COVID Career Change: 4 friends aim to drive new business amid uncertainties

Chia Han Keong
·5-min read
(From left) Syed Hafizudin Chishty, James Chan, Dennis Chua and Jerome Teo have set up a car consignment company amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Chia Han Keong/Yahoo News Singapore)
(From left) Syed Hafizudin Chishty, James Chan, Dennis Chua and Jerome Teo have set up a car consignment company amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO: Chia Han Keong/Yahoo News Singapore)

Years from now, the history of the 21st century will be divided into two eras: before COVID-19, and after COVID-19. But as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the global economy, Singaporeans are not standing still. From adapting to new regulations to finding entirely new trades, they are innovating and finding new ways to make a living. In the third of this short series, Yahoo News Singapore speaks to a group of entrepreneurs who decided on a new business venture amid the pandemic.

Taking new entrepreneurial opportunities in car consignment

SINGAPORE — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused plenty of unwelcome disruptions throughout this year, especially in terms of jobs and careers. Months of travel restrictions, as well as additional costs for coronavirus testing and contact tracing, have placed tremendous strains on businesses and employment.

Even amid such challenging circumstances, there are still new entrepreneurial opportunities awaiting those who are willing to take the plunge.

For instance, a group of four like-minded car enthusiasts – Syed Hafizudin Chishty, 27, James Chan, 38, Dennis Chua, 39 and Jerome Teo, 29 – have set up Car Life Singapore, a “car consignment” service whereby they act as middlemen for car sellers and buyers to broker the transaction.

“This way, sellers get to sell their cars at their preferred prices, and the market will decide on whether they wish to purchase at the said prices,” Chan told Yahoo News Singapore.

“Our attitude towards this service is that we don’t treat the car owners as customers, but as fellow car lovers. We try and empathise with the difficulties in buying and selling their cars, and we want to know that they are talking to someone who appreciates cars, rather than someone who is just out to sell a car.

“It’s more of a building long-term relationship rather than the business transaction, and it’s a delicate balance between buyers and sellers. We want both parties to be winners by providing them with an honest and fair service.”

Disparate backgrounds, but common interest

The four friends had gotten to know one another through a YouTube channel run by Syed early this year, whereby he produces videos of car reviews together with the car owners.

They come from disparate work backgrounds, brought together by their passion for cars. Syed was a digital project manager in the banking industry; Chan was in the oil and gas industry; Chua works in marketing and Teo was a freelance car salesman who also organises car road trips to neighbouring countries.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to cause disruptions around the world, uncertainties began to affect these four friends’ daily jobs. Contracts were coming to an end, projects were drying up and the desire to change career paths grew stronger amid the pandemic.

“You realise how vulnerable you are; in my company, we were having layoffs every quarter and pay cuts as well. I survived a few rounds, but I was worried that I would get the boot at any moment,” Syed recalled.

“So I look at COVID-19 differently. I think it’s the right time to take charge of your own future, and take the plunge to do what I like to do.”

Before long, the friends realise that they can offer different skills and resources to the venture, and work together as a team to get the business going even amid the pandemic.

“We all had, at some point in time, planned to enter into something like this but did not have the resources to do so,” Chan said. “Ironically, the COVID-19 uncertainties actually gave us that impetus, that extra push to pool our resources and put our plans into action.

“I always tell people that our partnership is like playing mahjong: it just so happens that four like-minded people got together to start this business.”

For Chua, he feels that venturing into this business could eventually benefit his marketing job in the long run too.

“It’s an opportunity to expand my network, and also to do something which I really enjoy. It’s like adding a new portfolio in my line of work,” he said. “COVID did push a lot of opportunities on us, and this is where we eventually landed upon.”

Eagerness to offer genuine, honest service

For now, their business venture is still modest in operation, as they promote their service on online car forums and by word of mouth. They also share an office at a quiet housing estate in Upper Serangoon Road with a friend who runs a tuition business.

Nonetheless, all of them are eager to grow the business, and passionate in offering a genuine and honest service for car sellers and buyers, so that their customers can have peace of mind in dealing with the complexities of such transactions.

“Obviously, during this uncertain period, you have to take it step by step, and not be too ambitious too soon,” Syed said.

“But going forward, we are looking to buy in vehicles as well in order to serve more customers and friends alike.

“Every business has to start somewhere, and we feel that our business can still be viable during this pandemic. After all, there will be people buying and selling cars all the time. It doesn’t feel like we’re in a pandemic, to be honest.”

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