Diving Instructor Braves Sea of Red for Higher Cause

Jacki Ng
Jacki Ng

The Straits Times | Business Section

published date: 20 October 2017
written by: Annabeth Leow

Scuba company Asia Dive Academy is still in the red after more than 10 years in business, but chief executive Jacki Ng is unfazed.

"Our sole purpose can't be driven by profit," he tells The Straits Times.

He concedes that it is an an unconventional approach for a businessman - but then again, the secondary school dropout and former gang member is an unconventional individual to begin with.

Asia Dive Academy, which generates annual revenue of $4 million to $6 million, still looks more like a start-up than a mature small business. And he considers it "a social enterprise, more than a commercial activity".

Still, Mr Ng, 41, hastens to add that this is "not because diving can't make money". "But making money actually comes second for us," he says. "The ability to change someone's perspective, to care for the environment - that's what our main goal is."

Singapore may not seem like a natural harbour for the business, given its lack of suitable dive spots. "It's like starting a diving business in the desert," he jokes.

Click here to read the full article.

From Ex-Gangster To CEO – This ‘Ah Beng’ Is Making Waves With His $4.5M Diving Business

vulcan-post

Vulcan Post

published date: 24 August 2017
written by: Zafirah Salim

“I was always a child who was a bit different. I was neither conventional, nor rule-abiding.”

“I grew up in a dysfunctional family where illegal activities were by no means foreign to my family members,” confessed Jacki Ng.

At the tender age of 13, Jacki joined a local gang and dabbled in all sorts of vices, although no serious crimes were involved. He was mainly tasked to act as a a ‘jaga’ (a look-out) and committed only petty crimes.

He was even expelled from secondary school later on for fighting.

“I don’t think there was a single factor influencing me to stray but imagine meeting a group of friends as a young boy who accepts you for your differences. It is not only attractive, but comforting,” he reasoned.

But when a close friend of his was sentenced to death for a crime one day, that served as a harsh wake-up call for him.

“Seeing that as a grown adult would scare you, let alone when you are just a child,” he recounted.

“The incident made me re-evaluate my life choices and also made me realise that there really isn’t a successful end to this path no matter how hard you try.”

Turning Over A New Leaf

Determined to put his troubled past behind and turn over a new leaf, Jacki taught himself English and earned an NTC3 in Motor Vehicle Mechanics from the Institute of Technical Education.

But because he did not exactly excel in academics nor have an outstanding job resumé, he figured that carving his own career path would make the best choice.

He wanted to start his own business and be his own boss.

Alas, that ambition left him losing a “great deal of money” and he soon sank into depression.

His concerned friends started introducing diving to him as an activity and it ended up becoming a huge help in overcoming his depression.

 

He soon fell in love with the diving life, and started helping out his friends with their diving business called Gill Divers.

“After a while, they wanted to give the business up. It was then that I took over and decided to adopt Gill Divers as my own,” said Jacki.

After five years of running Gill Divers, he met his current business partner (who also ran a successful dive centre) and that’s when they decided to form Asia Dive Academy (ADA) together.

This was back in 2009 – the duo wanted to form an entity that would empower dive organisations and make the entire industry efficient.

“I wanted to work with different dive entities so that we can make our operations more efficient. The company was merely the binding force,” he said.

But the startup life wasn’t exactly a smooth-sailing journey, and they faced many challenges during their early days.

“Some key business challenges I’ve faced is the dynamics of the South Eastern market, the disruptive forces in the tech industry, and the challenge of getting staff to understand the deeper meaning of our work.”

Revolutionising The Dive Industry 

Fast forward to today, Jacki is revolutionising the dive industry in Singapore, as he empowers young people to start their own dive businesses and introduces new technological developments to improve the operation and logistical capabilities of dive companies.

“There are plenty of courses that teach people how to dive. However, education with regards to running a dive operation or dealing with tourism and hospitality in the dive context is duly lacking. Because the skills needed in this industry are so unique, we created a programme four years ago to address these needs,” said Jacki.

“This 8-month programme takes you from a non-diver all the way to an instructor with skills from multiple areas needed to be successful in this industry, and allows people who are passionate about diving to carve a career from it. ADA then provides an influx of ready professionals with relevant skills into the industry, hereby empowering it.”

 

Throughout his time in the diving industry, Jacki also noted that the existing processes were incredibly manual. Not many people were digitalising their business and investing in technology-driven solutions.

He wanted to bridge this digital gap and saw the potential for a software-driven system to help scale businesses.

As such, ADA went on to introduce their own dive management software, which is apparently the first of its kind in the world. It makes use of cloud-based technology to improve the operation and customer experience for dive centres.

