When Daniel Charles, the founder and CEO of Global Racing Schools, first decided to get into the racing business, he wanted to open a race track in Singapore. But he realized it would cost about half a billion dollars.
“That may not be the best place to start,” he thought. He decided to scale down, and considered starting a go-cart track instead. But that proved too daunting as well.
Finally, he settled on becoming a dealer for motorsports products. Slogging his way through, Daniel, at 25 years old now, has built Global Racing Schools into a company that connects leisure and professional racers to driving experiences by over 200 suppliers in 20 countries.
“I remember an entrepreneur talking on television about the right way to get into an industry: ‘Don’t focus on getting the whole body in. Start with the toe’,” he says, “if you want to be a DJ, start by carrying amps around. If you want to be the next Zuckerberg, start by hanging around the right places and events.”
Today, the young entrepreneur has offices in Singapore, Australia, and the United States. The avid Formula One fan, looking every bit a professional racer himself with designer shades, watch, and a racing polo-tee, has handled between two to three thousand customers ever since the company was started in 2008.
A basic driving package at a race track starts from around US$600, while an aspiring professional can fork up to US$3,000 a day. Global Racing Schools takes a cut of the revenue from their partners in Europe, America, and Asia. Corporate clients have turned out to be his biggest customers.
Recently, the company has even begun offering Ice Driving experiences in countries like Mongolia, Canada, and Finland.
While there are websites offering similar driving experiences, they are usually confined to a country, say, France. He isn’t aware of a company in Asia that’s offering these packages in various exotic locales.
“Don’t focus on how much money you will make; find something you’re passionate about. If you just look at money, you will forget that you won’t make money for a very long time.”
Daniel epitomizes the old-school, gut-it-out, learn-as-you-go kind of entrepreneur; a throwback to an earlier time. With no mentors, outside investment, or industry knowledge, he jumped into the dealership fray against grey heads with more experience, armed with nothing but savings from his previous businesses and his dream of building a global racing empire.
“There was no one to guide me or incubate my business. I didn’t know anyone in the industry either. When I showed up on the scene, everyone asked, ‘who’s this new kid on the block?’”
Being young certainly was a disadvantage, and people tended not to take him seriously. He had no grounds to stand on.
Being young also meant that while his friends were out partying and having fun, Daniel would be going on business trips and attending meetings.
“I didn’t have much fun. What kept me going was the joy that comes from creating something new,” he says.
The rough idea for Global Racing Schools came to him while he was still in Nanyang Polytechnic.
A client in his dealership business, who has been buying motorsports products for his child, asked Daniel if he knew where his child could train to become a professional racer.
Since there are so many schools and courses around the world, with so many locations and dates, the challenge is to sieve through all of them and find the quality ones.
Daniel realized that this pain point is something he can address. He worked on his business even while serving his two-year mandatory National Service stint in the Army. Since he worked regular hours as an engineer, he had time to execute on his business after work hours.
Global Racing School essentially serves two kinds of customers: First, corporations and individuals looking for unique experiences to gift someone, and second, aspiring professional racers looking for advice, consultation, and management.
Since it could cost up to US$8M to train a child from the age of six to become a Formula One driver, securing the right partners and racing schools is critically important.
“Suppliers will always tell you they can do it. But only we know what they can do, from a neutral standpoint. We know the pros and cons of the partners we work with.”
The challenge with building Global Racing Schools was that he was focusing on a niche market seeking for global experiences.
He had to build from scratch a network with suppliers. With a limited marketing budget, he used Google Adwords and SEO techniques to target customers. It took three years before he finally turned a profit.
“When the whole world doesn’t believe in you, you have to believe in yourself. Don’t focus on how much money you will make; find something you’re passionate about. If you just look at money, you will forget that you won’t make money for a very long time,” he says.
Moving forward, Daniel hopes to establish offices in more countries. While most of his customers come from Singapore, he believes that by having a sales force to meet corporate clients in more places, he will be able to dramatically widen his client base.
Starting a business is something that has always been in Daniel’s bones. In Primary school, he would sell drawing blocks and rent neckties to students that did not bring them. He has even founded a tuition center and a restaurant, which he has since shut down.
Daniel is now working on his fifth company, this time in the fashion line.
To this day, aside from the $5,000 capital he started out with, he has never needed another cash injection. He starts his next business from the money he made from the previous one.
While he isn’t close to building his race track yet, he is certainly one step closer to that ideal.