Xue Ying Gan, The Accidental Entrepreneur: How to Succeed When You Have No Experience and No Degree

Entrepreneur Campfire invites Xue Ying Gan from mySAFEBOX to the campfire today. Seven years ago, Gan became an accidental entrepreneur when she took over mySAFEBOX. mySAFEBOX is a private safe deposit box company based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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Only 17 then, she took over the business her father and his partners abandoned after investing RM5 million in it.

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Xue Ying Gan, on her second day at mySAFEBOX. Unamused at first, Gan is now excited to achieve her vision of ‘Everyone Owns a Box’.

Gan’s leadership in the last seven years has led to mySAFEBOX’s growth. Today, mySAFEBOX’s vaults hold the valuables of about 20,000 Malaysians.

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Safe deposit boxes are often compared to the safe deposit boxes of banks.

But Gan says there’s a difference.

‘Unlike banks, customers of mySAFEBOX can access their safety deposit boxes at more convenient hours compared to banks,’ says Gan. ‘Professional safe deposit boxes also offer higher security than the safe deposit boxes of banks.’

Gan’s vision for mySAFEBOX is ‘Everyone Owns a Box’ (一人一宝箱). But Gan says filling up her vaults at mySAFEBOX isn’t her primary goal. “The whole purpose of running this business isn’t just to get our Safe Deposit Boxes occupied,” she says, “rather, we hope to also see a decrease in house break-ins as more people move their assets out of their houses.”

Though Gan is now an enthusiastic entrepreneur, she never wanted to be one. “I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. My childhood ambition was to be a housewife, to get married, have kids and clean the house.”

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It was a shortage of staff that first lead Gan to be involved in mySAFEBOX.

“I was on my beach holiday in the Maldives,’ says Gan, ‘when my mum asked me to help out for two months in the new company my father and his partners started. I was fresh out of college and a staff had gone on labour.’

Two months would later turned into seven years when Gan’s father and his partners decided to appoint the then 17 year old to run the business. Gan started from the bottom and moved her way up. “My dad didn’t go, ‘Here’s a business, go run it since you dropped out of college'” says Gan, “everyone starts from the bottom. It’s up to you how fast you want to move up.”

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How did the then teenage Gan respond to the call to leadership?

Today TEC follows Gan’s accidental entrepreneurship journey. We will look at:

  • How Gan positions mySAFEBOX against its competitors, mainly the banks who started the service
  • What is the ‘Everyone owns a box’ vision and how Gan plans to this vision
  • What Gan believes is the single biggest challenge in getting more people to use non-bank safe deposit boxes
  • Why Gan thinks that dropping out of college may be her best decision when it comes to entrepreneurship
  • Why banks are not the primary competitors for safe deposit boxes
  • Gan’s advice for teenagers who want to become entrepreneurs

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Click Here to Download Xue Ying Gan’s interview in PDF to read it offline.

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Enter Lu Wee and Xue Ying Gan


What is mySAFEBOX?

How did the concept of mySAFEBOX came about?

It all started with a question about a tie that was framed as a memento. Four friends were talking about their disappointing experiences with safe deposit boxes over dinner.

One was complaining about the lack of them. Another said that even though he had one, it was inconvenient to get to it.

All they wanted was a secure place to keep their valuables in a location that was more accessible.

They then realised there was a need for safe deposit boxes with features that banks were not providing. This sparked the beginnings of mySAFEBOX.

What are mySAFEBOX’s benefits to its users?

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We provide our customers with 6 core benefits:

[1] 24 Hours Convenient Access. Our customers can deposit or retrieve their belongings anytime of the day.

[2] Biometric Access Technology. Customers access the vault using their unique fingerprint and/or PIN code.

[3] World Class Security. Foolproof surveillance system monitored by devoted and well trained Gurkha Guards. Our vaults is linked directly 24/7 to nearest Police force for quickest response.

[4] Disaster Prevention. Our entire premise structured to be anti-theft, water proof, fire proof, anti-hacking, anti-power and anti-embezzlement.

[5] No Long Waiting List. Bank safe deposit boxes are limited and the waiting lists are long. We provide an alternative for people who want safe deposit boxes but can’t get them from banks.

[6] Best Value For Money. For only a small investment, you can get world class security and round-the-clock service.

Who are mySAFEBOX’s customers and what do they keep? 

Our customers are usually newlyweds or adults who have assets to secure. They are between the age 24 – 50 (Gen X and Y), with the Chinese making up the majority of our customer base.

Out of respect of their privacy, we do not know exactly what our customers keep in their boxes.

Who are mySAFEBOX’s main competitors? How does mySAFEBOX stand out?