The integrated platform allows business owners to manage customers, equipment and payment; and also gives students access to online training at the same time.

So far, transactions done through their online platform has grown by over 80% in the past 8 months.

Encouraged by such positive response, Jacki expressed his hopes to make the software completely open source in the future, so as to improve efficiency for the whole industry.

He also sees the potential of bringing in more new technology into the dive industry.

He intends to make use of the Internet of Things to track the usage of tanks, and to work on improving the sustainability of the industry by tracking and monitoring the number of dives an area can sustainably hold, which helps to reduce the impact diving has on marine life and parks.

 

It’s Never About The Profit

Since inception, Jacki has been bootstrapping the startup, which has since grown into a team of 80 people and raking in a huge profit turnover of $4.5 million.

But Jacki insisted that it’s never about the money.

He simply has a strong passion for the diving community and wants to give back and improve an industry that means so much to him.

ADA has also gone regional in the last year and a half. It has clinched partners from all over the Southeast Asia region, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Papua New Guinea and the Maldives, offering a global approach to professional dive education and training for recreational and technical diving.

Moving forward, Jacki said that ADA is looking to explore deeper into dive resort business opportunities.

When asked to impart some final words of advice for fellow young entrepreneurs, he said that “tenacity will always outweigh luck and risk is just an illusion that you have something to lose.”

True enough. Despite being a school dropout, Jacki has proved that hard work and effort never betrays – it only pays.

Gangster Moves: How This “Bad Boy” from Singapore Became an Entrepreneur

Jacki ADA Inc Article
Jacki ADA Inc Article

INC. Asean

published date: 21 July 2017
written by: Adelle Chua

4 lessons on how this “ah beng” was able to turn his life around

Jacki Ng remembers an incident from when he was 14 years old. He was at a fast-food joint, looking at the menu. The fillet caught his eye, but he pronounced it wrong when he ordered it. The other customers and the staff snickered.

"I was so embarrassed. It was at that moment I became aware of the disconnect between myself and the society I live in," he says.

What a gap it was. He was not even in school at that time, having dropped out a few years before. Ng was a certified “ah beng”—local slang for hooligan or gangster. He became exposed to such a life as early as when he was nine years old and selling newspapers on the streets.

This circle of friends led him to experiment with a dangerous lifestyle—frequenting discos in the afternoon, drinking; doing petty theft; and serving as lookouts for older friends engaged in criminal activities.

"While I was never charged, or jailed, I was questioned during investigations," he says. Worse, he saw his older friends get locked up and meted out harsh penalties—some even the penalty of death—for a life of crime.

The change was never sudden, but more and more Ng felt this was not the life he wanted for himself. And the first thing he did to connect with society was to learn English. "It was not my native language. I wanted to improve my command of English so I can make new friends," he says.

His new friends exposed him to a new world of disc jockeying and motorbikes. These new fields piqued his interest and boosted his confidence; he decided he wanted to go back to school to make something of himself. “I started reading novels, even though I was so slow that by the time I was on page 20 I had forgotten what had happened on page 1.”

And because he found that he could learn a new language if he really tried, he realized he now had the ability to accept more knowledge. He enrolled in a vocational institution, satisfying his natural curiosity about how motor vehicles, and later on, computers, worked.

A gradual, but certain, transition

How was that open mind worked for Ng? He set up a business selling cars and air-conditioning units when he was in his early 20s. Unfortunately, the business failed. And then he worked for a series of companies where he built his skills in information and web technology.

He joined some friends for scuba diving one day and became interested in this sport as well. He became so eager to learn that in 2004, or just two years after his first dive, he became a diving instructor.

Testing the waters

At first blush, it seems odd that the Asia Dive Academy was established in Singapore—a city state with no natural reefs and a high cost of living. No doubt, there were highs and lows, but now under Ng’s stewardship, ADA seems to flourish.

His main contribution was the introduction of technology into what is a highly personally interactive business.

"I noticed that 40 to 50 percent of my time was spent in work. I had to deal with registration, coordination, logistics, booking, replying to emails, and fund transfers among others. I realized that this kind of information-heavy business would be different in a city like Singapore, and also different in a rural area where the resort is located."

He started to develop a software with some friends for streamlining the administrative and customer-service functions of the business. Because of the enhanced tech aspect, “we are able to know the preferences of the customer, assess their risk level, help them plan their trips, and offer discounts and packages for them,” he says.

Asia Dive Academy caters mostly to Singaporeans or Singapore-based expatriates. In the beginning, the diving resorts were in Pulau Tioman, Pulau Dayang, and Pulau Aur in Malaysia. These days, most of the customers—urban professionals who cannot afford to be away from their jobs too long and so can only spend a brief weekend away—prefer Pulau Tioman.

