Me & My Money

Tough early years helped entrepreneur Adren How succeed

Being from a low-income family, entrepreneur Adren How seeks ideas to better people's lives This is the third of a three-part Be Prepared series featuring individuals who have taken the step to seize opportunities presented to them.

Entrepreneur Adren How grew up in a family where every penny counted, so he understood the value of money very early on.

"Since we were not well off and had barely enough to spend, we value what money can bring," says the 44-year-old.

"I didn't have money to go to the cinema or shopping, but instead I spent time with friends, growing up on the streets, learning the fundamentals of life."

It was an upbringing that gave him rare insights.

"I realised that poor people tend to have a poverty or scarcity mentality, which is a wrong mindset to have if they ever want to get out of their situation."

Mr How does not believe in pursuing money for money's sake, but he is constantly asking himself how to create and apply ideas to improve people's lives.

He applies this philosophy in running his own aesthetic clinic business - Only Group - as well as investing in start-ups.

"We should keep asking these questions: 'What will people want? How can I help to make their lives better?' Money will follow if we are creating real value that makes a difference," he adds.

"If you want to be a billionaire, then go out and help a billion people."

  • Worst and best bets

    Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A I bought and lost money in stocks about 18 years ago before I even started my business. I lost about $120,000 within five months.

    At that time, I wasn't able to keep track of the market activities and what the companies I bought stocks in were doing.

    That experience strengthened my belief that it is better for me to put my money where I know how it is being used and I can have some control over the returns.

    That's why I prefer to invest in start-up ideas and play an active part in materialising the idea as an investor.

    Q And your best investment?

    A The best investment I have made in my life is the $10,000 that my wife and I injected into the very first aesthetic centre.

    We invested our savings in the clinic at a time when the term "aesthetics" meant either dermatology or beauty salons.

    Aesthetic centres, technology-driven treatments and medical aesthetic services were practically unheard of.

    We wanted to go into this industry because we felt there was a lack of effective aesthetic treatments at reasonable prices, and therein lay the business opportunity.

    And we were proven right. From just one centre, we are now an entire group with an eight-figure annual revenue in 14 years.

Mr How has a diploma in sales and marketing, and worked in corporate sales and real estate for seven years before starting his own business.

He notes that people often want to have a balanced lifestyle, to have time for their family.

"I personally believe that you are defined by what you do, not how much you rest. I work 70 to 80 hours a week.

"I can therefore accomplish double that of an average employee. I don't expect employees to be as hard-working as me because it is not their business to begin with.

"There's certainly no success without sacrifices."

Mr How is married to Ms Jermaine Teo, 45, the chief operating officer of Only Group. They have a son, 18, and a daughter, 11.

Q What's the next stage of growth for your businesses?

A We're in the business of helping men and women transform the way they look and feel about themselves with the latest medical aesthetic services and products. These include procedures like laser treatments, Botox injections and dermal fillers.

Our start-up capital in 2005 was $10,000. We broke even within three months. Today, we have nine outlets and over 100 full-time staff. Our turnover is estimated at $25 million to $30 million annually.

In terms of business offerings, we are constantly looking at how we can add value to our customers' lives. We are also slowly exploring branching out into other wellness products so that we offer a more holistic one-stop solution to all our customers to help them look and feel good, both on the inside and outside.

At the macro level, we are reinvesting in our business and our focus in the near future will be on selling our skincare products to markets outside Singapore.

Q What's in your personal investment portfolio?

A As an entrepreneur, I love to be involved in new brands and products, be it my own or other opportunities that come along. From an investment perspective, it's logical to invest in projects that have a direct correlation to what my main business is. So I am investing in new clinics, manufacturing of aesthetic devices, research and development of new products and technology.

But I also believe that it is good to diversify. So I am also investing in a digital marketing and video production agency, seeing how online and social media is a big trend in media consumption habits these days.

 
 

In terms of insurance, I have insurance for life, endowment, personal accident and hospitalisation. In total, they are valued at an estimated $2 million.

I've also invested in two private properties - a condominium and a landed property - and some commercial properties.

Overall, about 50 per cent of my investment is in my own business, and 20 per cent in start-ups that have products and services that are going to add value and make a difference in other people's lives. About 20 per cent is in properties and 10 per cent in insurance.

Q What is your immediate investment plan?

A A huge part of it is still to reinvest in the business.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A It has a lot to do with my growing-up years. As someone from a low-income family, I understand the value of money, and how we should always try to make good use of the money we have.

That aside, the entrepreneur in me always loves to discover new things and trends and new markets. So, investing my money in the right projects and causes comes naturally to me as a result.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A There are many factors to consider when it comes to investing in a business. For example, the business models, technology and intellectual property, market size, market share, scalability and competitive landscape.

Personally, I like to invest in projects where there is an uncontested market space so as to make competition irrelevant. I believe in having a first-mover advantage.

When I consider investing in a start-up, the business idea must have practical usage or application.

I will also look at the people running the business and consider if they have business acumen, as well as whether they have the passion for what they are doing or if they are in it just for the big bucks.

 
 

When I invest, I expect profits, so the long-term viability of these start-ups is important to me.

Q What else is in your financial plan?

A My wife and I reinvest 40 per cent of our earnings back into the expansion of the companies' business portfolios and look out for investment opportunities - funding start-up projects that will yield at least a 20 per cent net gain annually.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A Honestly, I think I have enough reserves to retire now if I want to. But I don't think retirement is for me.

I am doing the things that I love. I enjoy giving value to the marketplace. These days, the satisfaction and sense of fulfilment are not about making more money for my retirement, but making a difference and leaving a legacy.

Q Money-wise, what were your growing-up years like?

A I came from a low-income, single-parent family. I grew up in a tough environment where I needed to learn how to be resourceful to acquire knowledge and provide for my family.

But I knew I was different and had to be different to stand out.

It was tough growing up but I believe those sufferings led to perseverance that shaped my character as to who I am today. Those experiences shaped and equipped me with the necessary skills to be successful in what I do today.

Q What does money mean to you?

A Money is an excellent tool and servant, but not a good master. Right now, we don't need funding to apply our new ideas because we are financially able.

Having been an entrepreneur for more than a decade, I don't believe in having "money problems". Usually, it is a case of having "idea problems".

Money is an essential need, but some of the most important things in life can never be bought with money, such as love and peace of mind.

Money can buy us a bed, but not sleep. The most important thing in the world is salvation. It's free - it cannot be bought with money.

Q Home is now...

A A 17,000 sq ft freehold house with seven bedrooms near Holland Road.

Q I drive...

A A Mercedes-AMG G63.

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This is the third of a three-part Be Prepared series featuring individuals who have taken the step to seize opportunities presented to them.

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