Sim Wong Hoo may the last to be featured in the IT Pioneer Entrepreneur series, but he was the first local to make it on the international scene. He's living proof that Singapore is not caught wanting in real talent.
For Creative's anniversary celebrations, he once placed a series of consecutive ads in the Straits Times, which traced the untold story of his success. As a polytechnic diploma holder, Sim could not get funding from EDB, who probably wouldn't tell him the time of day because of pedigree bias. This paper snobbery would get worse when Philip Yeo, then chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), would later say, "with a degree, you can only wash test tubes". So he packed his bags and headed for the US of A, where he was recognised for his own merit.
His soundcard was not unique. Ad-lib was already around, Turtle Beach had technical advantages and a higher price tag, and even Disney had its own Sound Source. Sim's stroke of genius was to give away 200 "samples" to developers who wrote software around his product specifications. As PC Magazine punned it, Soundblaster quietly dominated the sound market. The rest is history.
Creative's engineering strength is not just hype. Apple paid US$100 million in settlement for infringing their mp3 patents. But while Apple had flamboyant Steve Jobs to complement techie Steve Wozniak, the man who solely assembled the circuit board and OS for the Apple I computer, Sim had no marketing guru. Just as Sony's Betamax lost out to VHS, razzmatazz and snake oil do triumph over technical superiority.
Creative's declining fortunes can be attributed to product maturity too, expiry dates do matter in a fast changing world. Until they come up with the next big thing, regaling stories of the glorious past does zilch for the bottom line. Same principle applies to them aging politicians too.