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If you're thinking of starting a business venture - think again
ENTREPRENEURSHIP isn't for everyone - no matter how glamourous or fulfilling it's been portrayed to be - four serial entrepreneurs told The Business Times in a recent interview for World Entrepreneurs' Day, which falls on Monday.
But they qualified that if one has found a valuable problem to solve, enjoys the satisfaction of turning knowledge into a solution, and is prepared for an all-consuming endeavour, one could start a venture.
Darius Cheung, who founded his fourth start-up, real estate listing portal 99.co in 2014, said: "Don't do it. It's not cool or glamorous or fun, as the media may portray it to be - it's blood, sweat and tears. But if you decide to do it despite this advice, good luck and welcome."
Alex Lin, ecosystem development head at SGInnovate, said that the greatest challenge in creating a viable business is finding a "worthwhile" problem to solve; the 54-year-old has tossed away many start-up ideas because his "assumed customers did not feel the pain at all".
Dr Lin, who was former chief of Infocomm Investments (the investment arm of the then-Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore), has launched several tech software ventures, two of which he sold to multinational corporations in the 2000s.
"I've created quite a few ventures. Some succeeded, some were too early and some were solutions looking for problems. The most painful of these ventures were the latter. But once a pain-point or problem has been identified and validated, finding a solution is not difficult."
Jeremy Lim, whose entrepreneurial journey began when he was 19 years old and studying at Singapore Polytechnic - he started a website selling accessories for BlackBerry smartphones - noted that being a founder entails many sacrifices.
"I gave up things like having a social life. I had to juggle maintaining my grades in school and running my businesses. The loneliness was dreadful. And there was the reality of running out of money," said the now-28-year-old, whose latest venture is a co-working space and dive bar named 21Moonstone.
Aseem Thakur agrees that startups are an all-consuming endeavour. The co-founder of GIVE.Asia, a crowdfunding site for charity and medical causes, said: "It's easy to get sucked into making your startup work at the expense of health, family and friends. The greatest challenge has been to learn how to draw boundaries between work and personal life."
But he lives by the motto of nothing ventured, nothing gained. The 31-year-old also believes that it has never been easier than it is today for entrepreneurs, given the access to tools and technologies to create global startups, such as Stripe for accepting global payments, Amazon Web Services for firing up servers and Xero for taking care of accounting needs.
"It's almost irresponsible for creative, passionate and entrepreneurial people to not venture into building products that can make our world a better place."
For Mr Cheung, it was his father who piqued his interest in entrepreneurship. The elder Mr Cheung had in the 1970s founded a printing business, because "printing was an integral aspect of everyday life" then. But when asked if there was anything he would have done differently, he replies that finding a growth market was more important than fulfilling an everyday need.
Mr Cheung said: "My father had observed that one of his customers, a VHS tape manufacturer, had grown his business 50 times faster than him. Since then, this insight of his has influenced me to constantly seek out new growth and tech markets."
The 36-year-old started his first venture at the age of 24, a mobile security firm tenCube, that got acquired by McAfee for reportedly S$25 million. But he was entrepreneurial even as early as in his teenage years - he imported VCDs from Hong Kong and sold them to his schoolmates.
"Being able to identify and plug gaps in the market and spot opportunities for growth has been something I've been doing for a long time," he said.
It is a slightly different story with Dr Lin. Asked what got him interested in entrepreneurship, he said that he has always enjoyed turning his knowledge into something valuable.
"I like to share my knowledge and create useful things. I derive fun from making something people want, and having people appreciate and reward me for the effort."
His advice to aspiring founders? Observe empathetically, develop deep clear thinking, and grasp that not all startups need an exit (either an initial public offering or trade sale) as these can always continue to be run as small and medium enterprises.
Mr Lim, who has started five companies (said to be a feat for someone below the age of 30), has another piece of advice: "Don't go against a roadblock just because it's in the way - find ways to get around it.
"Most importantly, because entrepreneurship can get really tiring, always remember not to stop because you're tired; stop only when you're done."