I was interviewed on entrepreneurship by my cell group member's daughter, Sarah. The following is the interview in verbatim.
A quick introduction: Louise and myself (Nigel) are the co-founders and owners of Urbanrehab Pte Ltd. We are a specialist physiotherapy group, with three core expertise: back and neck physiotherapy, sports physiotherapy and hand therapy. We serve people with back injuries such as back pain, slipped disc, whiplash etc; sports injuries such as ankle sprains, shoulder ache, runners knee etc; and hand injuries such as wrist and finger fractures, pulled tendons and ligaments, as well as repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and trigger finger. We also provide home physiotherapy for clients who prefers the convenience.
1) how did you start the business?
To be simplistic, we started by first deciding that we wanted to make a difference and serve our clients in a different manner. After we had decided, we put together some ideas how and where we can start serving, then we registered our company as a business entity, and got started to calling people we know, sending out emails and we just kept on speaking to people as we went along.
2) why did you choose to start the business?
I think there is a few reasons for us to decide to start the business. The first reason is because we wanted to serve in a better way – we saw the way things were run in the places we worked in, saw the lapses and wanted to serve in a different, better way. The second reason is because we wanted more control over our progress and finances – I don't believe in putting my finances in the hands of another. Thirdly, it helps me grow personally – I learn decision making skills, leadership skills, process management, negotiation on top of keeping sharp with my clinical skills.
3) What were the financial means of establishing the business?
We were bootstrappers – meaning that we didn't get any financial assistance, all were self funded and if we could do without something, we did away with it. To be honest, when I started the business in 2008, I had only $500. Of this, I spent $65 to register the business and $400 on namecards which didn't do anything for me. =p
4) What were the advantages and obstacles that came along with the decision to start the business?
Let's start with the obstacles and challenges first okay?
To start off, I had lots of uncertainty and self doubt. I mean, I only have so much cash on me, I don't know anyone who I could turn to, I had never run a business in my life. So, lots of self-doubts and questions in my head. To add fuel to fire, I had my parents who were screaming into my phone to go back to work in hospitals constantly before hanging up on me in frustration. I also didn't know where to go or what to do in the beginning.
Advantages that came with this decision – I felt more freedom and in control. Though I was worried about how it'd go and how it'd end up, I was excited and looking forward to it. It's like positively seeing a bright future ahead, though I don't know yet how I'll end up. I also found that people are willing to help, you have to look for such people.
1) What were the initial ideas and innovations that you came up with for your products/services?
Being an occupational therapist, initially when I started my one-man-operation (OMO), what I thought of is to provide therapy manpower support to healthcare organizations that is short on manpower. I ended up serving hospitals such as TTSH Rehab, SGH, Apex Harmony Lodge, Bright Vision Hospital, Mount Alvernia etc.
2) What were the inspiration for these ideas? what made you came out with this concepts?
I had come across this term called "locum" therapists before, which were freelancing therapists brought in to help with manpower shortages where I was working. When I quitted my job, this was what I had in mind to start off, as I believed there is always shortages of manpower in the physiotherapy/occupational therapy arena.
1) Have you implemented any new changes or improvements to your business to keep up with market trends?
2) What triggered these new ideas (sources) to be implemented in your business?
I'll answer the two questions below as they lead one to another.
Yes, of course. When we started in 2008, we started off with providing locum physiotherapy/occupational therapy manpower support to healthcare organizations, and this continued to 2009. In the middle of 2009, doors started opening for more home physiotherapy and home occupational therapy options, so our shift gradually changed from being a pure manpower support organization to a half manpower, half home therapy.
This got me thinking, and I started asking myself – is there more of such "upgrades" out there, and we started looking around, and asking around. Gradually, the idea of having our own clinic came to mind, which will minimize gaps and shortcomings of a pure locum company and a part-locum-part-home-therapy company, as we then will have more options and abilities to serve better, and have more streams of income, on top of building a stronger brand name.
1) Were there any problems encountered with the legislation when running the business?
To be honest, there were no manpower problems within the company, as it was just myself and my wife, and we served other healthcare companies manpower problems. The challenges to this was that they would call us only when they needed us, and load us more and more.
