Sean Seah’s long and winding road … upwards
By Goh Thean Eu December 12, 2014
- Caught the entrepreneurial bug in his teens, but worked the corporate life for 10yrs
- Early moderate success gave him a war-chest, believes global is the way to go
IF there is one word to describe Sean Seah’s entrepreneurial journey, it would most likely be “passionate.” A good second word would perhaps be “perseverant.”
Seah is a cofounder of Galasys Plc, an IT company specialising in theme park ticketing management systems. The company is listed on London’s Alternate Investment Market (AIM), with a market capitalisation of about RM80 million (US$23.1 million) as at end-November, 2014.
All that is public knowledge, but what most people do not know is that Seah’s passion for entrepreneurship goes back a long time – back to when he was in his teens, actually.
“It was very long ago. It was started in 1987 or 1988 when my friends and I had just completed our STPM (the A-levels equivalent), and we decided to start a bookstore,” Seah tells Digital News Asia (DNA) in an interview recently.
“It was so long ago that I can’t even remember the name of the bookstore that we set up. If I am not mistaken, I think it was named Temiang Chanwa Bookstore or something like that,” he chuckles.
The venture did not last long because less than two years later, Seah had to leave all that behind to pursue his tertiary education at Inti College, where he spent about a year before heading to California State University Chico to further his studies in the United States.
“It was a good experience even though it was a short time. It gave me my first real taste of entrepreneurship.
“I think it was clear then that entrepreneurship was in my blood, and it was my passion to run my own business,” he says.
After completing his studies, Seah did not immediately jump onto the entrepreneur bandwagon. Instead, he went to work with three different multinational companies for a good 10 years.
In fact, he started his career in Silicon Valley as a software application developer for Nasdaq-listed Software Publishing Corp.
“The last multinational company I worked for was Sun Microsystems Inc. I was there for about seven years,” says Seah, who was responsible for the Sun Professional Services business operation and Greater China channels management before he left in 2003.
First bucket of gold
In 2002, when Seah was still with Sun Microsystems, he and a colleague Jimmy Fong, along with two more partners, decided to set up a one-stop retail outlet specialising in the sale of Apple products and related accessories.
“Back then, the concept was still new,” Seah declares.
Afor Pte Ltd was soon established. The company eventually set up Singapore’s first ‘AppleCentre.’
The store was designed to provide an interactive retail experience where customers could test, touch and feel showcased products prior to purchase. The store also provided first-hand product knowledge via seminars, personalised coaching, and other methods.
In 2006, as part of Afor’s rebranding exercise, the company changed the name of its outlet at Wheelock Place from [email protected] to [email protected].
In 2008, Afor listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX), an exercise which raised some S$7.75 million (US$5.9 million).
Seah admits that he played a very small role in the company’s success. “In fact, I had never been involved in the day-to-day operations and management of the company,” he says.
In fact, just before Afor announced its initial public offering (IPO) plan, Seah decided to sell his entire shareholding to three parties for approximately S$830,000 (US$632,000).
“That was based on an agreed price-to-earnings ratio of approximately three times’ the company’s net profit for the financial year ended June 30, 2007,” he says.
“So, to cut a long story short, that was how I made my first bucket of gold,” he adds.
One of the reasons why Seah was never involved in the day-to-day operations of Afor is that he was occupied with growing his own venture, Bimbit.com.
Bimbit.com, a ‘digital content e-hypermarket,’ was set up with the aim of bridging the gap between the digital media world and users, he says.
“At one point, Bimbit.com secured distribution rights with all the major music labels globally, and we supplied music content to Telekom Malaysia, Nokia, Apple, The Star Online, and others.
“We were doing well,” he reminiscences.
Although business was good, it was very challenging to sustain it because of digital content privacy issues.
“Unfortunately, the Malaysian Government was unable to clamp down on the rampant digital content privacy, and I was forced to change the business model to an e-commerce platform.
“From that point on, we merged with a China software company to form Galasys Group in 2010. The merger brought our e-commerce platform to China, where we sold to theme parks,” says Seah.
Seah used the money he got from the disposal of his Afor shares to invest in Galasys.
Next Page: The bumpy road, and the IPO achievement