Ever wondered what founders do after they they exit the startups they founded? The dreams, the challenges and the lessons?

 Pictured from left: Benjamin Koellmann, Joelle Pang, Bryan Long and Audrey Low

Pictured from left: Benjamin Koellmann, Joelle Pang, Bryan Long and Audrey Low

Joelle Pang founded blog shop Dressabelle while she was working in a bank. She often worked 12 hours in the office, four hours on the blog shop, and slept for four hours before repeating it all again. It took her two and a half years before Dressabelle became profitable enough and she could quit her corporate job to work on it full-time. But that came with its own challenges.

“Dressabelle was my first startup and I became emotionally attached to it, my identity became attached to it,” Pang reflects. “I was so proud of myself when it was doing well, but on bad months I felt like a failure. I became overwhelmed and sank into depression. For a long time, I couldn’t get out of my house as I was physically, emotionally, and mentally burnt out.”

Thankfully, things ended positively for her. Dressabelle became successful and Pang eventually sold her shares. “It was the most challenging thing I went through but it was also the most centering event of my life. Your work should not dictate how you feel about yourself, the value of your life, and whether you are a success or a failure.”

These invaluable lessons are things you learn only after going through the fire of founding your own business. We spoke with Pang, who is now the regional business development director for FastJobs, Bryan Long, co-founder and CEO of Stacck, and Benjamin Koellmann, a co-founder of the HappyFresh Group, to discover things that only founders will know. The panel was moderated by Audrey Low, VP of Growth for ConnectOne.

The Problem is the Answer

Bryan Long’s mom told him to study hard, so he did. Long became a scholar, worked in the Ministry of Defense for six years and wondered if this was all life was about. At the age of 32, just as his second child was born, he quit his job.

Long did an MBA, went to law school, and then started Big Life Treats. “I did everything my MBA told me to do, I was on stealth mode and had a 40-page business plan. I launched it expecting a big crowd, but all I heard was crickets. I eventually closed the startup as it ran out of money.”

Long then co-founded Stacck, which automates communication between blue collar workers. Stacck is how he met Eduardo Saverin, one of the co-founders of Facebook.

“I remember his first question,” Long says. “It wasn’t about the product but rather, ‘Who is the customer and why is it a big problem?’ And I knew how to answer that as I did all the customer validation using Lean Startup techniques. We were ready with customer contracts and were able to raise money.”

Fit First, Scale Second

Benjamin Koellmann helped launch Lazada in Indonesia, seeing it scale from 50 orders a day to 10,000 a day. Even though it was an exciting time, Koellmann wanted to start a company he could call his own. He co-founded HappyFresh to work with retail chains and deliver groceries.

“Delivering the first order, seeing everything come to life, I remember that as a happy, proud moment,” Koellmann shares. “It took us five months from thinking we’re really going to do this to launching it.”

But there were struggles. A few months after launch, the team had promised investors they’d triple revenue over three months. “Scaling a business that hasn’t found the right product-market fit yet is unbelievably expensive. We hit the numbers, but they weren’t sustainable and it had lingering effects on our recovery. Had we been more moderate, things might have been different.”

Hiring is a two-way street

Joelle Pang didn’t trust anyone to take over her responsibilities at Dressabelle. “It was a mistake,” Pang says. “I ended up doing a lot of the execution and it took time away for strategic planning.”

Hiring is crucial to take a business to the next level, but an mis-hire can do as much damage as a right hire can do good. How did these founders get it right?

“When I hire, I look for self-driven people,” Koellmann says. “People who are independent, self-motivated, and flexible. In a startup, you do a lot of different things and sometimes you need to step up. You can be in marketing, for example, but will step in for ops because they need help. That flexibility is key.”

“Hire a bit different,” Long adds. “One way to test them is to hire the person as an independent consultant for a period of time.”

Pang concludes by saying that part of a hire’s performance also hinges on the founder. “The responsibility is on both the candidate and the founder. If a founder has mood swings, changes her vision every 3 months, or pivots continuously without a clear direction, you can imagine what it does to the morale of the company.”

