When I lived in Singapore, every time I Googled something, a website called HardwareZone would inevitably pop up. Imagine my shock when I later discovered that my friend, Crono Lee was one of the people who had started it!
Back in 1999, Crono got his first taste of entrepreneurship when he joined a group of passionate undergraduates who started HardwareZone.
“I was 17 then, and was given the precious opportunity to learn along them and experience life in a start-up. In 2006, our hard work hit a breakthrough and HardwareZone.com was acquired by Singapore Press Holdings. We then had the opportunity to spin off the Search Department into a separate entity and begin the journey of our 2nd start-up, clickTRUE. The Founders of HardwareZone.com kindly offered me the opportunity to be a founding member of clickTRUE and I accepted without hesitation. It was like a dream come true for me to be embarking on a journey of entrepreneurship with the bosses that brought me up in HardwareZone.com.”
As I’m always curious to what life as a start up is like, I asked Crono to share what his experiences have been like.
“While many would like to picture start-ups as cool or rosy, the truth is that as entrepreneurs, we work longer hours, even into the weekends, and harder, in order to stay afloat. While an employee works within a given scope, entrepreneurs are required to perform beyond a given scope and take on multiple roles. Where we can’t find help, as entrepreneurs, we will have to pick up the skill until help is found.
Is it tougher than expected? Well, it has its challenges. Fortunately, I am blessed to be among great partners in Singapore and Malaysia who consistently provide me with guidance and advice whenever I am hit with a tough situation. Despite our differences in background, age and even character, each partner is strong in his own way. Having like-minded and united business partners working together truly make the tough times a lot easier.”
Dealing with clients is a big part of the business, and I wondered how he deals with difficult clients. Crono is a really jolly person and has such a happy disposition that I wonder how constantly dealing with clients doesn’t wear him down.
“Being in the servicing line in the last decade, I’ve always shared with my team that there are no such thing as difficult clients, only clients with different or more requirements, and as a responsible Account Manager, it is our duty to ensure we manage the expectations of different clients.
To keep positive energy up, I often tell myself that there is nothing too big that can’t be solved. Instead of trying “finger-point” others during a crisis, I always believe that we need to figure out what went wrong, rather than who did wrong, and solve the issue at hand in the shortest possible time.”
I completely agree with it being so much better to figure out what went wrong instead of focusing on who did it wrong. Life would be so much better if we were collaborative instead of wasting time trying to blame other people.
Now, let’s get a little bit more personal. Crono married his long-time girlfriend, Tze-Pen and is the father to a baby boy and a little girl. How does he divide his time between work and his family?
“Ha! This is the tough, tougher than being a entrepreneur!” Crono chortles.
“I spend 75% of my time working in Malaysia and indeed, I truly have very little time with my wife and kids. I am thankful for a very, very, understanding wife who also took this leap of faith with me on this journey of entrepreneurship. As much as I can, I keep my work during office hours and stay away from my workstation when I am at home so that my wife and kids can have my fullest attention. So weekends are really precious to us as a family.”
What was the biggest adversity he has ever had to deal with in life?
“Marriage? Haha…just kidding! The truth is because of the way I look at issues and challenges, I don’t have “something” that I feel is the hardest I have dealt with for now.” Crono crosses his fingers.
“So while I do not have the hardest, I do have a longest thing I had to deal with. I started dating my wife in 2004 and was finally accepted by her family in 2008. At the beginning, I did not enjoy being hidden in the shadows and my wife and I had our “cold war” on and off during those 4 years. While my wife was trying to find the best timing, I was pushy and impatient. I am truly grateful that my wife stayed true to this relationship and eventually managed to open up our relationship to her family. My biggest take away from this is that there’s truly a time for everything. Being pushy and trying to force things the way you want it to be, gets you nowhere most of the time. Above all, it creates a lot of pain and frustration to the people around you. Which is why now, I consistently remind myself, there isn’t anything too big that can’t be solved!” Crono smiles.
Being Singaporean, Crono underwent National Service. I asked him what type of no-good he got up to back in the days of the military.
“The naughtiest moment had to be when we ambushed a birthday bash on one of the officer cadets while he was bathing. It was an unbelievable mess! Camou cream, shoe kiwi, powder, shampoo, toothpaste…you could can find all sorts of “decoration” on him.
I miss my days in Officer Cadet School. I met the best buddies during this 10-month training and we still catch up regularly for dinners and drinks just to maintain the friendship we have built.”
What about his childhood? What was his favourite childhood memory growing up in Singapore?
“Would it be sad if I said I don’t have a specific memory? Haha! I grew up in a typical Chinese family where my parents put in a lot of hard work and time in trying to make a living in order to raise us up. We aren’t a very well-to-do family. So every drop of sweat and every cent they had was to ensure the kids could complete their studies. I have an elder sister and brother, 8 years and 7 years older than me respectively, who dote on me a lot. So while I did not have a favourite childhood memory, I had a truly awesome childhood with my siblings, taking me out and buying me my favourite snacks. The sibling bond between the 3 of us is truly unbelievable. In fact, we are so close that we are even working together in clickTRUE, fighting hard for our future together.
I wish my two kids grow up understanding the importance of this family bond. How a blood bond like this can help each other in work and in life. I consistently remind myself to impart the good learnings I am brought up with to my kids and let them enjoy living together with the family.”
Last, could he tell us a big dream or aspiration that he has?
“My BIG dream is to open a school. I’d like to position education as not just about academic outcome but to focus on imparting values of life and character development that has become very “hidden” in today’s educational system in Singapore. While it might be important to do well in our books, in my opinion, it is equally as important to learn the skills of life in how we treat and work with others, how we live in harmony with people from all walks of life and treat each other with respect.”
If you’d like to get to know Crono a bit better, follow him on Instagram here!