Nurturing his passion for web design and online gaming has brought Tim Wong onto the local Cosplay scene as one of the industry’s main players.
By Cynthia Yen
At all of 29 years old, Tim Wong is already a wearer of multiple hats including that of an entrepreneur, producer and promoter, programmer, production manager, trainer and teacher.
The one-time juvenile delinquent, whose life took a redemptive turn when he started attending City Harvest Church in his teens, had an early start in entrepreneurship.
Saved from the streets, he redirected his attention and energy on learning about web designing. Coupled with his love for online gaming, he developed an online business reselling online gaming paraphernalia such as pendants, earrings, rings and costumes at www.myimportstore.com.
“I wanted to learn web design. After receiving a S$300 loan from my parents, I was able to start a website reselling fashion accessories for anime characters in online games like Final Fantasy, Naruto and Bleach. It turned out that there was a high demand for these accessories from the US and the UK and my business grew from there.” After school every day, Wong would spend his time and energy sourcing for inventory, developing and managing his website.
Over the next few years, his business grew to a point where he could lease a storehouse for his inventory and employ part-time editors to manage the website. He was so successful that by the time he was 20, he had made enough money to buy himself a car.
1999 was a turning point for him as he built a new online business on web hosting. Unfortunately, the business was plagued with online fraud as stolen credit card numbers were used to purchase the hosting packages. The business was forced to close after one year and the incident left Wong empty and depressed.
“I didn’t feel good about it. My web-hosting business was like my baby and people had used it to lie and cheat. I didn’t like it at all.”
“I had put my heart into the business and I was depressed [with how it turned out]. At that point, I had a conversation with God and the solace I received was found in the lyrics of a worship song I heard—‘you are the peace that guards my heart’.”
After the setback, Wong focused on completing his secondary school and pursued a Diploma in IT at Temasek Polytechnic.
Wong never lost his entrepreneurial drive but took the time in school to hone his IT skills for his online business. “I try a lot of things and I keep what works.”
After he graduated, Wong ventured into fashion retail in 2006. Due to the anime craze, he set up a shop called Black Alice, a fashion shop specializing in Japanese sub-culture fashion known as Gothic Lolita or Harajuku. The shop was a forerunner in premium Loli fashion in Singapore and female anime lovers between 18 to 26 were fans of the look. The store carried Loli labels like ‘Baby’ and ‘The Stars Shine Bright’.
“Goth Loli is not considered mainstream fashion. It is about being pretty. The women who wear the fashion don’t do so for attention but as a form of expression. It is still not as accepted in Singapore like it is in Japan.”
The difference in running an online shop and a retail shop is the interaction Wong experienced with real people.
“I had the chance to really get to know our customers personally, and I’ve built a relationship with them. The shop gave my wife Ling Nah and me the chance for meaningful outreach and be a positive influence in people’s lives.”
Black Alice became not only a shop to promote the fashion but a way to build communities.
“Over the years, we organized tea parties, and we’ve have seen young women overcome their own sense of fashion elitism and prejudices to help other members in their community better express themselves through fashion.”
Black Alice closed its doors in February 2012. “The retail industry is very tough and it was worse during the 2009 financial crisis. It was a relief to finally let it go.”
But with one door closed, another opened up. The former owners of a Cosplay event company, End of the Year (EOY) were planning to retire in 2009. Wong spoke with the owners and they handed over the business to him, along with their database for free.
Under Wong’s entrepreneurial instincts, EOY has since organized Cosplay festivals that have become an annual event for the anime industry to showcase their businesses in Singapore.
EOY was renamed Events Of The Year, and is now a non-profit organization that promotes foreign and local talents at J-Pop art events. It proved to be a smart move, for Wong soon found his plate full, having organized concerts for Japanese performers including Yui Makino, Mikuni Shimokawa, Danceroid, Aikawa Kozue and Ikura. Most recently, it organized a tour to Singapore for Irish-Japanese Youtube sensation Marie Digby.
On Dec. 9, EOY is organizing a Cosplay Festival at Marina Barrage; on Dec. 11, it will be bringing in Japanese female dance group Danceroid and Haruna Luna, the J-Pop sensation behind the theme song to the second season of the television anime series Fate/Zero.The company is also promoting the debut of Sayuri Sugawara in Singapore. Sugawara is the voice behind the theme song of the 13th installation of Final Fantasy.
“Business can change and mutate. Nothing ever stays the same. I was an IT programmer who became a retailer who became an event organizer and now I’m also a teacher.”
‘When I was younger, I had a childlike love for God. I have learnt that God moves very quickly and gives grace to new believers. Being older, I have learned that God is never too early or too late but always on time. I’ve learned to be patient. My prayers are answered but they’re not so immediate.”
What’s next for Wong?
Besides adapting to his new role as a father to 21-month-old Zack with wife Ling Nah, a teacher at Tampines Primary School whom he met as a bookstore ministry volunteer at City Harvest Church’s then premises at the Hollywood Theatre, Wong also teaches part-time at The Money Tree Asia Pacific Limited financial education center for youth.
In his lessons on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and business to primary and secondary students, he gives students “real-world examples of what doing business is really like and how they can excel in it. I especially relish working with the ‘gangsters’ or ‘Ah Beng’s’ because I can engage and relate to them.”
What Wong teaches them is that successful business men are risk averse.
“I’ve learned over the years to take calculated risks. I have become even more calculative because I have more to lose. And for budding entrepreneurs, whatever you believe in your life, you can achieve.”
Having said that, he adds, “My success in business is and has always been part of God’s plan. I’ve never imagined how much I can do but I have [with his help].”
Calling all Cosplay enthusiasts! The EOY 2012 Cosplay Festival is on Dec.9 at Marina Barrage. Log on to www.theeoy.com for more updated information.