Kok Hwa was introduced by my co-author Steven as we were looking around for a publisher for our career guide book.
A mild-mannered gentleman, Kok Hwa has been in the book publishing business for 14 years. It is common to find Candid Creation Publishing logo on every other local book.
To date, he has he has published over 400 titles with close to a million copies circulating in the market.
Given it was our first, we had the impression that we could combine our blog posts and voila, a book.
The reality is far from that. Kok Hwa provided us with great insights and guided us in expanding our material and harmonising our different style of writing.
It took us about another year or so (since we both have our full-time work) to finally get everything in place, and the book has brought opportunities for us that would have never been possible before.
The book pathed the way for me to start CareerLadder and leapfrog the existing competitions that came before me.
Kok Hwa graciously accepted my invitation to interview him and learn more about his business acumen and how it all came about. Read on:
1. Please share a bit about what you do.
I am a Publisher with Candid Creation Publishing, a boutique publishing house based in Singapore where we provide a one-stop publishing service to take authors from idea to market.
As the lead facilitator for “So You Want To Be An Author” workshop, I also coach game changers who aspire to stay at the top of their game by becoming published authors.
I have a few other professional “hobbies”, one of which is being a Professional Action Learning Coach with the World Institute for Action Learning.
2. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child, I was fascinated with the open sky above me and thought I would be a pilot one day.
3. What were you doing before starting this business?
Technically speaking, I did not start this business.
Candid Creation Publishing was founded by my sister in 1999, and I came on board about three years later and took it to new heights.
Before that, I was in the corporate world with stints in the oil & gas, business consultancy, as well as ICT sector.
4. How did the idea for your business come about?
My sister started Candid Creation Publishing initially as a platform to publish the books she authored.
Due to good reception of her books in the market, other authors began to approach her to help them publish their books too, and the business just grew naturally by word-of-mouth.
5. What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
Haha, I don’t consider myself to be a successful entrepreneur, but I am happy with the value I bring to the market.
In the initial years after I joined Candid Creation Publishing, the company was not on a firm footing and revenue was fluctuating.
This naturally translated to a significant pay cut from my last drawn pay. It doesn’t help too at a time when expenses were high with the arrival of my first-born.
As my wife had also left her job to look after our daughter, we went on an austerity drive and kept a close watch on expenses.
Starting from ground zero in the trade, a lot of time was spent creating visibility in the market through networking both day and night.
I also shadowed my sister closely to learn the ropes of the trade.
In the midst of growing the company, I am glad that I managed to strike a balance without sacrificing much family time, although we took a deliberate decision to go for shorter holidays to nearer countries.
6. How did you get funded?
We were fortunate in the sense that this business does not require capital intensive investment.
From Day 1, we kept a tight rein on cash flow to ensure that the business operates smoothly.
My sister and I also agreed to forgo the monthly salary for half-yearly profit sharing instead.
7. How do you go about marketing your business?
WOMBAT – Word-of-Mouth Business Acquisition Tactics.
I learnt this terminology during my time in Business Network International (BNI), which is an international business referral network.
I was the Founding President of a chapter that I started with a few like-minded entrepreneurs.
We met weekly for the purpose of passing referrals to one another and growing our network. I also get a steady stream of referrals from our satisfied authors.
It takes a tremendous amount of patience and discipline before word-of-mouth marketing shows results, but the good thing is that when it does, it creates a multiplier effect that you will enjoy over an extended period of time.
After more than a decade of experience in coaching hundreds of authors to successfully write, publish, and market their books, I developed and started delivering “So You Want To Be An Author” workshop to share my experience with aspiring authors embarking on the authorship journey.
While this workshop is not meant to market the publishing side of my business, the causal effect of making an impact on others is that they will be drawn to you when the time comes.
8. Could you describe your first sale and how it came about?
I can vividly remember my first sale as a breakthrough for the company too.
As there were not many people who knew what I was doing, I decided to take matters in my hand and wrote tonnes of book proposals to organisations and planted seeds in them of the type of books that they can commission us to publish.
A statutory board bought into our idea, and we ended up with a 12-book deal in the four official languages of Singapore!
9. Describe/outline your typical work day?
One of the rewards of being an entrepreneur is that there is no typical day for me.
It can range anything from meetings with authors and partners, working on book projects in the office, delivering a talk or workshop, attending book launches, accompanying authors for media interviews, etc.
Sometimes, when I decide to take a break, you will find me watching a movie to chill out instead.
10. What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business and why?
As a company, we have won numerous awards, but those are external validations that I don’t clamour after.
There is no specific proudest moment but going to bed at night knowing that I have made a difference in someone’s life by helping them deliver their message to the marketplace through the work I do is what matters to me.
11. What was the lowest point for you in this business?
It was not exactly about this business but a related book distribution business that I invested in.
Book distribution is a supporting function of my publishing business, and I thought I would have better control over this function with a stake in it.
The founder of the book distribution company is someone whom I have been working with for a couple of years, and I trusted him as a mentor.
He glorified the potential of the business and broached the idea of investing in his company as its cash flow was tight.
I must say I was very gullible then as, without much due diligence, I injected a five-figure cash amount in return for a stake in the company but without any rights.
Shortly after, the founder paid himself first and disappeared while leaving the company in doldrums.
Eventually, the company had to cease operations under the weight of its creditors and lawsuits.
Lesson learnt is never to make business decisions based on faith and sidetrack the need for due diligence.
It was a stressful period of time for me, but it is times like this that produces rich learning for me:
If a situation can be fixed, why get upset about it?
If a situation can’t be fixed, what’s the use of getting upset?
12. What’s your revenue numbers over the past year?
13. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
As the founder of the company, she has shown me what it takes to keep the business going and the fact that our company is still growing in what many people consider to be a sunset industry is a testament that our business model has withstood the test of time.
14. If you could go back in time to speak to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him?
Decide on the one area you aspire to serve humanity and spend the rest of your existence focused on perfecting the art.
15. What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
None that I can remember.
16. What’s your business focus for this year?
I hope to bring “So You Want To Be An Author” workshop to other countries as I have been attracting many overseas participants to Singapore in our recent runs.
Another focus will be to extend the reach of our published books to more international markets through rights deals.