Dennis Poh is a well connected individual. Not just that, he is well experienced when it comes to corporate landscapes, startups, compliance, legal and business-related hack. He is an investor too. Dennis runs Legatcy, a Singapore-based platform with a team from all over Southeast Asia including India and Bangladesh, focusing on providing a powerful support system to founders to access and grow the Asian markets with ease. I managed to take him out of his busy schedule for a quick interview, to get to know him better.
A startup’s journey always amazes me. I really want to know more about it but first things first Dennis, how do you describe Dennis Poh as a person and as a professional?
I am Dennis and an INFP (the Mediator) which means I am driven to nurture people I care for in my life to reach their ambitions by checking in and motivating them. I am drawn to experimenting with different business ideas. On the weekends, I would pursue my creativity with different recipes, and bond with my family over the new recipe I created.
Professionally, I have travelled across Asian countries, along with my wife who has taken great care of me. I enjoy travelling to better understand the business landscapes, with expertise compliance, legal, business and startup experiences.
My mission is to professionalize advisory services for start-ups and SMEs across Asia and has since assisted several start-ups with their due diligence and completion for their Seed to Series A fundraising and exits.
You are a consultant to more than 200 startups across the world. You’re advising them on stuff like accounting, tax and corporate compliance, investor relations and business models. What’s your journey like to get where you are today?
I started working as an intern at Rajah & Tann, one of the big 4 law firms in Singapore, during my final year in Ngee Ann Polytechnic and earned a perfect 4.0. Because I enjoyed the internship, I worked full time in Rajah & Tann and picked up corporate secretarial knowledge. An interesting project I worked on was assisting clients with their incorporation documents to set up a company in Myanmar. This piqued my interest in corporate secretarial work that is restrictive by jurisdictions.
I left Rajah & Tann and started working at a boutique law firm and was fortunate to be mentored by the owner who has had more than 40 years’ experience in compliance and corporate and commercial legal advisory. I am grateful that she motivated me to correct my speech issues. – No one would believe this now as I frequently hold workshops and webinars.
I was introduced to two co-founders who were building legal tech software in the legal and compliance field. We were brainstorming ideas and possible features for the software they were building, and offered me the position of their VP Product, to start their B2B business. I started with a steep learning curve from working in a start-up to handling UI/UX design and sales. The startup I worked in applied to participate in an accelerator and was selected, and I worked in the accelerator’s office. Because of my legal and compliance background, the founders from the accelerator would ask for advice on the corporate compliance and fundraising completion.
Through the network I was building, I realized that there was a lack in the professional space for startup’s compliance advisory.
I chose to start up a corporate compliance business and discontinued my time at LLB, one of the biggest decisions I made in my life. It was back to square one and I registered the business in my home address, where I was still staying with my mum. At that time, I only hired an intern to assist and the income that the business earned was used for the intern’s salary and software. It was costly, but I knew that it was the best investment as it became the cornerstone of our services.
I see you only have a pair of hands Dennis, yet you’re everywhere from Legatcy to EAT Launchpad and some other startups tirelessly building their brands hands on. Tell me, what are your daily routines like?
I start my day by checking my schedule and run a mental rehearsal for the day before I leave home. This is important as my schedule is always changing due to my positions in Legatcy and EAT Launchpad. Next, I would read the emails and messages and respond to them. One interesting fact is that we have a group chat with each of our clients, which is a good touchpoint for them whenever they need us.
Upon reaching my office, I go to meetings with our Principal Consultant at Legatcy, Fairoza, to discuss matters that need advice at 10 am and 5 pm. As for EAT Launchpad, I do quick check-ins with the Ops Manager, Zahiraah, and Community Manager, Jesper. We have an EAT Ops team meeting every Thursday for alignment so the quick check-in arrangement works. If you trust the people you work with, you can leave the project in their hands and find more time for other tasks.
Just before lunch, I meet prospective or existing clients, unless there are projects that require full hands on deck. At the end of the day, I review drafts and work from the staff after the office hours, as I find myself working better on such tasks at night. I can manage the two businesses because they share the same objective of helping start-ups and SMEs.
Can you share with me what Legatcy is all about?
Legatcy is a platform for founders to access markets in Asia with ease and grow their business further with powerful tools and support from our dedicated advisory team. Having been consulted by more than a hundred businesses, we understand the common pain points that our customers face in venturing in Asia.
We have grown a team of localized consultants and professionals that are dedicated to providing a personalized expert approach depending on your business needs.
We started by focusing on high quality and access to corporate compliance services in Singapore and which has jumpstarted the network of corporate compliance and legal professionals across Asia, to provide the services with wider coverage.
In your opinion, why should a startup get their house in order as far as the legal side is concerned?
Right off the bat, you want to make sure that you do not get on the wrong side of the law. Start-ups should familiarize themselves with the basic company regulations and important deadlines to avoid penalties. With all the documents and procedures completed, your start-up can be ready for inspection at any given time.
Also, start-ups general fundraise from investors for capital. Investors would want to look at records and books, as part of their due diligence at the final stage of confirming their investment, so it would be beneficial for start-ups to have the relevant records and books in place ahead of time.
How about understanding deeply the financial capital?
