Douglas Gan: The Entrepreneur Who Lost it All, and Made It Back Again

Willis Wee
2:20 pm on Dec 3, 2012

douglas gan

I recently met Douglas Gan (pictured above), someone who I would certainly call a gutsy entrepreneur. Some of you might not know Douglas, but perhaps you might recall ShowNearby which was acquired by Yellow Pages in 2010. ShowNearby was founded by Douglas and his friend Lee Chang Jin in March 2008. But this is just a portion of Douglas’s story. His journey as an entrepreneur started at age four back when he was still in kindergarten, when he was playing with toy cars and sold one to a classmate for $2. Throughout his school years, he would sell marbles, bubble gum, chewing gum, stamps, sticker albums, Dragonball and magic cards amassing a tidy sum of SGD$20,000 (about US$16,400) by 16.

Douglas recalls being inspired by the dot-com boom in 1996. His first venture onto the internet was in the world of mIRC, a popular chat client back then. He was messing with mIRC bots and scripts, which performed instructed functions. For example, setting someone as a moderator in a chat channel or providing MP3 files to users when they ask for them. But while enjoying the world of mIRC, Douglas realized it couldn’t bring in money. And that realization eventually led him to found PureHostings, a web hosting company. His server business spanned over six countries with 3,500 paying customers before it was sold to Skydio.

PureHostings wasn’t an entirely smooth ride for Douglas though. While business was great during the dot-com boom, Douglas had to find ways to scrap and survive during the bust. While he previously did sales over email, he was forced to go door to door for sales in the industrial park in Singapore to ask if people required his hosting services.

He faced many rejections but learned a lot along the way, improving his pitch with each rejection. Finally, there was one customer who told him that if he could fixed his computer, he would buy whatever services he was providing. The problem turned out to be an easy fix for Douglas, and was enough to impress the client who kept his promise. He didn’t know what Douglas had to offer, but was willing to pay for it regardless. The company had problems with its slow fax machines, file sharing, and internet connection. So Douglas helped to set up broadband internet, FTP folders for file sharing, and also provided an email service to replace faxes.

From then on Douglas was in hot demand as other companies looked to leverage on similar technologies to improve business processes. From this incident, Douglas said he learned to understand that fulfilling client’s needs makes good money.

During the dot com bust, there were few clients using his servers. So instead Douglas used the extra space to host OhGenki.com, a community forum website he founded. The site was ranked among the top 2,000 sites on Alexa back in 2003 and was acquired by StreetDirectory.com in 2005.

Douglas said that he leveraged his mIRC channels and bots to amass an initial group of community users. Knowing that most guys on the net are attracted by pictures of beautiful women (it’s the same now, isn’t it?), Douglas smartly persuaded some of the mIRC admin ladies (who were fortunately easy on the eyes) to post pictures of themselves on OhGenki. The guys enjoyed the pictures and the ladies enjoyed the compliments. The forum also had other general topics for discussion as well, and just before OhGenki was acquired, the site had generated over three million posts with over 20 million pageviews.

By 2006, Douglas was already a young millionaire. He could have retired. Bored with an aimless life, he went into stock trading and was partying frequently. Just one week before he turned 23, Douglas said he lost all the money he had ever made. He was on serious leverage across three different investment institutions with a peak of $50 million in equity trading exposure. He was supposedly bankrupt, but was saved by his father’s life savings. Douglas described that period of his life as a turning point, one which sternly reminded him not to be wasting his life. He vowed to improve people’s lives through technology.

shownearby

Some screenshots from ShowNearby’s Android App

Broke and back at square one, Douglas didn’t give up. Determined, he started ShowNearby in 2007 and also two other web design and development firms in Indonesia and Singapore in subsequent years. All companies were later acquired by Yellow Pages but the comeback wasn’t easy either.

Today, Douglas angel invests and mentors budding startups from his Alma Mater Ngee Ann Polytechnic. He has also moved on to co-found VanityTrove with his lead architect from ShowNearby, Peng Kong Choy.

VanityTrove is a beauty service focusing on becoming a platform for women in Southeast Asia to discover beauty. He is 29 this year, but has gone through more than his share of ups and downs in his life as an entrepreneur. It will certainly be interesting to watch and see what the future has in store for him as well.

(This is part of our founders series – uncovering and sharing the entrepreneurial stories of startups across Asia)


Replies
  • Ming

    I heard he is angel investing too. Good to see people coming back to help the community.

