The Career Defining Event
September 11, 2001. A history of unfathomable proportion was made when terrorists flew 2 planes into New York City’s World Trade Centre, thus changing the security landscape forever. Looking back, it might have been the defining event that led me to a career I never planned for.
As a final year undergraduate at NTU, I remembered watching the news unfold through the night (Singapore time). Naïve and ignorant, I had no idea what such a bold and deplorable act would mean to a soon-to-be banking & finance graduate. After all, I had just completed a dream internship in the asset management arm of Merrill Lynch a couple of months back and was in discussion with the firm to continue my internship while studying for my final year. Alas, shortly after 9-11, my mentor returned to New York, and with that, my dreams of kick-starting my career in one of Wall Street’s titans was flushed down the sewers.
An Internship That Wasn’t Meant To Be
Fast forward to June 2002. With the freeze in financial markets in the months that followed 9-11, the odds of getting an analyst job in an investment bank or an asset management firm was as good as becoming a saint. Despite the countless resumes I sent out, even offering to work for free, I faced rejections after rejections. For a good 6 months, while my peers from NTU were getting jobs in the middle and back offices of banks and finance companies, I held out, hoping the day would come when a bank would take me on. Came December 2002, I received an email from a then-boutique corporate finance company offering me an internship position at an intern wage. Since I had offered to work for free, any wage was a bonus. Naturally, it was an opportunity I grabbed with both hands, and to be sure, with both legs as well.
With feelings of high hopes, I started my post-grad internship in January of 2003. In my attempt to impress, I made sure I was amongst the earliest to arrive and left only when I was certain I was no longer needed. As the weeks passed, I grew disillusioned with the menial tasks I was assigned. As an impatient and roaring-to-go fresh graduate, I had, again naively, expected more action. Action, nonetheless, eluded me. Thus, one month into my internship, I left. I left a job that had the potential to help me get a foot into the world of investment banking. I left without another job offer, but only with a thought of starting my own business (though I had no idea what business I would and could do). I figured, if I can’t get into the investment banking or money management business with a bank, why not start my own business, accumulate my own money and manage them? Looking back, I guess such is the bravado of one who has no financial obligation but the luxury of time on his side.
Not knowing what to do, I spent time consuming information on the Internet. In one of those sessions, I chanced upon a forum where folks were complaining about the horrendous experiences they had with the moving companies they hired. Up till then, I had no idea there was a moving profession, much less a whole moving industry. While my family had moved before, I don’t recall having professional movers moved us. As I continued reading, I was appalled by how this industry was pretty much a cow-boy one, bordering on the line of pure gangsterism.
One of the most typical practices of these black sheep of the moving industry was to give the customer a low-ball price to hook them in and then adding on hefty unexpected charges on the day of the move on the pretext of “you have too many items”. The customer is then threatened to pay up much more than was agreed. Failing which, the moving company will leave and not continue with the move. For the bolder perpetrators, they will bring the customer’s furniture and personal effects from their home down to the void deck and then threaten to leave unless they were paid more. Of course, with such practitioners in the trade, you cannot expect them to be willing or even possess the knowledge to protect your furniture and other prized possessions.
As I read more about these complaints, it became apparent that such was a common practice in the moving industry at that time. And it remained prevalent, probably, for another 5 to 6 years after that (sadly, since I last checked in May 2018, such treachery is still practiced by some folks in the business). Armed with Porter’s 5 forces and what-have-you from the academic years, I studied the industry and wondered if, perhaps, this was an industry that I could make a difference. That perhaps, there was something I could do to ensure that folks who need to move their homes are treated with respect, just like consumers of any other services, and not be subjected to being swindled. After all, moving itself is a pretty stressful process and folks who move will want to arrive in their new homes happy.
I studied the players who were in business at that point in time and I found the following:
At one extreme end, you have the fly-by-night movers who practiced the dark art of swindling the customers by offering low up-front fees and then piling on the charges on the day of the move. At the other end, you have the MNC type of movers who mainly provided international moving services for expats, folks whom back in those years, had very generous budgets from their employers for relocating.
