Like most people, I’m all ears (and eyes) when it comes to insider accounts about famous people and corporations.
So it was with some lip-licking glee that I read a 7-part account of an American Internet pioneer’s ups and downs while working at a start-up of Sembawang Media (subsidiary of Sembawang Corp) some 13 years ago.
It was a serendipitous stumble upon on the web this afternoon, when one link led to another and voila, I was reading a ringside story of what happened to SembMedia’s attempt to develop Games on Line.
The writer, William Moss (now based in Beijing), named names, including Philip Yeo, Jek Kian Jin (son of former Cabinet Minister Jek Yoon Tong), EDB, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Institute of System Science, Pacific Internet and nearly every big name, or small, connected with Singapore’s short Internet history.
While there was rancour and self indulgence, Moss also made a real attempt to be fair and honest. Worthwhile reading for anyone interested in how Singapore developed its web tentacles and how those ambitions often out-ran capabilities available in the country, whether home-grown or foreign hired.
For the full blow-by-blow account, go here
Below is an extract from Part 7.
This may have a ring of “I told you so” pettiness about it, but, in truth, neither Joe nor I was surprised by Sembawang Media’s turn of bad fortune. Joe and I had been scholars of the Internet business back in the States long before we moved to Singapore, and we’d seen the cycle of flush growth and shakeout that had claimed so many companies in the US.
Now we got to see that same cycle repeat itself in Singapore, and we got to watch Sembawang Corp make many of the mistakes that destroyed companies in the States.
Sembawang Corporation bet large on the emergence of the Internet as a source of revenue before the true value of the Net as a commercial commodity was established. Sembawang Media was to be the tool of SembCorp’s emergence as a regional information technology power.
But the company spent money like success was assured before they’d even started, renting extremely expensive office space at Boat Quay for the headquarters, and equally pricey digs for Contact at Suntec City.
A great deal was riding on the creation of Web content, and Multimedia Studios was a very slick operation with talented people and good equipment. But it started large, and it was high overhead operation in low margin business.
Personally I have always felt that talented kids working out of their parents’ basement do best web design. Give me one good HTML/Shockwave page design person, one good Java/Database programmer, and a Photoshop wiz, and I’ll cough up whatever content and functionality you want.
We also worried about Contact, well before problems began. The Singapore market was small, and, to our way of thinking, Singapore Telecom was holding all of the infrastructure cards in a regulated market.
Contact should have worked its way up, rather than starting large and banking on success. Even the creation of Games Online was a questionable business decision. Game development is a long-term, expensive proposition, and there is a good deal of risk involved.
I don’t want to argue against our own creation, but SembMedia should have started as a stripped down company and run that way for two years while the realities of the market were established. But in image-conscious Singapore it was built from the beginning to be a showpiece. Now, as it comes apart, it is a highly visible catastrophe.