Here Comes The Sun
Rob Khoo’s (CS’01) search for a change led him to the renewable energy business.
by Fabian Loo
After leaving the media sector, Rob Khoo set up his own business SolarPVExchange in 2014. The company serves as a platform to link up solar panel installation companies with potential customers. Photo: LU YAWEN
More than a decade into his career in the media business, Rob Khoo was looking for a change in 2014. Together with two other friends, he noticed a rising demand for renewable energy in Singapore, but observed that there was a lack of information for interested consumers.
On the strength of about $500,000, he and his two friends took the plunge and set up SolarPVExchange, a portal that serves as a platform to link up solar panel installation companies with potential customers.
Inspired by other intermediary websites like PropertyGuru, the company aims to be a one-stop convenient portal, catering to the nation’s growing solar energy needs. The company also operates regionally in markets like Australia and Malaysia.
The 40-year-old CEO noted that solar panel installers typically come from “a very traditional setup with a brick-and-mortar store.” “If you want more information, you would have to call all the different companies to compare the prices,” he said.
“An added incentive of the job is that we even get to help people save money and protect the environment at the same time. Everyone benefits – we get to save more and save the Earth as well.”
“But SolarPVExchange is like the middleman for solar panels. It is a platform where we find all the people that want to install solar panels and aggregate them, find the installers in the country and match interested parties together,” Khoo explained.
To date, the company has been involved in notable projects with Jurong Port, which now boasts some 13 football fields worth of solar panels, and the Singapore Airlines Sports Club.
“An added incentive of the job is that we even get to help people save money and protect the environment at the same time. Everyone benefits – we get to save more and save the Earth as well,” Khoo said.
Driven by this concern for the environment, the company launched another initiative, SunVest, last May. SunVest is the first solar crowdsourcing platform in Asia Pacific that introduces building owners to potential solar energy investors.
Business at SolarPVExchange has been brisk. In an interview with TODAY last December, Khoo noted that the company has seen a double-fold increase in enquiries since they started – with an average of three to five corporate queries and five to 10 residential queries each week.
With a growing demand, coupled with the government’s shift towards clean and sustainable energy sources, Khoo is optimistic about the company’s regional expansion plans. The company is also planning to launch an initial public offering.
Looking back, making a career switch from the broadcast industry was not easy. The lack of technical know-how of solar panels and knowledge of the sustainable energy sector, however, did not deter Khoo.
“At a certain point of time, you just got to ask yourself if you want to continue doing what you have been doing for the rest of your life. Or do you want to do something different that people can remember and recognise you for,” he said.
Having previously worked for Mediacorp, Channel [V] and Fox International, where he produced television shows and commercials, Khoo was able to synthesise his media experience into sales strategy for SolarPVExchange.
“At a certain point of time, you just got to ask yourself if you want to continue doing what you have been doing for the rest of your life. Or do you want to do something different that people can remember and recognise you for.”
Earlier in his career, he was trained to manage client expectations and balance it with consumer needs. Khoo observed that clients tend to over-sell their products or service, but consumers are usually not interested in the company’s message.
“They want to know what is in it for them and how the product benefits them,” he explained.
“Being able to distil the gist of what I am trying to sell, and making it relevant to the customers was something I found particularly useful when I entered this new business,” he added.
This consumer-centric approach is evident in their website, where they engaged professionals to create an informative tutorial video on how to start investing in solar energy. Since then, they have received over 2,000 enquiries on their website.
SolarPVExchange also sends out regular newsletters to subscribers and customers to keep them informed of the latest commercial and residential projects, and to engage its community.
But ask this producer-turned-businessman if he had ever imagined starting his own regional company when he was in WKWSCI fifteen years ago, he would laugh you off.
“Back then all I wanted was to just graduate and travel around the world. You can’t really plan so much in life,” Khoo said.
Looking back at his time in school, Khoo has one piece of advice for the current students – “just try.”
“Try everything that you can. You don’t have to know everything in depth. But when you try, you will appreciate how things work in the media industry,” he said. “You can then make the best use of what you learnt in school in whatever you are doing in the future.”