10 Industry Leaders Offer Their Best Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
“I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.”
Oscar Wilde, the flamboyant Irishman who wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, once dispensed a word of advice about taking and giving advice—or rather, he did as one of his characters in An Ideal Husband.
Granted, it’s a line from a comedy play, but there’s truth in the value of sharing good advice. For aspiring entrepreneurs, we’ve compiled the top tips from folks who’ve been there, done that, fell for the allure of entrepreneurship, and seen all the ugliest sides. Basically, everything you don’t learn in school.
They cover specific skills such as pitching to investors, learning to rely on their team and having a clear vision. Take a page from their book and gain insight into what it takes to run a successful business.
“Invest time in sourcing for the right co-founders. Keep it to no more than one or two people. A lean and efficient core team works better than a large group of similarly skilled peers. It is important that these individuals perfectly complement your skill sets and share your vision. It is also imperative that you get along on a fundamental level as you’ll be spending countless days/months/years together.”
“They’ve got to have a vision and the passion to pursue that vision. It’s easy to say, but very hard to do. Most people’s vision is to simply make a lot of money, but that’s not a vision. Most entrepreneurs I think are trying to fix something.”
“It’s important to celebrate the small wins. I find that young people tend to be very impatient. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own business, and immediately expect to have a big win. But by and large, big wins are hard to come by. Small wins are easier to achieve, so gather the small wins and use them as fuel for your entrepreneurship journey. That’s how I’ve survived for the past 10 years.”
“One of the things a lot of early entrepreneurs do is they may have a lot of passion, and a lot of things they want to do, but they don’t put all their pieces together to build a business. People can be too concerned about the sexiness of their start-ups that they forget the fundamentals of why and what they are doing. There’s a difference between starting a start-up and running a business. Having said that, look, I’m learning every day too and I’m not perfect. Hopefully, the mistakes I make, help me become a wiser and savvier person.”
“The challenges are never-ending. Entrepreneurs suffer from decision fatigue. Sometimes, I just want to wake up and have a boss tell me what to do: This is all you need to do today, and it’ll be a good day! When you run your own business, you don’t stop thinking about all aspects of it. Your brain is always at work. Simply switching off is something I cannot do, yet.”
“When first-time founders pitch to investors, they often forget that they need to pitch differently to different kinds of people. They might be very used to pitching for business plan competitions or their friends, but they are very different from pitching to investors, because investors actually want to make money. There’s always this debate between Asian investors versus Silicon Valley investors. People say Twitter could never have been started in Singapore, because nobody would have given them the money as it didn’t have a revenue plan. But I’m quite sure when they pitched the idea, they mentioned revenue plans at some point, even if they said it wasn’t important then. It’s important when you pitch, to at least explain how you’re ultimately going to dominate the market, and after that, be able to charge some party for it.”
“It is never easy. Yes, it can be very straining on relationships because starting a company consumes you completely. It’s much more than a full-time job. Being involved in a start-up is like having a baby. You have to work on it constantly—24/7. You don’t take a break. My ex-girlfriends always told me they felt my company was my wife, and they were my mistresses.”
“Singapore isn’t cheap. You have to launch fast, listen to users, pivot a couple of times, and keep developing a better product all on Singapore’s cost of living. This means a Malaysian or Vietnamese start-up can kick your ass. If you spend too much money, you will probably die, because you will have to raise even more money. Each time you raise money, you need to justify a higher valuation, if not your equity will be gone. To justify this higher valuation, you need to be in bigger markets such as Indonesia, but if you’re not ready, you cannot raise.”
“People say that if you want 20 years of experience in five years, do a start-up. At the start, there’s the euphoria, and then comes the question—how long are you going to do it for? Will you go anywhere? As you grow the team, will there be culture dilution? The one thing I learnt the most is building and leading a team. Without the team, the company would not exist. Behind the product, it’s a person, a family, a life. At the start when you are small, the company does not need a CEO. You just need a team super-focused on the mission, launching great products, and knowing where to go. As the company grows bigger, then there is a need.”
“It’s important to love what you do. There are days I really don’t think I could have gotten through without the love for what I do. You also need to be quite hard-nosed. There must be a balance between passion and objectivity about your career path. My journey might not work for somebody else. It’s just the path my life took. There’s no right or wrong answer. But I believe balance is very important in life in general. You need to be even-keeled.”