THOMAS YIP is living proof that dreams do come true, if you are willing to work hard and grab every opportunity — even if it takes 30 years.
As a 14-year-old, Yip woke up at 5am to catch a bus to the old Tanjung Rambutan bus station in Ipoh from his home in Taman Cempaka.
From there, he would walk 2km to his workplace in Jalan Kampar — a coffee shop where he was a waiter from 7am to 5pm everyday. This was his ritual for seven weeks during the school holidays, and it was all to buy a book.
“I came from a humble family and we struggled financially. My father worked as a carpenter while my mother stayed at home to look after my younger sister and me,” said Yip.
“When I was in Form Two, I wanted to buy a book titled Write Better, Speak Better by Reader’s Digest. It carried a hefty price tag of RM53. My mother told me that we could not afford it.
“When I asked her if I could get a job to earn that sum, she arranged for me to work at a coffee shop. For my entire duration of work, I earned a princely sum of RM50. I still had to scrape up RM3.
“I am 48 years old now and the book is still with me. It is one of my prized possessions.”
After having a taste of earning his own money, the following year, Yip worked as a gardener in an orchid farm.
Every school holiday would see Yip toiling for extra pocket money, whether it was as a door-to-door salesman touting English language improvement tapes or selling windscreen wipers at petrol stations.
“After Form Six, I stuffed cotton pillows and laid carpets for offices. Shortly after that, an opportunity arose for me to work in Singapore as a factory operator and I took it.
After the stint in Singapore, Yip returned to Ipoh and joined a construction company, working his way up from a show house sales personnel to site supervisor.
The pay was not great but Yip said: “It was during this period that my friend and I moonlighted as sub-contractors renovating new houses and installing marble floorings. Surprisingly, the side income regularly exceeded our monthly salary of RM350.”
Yip saved up all the money he earned to last him two years to pursue an education in Singapore. Not only did he manage to obtain a placement at the French Singapore Institute, he was also granted a scholarship of S$300 a month (RM893) for the duration of his studies.
“I remembered working very hard and graduated as the second top student of my batch. Because of that, I was selected to represent 200 students to deliver a graduation speech.
“Thinking back, I was only a mediocre student. My uncle enrolled me into one of the best schools in Ipoh and I was placed in a class full of high achievers.
“During my primary years, I was always at the bottom of the class even though my grades were respectable.
“In secondary school, my results improved but I was still not good enough compared to my classmates. My best achievement was number seven one year and that greatly boosted my confidence.”
When Yip graduated from the French Singapore Institute, he was the only one from his batch to be retained as a research assistant and was offered to pursue a master’s degree equivalent.
As much as he wanted to accept the offer, he declined due to financial constraints.
Yip then joined the workforce in Singapore, taking on 12-hour shift work. Despite the long hours, he and some friends involved themselves in industrial automation projects.
Soon, Yip relocated to Kuala Lumpur to set up an industrial automation company with friends.
One day, his company wanted to bid for a mega project but due to lack of time to prepare, Yip wrote a software, Electra, that sped up the process of preparing the proposal.
Yip’s company failed to secure the project, but he realised he had a solid software on his hands.
It was a silver lining he did not expect. The electrical computer-aided design software allows engineers to design circuits up to five times faster compared to conventional software, mostly by automating tedious tasks, so they can focus on safety and design rather than drafting.
Yip began to market the software under his company, Radica Software, and today, the software is used by thousands of engineers in more than 48 countries.
With its success, Yip finally realised his dream of being an entrepreneur; a dream he has harboured since he was 17.
Knowing first hand the struggles that budding entrepreneurs have to face, Yip is a coach at Cradle Malaysia’s Coach and Grow Programme where he helps early-stage companies grow.
He also gets invited regularly to local startup programmes where he “shares our experiences to encourage local entrepreneurs to dream big”.
“At the same time, our company runs various programmes for staff to encourage personal growth within our team. It is only when they grow that the company continues to scale greater heights.
“Being selected to go to Silicon Valley last year for the e@Stanford programme by MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre) provided us with an opportunity to learn from the best companies in the world and from Stanford University.
“I hope to apply this new knowledge not only on myself but also share with everyone I come in contact with.”
Radica, which is now based in Ipoh, is currently in the final process of releasing a cloud diagramming tool called Vecta, which will allow everyday users to create beautiful diagrams, accurately and just as easily.
Even as Yip continues to create products for global use, this Ipoh boy intends to stay local. He aims to make Radica the best place to work and play in Ipoh while creating an impact at the international level.