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Want To Join A Startup? Here’s Everything You Need To Know.

We speak to two young entrepreneurs on what to expect from working at a start-up and how to figure out if it’s the right career path for you.

Do you have plans to start your own small business or become your own boss or in the next ten years? Congrats. You’re one of the four in ten Singaporeans who have entrepreneurial aspirations.

Start-ups are an increasingly popular option for young people looking for flexibility, autonomy, and the chance to learn everything that comes from building a company from the ground up.

But what is it about start-ups that attracts millennials, and what factors do you need to consider before deciding if this career path is right for you?

We speak with Lydia Lau from Nest8 and Gloria Soh from The New Savvy, two start-ups that are based at DBS Asia X.

Gloria Soh, 23, Web & Design Executive at The New Savvy

Hi, I’m Gloria! I help to enhance existing web pages and develop new applications for The New Savvy, a social enterprise start-up that advocates greater awareness and healthier financial habits to women. I’m currently working on our e-commerce store that will be rolling out very soon. My team and I manage the shop together and handle everything from planning to executing. We are extremely excited for its launch!

Lydia Lau, 23, Chief Evangelist Officer at Nest8

Hey, I’m Lydia and I work at Nest8, a mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to guide Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in making business decisions based on indicators like efficiency, profitability and debt. We also connect SMEs with their peers and professionals, so they can share their experiences and knowledge.  We’re still an early stage company so my day-to-day job revolves around building our business and refining our model – anything from market research to establishing business partnerships and building the team – I basically do anything that helps grow Nest8!

What motivated you to join a start-up?

Lydia: I majored in finance and took up modules on social work in school. It’s unusual to have such a combination of interests but I found meaning in it. I started my work with Nest8 because my final year project team was tasked to solve a business challenge, and we got acquainted with Nest8’s founder Julie Wong.

Gloria: I met with our founder Anna Vanessa Haotanto at a boot camp, and we chatted about my web design experience. I was interested to develop my capabilities and I wanted some form of control in my job. I get to do all of that and learn to do other things beyond my scope as a web developer like budgeting and designing merch for our store.

What do you hope to achieve from joining a start-up?

Lydia: I definitely want to help Nest8 reach out to those who are less advantaged. Everyone in our team believes in contributing to this purpose and giving back to the community.

Gloria: Mainly experience and being able to learn from my boss Anna. She’s a very inspiring woman. It’s nice to see how she thinks and gets things done.

Opportunities to interact closely with the founder are very valuable, and I find that I can have more of these in a start-up environment.

Lydia: I agree. Julie’s a great boss too. She trusts us a lot and even invites us to attend her funding pitches.

What do you love most about your job?

Lydia: I love that there is no standard template to follow. There is no set way of building a start-up or coming up with a product. It’s all about how creative and resourceful you are. I find it more challenging this way.

I also love that I am creating something new. Every day I talk to new people and our product shifts a little. It’s all part of the creation process.

Gloria: The culture. I think the main reason why I enjoy working in a start-up is because of the team. I love working with them, whether it’s brainstorming ideas or basically just doing everything under the sun together. We’re all in it together and you can feel their commitment and love for the company as well.

What do you find most challenging about working at a start-up?

Gloria: Discipline matters. You get a lot of freedom to set your own deadlines and goals, which means that you have to be absolutely focused and disciplined in meeting them.

It is very easy to procrastinate and reset deadlines. What I do to prevent that from happening is to adopt the Pomodoro technique where you break down work into intervals and take short breaks after.

This helps me to improve my concentration and attention span and I find it to be very effective when it comes to getting work done on time.

Lydia: For me, it’s about finding the right team members. Everyone matters in a start-up; we need talented people who have the same vision as the company. Not everyone wants to take the risk of joining a start-up. We also don’t pay as well as corporations, and we definitely do not offer similar job security.

Have you ever worked in a larger company or a corporate environment? How is it different from working at a start-up?

Lydia: I previously interned at a private equity firm, which is definitely different from working at a start-up.

Start-ups usually offer more freedom; things are not as bureaucratic, and you get to decide how you want to complete your work. You must decide what work is important, and how to complete that work. You have to be a lot more independent.

On the flip side, start-ups are not as structured as corporate environments are. In the corporate environment, your job scope is more or less defined.

Gloria: In startups, you wear many hats. There is no fixed way to do something here. You are free to create and explore based on your own ability and creativity. It is truly more than just a job because you do everything you can to help the company grow. You get this deep intense connection with the company and products and it’s almost as though you treat the company as your own.

Was it tough convincing your family about your first career choice? How did you convince them?

Lydia: Definitely. They expected to me to work in a bank or a private equity firm. They didn’t understand why I would join a start-up.

But I always knew what I wanted, and I was clear in my choices, even for my internship. It helps that they saw some consistency in my interests and knew that I wasn’t just pursuing a career blindly. I also explained why a start-up is a viable option and how it offers a lot of learning opportunities.

Gloria: No, they didn’t have any issues about my choice at all. My parents were quite happy that I landed a job almost immediately after I graduated. They give me a lot of freedom to make my own decisions. I think that stemmed from how I started doing my own business selling contact lenses online when I was 12.

They knew that they didn’t have to worry much about me when I started to make about SGD 2,000 on good months, and could pay for my own expenses.

What are three key questions millennials should ask before deciding to join a start up?

Lydia:

  • Do you believe in your founder?
  • Can you take the risk?
  • Do you believe in your business’ mission/vision?

Gloria:

  • Am I ready to take on responsibilities outside of my job scope?
  • Do I truly believe in the company’s vision and have passion in contributing to the growth of the company?
  • What do I want to gain from this?

What frank advice do you have millennials who are thinking about joining a start-up?

Lydia: Start-ups are not for everyone. Don’t expect to be told what to do. You have to figure out what you have to do to make this work.

Gloria: Be prepared to solve problems on your own. Most of the time, your boss will probably be busy with other projects. It is very important to learn how to learn! There will be little to no micromanagement and most of the time you will find yourself googling like there’s no tomorrow. You’ll be given a lot of opportunities to make your own decisions. This will allow you to grow your skills and improve on yourself. But of course, do not be afraid to ask for help if you really need it.

Thinking of joining a start-up? Join the DBS BusinessClass  community and network with fellow entrepreneurs. If you’re not quite ready to quit your day job but want to experiment, check out our story on side hustles.

Lydia and Gloria work with start-ups that are currently based at DBS Asia X, which hosts other similar groups as part of DBS’ programmes such as DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia and DBS Hotspot Startup Exchange.

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