JC, what inspired you to develop your passion for Magic into a successful career?
Magic started off as a hobby. I started doing magic when I was 12. Essentially self-taught, I learnt what is known to be 'close-up magic' (or now known as 'Street Magic') from books. At 17, I joined the local magic club, International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) Singapore Ring 115. I won several awards as a performer in close-up magic competitions and also won international awards for original magic creations that have been published in international magic journals and magazines, which are distributed to over 70,000 magicians worldwide.
Subsequently, I performed 'close-up' magic professionally (part-time) for hotels and restaurants like Hilton Hotel, Shangri La Hotel, Four Seasons, Tony Romas and Lion City Hotel. After a few short years, I went on to stage shows. I did a one-man show and an illusion (big props) show. When I went to NUS (National University Singapore), I continued to perform paid shows as well as hone my craft. I was doing this professionally and I was getting known in the event industry, amongst event producers, show bookers and event management companies; as a young, reliable professional magician.
During my second year in university, I founded Concept:Magic to manage my career. The same year, I successfully won a project that saw me helm a corporate launch that spanned 30 days. The project was worth about $40,000, so that was a good milestone, in terms of seeing how magic could be used as a viable source of income. That was sort of a validation, a turning point that it could be done. But all along, I always knew that if you do it well, if you approach it smartly and if you work hard, it will work.
From the magic perspective, David Copperfield has been a huge influence, simply for the level he brought the craft to and the high level of mainstream attention that he attracted. Magic has been known as children entertainment but someone like David Copperfield made it to international spectacle. Franz Harary is another American magician, who is not well known by the public, but is one the world’s leading illusion designers for corporate & special events. Besides have a genius illusion mind, he is also a shrewd businessman.
From the business perspective, a lot of my foundation and inspiration, in terms of my marketing strategy, comes from Jack Trout and Al Ries who wrote 'Positioning' as well as hosts of other books such as 'Marketing Warfare', 'Bottom-Up Marketing' and 'Focus'. The main concept was how it is important to position yourself within the industry and cement a position in your consumer's mind of what you represent and what you stand for.
It is the above combination of artistic and business inspiration coupled with some early commercial success that gave me a strong foundation and drive to pursue magic at a high level as a career.
The Government actively encourages our youth to be entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur yourself, what would you say are the pros and cons of being an entrepreneur, and what are the challenges that you have faced and overcome?
I think in any industry, the pros and cons are pretty much the same. Almost all cite having the flexibility of time and control of the business as a pro. The cons include bearing risk, managing the business & people and generating revue while keeping an eye on costs. All business owners of small & medium-sized enterprises will also wear many hats in the running of the business. This can be seen as a pro or con, depending on the individual.
If you intend to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be creative and resilient. You have to work within the restraints of political, social and business climates to make your business work. Too many people give excuses that there are constraints and obstacles to the path of entrepreneurial success in Singapore. Singapore is one of the easiest places to do business albeit it is an expensive place to do business. But there are many things going for it, such as political stability, good infrastructure, resources, geographic location, influent society, foreign investors and government support just to name a few.
An early and prolonged challenge I had was to change the view that magic is just amusement for kids and that it was possible to build a viable business out of it. I believed that magic could be brought to high level in Singapore even though every single professional magician back then told me that the only way to do magic as a profession was to do magic for kids. I disagreed and for the next 10 years produced high end magic content specifically for “non-kids” audiences.
If you intend to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be creative and resilient.
- J C
I now also have a team of magicians who are making a decent good living off magic. The result is also the breaking of multiple glass ceilings in Singapore for what fees magicians can command and how they are perceived by the industry and the public. This has paved the way for many young magicians now who are trying to make a good living out of magic.
One specific challenge that presented itself was in 2004 when SARS hit Singapore. Like many business in the hospitality, entertainment and events industries, I was badly affected as most of my shows in those two – three months were postponed to a later date. It was during this drought that spurred me to pen my first book on original illusions for the international community. This became an additional passive stream of income that has since grown into a profitable part of my business model. I have since written three more books with a fourth due out in Jan 2009, which I will launch at a magic convention in the U.K.
As Singapore’s most famous magician, what are some of your key achievements/illusions that you are proud of?
The last couple of years have been phenomenal and I am proud of the recent high profile milestones that have elevated local magic to a mainstream audience. I was the first & only magician to be featured in the President’s Star Charity show on MediaCorp TV in 2004. This was ‘live’ TV and doing magic live is a great challenge and has a wide range of difficulties. Subsequently, in 2006, I was the first to have a regular street magic series on Channel 8 prime time and then on SPHMBO’s outdoor media network throughout 2007.
Last year saw me successfully attempt South East Asia’s first ever mega illusion when I teleported 50 storeys of the OUB Centre in 5 seconds, in front of 9000 people. This year, I signed a deal to star, along with ‘Magic Babe’ Ning, in “Ultimate Magic”, Singapore’s first permanent illusion show at The Arena in Clarke Quay. This is a daily show, 2 shows a day that will run from 1 Sept 2008 to early 2010. Finally, on 24 Sep 2008, 7.30pm, at The Central’s River Promenade, Ning & I will be attempting what Channel News Asia calls “South East Asia’s biggest magic event” where we will try to teleport 3 spectators across the Singapore River in 2.5 seconds.