There is an old saying, “Cash is king”, and understanding the financial capital is knowing how to control cash.
I have seen clients’ businesses going into the red for cash flow because they do not understand the finance capital and rely too heavily on sales or turnover and are caught by surprise by unforeseeable situations that happened.
I must emphasize that understanding the financial capital is key because the very next thing you may be doing is to make tough operation decisions based on it. A common misconception that most startup founders have are that startups are limited to very few options of financing, which is either selling their equities or getting a loan, where in fact, there are many options and ways to finance their business, they just lack knowledge of the availability of these.
Startups, most of them like to think that they have already figured out how to play their games. From market research, the business plan right up to the financial model and fundraising related stuff. Most of them don’t quite see that they actually needed help. What are your thoughts on this Dennis?
Often, start-ups like to think that they do not need help. It is important to remember that no man is an island, and no business is built by one person’s effort. That being said, there are so many things that go into a business that needs everyone’s hands on deck to be taken care of.
What you describe is what we have seen in founders in the early stages of building up their start-up and some advisors regard that mindset as “uncoachable”, and it becomes challenging working with a start-up that does not want guidance.
Building a startup is no different from building any other business – It is about making the best utilization of resources and receiving the highest return for every single dollar the business spent. This should be the mindset that start-ups should have, instead of “seeking for help”, to get the best bang for their buck. Start-ups approaching advisors for their service should have the mindset that they are getting more values than what they are spending.
Startups are used to reading or listening to advice from the consultants that they should regularly check the alignments before scaling up and staying agile. In fact, they know all these, yet these aren’t easy to implement especially when they are too involved in the operations of the company. What do you think they should do instead?
It is not easy to implement pieces of advice because every business is different and their plans to scale and stay agile is constantly changing. Because of the need to adjust frequently, startups should always set aside time and set a routine (say the end of every month) to check their alignments to ensure that they are on the right path.
I also recommend getting the right advisor for the business to keep track of the factors you would not think of because they should be familiar with the industry. This way, there are two parties to double-check and drive the plan.
All the services offered by Legatcy are indeed valuable. How can bootstrapping startups actually take advantage of Legatcy’s value?
We provide corporate retainers services for start-ups and SMEs.
Our clients are more than welcome to ask the team any question through our emails or individual group chat, with our fixed and affordable corporate consultation retainer (which include corporate secretarial appointment). Every client’s needs are different and may change at the different stages of their business. They could approach us for advice by asking questions for clarification.
We answer to your specific business needs and questions because everyone has different problems, and we want to offer the best solution for our clients.
I’m sure Legatcy has its own set of criteria for startups that are keen to engage your service. What would be the qualification needed for them to engage you?
One key qualification would be that the startup or SME should at least reach the point that they need to register for a legal business entity and have a reason for it. For example, they might need to sign a contract with prospective customers, and they need a company registered to enter into the contract.
For start-ups that have not reached this stage of their business, fret not, you can contact me because I do pro-bono start-up help on Saturdays and run online events like Founders’ Spotlight where startups share about their business and the audience and myself would give our opinions.
I must ask you this question. In Legatcy website, it says that you’re able to hook up the startups with your network of partners. Can you elaborate more on this?
“It takes a village to raise a child”, which applies very well on a startup. We started growing our network of partners by working with law and compliance firm owners in other countries in Asia. The partners we have overseas are aligned with our vision of helping clients expand in the countries they have expertise in, and hence we worked well together and our clients benefit from these networks.
As our portfolio grows, we also partnered with our own clients and shared their services. Our clients also have services that are in line to be provided to our other clients. One example is that we have a client that provides 3D printing, and that is a growing need for this service in our portfolio as we have more clients in the hardware technology business, which was a win-win situation for all of us.
We are starting to see that our network of partners and clients becomes an ecosystem by itself because of the trust that begins with the clients having it in us, that is eventually built in a network that brings a lot of values. That is the reason why we call ourselves a Platform instead of just a consultancy business.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when growing Legatcy?
The biggest hurdle I have faced was growing and managing a team. In the early years of the business, I have seen a high turnover rate in our staff strength. My staff were leaving, and we were hiring a replacement every quarter during that period. I even built a small service team in Vietnam but failed to retain them. This was resolved when two colleagues took on managerial positions and started to build and manage the team.
An experienced entrepreneur shared with me that when he starts a new project, he would always have two leaders, one handling the HR aspect and the other the technical aspect, with the relevant soft skill set for these roles. I started to experiment with this, and it has worked for me because I have two leaders in my team, one handling the internal/operation and one handling client relationships.
They have helped listen to the team’s needs and find more staff whose goals align with theirs and the businesses which translated to a very effective staff retention rate.
Anything you’d like to add Dennis?
There are still a lot of gaps in professional service space, business knowledge and framework for start-ups and SMEs. The start-ups and SMEs market brings in 49% of the GDP that is S$ 196.8b in Singapore, and there is so much potential to gain in uplifting this market.
As someone that has benefitted and has upscaled his learning from this space, I am working to push out more content and articles that start-ups and SMEs can utilize for their growth.
We should all aim for knowledge and information to be more openly shared and sourced and have more thoughtful leaders so that the start-ups and SMEs space can grow to the next level.