Marcus Ho never gave up on a business he started and believed in and managed to turnaround the business winning two industry awards.
What’s your story?
My entrepreneurial journey started right before I finished my national service (NS). Most of my peers in NS were planning on going to Ivy League universities, but I wanted to try on the path less travelled. So I started an e-commerce business, selling tech accessories. Back then, I knew nothing about business, so the first thing I did was to go to a consumer electronics show to distribute flyers.
Not surprisingly, it didn’t work. So I started learning about SEO (Search Engine Optimization), display advertising, which slowly helped to build up the revenue stream for the e-commerce business. But lucky for us, Facebook ads back then just launched around that time period, and we took advantage of it. The e-commerce store’s sales exploded, and we rode that trend well.
The business was sold to a PE firm after that. And then I started my digital agency around 2011. At our biggest point, we grew to around 35 staff members. In 2015, we got acquired by a fintech company, but 12 months into our acquisition, the agency went downhill, with debts piling up for the first time, and unpaid vendors.
So in 2017, I made the difficult decision to take over the agency again, paid off the company’s debts and unpaid vendors with my own money, and started everything from the ground up. It was a challenging turnaround attempt, but I’m proud to say that we’ve managed to turnaround the agency and even won two industry marketing awards by the end of the year.
Today, Brew Interactive (the name of my agency) has two revenue streams — client servicing revenue, and investments in startups.
What excites you most about your industry?
Marketing is seeing its biggest shift in decades. In the past, top marketers would build strategies and campaigns around trends. Today, the world’s best marketers also look inward at their own customer data. Data, in every form, presents fantastic marketing opportunities. This is why an increasing number of mathematicians have also taken on marketing roles too.
What’s your connection to Asia?
Born and raised in Singapore. Spent about a year living and working in Beijing as an intern.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I believe most of your past interviewers would answer — Singapore? I’ve been privileged to travel to many places around the world for work, and have never seen a city that is so easy doing business.
But allow me to add one more city here, and that would be Dhaka (Bangladesh). World Bank, in their “Ease of Doing Business Score”, ranked this city as 176 out of 190. In other words, it’s one of the most difficult cities to do business. But I’ve had the chance of working with some startups there, and while most people try to avoid doing business in Dhaka due to the complication, I see a great opportunity waiting to be unfold.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
When faced with a difficult decision to make in business, always ask yourself “What will be the right thing to do here?”
I believe that as long as you do the right thing, good things will happen for you.
Who inspires you?
My wife, because she’s a great marketer herself, and she has always provided great counsel every time I needed it.
Lee Kuan Yew for his grand vision, leadership and resourcefulness.
Kevin O’Leary (from Shark Tank) for his creativity to structure deals, and candidness
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Work-life integration is the new work-life balance.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Always give the other party the better part of the business deal. Doing so will pave the way for a fruitful long-term business relationship.
How do you unwind?
Video games. Funny enough, I was previously a competitive video gamer. E-sports today is a known industry. Some times, I’d wish I was 18 again where I was travelling around the world, competing in video games. I look forward to sharing these stories with my kids once they’re older.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan, so many new things to explore and the food is great there!
Everyone in business should read this book:
Future is Asian – By Parag Khanna. It brings a good perspective of the growth potential in Asia.
Shameless plug for your business:
Brew Interactive is a digital marketing agency, specialised in the B2B, Education and Finance sector. If you’re looking to grow a certain aspect of your business, there might be a chance that digital can help.
If you like to learn a little bit more about digital marketing, I’ve invested a significant amount of resources into the Brew Interactive blog as well.
How can people connect with you?
On my email at marcus.ho[at]brewinteractive.com.
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.