by Michael Ng (Singapore)
It is hard to believe that 12 weeks of this module has come and gone. It really seems like yesterday when the team’s first idea on leveraging frequent flyers to avoid alcohol levies was first floated. The Minister for Law even helped that idea along by changing the tax rules to allow an extra bottle of wine to be brought home in lieu of a bottle of liqueur. Also, the amount of work that the team has put in has been nothing short of astounding. In this time, we have:
• Drafted a business plan
• Made multiple pitches for our business concept
• Presented our business concept at an Entrepreneur’s Forum
• Met up with our business mentor
• Produced several versions of our product
• Continued to explore new marketing and sales channels
The best thing about all this work is that, in the midst of doing it, it did not really feel like work, at least for me. It has been one of the most pleasant “work” experiences I have ever had. There is a certain excitement and energy for the project that I usually only experience when participating in a competition. There is a certain drive to make the project work out, to give it my best shot.
It also helps a lot to have a wonderful team to work with. Each team member brings a unique skill-set to the table, and each is willing not only to do his fair share, but to cover for other members when they experience difficult times. I am very grateful to my team for covering for me in week 12 while I was away on competition, even as Si Wei and I bunkered down to write the business plan in Week 9 when the other team members had various mid-terms. To my mind, any success we achieve is a team effort.
I find the learning experience in this course a unique one for several reasons.
First of all, as was highlighted during one of our group discussions, the course is particularly hands-on in requiring students to actually go through the process of starting a business. Talking and reading about starting a business is one thing, but actually going through the steps of starting one is an entirely different learning experience. I have had the opportunity to experience the adrenalin rush when things are going well, and the agony when things go wrong, or the process is held up by external factors, like external programmers going MIA.
Secondly, starting a new business is a unique avenue for creativity, since nothing pushes out-of-the-box ideas quite like limitations and desperation. I remember in one meeting we were discussing how to increase market awareness of laptop theft concerns. Traditionally, a large company would run a advertisement campaign, but we were a few million dollars short of being able to do that. It was really out of nowhere that I suggested a tie-up with a LTB group, since there was a school community interest involved in the message. We all laughed about the idea, since it was really far out. After following up on it, it turned out to be infeasible because of certain course constraints in the LTB programme, but the extent to which we were willing to try something almost absurd has remained with us.
Thirdly, it feels like a summary of everything I have ever learnt in business school, which makes sense, since business school is supposed to prepare me to run a business of some kind. All the different modules on business processes, marketing, finance, and strategy, all sort of came together as a coherent whole as the team drafted the business plan. Almost for the first time, I began to realize why certain concepts were emphasized almost ad nauseum by the instructor 2+ years ago, and how important they really were to a business. I also began to experience how all the different components form part of a coordinated whole. In a way, this module is like the glue that puts the different pieces of the business school puzzle together.
This course has also inspired me , or perhaps re-inspired me, to give further thought to starting a business of my own (that does not involve my own legal practice). When I first started law school, I really thought of my law degree as a backup plan of sorts. In my head, the plan was to go into practice if I couldn’t start a business, or it failed. As the years went by, I put so much effort into my law studies that I began to think it would be a waste if I did not practice law. So the plan shifted to practicing for a while first, then starting a business if I didn’t like practice that much. After all, capital would be a lot easier to raise if I practice for some time. Lawyers get paid pretty well.
As the course went by, I began to reassess my priorities again. In a sense, I was wondering why I had abandoned my “first passion”, so to speak. The course was a time of some self-reflection about what I really wanted in life, and not just what was easy or convenient. I can’t say I’ve reached a definite conclusion about the first few years of my life after graduation, but at least starting a business is definitely on the cards again. I may even start a business and practice all at the same time. After all, if Prof can be a mother and run a business at the same time, being a lawyer and owning a business is almost easy in comparison.