“Perspective” is a (new) series of posts where we invite guest writers to tell us what they have learnt from the sharing sessions presented by the 2359 Media team. 2359 Media conducts weekly internal sharing sessions that both enable and empower our developers, designers and business development teams alike in expanding both technical and non-technical knowledge through mutual learning. At 2359 Media, we encourage our people to be curious and inquisitive about the world around them and we invite everyone to share what they have learnt from their adventures and forays with new technology and projects. 

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There has been a rise of new businesses emerging in Singapore in recent years, and I believe that the risk-taking attitudes of younger Singaporeans and lower barriers to entry (e.g. government grants, lower start-up costs for virtual businesses) played a part in creating this trend.

Assuming that most start-ups in Singapore are founded online, what start-up owners or entrepreneurs aim to do is to develop a repeatable and scalable model of business operations. With the Internet, business owners’ potential target audiences are now anybody who has an Internet connection, instead of being limited to those with geographical proximity to their brick-and-mortar stores – the “born-global” market entry mode.

Yin How, a project manager at 2359 Media has had the experience of being an entrepreneur, running various start-ups for 3 years in Vietnam before he joined us here. He shared his experience and the lessons that he learnt while running those start-ups and this is what I got from the sharing session with him

Product. Market. Team.

Some believe that products that are good will speak for themselves and naturally attract customers, while other believe that a humble and unappealing product will also have a market as long as it satisfies market demands – think, “Market Always Wins”. Honestly, there are a lot of cafes in Singapore that offer mediocre food, but these places still attract customers, because people are drawn to the relaxing atmosphere that these cafes offer. To me, this is proof that products need not be amazing, as long as they can satisfy the needs and wants of consumers.

Conversely, other start-up owners may prefer to focus on building a strong team that can work well together even if they have absolutely no idea what products they wish to offer, believing that even without having developed the concept of the product offering, a strong team will be able to overcome upcoming challenges with considerably more ease.

I believe that it is a combination of these factors that create a good company – especially a start-up. Having a strong team that both can work together and are motivated to take the company to the next level is almost as important as having a product that consumers need because one without the other, the start-up will fail in the end.

Analysing the Market

Knowing and predicting what the market wants, and then offering a product that is aligned to those needs is the usual approach of most start-up owners. However, there ar ealso those who prefer to “tell” the market what they want or need. Even though tablets existed before the Apple iPad, the proliferation of tablet use only occurred after Apple marketed to consumers that they “need” a tablet (or specifically an iPad). The introduction of the iPad also highlighted the ability of Apple to gauge when the market was ready to accept a new product that most do not know about. All of these skills are difficult, and some believe that it is purely luck or trial and error. No matter which camp you belong to, it is undeniable that the learning of these skills requires much courage and resilience.

Risk-Taking vs. Learning

It is needless to say that there is a lot of opportunity cost and work involved when building a start-up. However, a common trait in start-up owners is that they strongly believe that what they gain exceeds the cost they have to pay by a large margin. Often, the gain does not translate to profits made, but life lessons learnt.

There are different approaches to building a start-up. Of course, there can be the approach where one throws caution to the wind, but there is also the other approach of taking calculated risks by making logical, weighted choices. Clichéd as it might be, the common factor among entrepreneurs is that they have passion for their dreams. Being an entrepreneur is never easy. There are many costs involved. Most of my friends and acquaintances who are start-up owners around me are always sacrificing many things (willingly, of course), such as sleep, studies and social life. One of them even believes that if start-up owners are not busy all the time, it means that they are lazy – they are not exploiting the potential of their businesses.

It is not true that start-up owners have to sacrifice everything they own. Even though there exists the sentiment that one’s youth is the best period to build a start-up because people are more likely to accept the mistakes made and that there is much less for a younger person to lose; it does not mean that older start-up owners are disadvantaged because they lose so much more.

Recently, I have seen this article floating about my Facebook feed. I have no idea how the author and the people around him had such fancy ideas about start-ups, isn’t it obvious that it’ll be hard work? That aside, this article does highlight the common sacrifices that start-up owners have to make, at the same time also presenting the gains that he got. I believe it is safe to say that it will definitely be tough at the start, but once the flow gets going and the business model is proven to work, then it will be much easier. Having said that, I have to admit that, in my opinion, this seems to be the case for many other forms of self-employment, especially those which are sales-driven (e.g. financial planners).

Unfortunately, even when start-ups are successful and prove to be profitable, it does not mean that these business will continue to operate in the future. Take, for example, my friend who started up a business with two other business partners. During the peak period, they managed to earn five-figure revenue in three months. However, the venture closed down soon after, due to differences among themselves. Sometimes, challenges posed may not be from the external environment, but from within.

What I have noticed is that this start-up trend sweeping across Singapore is rarely solely profit-motivated. Rather, most people who take this risk treat it as a learning opportunity, gaining skills and knowledge that they believe that textbooks will be unable to teach them.