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Out Of Adversity, A Success Story

After an entrepreneurial foray was derailed by the financial crisis, E-Tag emerged stronger

By: The Business Times, Ng Zhuo Yang | 12 Aug 2013
Out of adversity, a success story
NEW STRENGTHS rnAn electronics company founded by 34-year-old Essay Toh (left) and 48-year-old Edmund Lee, E-Tag counts the provision of radio-frequency identification (RFID) solutions and consultancy as its core business today.

Much like Singapore’s own success story, the emergence and profitability of E-Tag RFID Pte Ltd were largely driven by circumstance and vulnerability.

An electronics company founded by 34-year-old Essay Toh and 48-year-old Edmund Lee, E-Tag counts the provision of radio-frequency identification (RFID) solutions and consultancy as its core business today.

But this is far from the initial intention of the two former colleagues when they left their former employer in the manufacturing sector back in 2007. Then, they had merely set out to utilise their common expertise in injection moulding to engage in the tech manufacturing business.

The pair were optimistic about their capabilities and the opportunities in the RFID industry, having worked on previous projects for clients such as Infineon and Texas Instruments to encapsulate RFID chips to form products commonly termed as RFID tags.

Unfortunately, their entrepreneurial foray was not a timely one as the global financial crisis soon got underway.

In addition to a drastic fall in demand, numerous projects from interested parties also fell through due to practical mismatches between the hardware they made and customers’ software, also known as system integrators (SIs).

“At that time, we were not involved in solutions. We were just a tech supplier to them,” explained Mr Toh.

Many a time, the SIs to whom Mr Toh and Mr Lee supplied RFID tags possessed good software solutions, but they lacked the know-how to deploy the RFID tags effectively to complement their software.

Mr Lee said: “If you have a RFID tag that does not talk to your software, it’s no use. However, we were not given a chance to show how our RFID tags could perform.”

“As time went by, we were actually making a loss because no one came to us for RFID tags, as the solutions (of the SIs) were a failure,” added Mr Toh.

Regroup and restart

Realising that the fate of their business relied too much on the competence of their SIs, the duo resolved to incorporate systems design in their capabilities as well, so as to provide end-users with appropriate and suitable solutions.

By focusing their efforts on R&D while business was bleak during the economic downturn, Mr Toh and Mr Lee found ways to overcome the weaknesses of RFID technology in their products and “gained a lot of experience through those years”.

With the strengths that they had built up by the time the economy was looking up, the two realigned their business strategies and restarted their entrepreneurial journey in 2011 under a new company name – E-Tag RFID Pte Ltd.

Today, besides tech manufacturing, the company also partakes in product development and systems design, essentially helping end-users to device full systems solutions that are customised to fit their needs.

E-Tag’s suite of products and services can be applied to a wide range of sectors, as long as there are assets to be tracked and managed. This includes sectors such as aerospace, oil and gas, logistics, livestock, retail and construction.

In addition, a key feature of E-Tag’s solutions is that they make use of passive hardware, meaning that accompanying appliances are non-battery enabled. Coupled with the ease of inventory management that its solutions provide, end-users can enjoy benefits such as reduction in manpower and a rise in productivity.

For instance, E-Tag’s first public sector project in 2011, which was to design a tools-tracking system for the Singapore Civil Defence Force, successfully reduced the time required to perform daily vehicle inventory checks from two hours to a mere 15 minutes.

Currently, E-Tag counts ST Engineering as its main customer, while it is also working with numerous government agencies.

The company’s track record is an impressive one, having pioneered bullet-tracking and tools-tracking systems for the Singapore Police Force and the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) respectively.

Both patent-pending products since March this year, they give rise to greater accountability of the items tracked. In particular, RSAF is now able to prevent instances of foreign object debris being left behind in its aircraft, thus enhancing the efficacy of its maintenance, repair and operations significantly.

Describing the trying times that he and Mr Toh initially went through as a blessing in disguise, Mr Lee shared that businesses which had shelved their RFID plans back then are also coming back to E-Tag for RFID solutions.

The company has also been providing systems solutions to end-users in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Australia.

Ready for exponential growth

Thus, it is no wonder that E-Tag has been profitable since its first year of operations, achieving a turnover of more than $400,000 in FY2012. This was tripled within the following year, as the company generated close to $1.2 million in total revenue in FY2013.

At this rate, E-Tag is projecting to hit a turnover of $3.3 million by FY2015, especially since the Republic has come to a critical juncture where the economy as a whole has to be restructured.

“We are well-aligned with the government’s recent adoption of productivity,” said Mr Toh, who added that schemes such as the Productivity and Innovation Credit have aided in the company’s business.

E-Tag has seen its customer base grow by up to eight times, as many firms regard RFID solutions as significant game-changers, explained Mr Lee.

Just as Singapore seeks to carve the next chapter of her success story through sustainable growth, Mr Lee believes E-Tag is bound to “grow exponentially” alongside the Republic as it strives to realise its vision of becoming a globally-recognised RFID solutions provider.

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