Going Against The Grain


Lawrence Koh, 40, founder and managing director of iFly Singapore

1cPhoto credit: iFly Singapore

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM HIM: Sometimes you need to risk failure to succeed.

When Lawrence Koh made his maiden parachute jump as a Singapore Armed Forces Commando, little did he realise that this leap would take him to greater heights. He went on to become the Commanding Officer of his unit’s Parachute Training Wing and team leader of the elite Singapore Red Lions Parachuting Display Team for the National Day Parades in 2005 and 2006. When the seasoned skydiver saw the opportunity to introduce indoor skydiving to Singapore, he jumped on it. iFly Singapore, the city’s first indoor skydiving simulation centre, opened in 2011 and is now a key attraction in Sentosa.

Was being an entrepreneur part of your career plan all along?

I loved my life in the Commandos but at the end of my scholarship bond with the army, I started thinking about what I’d like to achieve in the next 10 years. I could stay on and have a secure career, or I could step out of my comfort zone and do something that could change my life and influence others’. I took the plunge and started my own business.

What made you set up iFly Singapore and how did you get about doing it?

I wanted to bring the experience of flight to the masses. But most people told me that I wasn’t going to succeed, as there weren’t many professional skydivers in Singapore to begin with!

One of the first obstacles was to convince investors — I needed a start-up capital of $25 million! Armed with only a great passion and a vision of “Anyone Can Fly”, I prepared a detailed business plan and thought of all the answers to questions that anyone who was being asked to invest $25 million would have.

If you ask me now if I’d do it again, I’m not sure because why would anyone give up a well-paying job with good prospects to go into something that may possibly make him bankrupt?


Kelvin Tong, 45, acclaimed filmmaker

1bPhoto credit: Kelvin Tong

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM HIM: Have the conviction to pursue meaningful but less popular projects.

Kelvin Tong may be the first Singaporean to direct a Hollywood horror film (The Faith of Anna Waters), but there is a lesser-known fact that is just as inspiring. Determined to pursue film, the award-winning filmmaker quit his pupillage at a law firm to join The Straits Times as a film critic in 1995.

After four years of reviewing movies, he made Eating Air in 1999. Not one to chase conventional definitions of success, Kelvin took on the uncharted territory of horror films. His movie The Maid (2005) was produced at a time when no Singaporean filmmakers were making scary flicks. His conviction paid off as The Maid received positive reviews and remains the highest-grossing local film of its genre.

Why did you decide to go into filmmaking when you were trained in law?

My first love was cinema, but tertiary education in Singapore during my time did not offer film studies. Even while I went through law school, I knew that someday I would want to work in film.

What gave you the courage to make the switch to a less mainstream career, especially when the Singapore film industry was in its developing stage?

Good old-fashioned middle-class cushioning. As shopkeepers, my parents were financially comfortable. Their financial independence freed me to follow my heart. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Eating Air won several awards at film festivals. Instead of continuing with arthouse films, why did you go into horror films?  

I’ve always wanted to make films that people, rather than festival juries, see. Eating Air, like many debut films, wound up being an arthouse film because that is the best genre to choose when you have very little money.

After Eating Air, I wanted to make mainstream pictures. But given Singapore’s young industry and therefore anaemic production budgets, I needed to find a genre that would not be punished by the lack of budget. Horror came to my rescue. It didn’t need stars (any horror flick starring Tom Hanks will fail because audiences know you can’t kill him off!). It didn’t need a lot of lights (horror films are by definition ‘dark’). It helped that I also love horror.

What advice do you have for people who want to chase their dreams and do something less mainstream?

Be sure that you have the talent and passion. It’s one thing to like eating cupcakes but quite another to want to become the best cupcake maker. Being good at something also takes discipline and years of practise. And ask the question: “Will I be happy doing this for the next 50 years?” If so, go ahead and make those earth-shattering cupcakes.



Prasatt Arumugam, 26, teacher

Photo credit: Prasatt Arumugam

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM HIM: Remember that every person’s work matters and can make an impact on Society.

You can say that Prasatt Arumugam has literally taken the path less trodden. After all, he is the first Singaporean to have completed the daunting Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) — a feat accomplished by fewer than 5,000 hikers in the world – on a solo trip from July to December 2016. The treacherous 2,650-mile (4,265km)-long route is the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 16 times and includes diverse terrain, from parched deserts to slippery icy mountain passes.

The trek was funded by Prasatt’s own savings, as well as contributions by the National University of Singapore and the National Youth Council. But what was more noteworthy was his motivation, which went beyond personal pride and national glory. Prasatt undertook the endeavour to raise funds and awareness for the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF). Supporting cancer patients became a cause close to his heart after he lost his aunt to the disease in 2010. After she passed away, he started volunteering with CCF and participated in Hair for Hope 2015. His trek raised over S$90,000, far exceeding his target of S$26,650 — S$10 for each mile of the PCT. 

What inspired you to embark on the Pacific Crest Trail?

I had done Hair for Hope in 2015 to help raise funds and show my support for children with cancer. But after that, I thought there was more that I could do. I have a friend who had done expeditions in the name of charity. He is around my age. It occurred to me that if he could do it, there was no reason why I couldn’t. So I decided to embark on the PCT which had always captivated my imagination. I also felt that was symbolic of the journey the children take towards their recovery.

How did you get the support of the public to contribute and raise funds for the cancer foundation?

Getting public support involved a lot of legwork — and many closed doors. Thankfully, I had a group of friends who helped me reach out to organisations, companies and individuals. Cold calls, introductions, emails … you name it, I used it. I had to face a lot of rejection before some support was gained. Media coverage seemed to help, along with a social media presence. Ultimately, there were people inspired by my cause who provided their support. It was a long and slow process.

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