This is a fireside chat with the founder of Real Inbound Consulting, Gerald Yap. It showcases his views on the SME consulting landscape, how he runs his team, as well as his future plans for the company.
Profile of RIC:
Real Inbound Consulting (RIC) is a management consultancy firm headquartered in Singapore which helps businesses commercialize new technology, expand overseas, digitalize operations, and automate production lines. RIC also supports its clients in securing financing that supports the above-mentioned initiatives and projects, where such financing can be secured from government grants, commercial loans, or equity investments. RIC serves companies across a wide range of industries and growth-stages (SMEs, MNCs, start-ups), and handles projects of value ranging from USD thousands to millions.
1. How do you see the SME consulting market developing in Asia? What are the major factors that have been driving the market’s growth?
To answer this question, we firstly define the market that RIC plays in. For RIC, we serve SMEs in two areas - helping SMEs plan and make recommendations for projects relating to company transformation and expansion (see the four areas mentioned in the profile section), as well as support them in securing external financing to fund the execution of such projects - be it grant financing, commercial loans or equity investments. We see the market for such a combination of services growing very well in the recent years for us.
Factors that have been driving market’s growth:
2. What are the major problems and expectations that customers have from the players of this segment? How do you strategize to meet those?
One of the problems we see in this segment is that SME owners perceive management consultants negatively due to previous encounters with some which displayed unprofessional conduct. They have also become hyper-aware of consultants due to previous experiences with scams and the consultants ‘ghosting’ them after collection of pre-paid fees.
Correspondingly, we see that most SMEs today expect that the consultants they work with be a professional company with an experienced team and good track record, instead of just a one-man-show business. SMEs may also expect that the consulting company hold some certification that is recognised by an industry-body in the field of their specialty. Importantly, SMEs need to be convinced that the consulting firm they work with is sincere in helping the company and serve as a valuable partner in growing the business for the long haul- and not just ‘here to make a quick buck’.
At RIC, while we are no way near perfect, we try our best each day to provide our services in the most professional manner possible; and to create to most value for our clients as we reasonably can. To ensure we meet the above objectives, we ensure that this mindset is constantly manifested by our team in whatever we do. We make it part of our DNA. In every engagement and action with a client, we ask ourselves: “Is doing this in the best interest of the client? Would doing this allow us to become a valuable partner of our client that can guide them through various stages of growth and capital requirement, and not just fulfilling a one-off ad hoc project alone?”
This mindset has benefitted us in enabling continual, long-term business relationships with our clients. For example, one of our clients is a developer of offshore renewable energy projects which has been partnering us for more than three years. RIC started off by helping them with the R&D of a new offshore solar floating platform technology and raising grant financing to build a prototype. We were then brought in to do the same for other R&D projects in the pipeline. Thereafter, we helped them commercialise their productised technology in overseas markets like US and Korea. Currently, we are still engaged with this client, exploring potential in helping them raise project financing for the offshore renewable projects they are looking to develop. This type of engagement is what keeps the RIC team passionate about what we do.
3. How is Real Inbound Consulting positioned in the SME consulting market?
We believe we have a unique positioning- as we are not only able to help companies with planning their projects and making recommendations on how best to approach them, but also raising external financing for the companies to execute on them. For example, if a company is looking to digitise their inventory management operations, we first do a detailed study of their current processes and identify inefficiencies and wastages. We then consult with stakeholders and develop a future desired process flow, along with detailed process map diagrams. We then do a technology scan to identify suitable tools or software systems that can fulfil the identified needs and to-be processes; and help them find and evaluate technology vendors. If the client goes ahead with our recommendations, we can help them secure financing (grants or loans) to purchase and implement the solution.
In addition, we see that the business areas that our services address (overseas expansion, new product development, automation, digitisation) are all aligned with the critical areas any company needs to look at to achieve meaningful growth and scale. We have deliberately positioned our services to embody the essence of what companies need to thrive.
As our services can apply to companies in any industry, we also need to ensure our team possesses a good breadth of knowledge across many industry domains. Some examples of the interesting industry domains that we have developed expertise (in addition to the traditional industry verticals) include telecommunications technology, agritech, biotech, cleantech, fintech, renewable energy technologies and alternative proteins.
Since our service relates to raising external financing for SMEs to execute on their projects, we also ensure that our team is well verse with the SME funding schemes available, especially in relation to grant financing. This is an area we put considerable effort in keeping ourselves abreast on, as such schemes are constantly updated and replaced with newer schemes by the funding agencies.
4. Walk us through the approach of the firm in delivering quality services to the clients. What are the key benefactors helping you attain the same?
I would list the following approaches we take to delivering quality service:
The key benefactors that help us in continually delivering quality services:
Our clients themselves:
5. What are the key specifications of the range of services delivered by the firm? Highlight the USP.
The set of services we offer is split into two parts:
For (i), these are examples of what we can consult on for clients:
Develop and Commercialize New Technology
Automate Production Lines
We are not only able to help companies with planning their projects and making recommendations on how best to approach them, but also raising external financing for the companies to execute on them.
