• Jodi Tan

Former NES President shares his insightful entrepreneurial experiences

"You have to see failure as the beginning and the middle, but never entertain it as an end."

Nigel’s first entrepreneurship experience started way before his time in NUS. It was at the family dinner table when his parents were discussing what dishes to add to the menu at their chicken rice stall. Since young, during every school holiday, Nigel would help to wait tables and take orders at his parents’ shop and experience how they would run their business. Until today, from time to time, Nigel will still help his parents out with their franchising and business operations. He believed that law is really a versatile skill, and was able to assist them with drafting the franchise agreement. Anyway, their franchisee just opened a new outlet last week in Tampines Blk 829, if you stay around there you can check it out!

On the other hand, Nigel’s first formal entrepreneurship experience was in NUS. During an NES event in 2019, he formed a group with Ernest Teh and Yan Shiang to pursue an idea which is to make climbing more fun and affordable for more people. The problem was that many climbing gyms in Singapore made day-passes very expensive and multi-passes or season passes much cheaper to encourage people to buy in bulk. However, many climbers were frustrated with this pricing model as it meant that they must stick with a single gym every time they climb or be faced with significantly higher prices. As such, the team fixed this problem by starting their own ClimbJios community where all climbers could share their multi-passes or season passes, allowing climbers to enjoy the discounted rates as well as the variety and fun of experiencing different gyms every day.

Unfortunately, this project was not well received by many of the gyms as they saw their “loyal climbers” going around to try other gyms. When talking to gym owners, many of them expressed dissatisfaction with their idea and vision and refused to work with the team. Some of them even banned the sharing of multi-passes by checking the identity of the climber rather than just the pass (making sure only the person who purchased it can use it).

This was the first small setback for ClimbJios, but they were convinced that their idea could work, with the support of gym owners. As such, they realised that they had to be inclusive, and their product had to benefit the gym owners as well. By talking to them, ClimbJios realised that one problem that most gym owners have was the lack of space utilisation. Climbing gyms generally have high fixed costs: rental, construction of climbing walls, maintenance and manpower and lower variable costs. This means that the costs of running the gym would not increase significantly if 20 climbers used it versus 50 climbers, whereas revenues would increase significantly.

While gyms tried to maximize their capacity, peak hours were always full and the non-peak hours were always almost empty. As such, ClimbJios borrowed the idea from airlines and Grab to develop a dynamic pricing model for climbing gyms to maximise revenues. Their model basically measured the number of climbers per day and dynamically generated the price per hour, which resulted in peak hours climbs cost more, while non-peak climbs were discounted. This was revolutionary at that time because climbers expected to be able to use the gym for the whole day when they paid for a day-pass.

After a few rounds of talks, BoulderMovement was the first gym that was receptive to their idea and ClimbJios started their first pilot test. The team genuinely thought that this was going to be the first stepping-stone to creating and growing a climbing community in Singapore. While the pilot test was reasonably successful and they managed to fill up more non-peak timings with climbers, the difficulty was to effectively combine this with the idea of pass-sharing and gym hopping for climbers.

While they were trying to figure this out, many other gyms realised and started their own off-peak discounts and discriminatory pricing models. As such, Nigel and his co-founders were not able to break into the market and offer real value which gyms themselves could not replicate.

While the ClimbJios telegram pass-sharing channel grew to one of the largest climbing groups in Singapore, they were not able to truly get the B2B side of the startup going and did not want to do B2C as climbing was already very expensive, and this was contrary to their vision.

Then Covid-19 hit and gyms were closed for months. When gyms reopened, SMMs meant that only very few climbers could use the gyms at any time. Quickly, the day pass model evaporated and by 2020, every gym was operating using a time-slot model (per 2 or 3 hours) so that they were able to sanitise the walls between groups. After which, the great uncertainty in government Covid policies meant that many climbing gyms were wary of making investments or entertaining new ideas.

Moreover, Nigel’s two co-founders graduated from NUS and found full-time jobs, and they decided to suspend ClimbPass indefinitely.

This was around the time Nigel joined another startup called TheNightMrkt. He met Jin Jie through NES when he was consulted on how to structure freelancing services between TNM and their clients. After a few sessions, the early TNM co-founders and Nigel decided that it would be beneficial for him to join TNM as a co-founder because of his unique legal skill sets and general abilities.

When Nigel joined TNM, it was focused on finding niche ad-hoc jobs and then finding student freelancers to complete those jobs. The business model was to take a cut of the freelancer’s pay from the company side. After he joined, he streamlined the contractual processes and set up the legal entities, documentation and roles and responsibilities of all the co-founders.

TNM’s first big decision together was to push for automation and digitalisation in order to compete more effectively against their competitors like Glance (then SGFreelance.com) and the big boys like Fiverr and Upwork. As such, they expanded their team and developed their own site from scratch.

Wanting to build their own unique value propositions compared to other sites, they decided to follow the LinkedIn approach to their platform. This is so that student freelancers are able to showcase their past projects, experiences and education background better and more comprehensively while building lasting business connections on our Platform. This empowers even fresh students to immediately pursue a professional freelancing career, providing them with an alternative path to full-time employment.

TheNightMrkt was moderately successful, with large projects completed and many reputable cases completed. However, the co-founding team eventually split around mid-2021 due to various reasons, such as their irreconcilable differences in direction. Nigel was personally slightly upset and disappointed at the result. Nevertheless, he wished the company all the best and hoped that it would become a successful platform in the future.

Another entrepreneurship experience Nigel has is that he is going to start his own watch brand with a friend of his. Both of them are watch fanatics with large collections. While this is not one of those flashy or glamorous start-ups with big tech utilisation or community platforms, to Nigel, it is still an interesting business idea. He has already finished the watch designing and building and it is currently in the manufacturing stage. Nigel wishes to keep the brand a secret for now and hope that the Kickstarter campaign will be successful!

Could you share your hopes for NES in the future?

Nigel shared that when he first joined NES as a year 3, because of his motivation to create a startup. Although that vision progressed over time, NES still left him with takeaways that value-added to his growth. He shared that talks and events with Venture Capitals allowed him to expand his knowledge, interact with like-minded individuals (including those from NES Startathon which allowed him to join their startups), and gain a better understanding of the industry and on how to disrupt. Nigel hopes to see NES reach greater heights by spreading entrepreneurship to more people and build long-lasting connections between students and the business community in Singapore.


Article by Candace Tan, Researcher/Writer under Content Creation Division in NES.

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