Lost and Founded Series - Darius Cheung

Learn how Darius Cheung, founder of 99.co retired at the age of 25 due to the 'stone soup' story!


A retiree at the age of 25 …

That's Darius Cheung. But the two-time Founder isn't resting on his laurels; in fact, he's doing quite the opposite of that. Afterall, Darius's definition of retirement is having the freedom to do whatever he wants everyday – and in this instance, "retirement" began for him 8 years ago when he started TenCube. It subsequently got acquired by McAfee, and most recently, Darius founded property search and rental portal, 99.co, described to be the Airbnb for long-term property rental. Darius is DBS BusinessClass' resident advisor on tech start-ups and as we learned from this interview, possibly the American musical comedy-drama TV series, Glee:

You founded TenCube and became a millionaire after selling it to McAfee. Why start 99.co?

You know the story of stone soup? It's a parable very close to what a startup is like.

Some travellers go to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travellers. Then they go to a stream and fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travellers answer that they are making "stone soup", which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavour, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with a few carrots to help them out, so that gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travellers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.

I am the stone - pretty useless by myself, but fortunate to be able to convince / con great talents together to build something good

Please share with us the best moment in your startup life. 

That would be the day we broke even at tenCube, my last startup. In reality, we didn't do a single thing, it was business as usual all the way - I doubt the guys in our company even knew we broke even that month. It was good to keep it that way because we were having a good run and I saw no reason to disrupt it.

What's the most eccentric thing about you?

I'm a socialist.

In your startup career, were there any secrets that you hid from your co-founders or partner?

I watched Glee, the whole first season. I was under duress, I swear.

How about the lowest moments in your startup career? Have you ever cried?

I've never cried, but there were a few dark moments, very dark ones. Frankly, the details are not something I am willing to share publicly, and I doubt you will find many entrepreneurs who would be willing to truly share with you their darkest moments publicly. But that fact may be in itself cautionary to those who intend to choose this path.

Are you retired?  What are you up to today?  What gets you up in the morning?

I am totally retired. I retired 8 years ago at 25 when I started my first company, I just didn't know that yet. Retirement is defined as having the freedom to do whatever you want everyday - I started doing that 8 years ago.

Today I am figuring out how to create a better ecosystem that is sustainable and healthy for the real estate industry in Singapore - I'd say that's pretty interesting work

How do you keep yourself physically and mentally fit for start-up life?

Conversely, startup-life is what keeps me mentally fit. I can't think of a more fulfilling career that allows me to develop and flex my emotional and intellectual brain muscle the way a startup does.

Keeping physically fit is something I am working on - it's important and it's perhaps something I neglected in the last startup; I am getting better this time. I recommend a low-carb diet for a start.

Offer a life hack (or two) to a young founder

Don't sweat the small things - pay for services as if you are a $10M company, especially if it saves you time or speeds you up. The service will either help you get there and then all the stuff you paid for wouldn't matter, or you will die trying so the stuff you paid for still wouldn't matter. Everyday, remember you will die someday soon.

What is a song that best describes you?

I can't think of anything that sticks permanently, but I've been feeling like Nas' One Mic these couple of weeks.

Your favourite quote?

"This too shall pass".

Who and what inspires you?

At this moment, cliché but the real answer would be Elon Musk - that guy is the real deal.

Tell us about Darius Cheung in 2030.

I have no freaking idea, but that's the fun of it. I will be very depressed if I knew the answer to this one.

Name 1-3 startup founders in Singapore you'll like to hear answer these questions.

Peng T. Ong of Match.com, Interwoven and Encentuate

Alexis Horowitz-Burdick of Luxola

Roshni Mahtani of Tickled Media

Subscribe to DBS BusinessClass

Stay updated with the latest market trends and industry insights, connect with a network of entrepreneurs, and gain access to exclusive event invitations. Join Asia's fastest growing business community – get your complimentary membership here.


dbs businessclass