The City Rooms - Interview
Posted on July 18 2018
Check Out Keave Poh and The City Rooms Story
'What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?’
- Self-motivation: The routines / cycle of life in general. It’s typically 8-9am daily. Automatic wake up For Work, Family, Health.
Why did you start you The City Rooms?
- In 2007, I returned from the STATES and started to rent a room from a local landlord, only to realize that explosive growth of newcomers to Singapore and policies pushing the rental markets up beyond my budget and understanding. After 1-2 months as a tenant, I decided to be a landlord, to set my own rules in my own land of birth. Between 2008 and 2010, I owned an apartment, lived in one bedroom and sublet the remaining rooms out to tenants, it was the first taste of life as a part-time landlord, in addition to my full-time job.
- I felt the urge to provide accommodation after realizing the difficulty of new comers and locals here in Singapore, seeking simple comfort in private rooms as opposed t the expense of whole apartments.
- The City Rooms was started in 2010 for the original intention of initiating hostels/backpacker opportunities that seemed very encouraging. But after experiencing the layers of approvals via various authorities, it became clear to us that hefty 'capital on compliance-requirements' and much longer than expected time frame for approvals is required for this type of business. We viewed more than 50 premises and despite spotting several opportunities, we decided not to move forwards as every calculation for each opportunity didn't look good.
- After some twists and turns, we used a simpler approach to help a few friends & ourselves (Landlords) to manage their residential properties and sublet the rooms out on long term basis to save the hassles, but more importantly, to offer simple no-frills affordable, comfortable, private rooms to single tenants
‘What does an average day look like for The City Rooms?’
- A typical Morning will start responding to messages from current and prospective tenants.
- Getting the team to rectify issues both onsite and offsite.
- Late morning break for gym or swim
- Afternoon will be updating tenants’ accounts, rent reminders, room availability dates check and websites advertising.
- Scheduling of appointments for prospective tenants to view rooms.
- Early evening break to fetch my boy from childcare
What inspires you?
- Financial freedom with minimal set of rules applied onto my limited lifespan.
What do you enjoy most with running your own business?
- Being responsible for my own actions and not to a boss.
- Making decisions quickly on my own (objectively) with minimal interference / delays, while benefiting the majority.
- Flexible time management, I can be anywhere on earth at anytime.
Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?
- Since young, I have had several dreams /ambitions shattered, but to share one …
- In 2008 January as a rookie, I evaluated a property agent selling me a 950 sqft apartment advertised as 1600 sqft. Within 2hrs of my first viewing and onsite evaluation, with verbal support of $540K loan from bankX based on 1600 sqft, I offered the seller $600K and we signed the deal.
- However, 2 weeks later, a routine visit from a property valuer from bankX informed me that the real area of the apartment is 950 sqft and NOT 1600 sqft. This means that bankX can only loan me a maximum of $440K instead of $540K, shortfall of $100K.
- Coincidentally, I happened to lose $50K savings in the subprime forex crisis in 2007 December, 50% of my savings back then. Together with this new revelation, these made me feel as though I’m “surrounded by enemies”, part of my imaginations watching epic Chinese battle dramas. I was then left with two options: (a) forfeit the $30K deposit, (b) bite the bullet and hunt for $100K shortfall, which is extremely large amount as a rookie.
- For the next 4 weeks, I talked to every single bank and institutions in Singapore for max loan possible. My parents are a single-middle-income family with no financial resources for my mistake. It was no easy way for me except to keep talking for greatest possible loan.
- I believe in taking responsibilities for my one mistake (as always) and not beg nor worry my parents or relatives, I have had no issues overcoming challenges / steep learning curves in the technologies and programming IT world as a IT person, but this financial obstacle was definitely a steep one.
- rented room of 200cm by 200cm thinking of a solution staring past the ceiling board or I surfed online finding inspirations or visit the bookshops for self-help inspirations.
- One fine day, I came across a book entitled “XXX Other People’s Money (xOPM)”. The book probably has 100 pages but I scanned though the table of contents and a new inspiration dawned on me.
- To cut the story short, from the xOPM concept, I ‘structured a deal’ with a ‘friend as co-investor passively’ and this allowed me to start my first part-time landlord role.
What do you are the biggest challenges for The City Rooms?
- Operations challenges is pretty similar to most SMEs, maintaining quality of response and issues tracking, and happiness of tenants/customers.
- Reacting positively to regulations and compliance rules that can change from time to time, failure to change means shutdown which many other SMEs experienced.
- It gets kind of boring repeating the duties of my role, since I prefer to hunt down new opportunities instead of managing current portfolio. However, finding someone to take over my role completely is not easy since the self-motivation component is higher than the monetary component, albeit the nostalgia component.
Any advice for your previous boss?
- My last boss was in 2010, eight years ago. I have had more than 10 bosses in my 10 years of working employee life.
- My advice to all of them is plain gratitude to them: the good bosses gave me good advices, the bad bosses induced my alternative perspectives, the neutral bosses had time for me to explore my imaginations and future ventures.
- My advice to all employees before u become a boss is to make the best out of your current bosses, there’s always ‘something’ u can derive from.
Are there any brands, business’ or business leaders that you admire?
- No one in specific. However, I like the story of hard work and anecdotes of Li Ka-shing in his younger days. He mentioned something like “Use your wits instead of money” (斗智不斗力) to solve problems.
- The world of business is forever changing, everyone has a unique situation in front of them, thus a unique way of doing what they want.
What would you like to achieve Professionally in 6 months / 1 year / 5 years?
- 6mths: Take a break from a recent failure on authorities-approvals for a new business, continue existing portfolio management. Spend more time with family.
- 1yr: Identify & develop totally new areas of business
- 5yrs: Find someone capable and let him run/manage while I can rest and recharge
Any advice for talent looking to set up their own hustle?
- Analyze your financials, very basic of all hustle.
- Financially: It really depends on your situation I think, in my case, I need to ensure consistent cashflow monthly for my parents who need my contribution, besides my own spending without any financial backings. Thus, I started my OMO hustle in the IT industry in 2003 on a part-time basis besides working as full-time employee. I was clocking 16 hours of work daily. The 8 hours is to generate full-time salary, and the other 8 hours is for my passion in IT to take off, which didn’t.
- Device your own cashflow plan to support your own hustle. Everyone has a unique situation. No cashflow > no hustle.
What is your favorite quote?
- I like the Chinese ones, short and powerful:
Ø Time makes the man (时势造英雄)
Ø Man creates his time (英雄造时势)
Connect with Keave on LinkedIn and stay up to date with all the exciting changes and developments at The City Rooms, Singapore.
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