In my vocabulary, there is no “give up”. Whenever I am confronted with a problem, I tend to get very excited. My first thought is to say that I can solve this problem. I don’t care what the problem is, if I am an insider or a layman. So whenever I have a problem, there is neither negativity nor fear; I feel a sense of excitement.
Sim Wong Hoo
On 1 July 1981, with a capital of only 6000 USD, the Singapore engineer Sim Wong Hoo, together with his childhood friend and polytechnic schoolmate Ng Kai Wa, opened a computer repair shop in Pearl’s Centre, in Chinatown, and founded Creative Technology.
Creative started by developing and selling an add-on memory board for the Apple II computer but subsequently began creating customized PCs adapted for the Chinese language, including enhanced audio capabilities that allowed the devices to produce speech and melodies. Sim envisioned building a personal computer that could talk, sing, and play music, besides crunching numbers, and this came about from his days as a member of the Ngee Ann Harmonica Troupe. In 1988, Creative established an office in the United States and began selling Sound Blaster, a stand-alone sound card. It was among the first dedicated audio processing cards widely available to general consumers.
The enormous success of Sound Blaster helped grow Creative’s revenue from US$5.4 million in 1989 to US$658 million in 1994. By 2000, at the age of 45, Sim became Singapore’s youngest billionaire. Creative Technology dominated the PC audio market until the 2000s when OEM PCs began to be built with integrated sound boards in the motherboard.
Creative had also gone to war with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs over their companies’ portable music players (Creative launched its Nomad MP3 player in 1999, two years before Apple unveiled the iPod). They sued the iPod maker in 2006 for patent infringements and walked away with a US$100 million settlement.
Biography of Sim Wong Hoo
Sim Wong Hoo was born on 28 April 1955 in a kampung (village), called End of Coconut Hill in Bukit Panjang, Western Singapore. He was the 10th child in a Zhao’an Hokkien family of 12 (five boys and seven girls). His father, Sim Chye Thiam, worked as a laborer in a factory and later as a provision shop attendant. To supplement the household income, Sim’s mother, Tan Siok Kee (1909-2006), reared chickens, ducks, pigs, and rabbits, grew fruits and herbs, and sold eggs from door to door. Sim’s father passed away in 1969 when Sim was 13, leaving Tan to raise the family. From a young age, in addition to doing chores at home and on the farm, Sim would also sell eggs at the market before school. Unable to afford toys, Sim enjoyed creating his own games and playing the harmonica, a hobby that he picked up at age 11 and regarded as his first love.
Sim attended Bukit Panjang Government High School, before graduating in 1975 from Ngee Ann Technical College, where he read electrical and electronic engineering. In college, Sim joined the harmonica troupe and found his creative outlet arranging musical scores. To provide accompaniment for their performances, Sim joined the Practice Theatre School run by playwright Kuo Pao Kun and learned to play the accordion. After graduation, Sim served his mandatory National Service for two years, then worked in the private engineering sector for a year, and opened a tuition center offering computer classes, before establishing his own company, the remarkable Creative Technology in the summer of 1981. Creative’s Sound Blaster card, launched in 1989, was a game changer in allowing PCs to generate quality sound. It had sold 400 million units as of 2019. The company still exists today, although on a smaller scale.
One of Sim’s most significant achievements was coining and popularising the term “No U-Turn Syndrome” (NUTS) in his 1999 book, “Chaotic Thoughts from the Old Millennium”. NUTS is a term used to describe the social behavior of Singaporeans, who have the propensity to ask authorities for permission before proceeding with any actions. Sim used the analogy of the traffic rules of Singapore, where drivers are not allowed to make a U-turn, unless a sign explicitly states so, to describe this behavior. He compared it to other countries where drivers may make U-turns freely, as long as there is no “no U-turn” sign, and used this analogy to explain the red tape that he encountered when dealing with bureaucrats—a phenomenon that he felt stifled the creativity of Singaporeans, which the government has been trying to promote. NUTS is also a criticism of the strict education system in Singapore, where students are taught from a young age to obey instructions without questioning decisions.
Sim advised budding entrepreneurs not to get married—”Once you have family and commitment, you cannot afford to take risks. I can take risks because I have no family. In the early days, I survived on S$200 a month…” He said entrepreneurs need to take risks, or “nothing happens”—”You need to face the consequences of your mistakes and learn from your mistakes. If you do not make mistakes, you won’t learn anything and you won’t grow up.” Sim himself never married, although some sources claimed, that he had a relationship with one Karen Ngui, and had a daughter.
Interestingly, Sim started running late in his life, in 2007, had completed more than 50 marathons, including at least a dozen ultramarathons, and had credited running for clearing his mind and sparking new ideas, while trimming his weight. Although in his late 60s, he appeared to be in good health, but suddenly, passed away on 4 January 2023, aged 67. An active donor, Sim contributed almost S$50 million to charity during his lifetime.