Looking back

Curiously, Ng likes to look back on his beginnings and marvel at how his experiences, good and bad, helped him become the entrepreneur that he is today.

1. Openness to diversity

Different people have different perspectives. "Since we have different backgrounds, we do not see the situation in the same way," Ng says. This is how he is able to put himself in the shoes of others in the process—understanding them more.

2. Worst-case situation mindset

As a child, Ng was used to seeing things going wrong. He became more realistic because of this, and has become more accepting of risks he encounters in the business.

3. Resilience

As a child of 12 or 13, Ng saw one of his closest friends getting the death sentence. Compared to this predicament, bankruptcy in a business pales in comparison. “I have learned, early on, to withstand anything that life throws at me,” he says.

4. Purpose

"Profit is good, but it is not the be-all and end-all of business," Ng says.

According to Ng, to truly be successful, one has to be able to do his part in solving real problems. For example, in ADA, Ng encounters children in resort communities who could have been him when he was younger. “I am able to relate them to my own childhood and I understand why they make such decisions. These children do not have many options so we do our best to engage them and teach them about environmental conservation, marine life, business, and the like.”"

 

Jacki INC ADA Article
Jacki INC ADA Article

Celebrating Dive Professionals: ADA Appreciation Night 2016

Celebrating Dive Professionals: ADA Appreciation Night 2016
Celebrating Dive Professionals: ADA Appreciation Night 2016

Underwater 360

published date:
written by:

Being a dive professional is not always easy. They go through many things that are literally “below the surface” and unseen.

When Asia Dive Academy (ADA) first had the idea that dive professionals should be celebrated and honoured, they started with their partner shops and booked out a small restaurant along Arab Street. There was no formal ceremony or real tokens of appreciation, but ADA realised that a mere certificate and recognition of the passion, blood, sweat and tears dive professionals put in with each and every diver is enough to affirm their sense of purpose.

read the rest of the article: www.uw360.asia/dive-professionals-ada-night/

Diving In A New Direction

Diving in a new direction - The straits Times

The Straits Times
Monday, September 19, 2016

One had a cushy business development job in the tourism industry, while the other was next in line to be promoted to a trainer position in Rolls-Royce Singapore. But Mr. Ryan Phoa, 27, and Mr. Yazid Sharifuddin, 28, decided to leave their stable jobs to make the plunge into the scuba diving industry-with unpaid internship promotions.

Diving in a new direction - The straits Times

Changing Lives Through Diving: The Asia Dive Academy Story

Changing Lives Through Diving: The Asia Dive Academy Story
Changing Lives Through Diving: The Asia Dive Academy Story

Dive Log Australasia

published date: November 2016 Issue - Page 58
www.divelog.net.au

Singapore is known for many things - from being the most expensive city in the world to chewing gum, to achieving the feat of becoming a first world country in 51 years. Unfortunately, being a great dive destination is not one of them. Over the years, Singaporean divers have found refuge in the world-class dive spots abroad which are found in almost every direction they turn. The story of dive operations in Singapore however, is one which is laden with challenges and obstacles.

Largest Dive Organisation In Singapore Joins With SSI

Largest Dive Organization In Singapore Joins with SSI
Largest Dive Organization In Singapore Joins with SSI

Underwater 360

published date:
written by:

Recently expanding regionally with dive centres in Phuket, Kuala Lumpur and two dive centres in Indonesia, the Asia Dive Academy (ADA) has now announced that they will become the official SSI Service Centre for Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. As with many dive operations, ADA started with a few passionate divers who looked to drive and share their love for the ocean through education.

Read the rest of the article: www.uw360.asia/largest-dive-organisation-in-singapore-joins-with-ssi/

The Misfit Finds His Niche

Jacki Ng - ADA Founder / CEO

When he was just 12 years old, Jacki Ng masterminded a bold criminal scheme.

Then a member of a street gang, he cajoled a 17-year-old fellow ruffian to steal a cheque belonging to the latter's uncle.

Ng wrote it out for $20,000, forged the signature and instigated another 17-year-old to cash it.

"I had elaborate plans for the money. I wanted to start a sustainable loan shark venture," says Mr Ng, now 37.

But the teenager who tried to cash the cheque got caught.

"The bank found him suspicious and reported him to the police. He was arrested, and after that, so was I," he adds.

The older boy was sentenced to a year in jail. Ng was let off with a stern warning because he was a minor.

"I was a horrible kid, and that was a horrible thing I did," he says.

The horrible kid is today a legitimate entrepreneur.

Read the rest of the article: http://business.asiaone.com/news/the-misfit-finds-his-niche

AsiaOne - The Misfit find his niche ADA CEO Jacki Ng