“Not what you know, but who you know.”

“Not what you know, but who you know.” | Shopkeeper Stories

“Not what you know, but who you know.”


If you search online for business tips, you will find plenty. But what I love about these in-depth interviews is the concrete and complex detail that emerge from the rough-and-tumble experiences of ordinary people who boldly seized their ideas and found a way to “will the sucker into existence”. Each person draws on strategies unique to their context. Explore their stories, and grab what you wish!

You can read the step-by-step trajectory behind the rise of the electronics company Mainz Empire in this article, and pick up some ideas on branding in this post. In this episode, we share a cocktail of wisdom that Abel acquired from keeping the business rolling and growing.

Product Differentiation

“Singapore is so fast that if you don’t find something new, you will never make it. In my uni days, I was doing my project on Breadtalk for my final year project. I noticed that when he came up with the floss bun— that’s when the bakery became famous.

One thing about gadgets is that you have to keep researching new ideas. Coz you see, once you put it up online, another person will put it up also. Very fast.”

Virtual Office

“My whole office computer is in my Dropbox. Because I’m always out of the office, you see, so everything has to be on hand. I’ve got Dropbox, SugarSync, Skydrive, 5gb each.”

Early Growth

“The whole thing is to never say no to any form of business, as long it doesn’t make a loss.”

In the beginning, Abel used aggregating platforms such as Gmarket to sell his products, even though the profit margin was slimmer, because it brought the first waves of exposure to his business.

“I would say the strategy along the way was pretty much right. Even though we had to sell our things cheap, their database is strong. So, through them, we got more opportunities.”

Hard Work | Patience

“I would say that for a business, try not to say no to anything. As long as you make money, just do it. Just work hard, that’s all. I mean hard work and effort will pay off eventually. But it’s really hard work. If you weigh the effort-to-profit ratio, it’s imbalanced. But the results will come in eventually, seriously.

So that’s how we did it, but it takes three years to actually start seeing results. There’s a lot — a lot — of hard work involved in this whole thing.”


“I think contacts are very important in business. It’s who you know that’s important: not what you know, but who you know. I mean, the people you know is where it’s going to help you, you see. So I think, contacts are the most important thing. In business, you need to know the right people.”

Personal Motivation

“I studied until… I think 28? I was still studying and living in denial because I had no direction. So I started thinking: How can I ever wake up one day in the morning and have the motivation to go to work? Because I hated going to work last time.

But nowadays, I don’t even need to sleep, I just do work. I’ve become a workaholic until, like I totally miss my life man. Like public holidays, weekends, weekdays— all the same to me. Because still got to work. Really, got no time for any other things. And then, you see my friends are getting married and all. You just got no time because I started things too late, then got to catch up and all.”

Learning On-The-Go

“Everyday the brain is thinking. I cannot sleep in peace also. There’s a lot we need to learn — a lot of things. We started this business in 2010 with zero knowledge. I never knew this kind of knowledge before and I had no contact with these things, so everything was just… approaching people and stuff like that. You have to be thick-skinned, you have to see all types of people.”

Is it worth it?

“You know, it’s something. It’s a sense of achievement that you feel after all the hard work. For an online business to actually survive is not easy. We saw other sites that tried to hold on, and they closed after one year, even those big companies.”

Mainz Empire not only survived, but thrived, and continues to grow with a track record that can only be built under the devotion of a true master of collaborative creativity. Thanks, Abel Neoh, for the interview, and all the best with Mainz Empire !

Shopkeeper Stories is a photographic documentary of small business owners with their trades around the world, sharing their views on business and life. You can catch all the posts on Facebook and Instagram @ShopkeeperStories. Enjoy!