About Time

Former national sprinter Calvin Kang on making the transition from sportsman to entrepreneur, and how he launched his own men’s fashion watch line.

By Yong Shu Chiang      6 July 2018

One Of Singapore’s Fastest Men Has Time On His Mind.

For nearly two-thirds of his life, former national athlete Calvin Kang has strived for fast times over 100m. Now 28, the self-proclaimed “dreamer, athlete and entrepreneur” has finally hung up his spiked shoes and left the athletics track for good. “When I was a kid, I used to dash around a lot and would sometimes break things,” says Calvin. “I used to play catching, and was fast enough to catch everyone in a couple of minutes.” At 10, he started training with the school team. Two years later, he won one of his first competitive events, capturing gold with a 13-second 100m sprint. In 2008, he represented Singapore at the Summer Olympics held in Beijing.

Recently, after his retirement from athletics, he is dealing with time again. The national junior 100m record holder launched his own line of men’s fashion watches under the brand Monsieur. “Every gentleman deserves to have that feeling, of being on the podium,” he says, explaining the distinctive brand colours of gold, silver and bronze.

The watches, which have been sold online late last year following a successful Kickstarter campaign, have thicker cases than usual in men’s fashion watches. Their eye-catching 10mm girth – Calvin says he wanted the watches to look “bold” – is nearly twice that of standard timepieces. An analogue watch face with digital numerals, customisable rubber or leather straps, and thick, reflective hands are just some of the reasons why the watches have been ordered and delivered worldwide, to markets in the United States, Europe and Asia.

It was a whirlwind experience for Calvin, considering the first intention to start a business occurred to him last July. By December, he had raised $21,523, surpassing his $20,000 goal, to make and deliver 500 watches to his investors-cum-customers.

Now, he has plans to expand and launch a second line of watches. It seems like an unlikely overnight success, yet Calvin believes his sporting career primed him for this transition, even if it was not easy to leave it all behind.

Former sprinter Calvin Kang is now a watch entrepreneur and personal trainer, and hopes to also one day publish a book to inspire others to think big.

A Runner’s Life

“I’m lucky because my parents have always been supportive,” says Calvin. This encompasses key decisions such as deciding to join the Singapore Sports School from Victoria School when he was 14, which meant training twice a day and living in the school from Mondays to Fridays; pursuing a degree in sports science at Nanyang Technological University while still competing at a high level; and prolonging his career after the 2015 Southeast Asian Games, even though most of his peers or juniors had retired by then, to continue representing Singapore until 2017.

“I felt that I could still do well and continue to run good timings,” Calvin reflects. “But in 2017, all the runners I was up against were younger and running faster at their age than I did. I knew then that it was time to quit.” Still, Calvin’s achievements are significant. By his own estimation, he has been Singapore’s fastest 100m sprinter in the past three years, with a personal best of 10.47 seconds. His national junior (under-20) record of 10.53 still stands as well, while he has been part of several successful 4x100m relay teams, which have been ranked highly in Asia and was once on the cusp of qualifying for the World Championships.

Transferable Skills

Calvin, who counts industrialist Elon Musk and 100m world record holder Usain Bolt among his personal heroes, believes that his background stands him in good stead. As an athlete, having a drive to excel, being able to understand one’s strengths and weaknesses, and being able to plan to maximise the odds of success were crucial. “For me, it’s having that understanding of yourself and having that drive to do well. I am goal-oriented, I set attainable milestones and, most of the time, I achieve them. This mindset gives me focused energy and a confidence that I can succeed,” he says.

Calvin adds that being able to deal with adversity, and bounce back, is a vital trait. “Most people may not know this, but an athlete goes through many struggles, more downs than ups. “At 15, I suffered my first major injury and was unable to go to the World Championships after having qualified. I was so devastated, I wanted to quit. But I just told myself that I still had the talent and that I could recover and do even better.

“One of my favourite quotes is from basketball legend Michael Jordan, who said: ‘I can accept failure – everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.’” The next year, Calvin ran the 100m in 10.8 seconds – a staggering improvement of half a second over his previous best. Reflecting on his watch venture, he says the most important lessons he learnt was of the things that could go wrong, in terms of quality control, delivery and payments, and to place the customers’ needs first.

“I learnt how to handle problems I didn’t know would exist,” he says. Besides raising funds, Calvin says Kickstarter also helped to validate his watch concept. “It told us there was interest and demand first, then we worked to fulfil that demand.” Referring to the key brand elements on Monsieur watches, he says: “You need to always take care of the details.” It may take a bit more time, but the results can be very gratifying.