6. Tell us about the team of Real Inbound Consulting. How are your combined skills and experience helping the firm to grow?
We currently have a team of 7 of us (as of Jan 2023). This is split into different roles: BD, Client Operations (which includes Technical Writers and Project Managers) and Finance & HR.
In helping the firm grow, proper teamwork and a tight understanding between divisions is critical. While each of us in RIC specialises in different divisions involved in the consulting value chain, we working closely with each other to ensure clients get a unified consultancy delivery that does not seem disconnected at any parts. A common issue faced by professional services firms is that the sales team overpromises and puts undue pressure on operations and the execution team to deliver. Clients then find misalignment between what sales has committed versus what the operations team eventually delivers. We are especially cognisant of this, and constantly try our best to ensure that our sales team is closely aligned with our operations team on what we can or cannot do for any particular client, and making sure Sales is meticulous in handing over every deal well to Ops for execution. We constantly try to grease the interface between divisions so as to ensure everyone internally is on the same page on what and how to deliver to the client.
In addition, we tap on a network of competent advisors, leveraging their experience and connections to help us grow. Such advisors have been critical in helping us connect our clients to funding sources like investors, banks, government agencies. More importantly, they have also contributed technical knowledge to help RIC deliver successful consulting projects to clients in niche industries and with uncommon requirements. A good example would be time where RIC was helping a NASDAQ-listed company enter the Singapore market with a product that had a comprehensive set of technical features. With the help of advisors with the relevant domain knowledge with similar types of products as well as the right connections into the relevant government authority, RIC was able to help the client have their product pre-approved by the government for fast-track grant support for the benefit of customers looking to buy their product. This aided the client significantly in accelerating their product roll-out in Singapore.
7. Please elaborate, what are the key points that differentiate your company from other players in this segment?
(ii) An Agritech company which RIC served is today helping farmers in third-world countries significantly improve their crop yields, fetch the better prices for their crops by connecting them to global buyers, and improving the efficiency of the agricultural supply chain between nations.
For us, being in RIC is about making a commitment to consistently improve and grow ourselves so that we can better serve good companies to make a positive impact in the world.
8. How has been the journey of the company since its inception? Walk us through the growth it has received in terms of clients and geographical expansions.
The story of RIC started all the way back when I was still in university. Back then, I saw a clear need for a consultancy service like this after interning with a few companies. I started out as a one-man show, serving our first few clients which are mostly traditional businesses. Apparently, what I learnt in university and across multiple internships was already able to provide value to these businesses.
After graduation, while I went on to work under several companies in the technology space, I kept RIC running as a side hustle as a freelancer (while ensuring that I do not flout any terms under my full-time employment contract). Faced with the challenge of juggling RIC commitments with a full-time corporate job, I started building up a small team and delegated responsibilities. RIC was no longer a one-man show.
RIC started to serve more clients, and it got to a point where the take-home profits from RIC exceeded the income of my full-time job. It was then I made the switch to do RIC as a proper business, full time. Our client base and team size expanded significantly, and we started to secure projects of higher value and larger scope. We also started to onboard more stakeholders and partners. Many years have passed since, and I’ve never looked back.
Life today is constantly charged with drive and sense of mission to help good companies do better. I am privileged in knowing that every second spent on RIC is contributing towards building something of long-lasting value and helping deserving companies actualise projects that can bring a positive impact to economies and societies.
Today, RIC mainly operates in the Singapore market. However, one key agenda I am pursing right now is to make our consulting operations scalable in order to facilitate overseas expansion. We are now looking at the Hong Kong and Australian markets with interest.
9. Where do you see this market in the near future? What is the future roadmap for your Company?
The market should continue to be strong- as almost all companies will see the need to expand overseas, develop new innovative products, digitise, and automate their production for increased efficiency. In addition, such companies will likely also consider help to raise external financing (on favourable terms) to fund the above project as much as they can so as not to disrupt day-to-day operational cashflow or having to draw-down from their ‘war chest’.
One direction our future roadmap can head towards is in the development of new, scalable B2B services in addition to what we already provide to SMEs. If we can do this successfully, it can strengthen our position as a one-stop consultancy partner of choice for many of our clients. For our clients, it is easier for them to just go with a preferred trusted service provider to meet as many needs as possible, instead of having to spend time evaluating and trying out new service providers for new needs all the time.
10. Is there anything you think that the audience must know about your company?
People are often curious about how the name of the company was conceived. One first glance, ‘Real Inbound’ it seems pretty unrelated to a management consulting business.
However, this term was intentionally selected to highlight the firms’ commitment to the ‘Inbound Methodology’. According to Hubspot, the inbound methodology in business is ‘the method of growing your organization by building meaningful, lasting relationships with consumers, prospects, and customers. It's about valuing and empowering these people to reach their goals at any stage in their journey with you.’
That perfecting sums up what we embody as an organisation, and hence the name ‘Real Inbound’.
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