Singapore tax laws are very friendly for companies such as ours, and they even gave us a $5000 to help support our business (it was a support outreach to SMEs such as ours)
The rental costs are one of the most expensive overheads for our business, and finding one at good location and at good prices can be quite challenging. Given the property prices in Singapore will always be on the rise, what will make sense in the mid to long term is to purchase our own business premises.
There are currently no issues with commercial laws – we are compliant with the existing business and commercial laws that are available, and we have an accountant who helps us keep an eye out for us.
2) How did you overcome these problems?
For rental challenges, we sought a "win-win" approach with our landlords, negotiating for better rental prices or a mixed version of profit-sharing approach, that we can have better cashflow on our hand. We have an accountant, as mentioned above, to keep us updated on business and accounting laws to follow.
3) Were there any obstacles or challenges when getting a license for the business?
Our professional degrees are recognized by MOM and MOE to allow us to practice as full-practicing physiotherapists and hand therapists in Singapore, so there's no challenge for this. However, recent stringency of hiring foreign staff has been limiting our ability to hire.
3) Was there any form of assistance with any government agencies?
Government-aided policies helped when we applied for small loan assistance from our commercial bank, and that allowed quick and smooth processing of getting additional funds to tide us over, so we're very helpful for that. When we spoke to some government agencies such as Spring Singapore, they were sorry to say that "we were too small" for them to help us, and they wanted us to grow our sales to $1M per annum before they can help us.
1) How did you assess feasibility and the technical requirements fof producing the product? e.g. Quality checks
For this, we already knew what we provide (back and neck physiotherapy, sports physiotherapy and hand therapy) were in demand, so we worked with the doctors
2) How did you assess the potential of the target market?
In terms of -Market potential
I researched online by checking the number of competitors in the market, and determined the estimated number of patients that we can serve on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis.
Threats to our business are primarily cashflow issues, government legislations and policy changes, and competitors.
3) What were the factors you considered when assessing the financial sustainability of the business?
-Available financial resources
The biggest factor will be cashflow and available financial resources.
4) How do you analyse the organizational capabilities? In terms of manpower needs, qualified personnels
Organizationally, we are more stringent with choosing people to work with us (refer to Code of Honor) – those who cannot adhere, understand or accept the Code of Honor will not be good fit to work with us. Clinically, we want people who are good at what they do as physiotherapists and hand therapist, in taking away pain, improving mobility etc.
5) How do you analyse your competitive advantage and differentiation from other businesses in the market?
What makes us stand out is our unrushed, one-to-one, personal and professional physiotherapy and hand therapy service – each sessions are about 45-60 minutes, never rushed, and you'll be served by a full practicing and experienced therapist. We bring to the table more than 13 years of experience in dealing with injuries, and the different, multi-disciplinary perspective allows us to provide more holistic approach to therapy and rehabilitation. Moreover, we work closely with doctors so it's not surprising for us to receive or give calls to referring doctors to discuss cases and approaches we should take in rehabilitation.
To be honest, we're not that worried about our competitors – we've decided to focus to be very good at what we do, and being specialist physiotherapists, we're here to deliver results to our patients who needs our services most.
1) Were there any business plans prior to the start up of the venture?
To be honest, we started out without a business plan – we were just focused on getting started and out there and neglected to write a business plan.
2) If no, would it be better if you had a business plan? (Planning process to analyse different aspects prior to the business)
Yes, I think it'd be much better, we'd be much more focused instead of being a little more easily distracted and haphazard, come to think about it.
3) What were the challenges faced when you start up the business with or without the business plan
I think having no business plan means having no guide and no focus, and that would lead us to be running all over the place without a common or specific goal. With this, it'd also be sort of aimless in the way we work and that can be very demoralizing, if you don't know where you're headed.
Having a business plan will allow us to focus and streamline our efforts to a more focus and concentrated efforts to grow our business, though it sometimes feel very stifling, but in the end, it's good.
1) were there any form of business support from any business development assistance programmes e.g. IDA, Spring, International Enterprise, E-citizens, CDC
Unfortunately, there were no "direct" help from them, as we were "too small"
2) Please give us any 2 advices that you think are critical for aspiring students to start their own ventures
To start a business and to grow it successfully, I think one must have a few "Ps" in place.
Some things that you can look at: