Ray Kua realised that he and his partner had water skills greater than most, so they set about creating a business to pass on their skills.
What’s your story?
We met as basketball teammates in Jurong JC. Jay is a competitive triathlete, while I (Ray) enlisted in the Naval Diving Unit during my National Service days. It was during this period that we had a vision to formulate a pedagogy that teaches people not just how to swim, but most importantly, survival techniques that we realised were not emphasised in Singapore. We also wanted to complement it with a competitive element, to ensure all swimmers who graduate from SwimRay are well-equipped to survive in any water body, and also swim efficiently and proficiently at the same time.
What excites you most about your industry?
Many people assume that swimming is only about learning the 4 common strokes – breaststroke, front crawl, backstroke and butterfly. More commonly in Singapore, it is also to ensure one is ready for the SwimSafer tests and National Service requirements. As such, what excites us the most is the unexplored market gap that exists in this industry – the knowledge and skills required to survive in an accident, in any kind of water body. This is what SwimRay specialises in, to ensure one is able to not only swim competently, but swim safely.
What drives you in business to push beyond what other people consider normal?
Our swimming pedagogy focuses on our SwimRay Aquatic Roadmap. It is a step-by-step progression which allows learning to progress from learning the 4 basic strokes, to being competent in stroke efficiency, surviving in an accident, racing, and lastly open water navigation. This differs from the traditional swim syllabus in Singapore, and we are delighted to offer such a program. We firmly believe in the experiences that one can enjoy through the mastering of these skills, and we see it is a vision that all our clients are able to have a wide variety of experiences in their swimming journey.
What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?
It would be to look at a particular problem from different angles, and brainstorm as many solutions as possible to solve it in the quickest and most efficient way. In business, it is not only about solving problems, but also making sure processes are streamlined, which makes a difference in the view of consumers. On top of a good experience, consumers also want a streamlined one, with all their needs tended to in every way possible. As such, we place great emphasis on our back-end team to ensure the needs of our clients are well-served in many ways.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Never ever belittle the potential that willpower can do for you. We started out as nobodies in this industry, and did not have strong corporate internship experiences or any business experiences. Despite all that, what we had was a will to continue hustling and persevering. This has got us through tough periods like COVID-19, when we managed to pivot our service through creating programs such as dry-land training and focusing more on 1-1 swimming lessons. Not only did we maintain our current pool of clients, SwimRay has become even more well sought-after in the private swimming industry.
Who inspires you?
As athletes ourselves, our coaches have inspired us the most in our journey. We started off wanting to bring value to others through sports, which was what we learnt many years ago. During our days as competitive athletes, we were lucky to come across coaches who ensure we take away more than just skills, but core values that could be applied in life. This has inspired us to do the same for each student. Not only do we want to teach them swimming, but we want to be teachers that can impact them in other parts of their lives too.
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
Honestly, we have not really been “blown away” before, haha! This is probably due to the fact that we have accustomed ourselves to being as adaptable as possible towards problems that come our way. Nevertheless, we were very surprised by how businesses can change in a matter of days, especially during the pandemic! We have had many ups and downs, especially in the topsy-turvy years of COVID-19, where we had to adapt rapidly to the fluctuating regulations. It has really opened our eyes to the possibility that anything could happen within a short period of time!
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
We would have started off our collaborations with volunteer organisations earlier. Though it may sound cliché, our experiences with organisations like the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped has allowed our coaches to have eye-opening experiences. Not only are we able to contribute back to the society, but we have observed how our coaches have grown from these volunteer coaching situations, and broadened their perspective on empathy. This has enabled them to empathise and understand their students more, and hence improve their coaching.
How do you unwind?
Ray: I unwind by doing high intensity interval training cardio almost daily. It gives me the adrenaline push that is needed to recharge for the challenges ahead. A good book is also always well sought-after too, as it really allows me to “talk to myself” and improve my mindset as much as possible.
Jay: A good exercise and a good meal at a café is what gets me going. Being able to relax and perform in high-pressure situations, I see it as a must that we should always have good breaks and time off to ensure we recharge and refuel.
What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your business?
We used to believe that good service provided to our clients is all that matters. Yet, we realised it is not just that but, most importantly, providing them with the most fuss-free and streamlined service possible. In this day and age, our clients are getting more tech-savvy where everyone can go online to read or post reviews. As such, their expectations are also higher. That said, we have been viewing this positively, as it challenges us to deliver our services at a much higher level, which we also believe is a reason for where we are today.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALS Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. It is an excellent read, which has allowed me (Ray) to channel my rigorous miliary experience in the Naval Diving Unit to leading SwimRay.
Shameless plug for your business:
In SwimRay, you learn a wide range of skills, from Accident Survival to Open Water Navigation. As an ex-military diver and competitive triathlete, we are most well-placed to teach skills that are not available elsewhere, with a syllabus covering the Learn-to-Swim and competitive aspect comprehensively. We are also the only swim school that collaborates with volunteer organisations, as we believe swimming is an important skill that should be made available to everyone, including individuals with impaired abilities.
We have also recently been listed as an SME 500 award winner of 2022, and are confident of our services to ensure an excellent experience.
How can people connect with you?
Please do WhatsApp our admin at 9660 1991 for further enquiries on lessons, collaborations, or even to become a swim coach with SwimRay!
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This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.