By SGN | 7 Dec 2021
Entrepreneurship was a calling Daniel could not ignore.
After graduating from the National University of Singapore, he worked as an engineer in the semiconductor industry but left six months later to co-found his first company, a distributor of camera and GPS accessories.
“I wanted to have more control of my path,” he explains. “Being an entrepreneur means that I’m the creator of my own destiny.”
Gradually, Daniel began to dream bigger. He yearned to create his own brand of products, and saw that greater opportunities lay in the massive US market. After three years, in 2005, he sold his shares and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to strike out on his own.
Sanho Electronics, a factory in China he had been working with, agreed to sponsor his visa to work in America. In exchange, he set up a subsidiary, Sanho Corporation – a name he retained even after taking over full ownership years later.
Starting from Scratch in Silicon Valley
The early days in Fremont, California were disorienting. While bunking at his cousin’s place, he negotiated culture shock and challenges that ranged from mundane to complex: Where do I get groceries? Which bank should I choose? How do I navigate state and federal regulations for my business?
His few Singaporean friends in the area were mostly accountants and had no entrepreneurial advice to dispense. At the time, YouTube, Yelp and social media were in their infancy, and it wasn’t so easy to Google the answer to every question. Desperate, he trotted to the bookstore and bought a copy of Starting a Business for Dummies.
Because Daniel’s wife was pregnant and couldn’t yet help out at the company, he managed everything alone – setting up the website, managing inventory out of a small garage, handling sales and shipping, and making sure to grow the business in order to satisfy his visa requirements.
Crisis Is the Mother of Invention
Initially, Sanho’s key product was a range of portable backup drives for digital cameras. As Daniel had expected, the American photography market offered better returns, and business was brisk.
In September 2008, he successfully launched a new product at Photokina – the world’s largest photography trade show, held in Cologne, Germany – receiving lots of interest and orders from camera distributors.
Straight after the event, he went on holiday in Santorini, where he woke up to find that the stock market had crashed and his investments halved in value. The global financial crisis had struck.
Overnight, the orders from Photokina evaporated and his clients swiftly went out of business. The money he had spent on the trade show went down the drain. Daniel knew the business had to pivot, and fast.
Back then, Apple products were on the rise and achieving record sales despite the recession. At the same time, Daniel recalls his frustration at not being able to work throughout the long-haul flight to Cologne, due to his MacBook’s short battery life. “That’s when I came up with the idea of making an external battery pack for the MacBook,” he says.
He worked with a factory in China to customise and produce a model to his specifications. The result was HyperMac (later renamed HyperJuice), which marked Sanho’s drastic shift from camera accessories to Apple accessories.
The product gained instant popularity, and the timing was impeccable, since it was launched in the same year that Apple made MacBook batteries non-removable. “Instead of suffering during the economic crisis, we actually brought the company to even greater heights,” Daniel says.
I Make Products I Would Buy
In late 2016, Apple introduced another controversial modification to the MacBook, stripping away all of its ports and leaving just one or two pairs of Thunderbolt 3 (aka USB-C) interfaces. Users, including Daniel, found themselves having trouble connecting their existing devices and peripherals.
The problem inspired Sanho’s next star product: the HyperDrive DUO, a form-fitting USB hub that plugs into a pair of Thunderbolt ports and allows HDMI, USB-A and memory card connections.
For this project, Daniel turned to crowdfunding, which he uses to gauge market interest and recover development costs for more novel products. In this instance, a Kickstarter campaign far exceeded the team’s expectations, raising a total of US$3.1 million.
Picked up by Best Buy and sold at over 900 stores across North America, the product garnered rave reviews and propelled Sanho to new heights. Five years on, the HyperDrive DUO remains the company’s flagship product.
“I only design and sell products that I would personally use and buy,” says the self-professed geek and techie. “Our products are successful because I am close to the market, so I’m usually pretty spot on when I identify a need.”
Looking back on Sanho’s 16-year journey, Daniel is proudest of the company’s longevity in the competitive industry of consumer electronics. “My team has been able to constantly innovate, stay ahead of the curve, and come up with cutting-edge products, year after year,” he says.
Expanding on a Bigger Scale
By the time it was acquired by Targus in May of this year, Hyper by Sanho Corporation had grown into a US$30 million business.
Daniel says Hyper and Targus are complementary brands: Hyper is Apple- and Chromebook-centric, while Targus is strong in PC and Android accessories.
An example of this synergy is their recent collaboration on a backpack that was named a CES 2022 Innovation Awards Honoree. Made from recycled plastic bottles, the product contains a tracker – similar to Apple’s AirTag – that allows the backpack and the user’s iPhone to locate each other.
Although he has taken up the position of Technology SVP at Targus, Daniel does not consider his entrepreneurial days to be behind him. “Being an entrepreneur is not just about starting your own business. It’s also about being innovative, market-savvy and forward-thinking,” he says.
It is this entrepreneurial spirit, along with his knack for identifying the next big product, that he brings to his role at Targus. “In a way, I’m still doing what I used to do at Hyper, but on a bigger scale,” he says. “I now have more resources, a larger team, and a wider market to tackle.”
Staying Connected to Singapore
Since the Anaheim-headquartered Targus adopts a work-from-anywhere model, Daniel continues to be based in Fremont, where he lives with his wife and two children, aged 15 and 12.
“When I first got here, it was really tough and I didn’t know anybody,” he says. “Now it’s much easier to join groups like SingaporeConnect and the Singapore Global Network.”
These days, he is more engaged with the Singaporean community in the Bay area. He sponsors prizes and giveaways at events, and has advised businesses ranging from a Singaporean cafe to the startup Zopim, which has since been acquired by Zendesk.
In pre-COVID days, his family would make annual trips to Singapore in the summer holidays, during which he could satisfy his cravings for Singaporean food.
“I still miss my black carrot cake in Singapore,” he shares, “but I’m fortunate that we now have a lot of talented chefs here in the Bay Area who are able to cook these dishes that remind me of home.”