  • KC

    Inspiring entrepreneur. much to learn from

  • Oldhand

    U should do more research on shownearby and Douglas. Ask the yp people and u will know it was a waste of money to buy it and the business makes little sense. As for all this stories about people who sold their business, please know that many sale stories are bullshit. I can sell a company for $1 and claim I exited. Get revenues, profits at least which will indicate sale price.

    Also I really wish you would make a distinction between a vendor sale and a investment into the company. Check yp announcements and u will know that Douglas deal was more injection than vendor sale.

    If your role model is this fella then I seriously wonder how well techinasia will do. This guy is get rich quick and seems to have a habit of talking big but failing on execution. Ask around on vanity trove other shareholder. I believe is Samuel and see if he thinks Douglas is any good before saying he is good. Now that guy running reebonz is the real deal. Or ask the outlet or yellowpage guys what they think of him.

    Leverage of up to 50m? U believe? A private bank gives leverage of maybe 70-80-90% max and that is for bonds…. Willis, sometimes if someone sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

  • Old

    U should do more research on shownearby and Douglas. Ask the yp people and u will know it was a waste of money to buy it and the business makes little sense. As for all this stories about people who sold their business, please know that many sale stories are bullshit. I can sell a company for $1 and claim I exited. Get revenues, profits at least which will indicate sale price.

    Also I really wish you would make a distinction between a vendor sale and a investment into the company. Check yp announcements and u will know that Douglas deal was more injection than vendor sale.

    If your role model is this fella then I seriously wonder how well techinasia will do. This guy is get rich quick and seems to have a habit of talking big but failing on execution. Ask around on vanity trove other shareholder. I believe is Samuel and see if he thinks Douglas is any good before saying he is good. Now that guy running reebonz is the real deal. Or ask the outlet or yellowpage guys what they think of him.

    Leverage of up to 50m? U believe? A private bank gives leverage of maybe 70-80-90% max and that is for bonds…. Willis, sometimes if someone sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

  • http://www.techinasia.com Willis Wee

    Hi Old / Oldhand / troll. Identify yourself and we will talk. There are always 2 sides in the story. Even Steve Jobs has haters. If you have an opinion about Douglas or us, put your name on it.

  • http://www.honeybay.com Bird Tree Hair

    You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.

    – Hen TJ

  • Oldhand

    Sorry for the double posting, somehow it said first post failed. I am not identifying myself because no point making enemies. It’s bad for business and spirit.

    But my comments are quite real. Most of your articles are quite good and reflect a start up owners journey and thoughts well. I like your article about mentors which is also about bullshit people. But this article shows a lack of research and u seem too rah rah. I am sure by now you know that for sg market and in most business arena, there are many bs, self promoting type of people around. They achieved a little or nothing but make themselves sound so good. But the good thing about business is that word gets around and the successful ones are obvious. See reebonz, hungrygowhere, brandtology, job/car/prop sites. There will be more but currently Douglas is not one of them. Even brandtology or hungrygowhere if u dig, u will know that while the business and story was great, the exit per founder was not.

    Just ask around in yellowpage and u will know what people think of shownearby and him. and check the details. Buy acra report, it will show u capital injections vs vendor sales. Hone your bullshit meter. As a journalist and business owner, u will need it a lot.

    Will not post on this topic again as I am usually just a reader. Up to you whether to be open to what I think is my reasonable comment. No loss to me if u don’t.

  • http://www.techinasia.com Willis Wee

    Never know if you’re BS-ing. Let me know if you’re open to meet. My email above.

  • 50million leverage

    Pls introduce the guy who gave Douglas $50 million leverage.

  • Broker

    Haha! Well he did seem to have 3 brokerage firms giving him enough leverage to have a 50m equity exposure. It’s possible to achieve that if he plays contra and total volume in a day’s transaction is 50m. Not surprising at all in 2007. I witnessed my neighbor who was earning only $3000 a month buying stocks on contra from Kim Eng at $1,000,000 equity volume exposure in a day. Plus if he’s crazy enough to sign off his “contra shares” as pledge, he could get $50m easily across 3 firms.

    Man. He’s good. But damn high risk can…I’ve never seen anyone so gutsy (or crazy). Stocks could ruin lives at such heavy leverage…

  • investor

    i seriously doubt a brokerage firm will give him 15-20M in contra value per day unless his family is very famously rich. But i could be wrong. I use PBs and never contra. I do margin though but never exceeding 80% so far. so for me to have 50M in positions, i will need 10M cash with the private bank. Doubt very much the 2 small exits (if real) gave him that amount of money. So probably family money. On the other hand, i have heard of forex traders who leverage many more times. So maybe 1M can leverage into 50M…

    But thinking further , then he is gambler and not an entrepreneur (or are they the same thing), I always thought one did calculated risks while the other does not….

