Being afraid to lose. Thick skin. The patience to queue for hours. While these traits form part of the (stereotypical) Singaporean’s DNA, such qualities might not make for a successful entrepreneur.
Instead, what traits would be required? The best way to find out is naturally to ask people who are successful entrepreneurs themselves. That’s what Dr. Lillian Koh, CEO of fintech education provider FinTech Academy, did in a “The Art and Science of Entrepreneurship” panel discussion at the Young NTUC’s recent inaugural LIT DISCOvery conference, which involved veteran entrepreneurs such as:
- Christopher Yeo, CEO of artificial intelligence platform Sentient.io,
- Rachel Lim, co-founder of fashion e-commerce store Love, Bonito, and
- Entrepreneur and investor Teo Ser Luck
Drawing from their wealth of experience, they shared their thoughts on five traits that Singapore’s entrepreneurs need to develop to excel in their business ventures.
Self-awareness refers to being aware of who you are as a person, such as your interests, qualities, and shortcomings. With entrepreneurship being all the rage these days, being self-aware can help you decide whether this is what you really want for yourself before you take the plunge.
For example: are you keen on pursuing a particular business venture because you have passion for it, and believe it can – as Lim puts it – “make a dent in the universe”? Or was that business idea the first one that came to mind, and you’re charging in blindly because you see entrepreneurship as your ticket to fame and stardom?
When you start building your business, you’ll likely also have to build a team that can complement your strengths and weaknesses – assuming you know what these are in the first place.
“If there’s one thing I wish I had known earlier, it’s that I had known myself inside out,” shares Lim. “It’s only in knowing yourself and your values, what makes you tick, your motivations, what are the areas of the business that you can and want to focus on, that allows you to have that knowledge to bring the right people to come and team up with you. And the right people at the right time is everything.”
Let’s say you’ve exercised your self-awareness muscle, and decided that entrepreneurship is the right path for you. You’ve also decided that your business will be one selling your favourite snack: salted egg yolk fish skin.
However, imagine that we live in an alternate universe where absolutely no one will eat nor buy salted egg yolk fish skin. Do you go ahead with this business, even though you love salted egg yolk fish skin to bits?
Probably not. Remember, you’re running a business here. If you don’t have a product or service that enough people will pay for, you may face difficulties covering your expenses, let alone make any profits.
You can’t afford to be too romantic about your business. The longer you let a failing business drag on, the more money and time it’ll cost you, Teo says.
“If nobody’s paying for your services, or the products you’re trying to develop fail, or you can’t raise money, maybe you should review your business model, your products and services, and take a hard look,” he advised.
“Cut your losses [if you need to] and do it quick, then review if you can make a comeback.”
To complement your workable business model, you need to be able to make sales. Your revenue certainly is going to materialize out of nowhere.
Based on his experience in the fintech industry, Yeo opined that the “biggest blind spot for entrepreneurs who are geeks and techies is actually in sales […] many of them are so deep into their tech that they think customers will just bash down their door to say ‘Let me buy, let me buy’.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Having the world’s best product or service isn’t going to do your business any good if you can’t persuade people to open their wallets for it.
Yeo said that even if you don’t do the selling yourself, you’ll likely need to manage the sales team you’ve hired to close the sales. Naturally, you can’t do this well if you don’t have some prior sales knowledge or experience, so be prepared to brush up on your sales skills.
Congratulations! After a long search, you’ve managed to hire the right individuals who identify with your values and business goals, and have the required skills, to help make your vision a reality.
The next step is to give your team space to actually do their work.
“I like to empower my team members to make decisions without micro-managing them,” shared Yeo. “I think people appreciate that you trust them, and allow them to do their job without you looking over their shoulders all the time.”
Your business is your baby – we get that. It can be terrifying to see your business in the hands of others, because there’s a chance they’ll make a mistake that erases all your hard work. But remember that you hired these talented people because you trusted they could get the job done.
So learn to let go and let your team do what they were hired to do, Yeo advised. More likely than not, their competence and dedication to your cause will exceed your expectations by a mile.
In theory, starting a business is really easy. All you need to do is to engage a corporate secretarial firm to incorporate a company for you, and voilà! You can immediately put the title of Founder on your CV.
But growing and scaling your new business is the tough part. Every day, new problems will present themselves, shares Teo. You’ll need to have the grit to press on through these, even if others may just admit defeat.
Lim is no stranger to adversity. To start her blog shop (which later evolved into Love, Bonito), she dropped out of university and broke her government scholarship bond. And to repay the bond, she had to borrow a five-figure sum from her mother — wiping out her mother’s entire life savings in the process.
Also Read: How to avoid the pitfalls of starting up
“At that time, my dad had also just gone through bankruptcy so it was financially a very tough time for us. That gave me even more impetus to make sure I wouldn’t fail, that my business would do well, because I really didn’t want to waste my mum’s sacrifice,” recounted Lim, to applause from the audience.
You’ve heard from the experts. Now, it’s your turn.
You may be tempted to mug the five traits shared above like how you would for study for an exam back in school. Unfortunately, entrepreneurship is not something that you can memorize your way to success.
Instead, you’ll have to practice these five traits throughout your entrepreneurship journey until they become second nature to you. And if you’re serious about being an entrepreneur, there’s no better time to start than now.
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