Image credit: Singapore infocomm Technology Federation (SiTF)
By Janice Wu
Decades before the word “startup” even became a buzzword, Singapore’s infocomm and communication technology (ICT) pioneers were already piecing together the building blocks of the country’s digital forefront.
These visionaries – including policymakers, top executives and entrepreneurs – shared their behind-the-scenes accounts about the country’s technological progress spanning 45 years in Intelligent Island: The Untold Story of Singapore's Tech Journey. The book was curated by Grace Chng, a former tech journalist with the Straits Times, and P Ramakrishna, who has been involved in ICT in the public sector for more than 30 years.
Besides highlighting the defining moments in Singapore’s IT industry and unique insights from pioneers, such as President Tony Tan Kam Yeng, the book also pays tribute to the trailblazing technopreneurs who have contributed to the dynamic industry. Here are four of them.
The co-founder who played Cupid through Match.com
Match.com – a popular dating site in 25 countries – has been playing Cupid since the mid-1990s, long before Tinder became the dating world’s go-to app. What most people do not know is that the company is co-founded by a Singaporean, Ong Peng Tsin.
He’s gained considerable success in Silicon Valley, first by creating Match.com, which, as of September 2016, is valued at US$3.7 billion. As the book’s curators pointed out, Peng Tsin “saw the enormous potential of taking the classifieds business online, especially personal dating services.”
He also established a content management company, Interwoven, which was listed on Nasdaq in 1999, making him the second Singaporean to do so. Interwoven was later sold to Autonomy, a British software company, in what was considered as “the largest buy-out for a company founded by a Singapore technopreneur”.
The retailer who established your go-to gadget store
“Anyone in Singapore who has owned a PC, laptop, mouse, headsets, video games and smartphones in the last 30 years would have, at one time, bought something from Challenger” – this is how Intelligent Island describes Challenger’s ubiquitous influence in the country. And you have Loo Leong Thye to thank for that.
Leong Thye established the consumer-friendly gadget store in 1982, and it has become a household name since. Riding on the PC boom, he believed in “going legit” – selling legitimate software, that is. The company was publicly listed in 2004, and now has more than 40 superstores across the country. Despite the closing of its Funan megastore in 2016 – due to the mall’s renovation – Challenger is poised for its next phase: going digital.
The entrepreneur who has dabbled in email services – and Bollywood content
Intelligent Island also talks about S. Mohan, a serial entrepreneur who has developed services for various groups – the country’s advertising industry, fans of Bollywood movies, and companies that need mobile apps.
In 1999, he launched Accellion, a file storage management system, to address the needs of advertisers in sending big file attachments. A decade later – disappointed after an unsuccessful attempt to find a restaurant he liked during a trip to Australia – he came up with an app idea. That app has now evolved to become BuUuk, a mobile app development studio, which currently boasts having created more than 100 apps, with over five million downloads to boot!
Not one to rest on his achievements, the former tech journalist also ventured into on-demand video-streaming services, specifically for Bollywood content, by co-founding Spuul in 2012.
The man who wants to build a tech museum in Singapore
As a young entrepreneur, KH Lim had to clamber over tables to reach his desk in his first office at his dad’s warehouse. This roll-up-your-sleeves attitude has served him well in his decades in the industry, transforming the small family business to one of Asia’s leading distributors of tech products.
SiS Technologies, founded in 1983, now has an established presence around the region. It has become a go-to company for those who would like to distribute items such as PCs, hard drives and routers, and became listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. As SiS Technologies continues to grow, KH’s career has also seen an upward spiral, as he was named as an executive board member – the first one from ASEAN to hold this position – of the Global Technology Distribution Council.
What’s KH’s next big dream? Build a tech museum in Singapore. A natural move for someone who has kept a warehouse of tech gadgets since the early 1980s.
Intelligent Island is available at sitf.org.sg/intelligentisland