  • http://thejeremygoh.com Jeremy

    ShowNearby is a location based app that shows everything around you instantly, helping you find nearby amenities and making your life much easier.

    I worked with Douglas and team for a year ++ in ShowNearby and despite many comments that is lingering around here. I would have to say that the social cause for the society is what we live by day after day. ShowNearby is installed in 1 of 3 smart-phone devices and we have close to 30 million API calls – and so many users are impacted by this application. (How’s that for metrics!)
    We are a typical startup, making ends meet, working lean on everything, envisioning for tomorrow and creating great impact for the society – which is what matters to us the most.

    Speak to Douglas if you have anything on startups, you might be able to find some good advice and inspiration from within.

  • JTan

    It’s so funny to read this story because it’s all just bullshit. I know Douglas quite well and he’s not even close to what is described in the story. All the fund injections to his previous companies described in the story are not real. I guess I have to stay away from Techinasia since the story is just fake.

    Willis: please do research before writing a story. I have been reading your stories but I’m so shocked that you are writing this story.

  • Old Hand

    JTan/Old Hand/Old/Troll, you are obviously the same person. If you hate Douglas’s guts so much, find him. Why bother coming back to this thread slamming Willis? He’s just a writer making a report on his encounter.

    You seem to be insanely obsessed with Douglas. I have heard of female stalkers, but never a male one. Did he reject your love? Pathetic…old man…

  • wonderdoggy

    Actually, i have to agree on the point of exits. A lot of people fail in their venture but assign it or sell for token sum to another firm rather than wind it down. To call that an exit would be quite misleading. I have met quite a few entrepreneurs in Singapore who behave this way and strangely it is usually dot com. To me it would be much better for their own image if they said they started something, failed and so are trying again. My guess is they cannot get over their egos which to me is a major character flaw which will translate into their work and business.

    Also, I too agree that many writers/people seem to fail to make a distinction between an investment into the company and a vendor sale which is when shareholders sell their shares to a buyer. For YP, they invested 3.5M for 53% stake into shownearby (see SGX annoucements). it does not mean that the shareholders got to exit anywhere vaguely near that amount. If i invest 3M in the company, i would expect all 3M to be spent growing the company value and not being paid to shareholders. Its just common sense.

    A good example of a vendor sale will be a similar agreement done same year by YP to buy eFusion. That consists of injection of capital and also cash paid to buy over shareholder shares with earnout. Vendor sales are the ones that make multi-millionaires.

    And I did some simple web searches for fun. Skydio was acquired by WebVisions ( a bona fide dot com success) in 2010. The deal added 2.5M to their annual revenue. (Webvisions PR) So that means Skydio in 2010 was doing only 2.5M in sales. And from Douglas linkedin, he sold to Skydio 2 companies in 2005 Aug. So at best Skydio was a small hosting company in 2005. Any acquisition very likely could not have been large. Readers can do the math. More determined readers can try to buy Skydio records from bizfile and see what they paid..

    BTW, i met Douglas before long ago. Not much recollection. He came across as aggressive and determined though not exactly persuasive for our discussion. Did not think his proposition made sense and so did not work with him. More recently, his name came up as someone i know used VanityTrove. Decent feedback and clever idea. See how he executes this time. After 3-4 startups, he should have learned what is needed to succeed and at least he does not give up. Best of luck!

  • Liam

    Great comment wonderdog! 😀 Well written, and your first paragraph is so accurate. I too have met 2 entrepreneurs here who proudly claimed they “exited” and “sold” their companies. Then I went home and did some simple search and found out the truth – company fail and restart under new name. LMAO.

    I don’t blame Willis for getting the facts wrong though. There are people in this world who can lie point blank in your face and you are none the wiser. Also, not everyone fully understands the intricacies of the tech startup world. I still remember another article on Sold.sg that was posted here. My god, it was so full of ridiculous “facts” and complete utter BS.

  • Johan Lim

    Nice one from wonderdog! This might help sum up > There are only 3 types of people in the business world:

    TYPE 1
    A person who acknowledges from the outset that they always act in their own self-interest.

    TYPE NUMBER 2
    A person who understands they always act in their own interests, but tries to make you believe otherwise. This type assures you he wants you to get everything you deserve while at the same time he is acting to make sure you get nothing.

    TYPE NUMBER 3
    This person sincerely assures you he is looking out for your interests, but due to any of a number of reasons supposedly beyond his control, he will still end up trying to grab everything for himself when it comes down to the final crunch.

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