Soaring to Great Heights: Mr Lawrence Koh
"It was clear since young. My childhood ambition was to either be a pilot or a commando.”
Fueled by a passion for flying since young, iFly Singapore’s Founder & CEO, Mr Lawrence Koh began his journey to realising his childhood dream when he was only 16. With his fervent interest, coupled with a natural aptitude for all things flying, Mr Koh aced the required tests for the pilot/commando enlistment into the military. He then took on an army scholarship, which gave him the opportunity to be in the Commandos within the military. This choice would eventually set him on the path charted towards his celebrated success with iFly Singapore today.
“Two words would describe my first experience with skydiving – thrilling and scary. I remember my heart pumping crazily when I looked at the ground from the aircraft. As soon as I jumped out however, at that very instance, I felt really peaceful. The feeling was surreal. It was completely opposite of what it was like before where you could feel the immense tension in the aircraft coupled with the heavy hovering of the aircraft propellers.”
Mr Koh’s maiden jump, taken during his parachute training as a Commando, is a memory that will always be etched in his mind.
Mr Koh’s illustrated career began when he signed on with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 1997 as a Commando. The competition was tough, as only 20 out of the initial 250 recruits in the cohort were chosen to be sent to Officer Cadet School. It was a grueling period for Mr Koh as he had to put his best foot forward at every stage of the training which lasted over 1 year. He eventually reaped the fruits of his labour when he went on to be commissioned as an Officer. After completing his platoon commando tour, he then went on to further his studies at the University of Bristol. While pursuing his degree in Avionics System Engineering, it was at this point in time where Mr Koh found his zest for skydiving. He took up skydiving as an extra-curriculum activity and clocked more than 300 jumps during his time overseas.
Mr Koh took his career a notch up as he became the Officer Commanding for the SAF Parachute School in the Commandos. He was in charge of all parachuting matters for the SAF, which included military airborne operations to the National Day Parade’s display team, the Red Lions. He also took on the role as the Red Lion’s team leader in 2004 and 2005.
It was during this time that Mr Koh saw his childhood dream of flying take flight and soar beyond what he had initially expected himself to achieve. He wanted to share the love of skydiving and have everyone experience flying for themselves. It was then, he tinkered with the idea that perhaps he could break down the traditional mindset that skydiving was not for the common people and solely for professional skydivers. Mr Koh strongly believed he could bring the dream of flight to everyone.
BRINGING FLIGHT TO THE MASSES
Mr Koh was zealous in wanting to knock down stereotypes of skydiving as an activity being niche and expensive. During his time in the SAF, Mr Koh developed the concept of skydiving simulation for freefall training and implemented it for the SAF. He wanted to bring this skydiving simulation concept to the masses. Therefore, rather than staying on in the Commandos after completing his bond with the SAF, Mr Koh chose to step out of his comfort zone to start his own business and bring the dream of flight to everyone. He wanted to do something that could change and influence the lives of others.
“When I first started talking about this opportunity, many people told me that it was not going to be successful. There aren’t many professional skydivers in Singapore to begin with! But there was something they neither saw nor understood. It was my vision for the masses to experience and enjoy flying. I believed this was something that could definitely be done.”
Mr Koh’s entrepreneurial journey was a daunting one. One huge obstacle he faced was putting together the initial capital of SGD$25 million. As someone without any credentials of running a business looking to venture into and execute a novel idea, Mr Koh was armed only with his passion and vision.
“I don’t think that you need to have everything in place or have all the questions answered before deciding on doing something. If you continue to wait, you might miss the opportunity and constantly remain in the same position. It is important to be prepared, as it is equally so to simply just take the step out to do it.”
With his gusto and sheer determination, Mr Koh managed to successfully secure funding from his main investors, Salim Group and the Chairman of Food Empire, both who are very respected in the business world for their experience and foresight. This marked the beginning of iFly Singapore in 2011.
CLIMBING TO HIGHER ALTITUDES
iFly Singapore has been successful in realising Mr Koh’s vision that “Anyone Can Fly”. With more people experiencing what taking flight means, Mr Koh feels that his hard work is all worth it. When iFly Singapore first began, Mr Koh remembers spending more than 16 hours a day, 7 days a week at work. He even slept in the office in order to save time on the commute, so that he could pump in more hours to complete paperwork and respond to emails. This allowed him time in the day to run meetings and ensure iFly Singapore was developing on the right track.
“There were many decisions that came together to contribute to iFly Singapore’s current success. One of which is iFly Singapore’s organisational culture. I believe that the organisational culture should never be solely about one person, in other words, the boss. Rather, every employee should be open and ready to communicate their thoughts and suggestions freely in a positive manner, without repercussions. As long as a team member is willing to learn and put in effort, we are always willing to put in time and money to groom, develop, and provide opportunities for them to grow with the company.”
Together with his team, Mr Koh is continually looking outwards and forward to take iFly Singapore’s success even higher. He has set in stone, plans for the future that will spread the word and dream of flight to more people, further accomplishing his vision that “Anyone Can Fly”.
To read more about Mr Lawrence Koh's entrepreneurial story, you can get your latest copy of Entrepreneurs' Digest at MPH bookstores or at ASME Office (167 Jalan Bukit Merah, #03-03, Tower 4, Singapore 150167).
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