionally, she believes a certain mentality is required for it: "I do not tap grants because it is a grant. I tap it because it is a bonus."

For example, some companies attempt to apply for grants by specially doing projects outside of what they intend to do. They end up spending more money on the projects rather than their main goal. In contrast, a company that is scaling up and happens to qualify for the grant would benefit much more.

"The grant is the sweetener to what I want to do. But there are people who are chasing after grant money rather than something that is feasible," Ms Koh says.

She started helping out different companies purely by chance. An ex-staff member decided to start his own company. In an effort to repay him, Ms Koh decided to join the company - for a stipulated period - and provided a little funding for her former colleague.

After that initial foray, she has gone on to help other companies in similar fashion.

"My ultimate aim is hoping that these businesses pull through and become self-sustainable, and then I can exit. I hope my role is interim," she says.

Of course, juggling different businesses and her own business is definitely stressful. "But who doesn't have stress?" she quips.

As for how she copes with it, she explains: "I will get someone better than myself to handle my key problems. In the past we had to do everything ourselves, but now we have the ability to (hire more people)."