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Thomas Beattie: From soccer to startups
WHEN THOMAS BEATTIE faced a devastating injury while playing for SAF Warriors FC in 2015, he cried for two weeks because he thought he would never play soccer again. His eye socket was crushed in a way that made one eye sink while the other pop out; there were fragments of bone behind the eye that had to be taken out; there was a hemorrhage at the front of his brain; he needed multiple reconstructive facial surgeries to look like himself again. Even now his sinuses pain him, making cabin air pressure on long-haul flights particularly intolerable.
But a few months after the injury, the Englishman – then only 28 – picked himself up and forced himself to start a new life. Though he had spent all of his youth and early adulthood playing professional soccer for various clubs in London, Canada, the US and Singapore, among other countries, he made the decision to hang up his cleats, suit up, and join the world of startups and entrepreneurs instead.
Within a few years, Mr Beattie had co-founded Ovvy, the first Singapore-born household services app that has become one of the most downloaded apps in the country. Ovvy lets you look for movers, plumbers, electricians and aircon repairmen for the price that’s right for you. The app has attracted 30,000 users since its June 2018 launch, and raised a total investment of S$850,000.
Besides Ovvy, Mr Beattie also started various other ventures such as two health food joints called Shake Farm in the Central Business District, kitchenware manufacturer Latent Epicure which in 2018 made a profit of over S$2.5 million through online sales, and real estate firm Sankalpa which builds affordable eco homes in South England. He also founded Samara Capital Investments which invests in Singapore start-ups with seed funding ranging from S$50,000 to S$100,000.
Mr Beattie – who hopes to become a Singapore citizen someday – credits a substantial part of his business success to the discipline he gained from being a former professional sportsman.
You don’t have a business background. But you’ve moved from sports to startups almost seamlessly. How did you do it?
It’s true that I didn't study business, but I always was very entrepreneurial. From a young age, I would go to huge warehouses just before school and buy candies in bulk. Then I would distribute them to my friends, who would then go around selling them in school while I would just play football on the field. Frankly, I don’t know if you need a business education to do what I do. There's a basic intelligence that's needed, but a large part of it is looking at character, understanding the personality of individuals, finding the people with the right skill set, as well as similar values of hard work, passion and sacrifice – which happen to be all the things I learned as an athlete. My role is to come up with the concept, set up the structure, bring in the funding, move parts into place with the right people, incentivize them with a piece of the pie, and watch them go at it like warriors. I oversee the project from above and kind of keep the general cohesion of the group.
How has sports training specifically helped you in business?
There are so many things you learn as an athlete that people probably don't give credit for outside of the sports world. From a young age, you learn to sacrifice a lot for a cause which is bigger than you. You can't do a lot of the things everyone else does. You don't go to parties on Friday nights or holidays with your friends. You have to watch what you eat and when you go to bed. And so you become really disciplined. You get used to working in a team, where you must understand how different people think and how to motivate them differently. Sports is very similar to business in that respect: Some people need an arm around them to be motivated to do better, some need to be told directly to solve something, and they might get angry with you. But you start to learn about people and what makes them tick. There are so many of these skills which have synergy with being a business owner.
In three years, you’ve co-founded or invested in more than a dozen startups, some of which are doing very well. What’s the magic ingredient you look for before committing to a startup?
The founders are always the most important thing. There are a million business ideas around right now. There are business opportunities everywhere. But the person driving it is the most important, because that equates to the execution. Will this guy answer emails at 2am and then at 7am the next day? Is he driven and passionate? Is she willing to make huge sacrifices?
You talk about discipline and sacrifice. What’s a regular day for you from the time you wake up to the time you sleep?
I usually get up at around 9:45am, which might seem late, but it’s usually because I’m working till 2 or 3am the night before. It's also difficult for me to sleep because I'm so excited from the day before... But when I wake up, I go to the gym and do fasted cardio – which is working out when your body is fasting from not eating the past eight hours or so. I spend 30 minutes on the treadmill, burning calories that I don't really have in my body, after which I have breakfast. Then I head to the office on Marina One, which is just a minute away from where I live on Shenton. From then on, there’s no real routine. I’m working on all my different businesses, talking to different people, and taking various meetings on how to improve, say, the app, its security features, and so on. After a day of meetings, I'm back in the gym from 8.30pm to 10.30pm. I shower and eat around 11pm. And then at midnight, I work for a couple of hours before sleeping.
What about your social life?
I barely have one.