By Caleb Thien
Richard wears many hats – he founded a Speaker Management company and Releve Singapore, and is also an Associate Director in AXA Insurance. Having been in business since 1994, he continues to be passionate about innovation. Here, he shares with us his journey as an entrepreneur and some advice he’d give to students today.
I had been in business since 1994 and am currently running 3 businesses: Founder of Richard Gavriel Speaker Management Pte Ltd (RGSM), Founder of Releve Singapore Pte Ltd and Associate Director in DynamiX Group representing AXA Insurance Pte Ltd. As a Founder for RGSM and Releve, I manage a pool of professional speakers and trainers to provide keynotes and corporate training to our local and regional clients. As an Associate Director in AXA, I develop new Financial Services Managers and Financial Planners to breakthrough in their insurance business.
After running businesses over the years, I strongly believe in creating new ideas and setting new trends and milestones for the different industries if they want to stay competitive in the market. My role in the entrepreneurial industry is to inspire young entrepreneurs to create a new idea in an industry and be the market leader.
Back in the 90s, I was one of the pioneer wedding planners in Singapore that developed themed weddings. In 2012, when I launched a new idea to manage a pool of professional and motivational speakers, veterans in the speaking industry told me that I must be crazy as there was no such thing as a speaker manager. This business idea was fully developed by 2015-2016 where we serve many MNC clients regionally.
In life and business, if you want to change, you have to be radical.
I’ll do some reading in the morning, breakfast at about 7, and check my emails after that. By the time I’ve finished, it’s probably about 8.30am. Then I’ll head down to the office. I usually don’t go to the office very early as I always like to do work in my own quiet study room.
However, the moment I step into my office, my time is no longer mine. It belongs to my team mates and colleagues. The rest of my day will be with them, whether it’s for meeting, coaching, training or meeting with vendors or clients, my typical workday ends about 5 o’clock.
I usually try to finish work by 5 because I like to have a work-life balance. One of the things that I always try to do, is to have dinner with my family every night.
It might be difficult for people kickstarting a business to enjoy a work-life balance. However, it is possible if you plan your time well. In my case, I make it a point to do brisk walking to keep myself healthy. Brisk walking also helps me to unwind and clear my thoughts. Sometimes my wife and daughter will join me – and this becomes a form of family time.
Regardless whether you are a new entrepreneur or a seasoned businessman, good time management is a vital key to achieving work-life balance.
No, I was always an employee before I started my own business. In fact, I had sustained losses during my early entrepreneurial attempts that I was afraid to continue as an entrepreneur. I really didn’t know I was going to be an entrepreneur one day. The only reason why I became an entrepreneur was because I wished to utilise my practical skill sets in helping me to grow in my own interest.
However, I always believe in aiming for something different in life. If I am not good in my studies, I believe that I will be good in something else. So, if I find myself good at art and craft, then I would want to expand on that. That was how I started in the business of weddings.
I must say that I am very blessed to have good mentors who taught me on the different skills on weddings before I entered the wedding business. However, I wish I had prior business knowledge and mentoring which I did not have at that time. I did not understand many basic business principles and the technicalities, such as ‘sales and net profit projection’. I thought that if I had a good product, people would definitely buy it from me. I did not consider that what I know, and think may not represent the customers’ sentiments at all. I had to learn how to run business on my own through pains and sleepless nights.
I have to talk about my 3 main businesses on this.
- As a wedding planner: the most fulfilling thing is to see a smiling couple getting married on the actual day, saying “I do” and knowing that they will be able to spend the rest of their lives happily together.
- As a speaker manager: I feel most fulfilled when my corporate clients thank me for a superb keynote delivery or corporate training by my speakers.
- As an associate director: I feel very fulfilled when I see my customers benefitting from the insurance policies that they he bought from me. and when I see my team members breaking through to their next level of success.
I’d be lying to you if I said that I’ve never had setbacks. It’s okay to have setbacks, but you need to ask yourself how long you will allow yourself to be in that setback? Always give yourself a time frame.
I would have some quiet time on my own first, and start doing things that I like. But I would always give myself a time limit. When the time limit is over, I have to refocus and concentrate on solving the problem.
It’s crucial to understand that the problem will still exist even if you are upset. So, I would rather be happy and face the problem.
- Leading the vision and values
Decisions and actions based on organisation, vision and values. As an entrepreneur, you have to be the one who sets the vision. You have to be a visionary. Without any vision, there is no business.
2. Building positive work relationships.
Without a positive working relationship with the team you won’t be able to work together, you won’t be able to sustain your scale of business. And to achieve this working relationship, you need teamwork and collaboration. Everyone has to be in unison before we start seeing results.
3. Building partnerships
These partnerships are not with my team, but with external vendors. During our grandfather’s time, business is done with ‘me, myself and I’. In today’s business context, its ‘we, ourselves, and us’. We need to collaborate, because the industry and the economy has grown so much. That’s why you’ll always need strong partnerships.
On top of the 3 mentioned, there’s also delegation with inspection. When I delegate something to someone, I give that person 100% trust and authority to execute. I will only inspect once in a while. To make sure that the project is moving.
Building trust is also very important – partners can only work well together if they trust one another.
One more area to add: I believe strongly in continuous learning. As entrepreneurs, we do undergo training. I believe in upgrading myself. “A person who stops learning is one who begins to decay”, because technology has changed drastically in this modern society. I have to keep myself updated on many things because they will greatly affects my businesses.
Local universities already have their entrepreneurship clubs. As far as entrepreneurship is concerned, there is no age limit, even if you’re in primary school.
Anyone one can start a business anytime. One good news for you – it costs nothing to start an online business now, as compared to starting one in the past. Also, be open to learning from everybody and anybody, so you can find out what belongs to you and what works for you.
Also – when you are asked to ‘think out of the box’, remember that there’s no box in the first place. The only boxes are your knowledge, your elders, your parents, and your teachers when you were young. For example, your parents may have discouraged you from doing business and to get a stable job instead. So, since young, we have been boxed up by people’s opinions of us. If I boxed myself up, I would not have entered business. At the end of the day, it’s about what you want in life. I like to make this statement: don’t let anyone’s opinion of you become your reality.
I think it is common for young entrepreneurs to forget to consider the amount of money they are going to spend and the losses they may make. This is critical, you need to maintain a healthy financial position in your business. New entrepreneurs cannot assume that their other working partners exercise the same productivity level as them – for example, new entrepreneurs may choose to work through the night but that may not be the best timing to communicate with their external parties or employees. They need to be mindful of others’ time.
We need to go beyond understanding a single product – we need to understand the industry we are hoping to enter. This means understanding who your competitors are, so that you can distinguish yourself and your products from them when you enter the industry. You also need to know how big the industry is, and what kind of market share you are looking at.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- You need to know how many companies are there already in the market, selling this product in the industry;
- How many companies have opened daily or monthly in this industry
- How many companies have closed down in this industry on a monthly basis.
- Why some companies made it, and why others did not.
- Why do you think you will make it?
- What kind of capital do you need to invest in your business? Do you have the money? Where can you find the money? How sure are you that you would make money? Just because someone invested in you, don’t take the money for granted. That’s why short and long term financial projections are important.
I would like to stabilise my insurance business, or even start a new one business idea if the opportunity arises. As aforementioned, starting a business is never too young or too old.
I would like to expand my speaker management business beyond the region, having local partners in 3 to 5 countries is also something I am working on now.
If you have an idea, don’t bury it. If you are bold enough to share, someone will be bold enough to take it and run with you.