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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Start Up Journey - First 6 years summary.

Reading what i wrote back then about 7 years ago. Agree with most of it. Except the bit about Mentors. What i learned from networking is that fellow entrepreneurs (whatever the industry) are the best people to learn from. They can give us benchmarks and they can share what they did before and how it worked for them. In terms of specific functional knowledge, the best way is to just hire the right talent who has done it before. You will learn a lot just watching them work. As for bootstrapping, i think still very relevant today even with a much easier funding environment. ===================================================================== (Article below first posted on www.sgentrepreneurs.sg back in June 2006!)

After reading the various experiences of so many others, I thought I would share my own journey and lessons learned as an entrepreneur. Before writing about what I have learned, a quick overview. I graduated from NYPS, CHS, HCJC, OCS and then got a scholarship with a GLC to study EEE in the USA. Graduated with equivalent of 1st class honours and returned to work in the GLC for all of 8 months. I am a typical product of our rather elitist system. Quit and started JobsFactory in 2000. Aim was to be a job portal. By 2001 we knew we were beat and switched plan and focused on our current mission of providing effective career channels for students and professionals.

Over the past 6 years, we have grown from a 2 man show to a 20 man show. From just $20K capital to over 2M turnover. Here are some key lessons I have learned. Some are observations, others are business experiences.

1. Bootstrapping a business is good for you My partners and I started with just $20K as a startup capital. We paid ourselves S$200 a month salary for 6 months and worked out from my room. It was a very painful time. Even when some revenue flowed, our first office was at Golden Mile Complex. Up to today, I am amazed and grateful that our first few employees were willing to work there. What this tough beginning means is that we are extremely cautious with spending and watched our finances like a hawk. We also do not believe in spending unless the product or service has revenues coming in. This idea of bootstrapping to launch new services has helped us conserve our limited resources and ensured that we could survive through the downturn and SARs in 2003.

2) People, People, People For a service firm like mine, our people matter the most. From our staff to my management partners, the most important thing is that they are fulfilled and aligned with company objectives. Ego has little role to play in a startup. This is a common mantra of all businesses but few people actually do something about it. We do. We work 9 to 6pm latest Mon to Fri and we have implemented quarterly company outings. We also created a performance development system with a fixed review and bonus process. In addition, we have just started to institute training budgets for staff. We want our staff to love working here. I am also lucky to have a good team of management partners.

3) Mentors & Benchmarking The first years until 2003, we were blind and could not see how we can grow. But fortunately we had an incident which allowed us to be guided through a proper strategic planning process. I learned to look beyond my company and see what others are doing. This spurred my team to be more strategic in approach. With a vision and mission and objectives, we knew where we wanted to go and nothing was going to stop us. Now, we spend a lot more time benchmarking our performance with industry peers and alot more time planning ahead with proper budgeting and controls. A good source of benchmarking data is to buy them from bizfile. Buy your competitors annual audited accounts and learn from them. Mentors are harder to find. But speak to more experienced people and see if you can listen well and learn a thing or two.

4) Scholars Make Bad Business People This is a generalization. But being a scholar myself, I realize we are too sure in our thinking and too clear headed. Being intellectually correct has little meaning if your market depends on emotional purchases or when there are emotional variables at play. Or on a smaller scale, winning an argument during a management meeting may feel good but offending your key partner in the process over a small matter perhaps is a dumb thing to do. Esp if you are a scholar who has worked to the end of your bond. In the government , you are probably Deputy Director level or perhaps even a member of the admin service. You are in charge of a department and everywhere you go, people pay attention to you. What’s more you deal with smart people and vendors send their best to present to you. Someone like that would have hard a time putting down his pride and starting from scratch. Can be done I guess but tough

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