People have always compared us to banks. This is normal. Banks were the first providers of safe deposit box services. They set the standards on how safe deposit box businesses were run and their prices.

These standards continue to be in people’s minds when they think of safe deposit boxes.

To differentiate ourselves from banks, we have added innovation and convenience into our service. Our safe deposit boxes have higher security and unrestricted access hours.

This makes it easy for consumers to choose us over banks even though our rates are slightly higher.

We want consumers to see us as ‘Professional Safe Deposit Box Rental Service Provider’. Banks are professionals in the financial sense. But in terms of security, ours is higher. In fact, banks’ security level are low enough that their ATM machines get broken into many times throughout the year.

What has been the best way for mySAFEBOX to get customers?

There is no single solution to reach out to consumers nowadays. Rather, we use many different channels: the traditional radio, TV, billboards and then new online media channels.

The best way is to combine all advertising channels to increase the advertising effectiveness with minimal budget to reach out to as many people as we can.

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The Journey of an Accidental Entrepreneur

What has been the most interesting part of your journey as General Manager of mySAFEBOX?

To say that my journey to entrepreneurship is a series of failure wouldn’t be an understatement. Like most people, there are mornings when I just wake up and feel less enthusiastic about working.

This feeling doesn’t stem from laziness. It’s a strong power, a sense of futility and helplessness. But all you have to do is to try again or try different things.

The most interesting or, rather, important part of the journey is this: getting back up stronger after being knocked down.

What is your vision for mySAFEBOX and what is your strategy to get there?

My vision for mySAFEBOX is “Everyone owns a Box (translated from 一人一宝箱)”.

We spread the words as much as we can to Malaysians out there. We do it by advertisement on radio, television, billboards and online.

But the whole purpose of running this business isn’t just to get our Safe Deposit Boxes occupied. Rather, we hope to also see a decrease in house break-ins as more people move their assets our of their houses. For every person we help in safe keeping their valuables, we are a step closer to reducing crimes involving break ins.

We always tell our customers, “You’re not a victim. You are part of the crime.” It’s because you have something to steal, they walk into your house. If you don’t keep your valuables in your house, you wouldn’t hear about house being break in right?

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What has been the biggest challenge for you in trying to achieve your vision?

The biggest challenge for us is the conservative mindset of consumers. For the first few years of our start up, people doubted our credibility.

They questioned, “What happens when your boss dies?” or, “What happens if your company closes down?”

These were and still remains some of the biggest concerns our customers have. Though so, we have been educating customers through our advertisements.

I’m happy to say that customer mindsets on safe deposit boxes are now changing. Less and less people doubt our credibility.

But to answer the question, “What happens when my boss dies?”

I would say: when my boss passes away and you know him, make time to attend his funeral.

The company will run as usual.

And if the company does close down?

Take your keys and come withdraw your belongings. We won’t have access to your Safe Deposit Box when your keys are in your hands.

But let me tell you this: nobody invests RM5 million worth into a business only to run it for short term gains.

What has been your biggest success with mySAFEBOX?

I would say my biggest success has been bringing mySAFEBOX to a whole new level each time.

From the beginning, mySAFEBOX was an abandoned, unwanted child by all the founders. It was just like the safe deposit boxes of banks.

Back then there was not a successful business model for Safe Deposit Box businesses at the time. Not even banks, who started the service, had it figured out.

We had to try taking different roads, use different business strategies and models to find the one that worked.

Though it took us a lot of time and effort, I always believe that entrepreneurship is a labour of love. That means you need to have a lot of passion and persistence to reach your happy ending.

What about your biggest failure? And how did you manage to overcome it?

I don’t measure failures according to their size, big or small. Rather, I am focused on what I learned out of each one.

Why?

Because I believe that “a lesson will keep repeating itself until it’s learned”.

So it is up to you to define failure.

For us, we have a dictionary thick with failures. Though that does not mean we are succeeding, we are definitely closer to where we want to be.

Tell me your three biggest lessons since you started managing mySAFEBOX 7 years ago.

There are no three lessons, but one: “The road to success is always under construction.”

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No College Degree: A Blessing for An Accidental Entrepreneur?

What is your education background?

My education throughout my childhood has always been different to other kids. This is because every few years, my siblings and I would get transferred to different type of schools.

We have gone through different kind of educations since elementary school.

But to answer your question, I am a graduate in Business Foundation program. I can say that my education has pretty much nothing to do with what I face in my “everyday business issues”.

I’m not saying that education isn’t important. But if you are unsure on what you want in your life, don’t waste 4 years of your life studying a degree. Experience will always be the best teacher. I learned all the best lessons in the battlefield.

Typical Asian parents see education as their child’s priority. What is your parents’ view on your not getting a degree?

