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The Sunday Times
6 June 1999
He struck gold on the Amazon
By Rebecca Lim, 6 June 1999.
DAVID LIM is the kind of guy who will strike you as someone quiet and unassuming -- the kind mothers would love to feed home-made laksa to.
He is hardly the model of a young entrepreneur, with big brash dreams and all. Togged in a casual white shirt and cap, he has a genial smile that uncovers a set of braces-clad teeth.
He also looks nothing like his tanned older brother, actor Lim Yu Beng of Triple Nine fame.
But do not be fooled by appearances. He has a success story to tell. It is about turning a "four-digit" figure into a "six-digit" profit. He is coy though about giving exact figures.
But he has been so successful at it that he just left his job as a senior markets officer at the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
It all started back in 1997 with his love for books and the Internet.
Mr Lim was introduced to the online bookstore Amazon.com -- a Seattle-based company which touts itself as "Earth's biggest bookstore" -- by a friend.
"As a book lover and avid reader, I loved the site," he says. "I thought that like me, many, many other people would love the site too."
But while most people would be content to use it just to order their books -- he saw a great business opportunity.
All thanks to a book he read four years ago, when he was studying for his masters in business at the University of New South Wales in Sydney -- One Up Wall Street, written by Peter Lynch.
"It's like the bible of investing," he says of the 1989 book by one of the most successful fund managers in the United States.
"I learnt more about investing from the two hours I spent reading the book than from two years of finance courses in graduate business school." Lynch believes that the amateur actually has an edge over the professional investor, Mr Lim explains.
And the best investment ideas are found in everyday life -- "like walking in a shopping centre", he adds, and not "burying your nose in annual reports or number-crunching".
So, looking at Amazon.com, he saw "great selection, great prices and great customer service". With the number of Internet users growing "geometrically by the millions", he knew that Amazon.com would keep getting bigger.
He decided to follow Lynch's two main investment rules: "Invest in what you understand" and "Invest in companies you like".
Of course, finding something you like does not mean you can jump straight in and plonk your funds down on a whim, he adds.
So he spent some time doing his research on Amazon.com. This is made easy now for the "amateur" investor like himself, he says, with information available free and at the click of a mouse button.
"The Internet is a great equaliser!"
In the past, only professionals had easy access to business information providers such as Bloomberg and Reuters. Research meant trudging from one library shelf to another, and paying a lot for materials to be couriered from the US.
After doing his legwork, he contacted the Singapore branch of US broking firm SalomonSmithBarney and made his first stock buy.
A year later its initial public offering, his hunch about Amazon.com proved accurate. Wall Street began to realise the huge potential of Internet retail. The trading volume and stock price of Amazon.com shot up.
Last month, it hit a high of US$221 (S$345) -- compared to its initial public offer price of US$3. Mr Lim sold most of his stocks while the price was climbing from January to last month. It has since dropped to under US$120.
Since buying Amazon.com, he has also gone on to invest in a dozen other stocks, including a battery company, US toy maker Hasbro, and luxury retailer Tiffany & Co.
And, yes, it was while he was walking around a shopping centre that he picked up the last two companies.
"That was last Christmas, when Furbies hit the market," he explains. The "must have" toy of the season, marketed by Hasbro, is a gremlin-like creature which babbles in its own language.
As for Tiffany, he was walking in Ngee Ann City when he saw that the shop "was so crowded that nobody could get in". He thought that would be a good investment.
From toys and Tiffany's to technology. Next stop for Mr Lim is Silicon Valley. He will be leaving for Palo Alto, California next week.
There, he hopes to learn first-hand about Internet business strategies, start-up companies and venture capital from the experts there. He does not have a job lined up yet.
For starters, he will also be enrolling in a summer course at Stanford University with the money he has made from investments -- he calls it his "Amazon.com scholarship".
"Who knows, I may find another company to invest in," he says. Perhaps, he may even become a technopreneur.
To Mr Lim, whose father, Mr T.Q. Lim, 63, is a judicial commissioner, and mother Mary, 57, a junior-college teacher, the world is a sea of possibilities. And he would like to have a hand in just about any of them.
"I like everything, from Internet to art history. It's difficult to put me in a box."
He adds, almost gleefully: "People find it hard to categorise me."
He says: "I had this idea of telling people that they have an edge as amateurs. There is too much hype out there about qualifications. You don't need an MBA or CFA -- or, Chartered Financial Analyst, a professional investment qualification.
And he admits readily: "I want to evangelise Peter Lynch's ideas. I am evidence of that."