by Ashley Liew (Singapore)
The story my journey into this course began in 2008. As part of post-Technology and World Change course evaluation, Pamela had mentioned about an entrepreneurship follow-up module. Not knowing what to expect, I indicated my interest anyway. Fast forward to 2010 – I finally enrolled in this course. Truth be told, I had bidded for this primarily because I needed to clear a technology module. I never saw myself as someone with entrepreneurship blood, and had always envisioned the safe and stable career path for the future. I remained open-minded towards the process though – even if I ended up with a failed business, I was sure there would be excellent takeaways. The most important thing was to try.
And try I did – picking up valuable insight, skills, memories, and experience along the way. This would be one ride I would never regret.
On day one, I found some very familiar faces to form a group with – Aquathlon team mates Eric, Xihao, Dennis, and Riccardo. I was also somewhat familiar with the “odd-one-out” Adriel. The six of us went down to work straight away – discussing possible business ideas. Ideas were thrown out. It helped that we got along well with each other since we could share anything, no matter how ridiculous. We presented two ideas that day – one about being a consultant to failing business, the other about setting up shower and storage facilities for cyclists all over Singapore. I personally identified with the second idea. However, the other members realized this infrastructure was not feasible within a short span of time, especially with the shortage of space in the city (not to mention the high costs too). They knew there was a problem in general with transportation in general but the idea needed to be re-evaluated. Two lessons emerged this point:
– Having people you can work (and share rubbish) with is crucial in a start-up business. Disagreements would still occur but if all the members’ values were aligned, the end product has a higher potential to be magical.
– Get real. Yes, I want to change Singapore with cycling storage facilities but that would be a mammoth task for us as students. The cycling culture was not mature enough for us to implement this. This was a wake-up call to be practical, for this is a real business I was undertaking.
Within the first two weeks, something else dawned upon me – the majority of this class seemed like they aspired to be entrepreneurs! I was pleased to know that many were already entrepreneurs in their own right. Juggling school and their businesses must have been tough, but I was encouraged. I had always thought entrepreneurs were a scarcity in Singapore but perhaps I was wrong. Herein lays another takeaway:
– Dare to be different. With the passion, commitment, the know-how, and if the opportunity was there, why not consider being an entrepreneur! By the end of this course, I could proudly say that I attempted being one.
By the third week, our business model had evolved. We had an intense meeting with about what direction we should take. We tentatively settled on an online car-pooling system and called it FiNK – not meant to spell anything but just meant to sound catchy. At this juncture, one team member parted ways with us to form his own company. It was not because we bullied him or anything, but he earnestly had the passion for something else. We respected his decision and admired him – talk about taking the unchartered path! I would not have had the courage to do that on my own.
– Understanding your target market is crucial, so it is important to get feedback and hear from the ground. So often students construct marketing surveys for the sake of fishing answers. However when there is a real business at stake, ask the right questions with the customer in mind. If you do that, the data you receive could potentially alter your business. Marketing is also not just about common sense – you have to understand and adopt the framework of a comprehensive marketing plan.
– Do not lose hope if you encounter a road-block working with external organizations. Our potential partner initially sounded enthusiastic but eventually could not take the time to do anything about it. This was a wasted opportunity because both sides could have benefitted. However, I realized that the real world definitely had difficult people, so it is crucial to move on and scout for other opportunities.
– Putting your first funds to start-up your business is exciting but can be daunting. We were set on making FiNK as operational as possible by the end of the module, so opening a bank account (and putting in the initial deposit) was in order. It was initially painful withdrawing a substantial amount from my personal savings as FiNK investment, but this showed how serious we were about FiNK. For such a serious leap of faith, informing your parents was also in order. They were initially shocked by my entrepreneurial spirit, but were thankfully supportive and even offered me advice.
By the end of the course, FiNK had become mostly operational. The website and most of the major features of our intended online car-pool system were running. We met one day to discuss whether we wanted to carry on FiNK, or just leave it as that. I emphatically agreed. To take ownership in such a new venture was exciting! I bidded for the course initially in the hope of clearing a technology module, but now I was going to be an entrepreneur. It was a blessed story in my eyes, from almost nothing to something. There were many kinks we had to fix before we would roll-out our service. However, to quote Mr Wong Toon King, “seize the moment”. If your passion is there, as well as the opportunity, trust in yourself to maximize what you have and go for it.
If there was only one successful outcome of this course, it would be that it confused my perceptions of a career. Like I mentioned, I always saw myself on the safe career path. Now with the introduction of FiNK, I am not so sure. Call it co-incidental but at the same time we decided to continue FiNK-ing, I received my first individual sponsorship as a triathlete. More questions arose, like whether I should attempt being a professional athlete as a career despite the odds. I can only draw parallels of my life with my takeaways from the course. It is not often I can say that a module has really opened my eyes.
In closing, I would like to thank Pamela for this course, for it changed my life perspectives. I also thank my fellow team members, especially for their dedication to FiNK, and the encouragement they gave me when a family tragedy struck. I look forward to a FiNK-ing good time… and I hope you can be part of it too!