Naturally, these movers charge an arm and a leg for their services, which to me, only serve to line the pockets of the overpaid executives working in these firms. What I couldn’t find though was a strong service provider who provided great service with an even greater monetary value for the customers.
The Beginning…and Almost a Quick End
I was immediately intrigued by the possibility of starting a moving company that offers a flat rate for our services with no hidden charges. More importantly, I felt that the consumers in this country of ours deserve a service provider they can TRUST and know that they will not be left with their possessions strung outside their homes and be held for ransom. And so, in March 2003, naively again, I started CYC Movers with no idea what moving entails. After all, how difficult can protecting and moving furniture be? With a $5000 loan from my dad, I bought a used 14ft truck on hire purchase, “poached” a few skilled crew from his company and went marketing our services on Yahoo! (this was before Google became the dominant search engine).
With that, the baptism of fire began. As a greenhorn with zero experience in this business and knowing next to nothing in dealing with customers, I was the Jack-of-No-trade and certainly the Master of None.
- I didn’t know how to estimate volume, which is essential to pricing our services and ensuring that a move can be executed seamlessly and efficiently.
- I didn’t know how to handle and protect furniture.
- I was ignorant of all the potential logistical issues that can come up with a move, and
- I certainly didn’t know how to deal with our customers and our very own moving crew.
As a fresh graduate, everything I learnt till then was purely academic. We were taught to think like CEOs, folks who have huge resources and departments at their disposal. Cause and effects are as clear as day and night. It was certainly no school of hard knocks and I was in for rude shocks, one after another. Some of these rude shocks include:
- Crew not turning up for work for no reason and are uncontactable. Think about it: you have promised a customer you will move for them on this day. And now you can’t because you have no crew to do the job.
- Crew going on strikes. Yes, up till then, I thought strikes only happened on TV!
- Crew fighting with one another and occasionally having to be in it myself.
Trucks being vandalized and damaged (and not knowing who did it).
Nothing in my academic years could have prepared me for the realities of a life of an entrepreneur. There were countless times when the temptation to throw in the towel and call it quits were overwhelmingly enticing. Still, day by day, week by week, the grinding continued. Teams were built, broken, and rebuilt. Processes were established, dismantled and reconstructed.
Finding Our Purpose
Fast forward to 2018. Having been in the industry for 15 years, we have matured in our operations and service quality. With more assets, resources, and a capable team, we now offer a full suite of moving services for commercial and residential clients, domestically and internationally.
We continue to innovate and adopt technology and best practices to help us serve our clients better. We started in 2003 with the goal of providing consumers with a reliable service.
Today, our purpose extends beyond just being reliable. Today, we are your trusted moving company that offers ASSURANCE for organizations and people who are concerned about their colleagues’ and families’ well-being. And it is this purpose that keeps all of us at CYC Movers motivated and moving.
And it is this same purpose, that till this day, I continue to conduct site visits to understand better the varied needs and wants of our clients.
The Years Ahead
Looking beyond 2018, we continue to ask ourselves how we can make a difference, not just for Singaporeans, but also for our neighbours in the ASEAN block. Our ground research suggests that folks in some of these countries are still plagued by bad industry practices laden with horrendous services, much akin to the unscrupulous acts Singaporeans experienced a decade or more ago.
As with Singapore, over the next few years, we hope to be able to bring the same ASSURANCE we offer Singaporeans to our friends in the ASEAN nations. With the existing capable team and the folks whom we may potentially work with, we look forward to continuing playing a part in our customers’ joys of moving them to their new homes and offices by taking the stress of moving away from them and instead, give them the assurance that their moves are in goods hands.
As we ceaselessly build toward our dreams of offering assuring relocation services to customers all over, we are looking for folks who share our vision and purpose to join us. Regardless of where you are residing, your race or religion, if you find a calling in this, write to me and I’d be happy to discuss how we can work together.
Trusted . Assuring