How 2 youth entrepreneurs started their business with just $1000


With nearly 75% of Singapore firms accelerating digitalisation due to the pandemic, adopting a digital presence has cemented a permanent place in business rulebooks. While the pandemic and lockdowns accelerated this transformation, the desire for digitalisation occurred years before.

Back in 2017, Lim Guo Hong and Nigel Giam were setting out to start an after-market car parts marketplace. Guo Hong had previously co-founded RC9 as an undergraduate at National University of Singapore (NUS).

RC9 was a digital platform where customers can compare and book trusted rental cars in more than 7300 locations and 150 countries worldwide through a mobile app or web. It was subsequently acquired for a 7-figure sum in 2016.

Despite Guo Hong’s experience in the auto industry, the traditional auto parts sector proved a hard nut to crack as dealers were unwilling to transparently advertise their products online.

While devising ways to solve the numerous roadblocks, the childhood friends were receiving numerous requests for website development projects as the first business owners noticed the importance of digitalisation and a potential revenue stream in e-commerce.

A new chapter

The demand was sufficient for the duo to pivot away from their original idea to start Corsiva Lab. The local startup focuses on website and mobile apps development to assist businesses in digitalisation to help generate higher sales revenue.

The young co-founders set out on an unconventional path in building up Corsiva Lab. They wanted to be self-reliant and did not desire to go down the well-trodden path of pitching to venture investors to invest in their company.

With each of them contributing $500, Corsiva Lab was incorporated in Jan 2017. Due to the lack of initial funds, hiring a big team was not an option. “We could not hire people to cover for the skills we were lacking experience in,” Nigel shared with EDGE in an interview.

Therefore, the co-founders had to be resourceful and source for solutions to the multiple functions starting a business entailed. Ranging from drafting legal documents to accounts management tools, the 2-man team started searching for the right tools to help them build up the business.

As entrepreneurs would concur, starting up is never easy. Nigel and Guo Hong had to relentlessly convince customers to trust them instead of established players that had larger teams and better portfolios.

“We overcame this issue by seeking to over value-add to our customers to truly get their digitalisation plan off the ground and generate increased revenue,” Nigel elaborated as he shared how they were able to establish a foothold in the competitive industry.

Once customers started to see the value that Corsiva Lab was providing, they gained traction and more project opportunities came about. The co-founders soon started to form partnerships with various firms. This set out for referral opportunities to further grow Corsiva Lab’s business.

Transforming SMEs

From just Guo Hong and Nigel running the young agency, Corsiva Lab has grown to a team of over 30 passionate members and has a portfolio of over 300 clients, including esteemed brands such as Far East Organisation, L’Oreal, SIM and more.

It was recently announced as a pre-approved vendor for the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) by IMDA as the government set out to encourage SMEs to adopt digital productivity solutions.

With up to 80% funding for the creation of an e-commerce website, the team has seen an influx in project requests as they set out to facilitate SMEs in the transition to the digital age.

A typical project would begin with a consultation session to comprehend the current business model of the client, challenges faced and their digitalisation plans.

With sufficient insights gathered from the initial session, the team would draft a proposal elaborating on the structure of the website and the details of the user journey and worked towards delivering the product upon the acceptance of the proposal.

“We pride ourselves on delivering results for companies in the digital era,” Nigel said as he shared that Corsiva Lab has an in-house design team to create the websites to the specific needs of the clients without the usage of templates.

The development team takes over to program the website and ensure its functionality after finalising the design of the website. Finally, it is shared with the client for a user acceptance test (UAT), where customers would be able to run through the website to ensure it is bug-free.

“More than delivering a solution, we provide true value in tailoring our solutions to the clients’ needs and solving the pressing needs of brick and mortar businesses,” Nigel opined as he shares that Corsiva Lab offers after-market support to customers after the delivery of the product to ensure clients truly benefit from their services.

Challenges faced

While explaining digitalisation concepts to millennial owners was straightforward, the same cannot be said for older SME owners. Faced with their lack of digital literacy, the co-founders had to adapt by using analogies to explain to the older generation.

“For example, we explained that the domain name works as the signboard of your shop, emails as the letterbox for your business and servers as the logbook for your orders,” Guo Hong shared as he touched on the usage of analogies to aid the explanation of tech jargons.

“Though the older clients understood the importance of going digital due to the recurring rhetoric from the government, they often struggled with how they were going to achieve that,” Guo Hong elaborated on the challenges faced by the older generation of SME owners.

The future of digitalisation

With digitalisation cementing its place as the new norm for businesses, we are likely to see more O2O (online to offline) commerce in the days ahead. Previous customers who are comfortable with the brand will likely transact online.

However, a proportion of the customer pool would still desire to transit from an online to offline environment to physically assess the product prior to purchasing it. Therefore, the need for both offline and online marketing channels and integrated CRMs would be greater in the future.

“Having a digital presence enables scaling of the market beyond physical constraints dictated by physical stores,” Nigel remarked as he shares that the strong logistical network and suite of payment gateways within Southeast Asia enables local businesses to scale regionally and beyond.

“With the increasing importance of making data-driven decisions, going digital provides more detailed analytics to optimise key decision-making,” Guo Hong concluded.

Interested in Corsiva Lab and the work they do? Check them out here.

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Tun Yong Yap

Passionate about start-ups that identify problems, develop ideas and execute solutions that value-add to the community. As the Content Manager at EDGE, I seek to connect with youth founders to share their story and inspire others to turn their ideas into reality.

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