By Renuka Sena October 10, 2016
- ‘Vision is to save lives by the thousands, if not millions’
- Learnt nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship during CGP
THE well-known adage “Success is not the destination, but the journey” is a perfect fit for Geob International Sdn Bhd founder, Geoffrey Tan (pic). Though he had aspirations to be an entrepreneur, Tan took tentative steps towards his dream by first pursuing a career in the electronics industry.
Tan says that this path has given him critical insight into the working world. “I do not regret my career choice as I do believe my time in the electronics field gave me the foundation I needed to venture into my own business. Working in the field for 15 years allowed me to gain the knowledge and experience to invent a product that I am very proud of.”
As an entrepreneur in the making, Tan was no stranger to hard work. “My last position was as a SMT operations manager. I was also holding the post of failure analysis manager and radiation protection officer. I held three roles with one salary!” It was during this busy period that family issues led to Tan creating a gadget that would change his future.
As a diabetic, Tan’s father suffers from dangerously low blood sugar levels and cold sweats due to hypoglycaemia. This could lead to a stroke or induce a coma. Tan spent a long time searching for a wireless alarm that could measure and detect sweat levels and skin temperature to warn the patient as well as other family members that something was wrong. “I wanted to present my father with a gadget that could save his life – and I could not find anything right,” he recalls.
Encouraged by his mother, Tan took the proverbial bull by the horns and decided to invent what he could not find. The result is the Hypoband, a life-saving gadget that is worn on the patient’s wrist like a watch. Tan explains that the Hypoband works by pairing with an Android or iPhone via Bluetooth. “When the Hypoband detects cold sweat or when the panic button is triggered, the SMS, alarm, phone ringing sequence will come into play, alerting caregivers to check up on the patient.”
The early years
The period between Tan exploring the possibilities of creating such a gadget to the actual product being in the marketplace has been far from a smooth journey.
With Brendon Beh, a fellow co-worker and friend he had known for over 10 years, Tan set up Geob Solutions first in 2010 during the initial R&D. Two years later, Tan and Beh took things a step forward and formed Geob International when they had the prototype ready and had received their angel funding, from their mentors.
Tan recalls the early days being particularly hard. “It was tough trying to convince people that there is a need for a product like Hypoband, trying to raise funds to bring an idea from inside my head to reality.”
Towards this, he is grateful for having been awarded the Cradle grant of RM150,000 in 2011. Then in Oct 2013 the company received a US$240,000 (RM1 million) investment from The Star Accelerator Fund. This allowed him to invest further in the research of Geob. Nov 2013 brough him another windfall when Cradle, happy with the progress he had been making, granted him RM500,000 in funding from its CIP500 Fund. Despite all this support however, Geob’s growth has been slower than he would liked.
Tan explains that developing a medical product involves following stringent product legislation. It also takes a big team with deep management pockets to penetrate the market fast enough and to keep up with technology and medical updates which is why he hopes to raise his series A funding in order to grow exponentially. However this is proving tough going as Tan has met over 30 investors with no success so far. Some potential investors want to see revenue in the low seven digits before they invest leading Tan to acknowledge that is is tough for startups with physical products in healthcare to raise Series A funding.
"We have to date reached close to RM500,000 in sales revenue since 2014. But since getting our Ce mark last Nov we have sold 1,000 units of Hypoband (90% overseas market and 10% local market) in 11 months. Our projected sales for next year is 3,000 units." The CE mark is the manufacturer's declaration that the product meets the regulatory requirements to be sold in the European Economic Area.
Another positive for the company besides receiving the CE mark has been the granding of a patent it applied for in 2013. "We just got that approved a few months back," says Tan.
Despite the challenges of striking it out on his own, Tan sees the positive even when times are bleak. Things really started to move forward when he learned the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship at the Coach and Grow Programme (CGP) in 2013. Tan discovered how to write a business plan, make a good business proposal or presentation, and how to give a really good pitch and manage his financials. Armed with this knowledge, he felt more confident about bringing his vision to fruition. Adding to his confidence was receiving angel funding from his CGP mentors.
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Although Beh is no longer onboard as co-founder and co-director, Tan is not allowing his solo venture to deter Geob International from reaching lofty heights. However, the heights Tan has envisioned has nothing to do with the glamourous side of success.
When asked about his vision for Geob, he says, “Our vision is to save lives by the thousands, if not millions.”
While Tan’s ultimate vision is to make Hypoband a household name in the diabetic healthcare industry and have Geob International listed on a stock exchange or have a medical giant buy the company out, he remains realistic and practical.
“I see the company growing in the next five years. To ask me what my plans for Geob would be in 10 or 20 years is too far down the road for me to envision. Call me myopic – although I prefer the word realistic – the business environment is too volatile to plan that far ahead,” he says.
Freedom and flexibility
Tan is nothing if not pragmatic but his reason for becoming an entrepreneur reaches beyond purely practical causes. When asked why he chose to be an entrepreneur, he reveals, “I wanted to taste the flavours of life. I want to have my own time and freedom.”
The freedom that he appreciates is the flexibility of being on his own. “It is important to me to have the flexibility to do simple things like bathing my son in the morning (his first born came in 2014) and not rushing in the wee hours to beat the clock combined with the dread of getting stuck in traffic for hours!”
Being an entrepreneur may be an all-consuming path, but Tan has embraced it with all his heart. However, he says it is not for everyone.
“Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. I believe being an entrepreneur is a vocation and you should do a stint as an employee first. If being an entrepreneur is not for you, there are always other options to explore. Life was never meant to be monotonous,” he says. One piece of advice Geoffrey has for budding entrepreneurs is: “Never undermine yourself, as your thoughts will eventually become reality.”
Discover Geob International at www.hypoband.com
The above is an excerpt from the book Startups to Scaleups published in October 2015 by Cradle Fund and Proficeo Consultants, the programme manager for Cradle’s Coach and Grow Programme. DNA will be featuring every entrepreneurial story from the book in a special commercial arrangement.
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