Owl City, a company that specialises in building online presence for small and medium enterprises in Singapore, has a rather interesting location for its office. It’s located not in any of Singapore’s many office buildings and business parks, but is instead sited inside one of Singapore’s technical schools, the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
The reason becomes clear once you meet Miri Yeo, Owl City’s Founder. Tall and elegant with a poise that belies her young age, Yeo was a former nursing student at ITE. After switching careers to sales and then to business, she has been invited to mentor juniors in her alma mater, inspiring them towards success through discrimination and social prejudice.
A little background is needed here. In grades-obsessed Singapore, to enter the ITE is considered by many to be a sign of failure. This is due to the fact that the admission grades for ITE are lower than that required for polytechnics and junior colleges, marking an ITE student as being less able academically than his or her peers.
“I want to let them know that having a degree or diploma isn’t everything,” 25 years old Yeo says, “Even though education is important, as long as you get out there, experience the world, and learn, you too can be successful. I want to share my experiences and inspire them to follow their dreams.”
Indeed, Yeo’s entrepreneurship journey makes for an interesting story. Back when she was 17, she travelled to Korea and sourced for clothes there, starting her own blogshop and fashion label. This she did all through her studies and short nursing career, handling sales and email enquiries during work.
Subsequently, Yeo quit her nursing job at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and moved into the private sector, taking charge of events and marketing in companies such as IT reseller Amnet and cosmetics distributor Plusone Asia. Eventually, she found her way back to the startup world, joining Voucherlicious two years ago, then finally starting Owl City in mid-2013.
According to Yeo, her work and entrepreneurship journey has imparted many valuable lessons, teachings that she makes use of everyday in the running of Owl City. Below she shares some of these learnings…
Take things one step at a time
Yeo recounts that her first business failed due to overzealous expansion. “When I was doing my blogshop, I made the mistake of opening my own retail store,” she says, “The rent was too high, and I had to close the business to cut losses. I learnt that you shouldn’t rush things in business, and should always take things a step at a time, and stop frequently to analyse the situation.”
Befriend and listen to people
Like most business people, Yeo agrees that networking is important. She adds that one should always listen to what others have to say and take note of unfilled needs, as these present opportunities for business. “Back when I was in Voucherlicious, I met many merchants and SME owners,” she recounts. “Many of them had no idea how online, let alone mobile, technology works, but all knew they had to take advantage of tech in order to stay competitive. This was one of the main reasons I set up Owl City; to help them enter and make use of this growing online world,” she adds.
Have an inspiration
Yeo believes that having a motivating person or belief will go a long way in getting through the challenges of entrepreneurship. She shares that her businessman father has been a great inspiration to her, and in fact encouraged her to start her own business. “Dad told me to go out and do something on my own, and not let others tell me what to do,” she says. “That said, my main motivation now is to make enough money so that my dad can retire. Seeing him miss the Japan tsunami by mere minutes during his work trip nearly broke my heart, and I don’t want him to brave these dangers any more,” says Yeo candidly.
Don’t forget to contribute to society
Finally, Yeo emphasises the need to give back to society, which was what drew her into mentoring at her alma mater in the first place. She relates, “A friend introduced me to ITE’s entrepreneurship centre last year. When they heard I was an entrepreneur as well as an ex-student, they were interested. Since September 2013, I have been mentoring and giving talks to my juniors, teaching them to think out of the box, experience life, and not be constrained by labels.”