People and prosperity

My big break: turning my childhood passion into a business

Hong Kong entrepreneur Steve Ng on how he went from selling toys on eBay to running a global company

Company snapshot

  • Name: Toyeast Limited
  • Location: Hong Kong
  • Turnover: HKD17 million
  • Number of employees: 9

How it all began

As a child, I loved collecting model cars and I would rush to the toy car section whenever I was in the department store. I always dreamt of creating my own brand, selling good quality model cars that would help kids develop great childhood memories. While at university, I bought model cars from toy stores, resold them on eBay, and discovered I could make a tidy profit. This small venture grew when I left university and I started Toyeast in 1998. Soon I was taking on staff, selling to overseas collectors and being approached by wholesalers. It was at this point I decided to produce my own brand of model cars to sell overseas. Today we sell our remote-control model cars in over 20 overseas markets, with distributors in Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Russia and the US.

I turned my hobby and passion into a business, and can easily see myself doing this for the rest of my life.

My toughest lesson

I learnt the hard way that it’s better to take a conservative approach and plan properly. In 2007, after nine years in business, I decided to target the high-end model car market – a segment in which I had no experience and where cars sell for more than USD1,000 a piece. I took in orders, trusting that our manufacturer could deliver to the high standards required. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. I tried to get the quality right, even going as far as having my entire team supervise production in the Mainland China factory. But in the end, the client returned most of the model cars. We lost a huge sum of money, and more importantly, we lost a valued customer. I learnt how important it was to have a Plan B and prepare for the worst.

My biggest regret

I seldom regret my business decisions, even if they fail. As a start-up, it’s natural to fail. What’s important is that you learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them. Entrepreneurs should always be adventurous and eager to try new things. You shouldn’t fear failure, otherwise how will you charter unexplored territories?

My lightbulb moment

Running the eBay trading business, my staff worked until 9.30pm every day, while I carried on until 2-3am. Yet, fierce online competition meant we could barely meet our overheads. So, after 18 years of running an e-commerce business on eBay, I decided to change our business model. Making the decision to focus on developing my own brand of products for the wholesale toy market was the most successful turning point of my life. My staff and I now spend more time with family, and our business is profitable.

Finding funding

In the online world, you only need a small amount of money to start your business. All I needed was an email account, a camera and a credit card. But in 2007, we were greatly impacted by the global financial crisis and made a loss of HKD300,000. I realised that the downturn could cost me my business, and that I needed help. It was the first time I borrowed money from a bank. Despite Toyeast being loss-making, Standard Chartered was prepared to give us a loan, taking into account other factors such as our track record of profitability, business plans and customer pipeline. We had a dedicated relationship manager who understood our business. The loan and support saved my company.

I owe my success to

My parents for giving me unconditional love and financial support. My team, some of whom have worked for Toyeast for eight to 10 years, for standing by me through good times and bad. And Standard Chartered, for not only providing me with funding, but for helping me to grow my business.

Standard Chartered has been providing business banking services to Toyeast since 2007.

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