I’m lucky to say that my parents has always viewed our academic performance as secondary. It’s been that way since my siblings and I were kids.

Whenever I brought home my report card, they would look at the performance column first. Then only would they look at the results column.

It was also okay even for our results to come with red. They never punished us nor gave us extra tuition.

My parents always wanted to raise us as responsible people who not only had high IQ, but also high EQ.

They always believed that education is not the most important part of life. As long as we understood the subject, they believed the results from a test paper was not enough to judge a person’s intelligence. It is like that saying, “If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it’s stupid.”

You appear confident even without formal qualifications. What gives you this confidence?

A few years ago, I bumped into a college mate who has been working for the past 6 months. From our conversation, I realised that I have learned more from experience than I would have out of a lecture hall, assignment questions and those answer a student would try to memorise out of a textbook.

That gave me a bit of reassurance for myself after working day in and out at mySAFEBOX.

What do you think is the advantage of dropping out of college?

College is useful, I never denied it.

Education is important too, if gives you the knowledge you need before you get in the battlefield.

But that might be the problem too. Because you are learning from theory and not your own experience, you may take what you learn too lightly.

The difference between choosing to start with or without a degree depends on where you want to start. Do you want to start off on the battlefield earlier or later? Whichever you think should come first is depends on how confident you are.

Any plans on getting the degree completed? Or is it something you feel completely unnecessary for your journey ahead?

If there’s a need for it soon, I would complete it. As for now, my dad does not need to see my qualification or a resume.

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Industry outlook

Will there be more competitors entering the market in the next five years? If yes, can you give us your opinion of why?

We don’t view other safe deposit box operators as our competitors. In fact, we are trying to form a Safe Deposit Box association with all the operators in Malaysia.

We have always kept good relationships with other operators. This is because Safe Deposit Box business isn’t like handphones. This business is about trust. Consumers use your service because they trust you, not because you are cheaper than your competitors.

If an operator decides to open up next door offering half the price of ours, we wouldn’t lose our business to them. Of course, unless it is a bank.

Referring back to your question, yes, in fact throughout the 8 years in this market, there are now about 15 other safe deposit box operators throughout Malaysia. And we believe that there will still be more adding along the way as more people find it to be a worthwhile business to start.

Though they see the benefits, many of them often forget to consider the challenges of this industry.

Do you think companies such as mySAFEBOX will replace bank deposit boxes in the future? 

In fact, this is already happening now. Banks have not been providing safe deposit box services long since we ventured into this business.

This is why we see a huge opportunity in this business.

The only people who are using bank safe deposit boxes are the ones who started 20-30 years ago.

Newly set-up bank branches no longer feature safe deposit boxes.

Banks today aren’t like those in the old days where they only have debit and credit of money. They provide a variety of services, like a Financial Supermarket.

This is why the safe deposit box service is now of less value to them than before. It takes up too much space and comes with low profits compared to their other services.

So if you know anyone who is still waiting for banks’ waiting list or still stuck at the bank’s mindset, tell them it is time to upgrade. Just like who would want to use a Nokia phone when there’s better phones like iPhone and Samsung. It’s the 21st century now, have you progressed with time?

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Advice for Others

What advice do you have for teenagers who want to venture into business?

Unless you’ve a super rich dad like Robert Kwok, don’t start anything crazy!

I’m just kidding!

But you do need to have strong financial backup when you want to be an entrepreneur.

You may see quotes online on “Follow your Heart” but that’s not all.

Yes, following your heart is important but so are many other things. For e.g. how many failures can you endure? How long can you persevere? What are the circumstances that you might face? Will you be able to handle them physically and emotionally?

Think through all these circumstances. Be sure that you are ready to handle them before you venture into anything.

So yes, “follow your heart”, but bring your Brain along too!

What would you have done differently in executing mySAFEBOX since you started 7 years ago?

I would have started above line advertisement way earlier! Advertisement prices increases about 20% – 30% each year, especially for radio.

If I did not hesitate about it earlier, I would have paid something lower and had a stronger impact. mySAFEBOX would be more well-known earlier.

Still, life doesn’t come with ‘ifs’. I believe that everything happens at the right time for the right reason.

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mySAFEBOX is a private safe deposit box company based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Find out more about them and their services at www.mysafebox.com.my.

Read other interviews:

Becoming a One-Stop Digital Agency: Saba, CEO of iPrima Singapore

Suksmasari Soepomo, Lecturer Turned F&B Entrepreneur, co-founder of MakanDiantar

How Jan Wong started OpenMinds with Zero Capital

Lu Wee is the Founder of The Entrepreneur Campfire. The Entrepreneur Campfire (TEC) is where smart entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia gather. You can find practical articles on how to grow, market and scale your business on TEC.

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