Chia Luck Yong (BSc (ISM), 2013, above left) and Adrian Lim (BSc (ISM), 2013, above right) were both bitten by the entrepreurship bug as undergrads at SMU, leading them to co-found Fetch Technology (FETCH), a company that connects world class software developers to tech firms in Singapore and around the region. The catch is that their company is based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; this interest in Vietnam was sparked during their Technopreneurship Study Mission to - you guessed it - Vietnam itself in 2012. With SMU's recent commitment to global exposure for its undergrads, it is evident that internationalization experiences shape the paths of our graduates. Coupled with business and tech knowledge gleaned from school, these two budding alumni entrepreneurs are set to take their thriving business to even greater heights!
Hi guys! Did you both meet at SMU? How was your SMU experience, and what was your biggest takeaway?
We knew each other from our secondary school days and later reconnected in SMU at the School of Information Systems. The BSc (Information Systems) is a balanced curriculum that provided us a solid foundation in both Information Technology (IT) and business management. These were essential knowledge that formed the basis of the technology venture that we started. We are able to oversee both the operations and commercial components of the business confidently without being overly dependent on external expertise. In a start-up environment where hiring is a luxury, our unique blend of skills from our time in SMU is definitely the biggest takeaway.
Upon graduation, you both started Malifax Solutions which has recently been rebranded as Fetch Technology (FETCH). What inspired you to start a business?
Our aspiration to be entrepreneurs started from as early as in our days in SMU. We would exchange various ideas on potential businesses throughout our university days, and this continued even after we graduated. By then, and through the various projects that we have worked on together, we knew we could trust each other’s work. Venturing together in business was only the natural step.
A saying goes that "necessity is the mother of invention". Similarly, our current business model was created because of a real necessity we faced and the efficiencies we developed.
(Employees at FETCH in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
Your company is in fact based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Why did you decide to start it overseas, instead of in Singapore?
From the recent survey by industry association SGTech, recruiting the right talent remains the top concern for technology firms.1 Challenges include the high cost as well as the limited supply of software developers. True enough, we faced our first challenge when starting up our company -- talent. We explored the Vietnamese market for talent and decided that it met all our criteria. We then developed internal processes to attract, train and retain software development talents which had proven to be very effective.
Thus, the push for us to enter Vietnam was due to the availability and quality of software developers, as well as economic feasibility and viability. Digital project management and communication tools are readily available to help us communicate and collaborate effectively regardless of our locations, and hence this further compelled us to enter Vietnam.
Has operating your company in Vietnam been good for you? Did you go to Vietnam on an educational trip during your undergrad days?
Having been operating our business in Vietnam for a couple of years now, we have found that we are able to work with highly competent software developers that sought only less than half the salary of a comparable talent in Singapore. The reason is simply because of the lower cost of living. Additionally, Vietnam is known to have very good software expertise, with their schools focusing a lot of specialised skills training. Hence, the country is able to produce so many software development talents that we can connect to Singaporean companies and start-ups.
A friend who visited our offices in Vietnam was so impressed by what he saw that he requested for us to build his development team in Ho Chih Minh. Not only did he see the opportunity to overcome the talent crunch he was facing in Singapore with respect to software development expertise, he saw a vibrant and dynamic working environment not seen anywhere else. The collaboration was hugely successful, as both his business and the development team that we manage for him grew very rapidly. In seeing the problem that we help solve as well as the value we create, word went around and we found ourselves managing development teams for many other Singaporean companies and start-ups.
Both of us did attend a Technopreneurship Study Mission trip to Vietnam during our SMU days, opening our eyes to the vibrancy of the IT scene there and giving us the market context to enter Vietnam.
(Software developers at FETCH in Vietnam)
What are the challenges of having a company overseas?
Language and cultural barriers are genuine challenges. Being unfamiliar with the scene, we had no knowledge of how to setup a company, how to hire, where to find the best people etc. This was even more challenging in Vietnam where language is a barrier.
Secondly, as compared to Singapore, incorporating a company in Vietnam involves a lot of time and a vast amount of paper work. In Singapore, the same process can be done electronically in a couple of minutes.
These are some of the challenges we help our clients overcome. At FETCH, we help our clients build, grow and nurture their own software development teams without any of the administrative headaches we went through at the start.
Finally, we both travel frequently between Vietnam and Singapore, and the need to fly so often gets very tiring after some time.
SMU recently announced that all students from the graduating Class of 2022 must have completed an overseas exposure stint at least once. In your own opinion, how can we encourage students to participate in such overseas activities (e.g. exchange programme, overseas study missions, overseas internships, overseas community service programmes etc.)?
We believe that students are savvy enough to know the importance of being exposed to markets outside of Singapore. Our position and connectivity in the Southeast Asia region means that we can capitalise on the opportunities in surrounding markets readily. As long as the benefits of the overseas program can be communicated clearly to the students, we are sure that students would be more than happy to participate.
We recently partnered with Tri5 Ventures, a Singapore Venture Capital Firm, to connect students in Singapore tertiary institutions to their Vietnamese counterparts. The programme, aptly named “Life Without Regrets”, is aimed at promoting entrepreneurship by helping aspiring student entrepreneurs find their technology co-founders. Tri5 will also provide initial seed funding fo good business proposals from this successful matching.
We believe such programmes will encourage more students to venture out. In fact, we hosted a group of 30 SMU students on an SMU Accounting Study Mission in December 2017; it was a lively discussion about our business, a tour of our company, and a good opportunity to interact with current students to find out what's going on at SMU!
(Adrian & Luck hosted a company visit for an Accounting Study Mission led by Assoc Prof Low Aik Meng in December 2017)
What’s next for your company after the rebranding?
FETCH has currently about 50 employees and growing. In the coming months, we will be expanding to Hanoi to better serve our clients.
In the last couple of years, we have witnessed the rise of Blockchain Technology. There is currently a major lack of software developers with knowledge in this space. We are therefore now conducting training to equip more Blockchain developers to service clients in this area.
What advice do you have to fellow alumni who might want to start a company overseas too?
Always look a for a reliable local partner as a first step. Local knowledge is always needed when doing business overseas.
Always treat people sincerely and genuinely. You never know whom you may need help from in the future.
Last updated on 13 Apr 2018 .