We are honoured to invite our alumni from the Class of 2008, graduate from the first cohort of IBDP graduates, and the ever first student enrolled in SSIS, Marcus TAN Chong Jia to recall his time in SSIS and how he started up his business.
As we all know, offline un-manned sales are gradually penetrating our daily life, like the ubiquitous vending machines dotting around the city, providing the conveniences of living in a cosmopolitan city.
WineCity, a cutting-edge retail project led by Marcus, is indeed trailblazing the way forward. Last year in Shanghai, WineCity signed a cooperative agreement with a leading brand of new generation smart retail drones to popularize the sales of imported wines, a real sense of Online to Offline (O2O) commerce where the business strategy is to draw potential customers from online channels to make purchases in physical stores.
Hi Marcus, could you briefly introduce yourself, please?
My name is Marcus Tan, born in 1990 and made in Singapore. It’s an honour to be invited to join the SSIS alumni and to be part of this interview series.
In 1993, I moved to Shanghai with my family when I was three years old. My father had made the decision to move our family to an unfamiliar country and environment, of course, I was too young and didn’t have much impression of Shanghai at that time but it definitely was a whole different look as Shanghai has gone through a tremendous change in time and became one of the most developed cities in the world.
In school, I wasn’t one of the top-grade students, in fact, I was probably the most playful and mischievous kid in class. Classrooms weren’t my repertoire; I spent most of my time playing basketball during my lunch breaks and CCA period. Fortunately, I was given the chance to be the very first basketball captain of SSIS till I graduated from high school.
How did your parents get to know of SSIS at that time and why did they finally decide to enroll you in SSIS?
To be honest, I’m a little fuzzy with the details but if I remember correctly, there was a launch event of the school hosted by our founder, Mr. Tan. When Mr. Tan asked the attendees, ‘who would like to enroll their children to SSIS’, my parents were the first to raise up their hands, and just like that, I became the first student of SSIS, registration number 000000001.
You graduated from SSIS in 2008 as the 1st registered student in the school history, you have witnessed the growth of SSIS from 1996, the year SSIS was founded. What are your thoughts about these changes?
When I joined the school in 1996, I was in Primary one. Our campus was located at Sun Island, far away from the city, I remember there were only 3 students in my class and probably fewer than 10 students in total. As a former student, I’m so excited to see that SSIS has developed into a well-known International school in Shanghai and even in China.
I studied in SSIS from 1996 to 2008, 12 years in total from primary to high school and I’ve been through ups and downs as the school grew. I am very grateful to have twelve consecutive years of my life spent in SSIS, not many have this kind of experience, especially in a foreign country.
Having been shaped in part by the holistic and creative, yet rigorous environment at SSIS, I found myself able to communicate, innovate, and collaborate in ways that enabled me to build a successful business of my own. I have also made life-time friends among school-mates and teachers and that is one of the many things that I cherish the most.
Talking about your entrepreneurship, when did you come up with this idea and when did you start this project?
I completed my National Service in Singapore after I graduated from high school in 2010 and I came back to Shanghai in 2012 and started working in a company called Wine Mall. Wine Mall specialized in imported wine and they had over 20 retail outlets all around China. I worked as a procurement assistant and later on became the procurement manager of Wine Mall. As a member of the procurement team, I had the opportunity of travelling to wine-making countries in Europe and North America. Our job scope allowed us to visit different wineries from harvesting grapes in the vineyard to the final bottling flow line and that was when I developed my strong interest and passion for wine.
It sounds like a dream job to many people, and I would agree to that, especially when you’re working in an industry that fits your interest and passion, you will enjoy every moment of it.
I left the company in 2015 as there were some partnership issues with the company and unfortunately it did not survive the financial crisis. In 2017, I decided to launch a start-up company and named it WineCity. I tried to preserve the business culture of Wine Mall, which I loved, and instead of a retail business, we transformed it into an E-Commerce online platform and developed our WineCity application for both iOS & Android, which was later launched in March 2018. Ever since then, my team and I have been running the business and providing online purchase services for all our users. In October 2018, we learned more about how difficult it is to purchase reliable and good quality wine in China as the whole market. Also, online or offline shops are selling either overpriced or sometimes locally bottled OEM wine.
As a result, we decided to go into the smart retail business or the ‘cashier-less retail’ and branded it as “WineCity Box”. It is essentially a smart retail wine fridge that allows our end consumers to see our products and purchase them from their nearest locations.
Our WineCity boxes can be found in many locations, such as office buildings, co-working spaces, service apartments and restaurants. Our company’s vision is to provide a friendly platform for our users to purchase imported wine at the most reasonable prices. As we know, wine is known as an approachable and daily alcohol beverage from its origins, but somehow it becomes a luxurious and untouchable product in China as there are too many layers of wholesale channels involved. Therefore, WineCity strives to outstand the wine industry by preserving the ‘Producer to Consumer’ concept.
Would you call this your career? What do you think are the hardest part and funniest part when embarking on this career?
If you had asked me this question in 2017 when I first started the business as an entrepreneur, I would probably say ‘yes’ as I had a large ego and high expectation of myself. But I became a Christian in mid-2018 and experienced dramatic changes in my life in many aspects, so now I’m striving for different reasons, but the company’s vision remains unchanged!
I would say the hardest part of having a career as an entrepreneur is the responsibility of making the right decisions for the company. It is challenging to promote the brand, control the cash flow and sell new concepts to potential investors. Moreover, the E-Commerce business in China is changing so rapidly and there are new business ideas popping up every single day by brilliant minds, so we have to work hard and smart not to get eliminated from the industry. Sometimes when things are overwhelming, I would think to myself ‘maybe working for a company with a fixed salary isn’t a bad idea, at least it is less risky that way’.
But I knew I was going to become an entrepreneur when I was still a student of SSIS, because my father is a smart and passionate businessman whom I had learned and was inspired by and I would love to one day become a successful entrepreneur just like him.
As an SSIS alumnus, and a young entrepreneur, what do you think is a piece of advice that you would like to share?
I think we are very blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to be in an international school where we can meet different classmates, schoolmates and teachers from all over the world. So, my advice to the students today is that you stay in touch and build relationships with your teachers so that they will remember you after you graduate. It’s uncommon to get this kind of resources from public schools and I deeply cherish it. I still hang out with my classmates, schoolmates and teachers and we make sure we have a gathering among ourselves every year, and the more time has passed, the more I realize that these nurturing and supportive relationships are invaluable.
What do you envision for the near future?
Continue to strive for excellence not only in my career, but also as a caring and loving son, sibling, husband and friend, this is one of the many important values that SSIS had bestowed on me and shaped me to be the person that I am today.
Last message to SSIS community
As an alumnus of SSIS today, I’m very proud to have started from SSIS and I hope the students today will all STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE in school and DISCOVER a STRONG PASSION in their future careers!
A relay run from Xuhui campus to Minhang campus flagged off from early this morning to celebrate the milestones that all of our SSIS students, staff and families will be coming together to become one SSIS FAMILY and to revisit the special memories of SSIS Xuhui campus. Great to see Marcus today in Minhang campus since he was one of the alumni representatives participating in the relay run.
A man, like a watch, is to be valued by his action.
In SSIS Marcus took an active part in various activities; now as an entrepreneur, he keeps learning and drawing experience with his confidence and strong responsibility to lead his team to achieve success. We hope that Marcus, our No.000000001 student, would remain true to his aspiration and continue his pursuit and strive for excellence.
SSIS would like to extend our earnest best wishes to all alumni who are working hard for their business and families.
If you would like to get further connected with your SSIS seniors, please email SSIS Alumni Office, firstname.lastname@example.org