Entrepreneur and Founder of Elliot & Co, a PR agency serving startups and SMEs in Singapore, opens up about overcoming depression and personal loss.
“A lot of people have asked why I named my agency Elliot & Co. Elliot is actually my son’s name. My son passed away four years ago. I wasn’t ready to talk about it then, but now, a part of me is willing to and I’m slowly opening up.
Before I started Elliot & Co, I was a PR executive in another agency. In 2013, when Grab was just starting out, I was fortunate enough to serve as their PR guy in Singapore as part of the agency I worked for. When they launched in Singapore, I saw a lot of their early stories out on all major local media publications.
Back then, you rarely heard of startups in Singapore. To see Grab grow from a startup to the corporate giant they are today, it’s quite eye-opening. It made me realise that startups can really change the world if you have the right idea.
That’s why I left and started my own PR agency. I wanted to serve startups and SMEs because I feel like they don’t get the marketing and communications support that they need. Unlike big MNCs with big budgets, they get left behind. I wanted to help the underdogs.
But there were many challenges, especially in the first year. Firstly, I had to educate the market. Many startups didn’t feel the need to hire a PR guy to do communications. Public relations or PR was practically unheard of in 2016.
I also used up all $60,000 of my life’s savings. We had to live off my wife’s salary when she was still working full-time at another job. I recall wanting to buy a bowl of Mee Pok that cost $3.50 but she said, “Let’s order the small one. It’s $2.50.” $1 made all the difference.
Fortunately, things started to pick up in 2017. The market finally began to understand why PR was important. We were growing, hiring people and securing an office. My wife and I were also expecting a baby, which was a big deal because we had been trying for five years.
But on the last day of 2017, when we were supposed to be heading out for dinner to celebrate our triumphs for the year, my wife said she was experiencing stomach pains. We didn’t think it was anything to be worried about; but, we still went to the hospital for a check.
That was when we found out that our baby had no heartbeat. In a mad frenzy, we went to another hospital on New Year’s Eve to get a different answer from a different doctor, but we knew in our hearts that it was true – our baby had died.
To this very day, we still don’t know why he died. There was no clear report on it. It was very shocking to all of us. I felt the greatest amount of guilt because I felt responsible for his death. I felt like I had sacrificed my son for my business.
If you remember what I shared earlier, we ate the cheapest food to save money, and that meant my wife was very low on nutrition. I felt like I didn’t take care of her body well enough, and that led to what happened.
I underwent depression, even though I wasn’t aware of it then. I had to be strong for my wife because she was physically and emotionally spent from having to go through stillbirth. I still had to manage my son’s cremation and funeral procession after so I couldn’t break.
But six months later, when my wife was getting better, I would break down easily. I would get triggered by baby things and start crying for no rhyme or reason. That’s when I knew something was wrong with me.
My first instinct was to shut down the business because of the guilt I felt. I was never the business type anyways. I just jumped at a business opportunity that presented itself and was surprised that it grew.
But even while I was feeling guilt, I knew that if I had shut down the business, there would be nothing left except to look back in regret. I would forever link the business to the death of my son. That cannot be the case. That cannot be the way I remember my son.
I decided to flip this tragedy on its head and move forward courageously, one small step at a time. I knew that I would still feel the pain, but at least the pain would be channelled into something that can help others – the underdogs who get left behind in the game.
The agency was originally called Prospr Communications, but I renamed it Elliot & Co after a suggestion from a friend. The more I thought about it, the more I realised there are parallels between a failed startup and losing a child.
There are stats that say many startups die before they turn five-years-old. Imagine the pain of losing your business when you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into it. It’s so tough for so many entrepreneurs out there.
So that’s our tagline now – breathing life in untold stories. I feel like a lot of our clients are people who’ve never done PR before, like my son who never got to tell his story. We are the first to tell their untold stories to the world.
I think everyone responds differently to dark times. It’s important to have that sense of realism that it’s just the way the world is sometimes, but don’t wallow in self-pity for too long. Otherwise you’ll be bitter about life and get into a default state of negativity.
So get yourself back up. Because once you stop trying, everything stops. Even though I wasn’t functioning at 100%, I refused to shut down completely. Have a good support system around you and put yourself in a position to keep going. You may slow down, but don’t stop.” – Jeremy
Interview by: Arman Shah