Casey: Paying it Forward
The founder of Diamond Glass is dedicated to helping the next generation of local entrepreneurs.
As a saxophonist and percussionist, Kesavan (Casey), found much greater joy in imparting his musical knowledge to students than performing himself. This desire to teach has carried over to his career as an entrepreneur, where he dedicates a huge portion of his time mentoring other start-ups and budding business owners.
Mr Casey is the founder of Diamond Glass, a leading manufacturer of architectural glass and facades in the construction industry. Over the years, he has taken on key roles in regional and local entrepreneurial organisations, including the ASEAN Young Entrepreneurs Council, the ASEAN Young Entrepreneurs Association, and more recently, SBF’s Young Business Leaders Network (SBF-YBLN). Started in 2018, YBLN is a vibrant community that offers young entrepreneurs like Mr Casey the chance to meet like-minded individuals, share experiences, and explore partnerships that positively impact society through business.
He also personally mentors about 150 start-up companies free of charge; all he asks in return is for them to pay it forward by helping other new businesses grow in the future. BizQ speaks to Mr Casey to find out what motivates him to help other budding entrepreneurs, what businesses can do to survive the pandemic, and his company’s plans for the future.
What roles did you play in the ASEAN Young Entrepreneurs Council (AYEC), the ASEAN Young Entrepreneurs Association (AYEA)? What is your current role at SBF Young Business Leaders Network (YBLN)?
In 2017-2018 I became the AYEC Chairman, and the AYEA President. Under my leadership, Singapore signed agreements with China and India to promote cross-border collaboration between our countries in the field of entrepreneurship. My work as past Chairman of the AYEC continues until today, where I provide advisory support to those who need it.
When SBF-YBLN was formed, I was involved in the initial planning phase. SBF-YBLN is an excellent networking platform for businesses, bringing together an extensive network of people from different sectors under one roof.
At SBF-YBLN, apart from participating in activities such as networking sessions, one of the most important factors is the opportunity to use the network by getting in touch with other members and meeting up over coffee to get to know them better. After that, you become friends, and in the future, you may be able to help each other in one way or another.
You also mentor start-ups under a programme known as Red Pill. Tell us more about that.
I provide pro bono mentoring to around 150 start-ups in Singapore as part of a 10-stage programme called Red Pill. In the first few lessons, I will teach them how to sell, then we go into marketing strategies, as well as how to recruit staff and raise funds. I also have a pool of investors to whom my students can pitch their ideas to.
My students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, with many different, interesting businesses from a broad range of industries. For example, I have a retired police officer who has acquired a security company, someone who has started an organic mushroom plantation in Malaysia, or even people who are pursuing technology-related projects.
What motivates you to spend your time mentoring up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
Every day, from Monday to Sunday, I dedicate about two to four hours to my students. I do not charge them because I am doing this as a service to my fellow Singaporeans. When I started making money for the first time, people said that I should make donations, or open an orphanage.
However, I have always felt that teaching is more important. I used to be a music teacher, and it gave me great satisfaction to see my students finally perform the music I had taught them.
I told myself that the best gift that I can give to other business owners is to teach them how to make money. I hope that they can pay it forward by mentoring other students when they achieve success and make their first million.
What advice do you have for businesses going through this pandemic?
My advice to all entrepreneurs is to be very stringent on cash flow management. Regular communication with your clients is also key to understanding when you can expect to receive payments, or if you will get your payment at all. Having adequate face-to-face time with the client is also crucial to make them understand that you have rendered the service or product, and you need to be paid in a timely manner.
This is also a time for bosses to show support for their employees, and that the organisation actually values their services, and not to use the pandemic as an excuse to reduce the size of their workforce or their salaries, unless it is necessary to ensure the survival of the business. During this period, we did not ask anyone to leave our company.
Employers should also focus on employing more Singaporeans, should the opportunity arise, to meet their business needs. This is also my other request to the bosses out there, to make sure our people are well taken care of.
Many entrepreneurs are also under a lot of stress during this crisis. What can they do to cope?
I think you should communicate your feelings to your peers and family members because they may not be aware of the challenges you are having. You can also seek a mentor from the industry who can provide appropriate advice.
I had a business problem recently and reached out to someone who happens to be my competitor. We shared our feelings and showed each other our support. You will be surprised to learn that even competitors can support each other during a crisis.
How has your business been affected by Covid-19?
We are in the building facades business and our maintenance division has been designated as an essential service provider, which has helped to stabilise the company. We also have a manufacturing plant in Singapore and a design and build division, but these had to be closed because of COVID-19 during the Circuit Breaker.
My directors and senior management staff have helped to carry out some of the essential maintenance services when our workforce was stranded in the dormitories. I was very appreciative of their actions and their willingness to come to the fore when the going gets tough.
In the last three months, we have built our own dormitory to house our workers, and now we are almost back to normal operations.
What is your company’s long-term plans for growth?
We are planning for our company to be listed in Singapore in the next five years. Our company’s valuation is now about S$70 million, and we hope to raise it to S$120 million before we go public.
We are also looking to expand business in the ASEAN region over the next few years. Expansion plans will begin next year, so we will be planning and deciding which markets to move into.