Motivated by his respect for his grandparents commitment to future generations, Melvin Chee has harnessed his innate entrepreneurial spirit to found a thriving business.
What’s your story?
I’ve actually been an entrepreneur all my life. I went to university for an Engineering degree but dropped out after almost failing my first year. I then enrolled in Economics and Finance before discovering my strong passion for digital marketing & consumer behaviour. I was thick-faced enough to go around asking for free internships where I learned about things like SEO, Google Ads and Facebook Ads (which weren’t even a thing back then). I started with a drop-shipping model for my business in university during a semester break that led me to subsequently build brands across different niches in e-commerce.
What excites you most about your industry?
We are a direct-to-consumer (DTC) e-commerce startup that builds brands from the ground up and have recently raised USD 29 million in our Series B funding. Through our internet and supply chain knowledge, we leverage on our internal technology advancements to better our brands with a shared end infrastructure. With our fresh round of funding, we intend to rapidly expand our talent pool across the entire organisation and enhance our technological capabilities, in addition to expanding our suite of brands to further disrupt the consumer landscape.
What drives you in business to push beyond what other people consider normal?
Oddly, I find adrenaline in uncertainty. When I started this business, I wanted to build something meaningful, which to me meant having a team of people working towards a common goal and be seen as an underdog. We are far away from being successful but working with people, creating jobs, driving impact, and seeing consumers using our products fuels me. I never want to paint the picture that we’re perfect (even to candidates) because I wish for people to come in and work together at RPG Commerce so that we can all build something meaningful together.
What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I started my early days selling powerbanks door to door in Melbourne to now building a portfolio of global consumer brands. The journey is filled with ups and downs, an endless number of decisions, coupled with lots of trials and errors. Accepting that failure is a part of the journey, being okay with them and being naïve enough not to give up have really helped us to keep going to get to where we are today.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Alignment of interest across the organisation. With so many competing priorities between employees, customers and macro factors, I had to set a standard early on to act in the business’s best interest and never for personal reasons. I had the opportunity to scale the RPG team through hypergrowth mode over the last 1.5years. Along the way, I learnt the lesson of allowing toxic behaviours to linger around too long till they negatively impacted the company culture which then caused a larger disruption in the organisation. Unpopular decisions are tough to make but so necessary and beneficial in the long run.
Who inspires you?
My grandparents, who always remind me to be appreciative. My grandfather was a rubber tapper and lived in a poor environment with 9 children. Thankfully, he believed education was the way out of poverty, so he worked hard to send his kids to university. My dad eventually did well in life and has always prioritised education over anything else. We’re all doing better today because of my grandparents’ decisions. Even with nothing, they could still pull it off. So really, what’s our excuse in this life full of resources? What’s our excuse to fail? Or even not trying our best?
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
Well, I can’t say much has really blown me away as I have accustomed myself to approach challenges and bad news more calmly as I grow older. With all the mistakes we’ve made in our journey, we want to stay as adaptable as possible to all the obstacles that may come our way and make rational decisions in the best interest of the company.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would choose to be bolder, even though I think I’ve been quite ballsy, but I’d be even more determined to not be afraid to fail. I would certainly try more things and understand leadership and people management better, so I could always lead better.
How do you unwind?
I really enjoy listening to podcasts. Even when I’m in the shower, I have different podcasts just playing in the background, no matter if I’m consciously listening. I don’t have one specific one to recommend, but I do enjoy topics like entrepreneurship, consumer, e-commerce, etc.
What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your business?
That “projection is never reality”. I’ve learnt that I want to always be preparing for the worst. At RPG, our approach is to never prepare only when we are facing problems, which also means there’s always going to be challenges to tackle – and we like it that way!
Everyone in business should read this book:
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini. I read this book when I was in university, and it truly changed my life and perspective on influence. Think about it, everything is all about influence, be it relationships, religion, leadership etc.
Shameless plug for your business:
At RPG Commerce, we build all our global brands from the ground up. We’ve gone through tons of failures (more than just theory based failures) and have managed to come out on the other side. We’re still constantly trying new things and tweaking our business so that we keep improving and moving forward with the best lessons.
How can people connect with you?
You can find me on LinkedIn, I’m pretty active on there and of course, always looking out for talents to join us! https://www.linkedin.com/in/melvinchee99/
Social Media Links?
This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.