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Ex-CEO of Fav Joel Nioh reveals how he turned 6,000 Singapore dollars into millions

Joel Nioh, former CEO of Fav

SINGAPORE – Perhaps turning 40 has something to do with it, but after 15 years as a serial entrepreneur, Joel Nioh, co-founder of payments app Fav, is hitting the pause button – or so they say.

In March 2023, Nioh took a break from Fav after serving as the company’s chief executive officer for eight years – he remains a shareholder and advisor to the company. Last year, the company said it had achieved the highest ever volume of payment transactions. Fav was also acquired by Indian fintech player Pine Labs for US$45 million (S$60.4 million) in 2021.

talking to Yahoo Finance Singapore, Nioh stated that he was looking forward to the opportunity to leave “on a high”. Yoh Chen Chow, who co-founded Fav with Neoh and served as its chief operating officer, appointed him to the top position.

“We’re coming off very strong growth last year, and I looked at the team and realized ‘hey, you know, maybe this is a good time for me to take a break,’” said Nioh, who is still invested There are many startups and companies.

“There’s never a good time, right? Because there are always some things you want to do in a company. I thought 15 years of entrepreneurship was a good time to take a pause. I turn 40 this year.” been, you know?”

Nioh has made a name for itself in the startup landscape of South East Asia. He co-founded Fave in 2015 as an offline-to-online payment app for businesses and consumers after seeing the growth of mobile payments in China. But his entrepreneurial journey did not start there.

From Engineer to Entrepreneur

Coming from a “typical Malaysian middle-class” family in Kuala Lumpur, Nioh studied engineering at the behest of his parents – both of whom were teachers. “When I graduated, they photocopied my graduation certificate and were sending it out, trying to get me job interviews because they were quite concerned that I didn’t want to be an engineer,” Nioh recalled.

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By that point, Nioh said she already had entrepreneurial aspirations, even though it proved difficult to convince her parents. He got his break in 2007 when he joined a corporate reality TV show called The Firm , The Malaysian version of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. He won the competition three months later.

The following year, Nioh co-founded his first venture, YouthSays, an online youth opinion community, which morphed into today’s, an online Malaysian news platform. At the time, Nioh said he had “around RM20,000 (S$6,000) in savings”, amassed through odd jobs and red packets, to start his first business.

“Back then, there was no venture capital or seed funding,” Nioh said. “My parents are government employees, so they didn’t have much… Even when I went to university, it was based on partial scholarship and PTPTN loans (Malaysian government student loans).”

In 2010, Nioh saw another opportunity to start a business in Malaysia. The new venture, GroupsMore, was a company that copied the business model of US e-commerce site Groupon. Within four months, the company was acquired by Groupon and rebranded as Groupon Malaysia. Nioh was appointed CEO, eventually rising to the position of Vice President of Groupon Asia-Pacific, where he oversaw 12 different markets.

their first million

When he made his first million at age 28, Nioh said he put most of it in a fixed deposit account on the advice of his parents. “Building a startup is risky. While you can be successful, at the same time, there are eight out of ten startups that don’t make it,” Nioh said. He remembered his mother’s advice to diversify, and not to put your eggs in one basket.

His approach to investing is simple: Categorize them into low, medium and high risk.

“Cash, fixed deposits, fixed income would be on the low risk side and medium risk would be equity in good companies,” Nioh said. For the high-risk portion, Nioh reserves the right to invest in startups other than its own.

What about the first item you bought with your first million?

A Yamaha digital piano that costs between RM5,000 and RM6,000 (between S$1,500 and S$1,800). Nioh still plays the instrument – ​​he taught himself to play it through YouTube videos.

dream big, fail early

At the heart of Nioh’s investment philosophy is the desire to make an impact. Nioh said the idea of ​​making a lot of money or creating a popular product through entrepreneurship tends to be over-romanticized.

“I think ‘if this is successful, what positive impact are we actually making?’ Ideally, if you build something that relates to consumers, you want millions of consumers to benefit from it.”

Still, Nioh is not immune to setbacks. One example is a product called “Fevpay Later” that only ran for a year before Nioh and his team realized it didn’t meet the needs of consumers or merchants.

Nioh said, “You have to dream big, then you start small, and then we go fast. But we must also fail fast.” “The process of iterating is when we find something that is good and scalable, but there were a lot of smaller projects that failed along the way.”

Nioh said that the biggest lesson from his journey so far is to always remember that “tough times don’t last, but tough people do”.

“Whenever you’re going through a tough time, just remind yourself that it’s not going to last forever. As long as we’re tough and surrounded by the right group of people with the right intentions, eventually we’ll get out.” Will go.” About it,” Nioh said.

Having gone through the hardship of starting a company himself, Nioh said he would always encourage early-stage entrepreneurs to never give up and be open to sharing ideas. According to him, many aspiring entrepreneurs tend to keep their ideas to themselves, fearing that they will be judged or that someone else will copy their ideas.

“If you don’t share it, you’ll never get off the ground,” Nioh said.

giving back

Although Nioh didn’t elaborate on his next move, he made it clear that he really wants to take a break and spend more time with family and friends and do some traveling.

As for how he’ll contribute, he gave some hints of his plans: “Giving back” to the startup community.

“I have received so much support, advice, mentorship and funding. So I think this year, maybe I want to give back to the ecosystem in a way where I set aside some money to invest in other potential founders.” Neh said.

“I’m also looking at some opportunities, potentially, one or two board opportunities that could really help encourage more startup or entrepreneurial activity in Southeast Asia.”

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