By Shaun Poon
Aston Chia, 31, and Zen Chin, 39, are examples of how entrepreneurs with different personalities can come together and make their common interests profitable.
Their business is Covexis, which operates Overdrive, a vehicle tracking service that connects with smartphones to vehicles and reports accidents, sharp braking, harsh cornering, as well as performance and maintenance indicators.
Covexis also has another app called FireAnts that tracks rented cars, tour buses, armoured cars trucks, delivery vans and other sensitive moving carriers in real time.
Overdrive can be installed in any vehicle and can push notifications through an app available iPhones and Androids, or update users of the vehicle’s condition on demand.
Chia’s enterprise started at nine, when he charged his classmates for using his pencil sharpener. Describing himself as “quite the problem child”, Chia was educated mostly in the Australia which he felt was more accepting for his entrepreneurial ideas. When he was eight, he stayed out till 2 in the morning. “A search party had to be sent out to look for me,” he added.
After graduating from high-school at Scotch College in Australia, he returned to Singapore to complete national service, before trying a number of other businesses. In order to allay his parents’ fears and concerns towards his ill-fated series of ventures, Chia obtained a degree in IT from Monash University in 2004. “When I returned to Singapore I got a job within two day at Bayer South-east Asia,” he said.
However, he continued rolling through various jobs and industries until he realised that IT was what he had a passion for. “When a friend brought a black box location-tracking device to me, I started to go back to developing the idea,” he added.
Chin, in contrast, went through a local secondary school and got a non-IT polytechnic diploma. He met Aston at Monash University. He said: “I went through the normal, typical Singaporean education system.
Chin was subliminally conditioned through his below-average O-level results and polytechnic grades that he would never be able to enter university. “After polytechnic in 1994, I never imagined that I would be able to get into a local university,” he said.
Finishing his full-time national service in the midst of the Asian financial crisis, he went through several temporary jobs before learning and working his way in the IT industry just before 2000. Despite not having any formal education in IT, he managed to adapt to the job.
“My IT manager gave me a shopping list, to buy (parts) and assemble the server. For programming, he gave me a manual or book and I looked through and did it myself,” he said. Surviving the dot-com bubble, he started a distance-learning programme by night, using his own salary from his full-time job to fund his education. “I have to thank my mom,” he adds. “She would help me to buy the telegraphic transfer to pay for the school fees,” he said.
Chin went to Monash University in Australia to focus on the degree full-time in 2005. He was 31 years old and being the oldest international student on campus, he earned the nickname “Grandpa Smurf”.
“Being a little older, I felt that perhaps that the younger students would be very different. But I connected with (Aston) and felt he was a pretty interesting person when we exchanged ideas about troubleshooting, and were able to come to a common understanding,” said Chin.
They had recognised each other’s approaches through “geeky” conversations on troubleshooting.“In retrospect, that set the foundation for Covexis,” he added.
After graduating, Zen drove from Melbourne to Perth, where he read his Masters in Business Administration in one year.
Returning to Singapore, Chin worked in local companies until the sub-prime crisis in 2009, during which he re-evaluated his life. “Reading and digesting, I felt that Singapore had too many wealth managers but not enough wealth creators,” he explained.
Chin said that he had never actually thought about entrepreneurship before. “I envisioned myself to just be a normal employee pursuing the corporate ladder,” he added.
“That particular year was significant… when I started talking to (Aston), because of our trust from university days, I has able to see what I could bring to a partnership,” Zen said. “Throughout the years, after experiencing the Asian financial crisis, the dot-com bubble, and then the American subprime crisis, I felt that if I didn’t start something now, then I am just a regular employee, just a cog in the machine. There’s no guarantee,” Chin explained.
With Covexis entering its fifth year, the friends have finally gained recognition in the industry to overcome the disapprovals and doubts from friends and family.
For Chin. “the biggest issue for me to take on the entrepreneurial path is the social pressure and self-inhibition. I am, by nature, an analyst. But if you over-analyse, you will never start”.
For Chia, he is thankful that his family has been supportive of his pursuits “A lot of things which I tried between graduating from university and starting Covexis were ideas from my family,” he added.
They hope to move their business to a more consumer-centric model rather than mostly business-customers, and are banking on the trend of smartphone ownership to roll out Overdrive.
“We are always on the lookout for something better. Technology changes so fast and keeps us on our toes, and we enjoy the process of tinkering with new stuff,” said Chin.