Several NUS Business alumni returned to campus on 24 October to share the ups and downs of their entrepreneurial journey at a forum co-organised by Think Business — NUS Business’ official knowledge site — and TODAY titled “Entrepreneurship: The Hard Truth”.
The panellists included Ms Diana Chang, founder of boutique sports brand Yumi Active; Ms Kavita Dasgupta, founder and Creative Director of bedding and textile brand Feroza Designs; Mr David Pong, co-founder and CEO of social enterprise WateROAM; Mr Marcus Tan, co-founder and President of online marketplace Carousell; and Mr Vishnu Vasudeven, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of global relocation platform Moovaz, with Mr Jason Tan, Associate Editor at TODAY as moderator.
Ms Dasgupta, who graduated with an MBA, shared some key lessons from her start-up experience — knowing when to cut one’s losses and not listening to naysayers. Urging potential entrepreneurs, she said, “If you have a strong concept and a passion for it, just put your blinkers on and go ahead with it.”
Echoing Ms Dasgupta’s point, Mr Pong, who majored in Finance, said, “If you find a problem in the world which is critical to solve, and you also have the passion to solve it, by all means just go for it and somehow, you will get help along the way to figure out the know-how and develop the skill set.”
There is no doubt that entrepreneurship is a difficult career choice, going by the stories shared by the panellists. Ms Chang, an NUS MBA graduate, said that she gave up a cushy job in corporate planning and needed to sell off her luxury handbags and cash out her insurance policies when getting Yumi Active off the ground. Mr Vasudeven, for whom Moovaz is his second venture, revealed that while he was initially supported by a grant from the former SPRING Singapore, his monthly allowance during that time was only $800. Mr Tan said that he subsisted on economy rice (a budget meal option) during his company’s first one-and-a-half years, while Ms Dasgupta shared that she would not recommend entrepreneurship as a career for people who wanted a regular pay cheque. While entrepreneurship is definitely not an easy journey, acknowledged Mr Pong, the knowledge that they are able to improve lives keeps his team going.
The forum saw a lively exchange of views during the question-and-answer segment. More than 50 questions were raised, including the most important skill which entrepreneurs could develop while in university; and whether it was lucrative being an entrepreneur; among others.
The panellists had differing views on the key skills which would-be entrepreneurs could pick up as university students. Mr Tan felt that learning to learn was important, saying, “I think the beauty of school is that it forces you to learn in a concentrated fashion,” while Ms Dasgupta said that “the number one trait you need to be an entrepreneur is grit” as life can get very hard, with many challenges every day. Mr Pong shared that discovering how to leverage other people’s strengths was important. Ms Chang recommended making as many friends as possible while Mr Vasudeven found socialising with people from all walks of life during his university days the biggest advantage he had.
The forum was attended by more than 100 members of the NUS community, including students, faculty and researchers, as well as representatives from the tech and finance sectors. This was NUS Business and TODAY’s third joint forum, with the inaugural session in 2016 discussing innovation and the second run in 2017 focusing on digital marketing.