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He is 20, going on millions



    Aug 18, 2014

    He is 20, going on millions

    WHEN you are 20 years old, you usually depend on your parents to pay your university fees and give you pocket money.

    Nickson Guay is on scholarship at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, and runs - with a team of seven - his own company, worth more than half-a-million dollars.

    If you do try your hand at business at 20, there's a good chance that your parents are bankrolling it.

    Mr Guay was nine years old when his father was bankrupted, and he lived on between $2 and $5 a day for most of his school years.

    When you are 20, you wear T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. That's the only aspect in which Mr Guay acts his age. He looks every inch a university student.

    Last year, he founded digital marketing agency Marketlight with a start-up capital of $25,000. Now it's worth 20 times that amount.

    The agency specialises in helping its clients grow their business using social media, search-engine optimisation and content marketing.

    The money is a welcome change from his tough early days, when the family had to scrimp to get by. Worse still, his parents divorced when he was 18.

    "I was afraid that I would not have enough money to pay my university tuition fees...and started to think about how people became millionaires at such a young age," he said.

    While his friends were enjoying life before national service (NS) and university by clubbing and travelling, Mr Guay attended multiple networking sessions and started reading voraciously on entrepreneurship.

    He did not think he was losing out, though. "I think going to parties is a waste of time. It distracts you from making an impact," said the young chief executive.

    Success didn't come immediately for Mr Guay.

    "After struggling through hundreds of meetings, four lousy business plans and two failed product demonstrations, and losing 90 per cent of my hard-earned money overnight, I was finally on the route to success," he said.

    He was still serving his NS when, with some financial help from an investor, he launched Marketlight.

    "I gained special permission from my superiors to run my business during NS, but agreed to focus on NS as my main duty," said Mr Guay.

    After completing his duties, he would call his team in the evenings. For the first nine months, he didn't pay himself.

    "I had to pay my employees and other costs...I had only my NS allowance to depend on," he said.

    His hard work paid off when property agents took notice of Marketlight and tapped on it to widen their reach online.

    Even Temasek's Vertex Venture Holdings took an interest in the business, but Mr Guay declined its investment.

    "We are still growing and are not ready for such a partnership at this point in time. We will be raising money at the end of the year," he said.

    He does, however, have plans for Marketlight to earn $3 million in revenue by the end of next year, and to launch a second tech start-up.

    "I want to be the first Singaporean to create a billion-dollar tech main purpose in life is to contribute something important to the world. Nothing else really matters."