 Pictured from left: Benjamin Koellmann, Joelle Pang, Bryan Long and Audrey Low

Pictured from left: Benjamin Koellmann, Joelle Pang, Bryan Long and Audrey Low

Know When to Move On

Dressabelle was having a good run but Pang kept feeling like it wasn’t enough. “By financial standards, it should have made me feel like a success. But I kept thinking what my contribution to the world was. That led me to exit and sell my shares.”

Pang wanted to “do good through doing good business,” which she defines as solving everyday problems that benefit all members of society through technology and tech-enabled platforms. This led her to her current role as Regional Business Development Director of FastJobs, a non-executive job platform that aims to provide everyone with equal access to job opportunities.

“I always felt that I had to be an entrepreneur because I loved to be creative,” Pang says. “But I came to realize that I didn’t enjoy the administrative work. I enjoyed the creative process and I should turn that into something that creates real value. At FastJobs, it’s a great journey insofar as I do the launching, hiring across new countries and understand new cultures.”

How retail can thrive in the age of e-commerce: An interview with Love, Bonito’s Dione Song

In our exclusive interview with Love, Bonito’s first C-suite hire - Chief Commercial Officer Dione Song - find out what she has to say on why the firm made the surprising decision to open a brick and mortar store, despite its success in the e-commerce industry.

We celebrate #MothersinTech this May!

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this month, we have the honor of having these three inspiring women in the technology and innovation ecosystem share their views on managing motherhood and leading a career in technology startups. In this article, we hope to highlight their struggles, share some tips and tricks on how to make it work and debate on the definition of work-life balance.

  (From left) Melisa Teoh, CMO of CXA Group which aspires to transform employee benefits in Asia by shifting spending from treatment to prevention; Ee-Leen Tan, Chief of Global Expansion of Ninja Van, a series B last-mile fulfillment tech startup; Karena Belin, Co-Founder of W Hub, an online community-based in Hong Kong that connects stakeholders in the startup ecosystem.

(From left) Melisa Teoh, CMO of CXA Group which aspires to transform employee benefits in Asia by shifting spending from treatment to prevention; Ee-Leen Tan, Chief of Global Expansion of Ninja Van, a series B last-mile fulfillment tech startup; Karena Belin, Co-Founder of W Hub, an online community-based in Hong Kong that connects stakeholders in the startup ecosystem.

Motherhood Versus A Career In Tech Startups

“Managing motherhood and a career is challenging in any business,” quoted Melisa when we asked about how different it is juggling motherhood and a career in tech startups as compared to corporate. She further explained that she has been fortunate to have great employers so far, so it has not been much of a difference. However, she acknowledges that startups are like newborn babies that fill you with excitement and anticipation but also demand persistent nurturing until they reach adulthood. The ability to experiment, innovate and move swiftly in startups can be addictive for people who enjoy the freedom to create and make an impact with their ingenuity. At CXA, health and wellness are a priority. Everyone is encouraged to set time aside for their personal wellness, and new moms are provided with a nursing room while parents are given the flexibility to work remotely when the need arises.

Working in startups is not all a bed of roses too. Hence, when we hear what Ee-Leen has to say about the work that comes with the flexibility, we can’t agree more.

Startups offer slightly more flexibility compared to corporates - It does not mean you work less (often it’s the opposite!) - but, it also means one can better manage one’s time
— Ee-Leen

Karena tells us that being her own boss gives her such a sense of purpose that she ends up with less time at home. However, with greater flexibility, she can choose moments where she can have higher quality time with the family and yet have the satisfaction of making an impact with her start-up.

Work And Family: How Do You And Your Spouse Make It Work?

Melisa shares that she and her husband work together to ensure that their priorities are met. They set aside family time to share daily experiences with each other. Throughout the week, they find opportunities to combine various strands of priorities to maximize their use of time. Here are some examples of how Melisa and her partner accomplish it: Use the first and last meals of the day as opportunities to connect with each other by learning through cooking or discussing different topics over meals, combine their exercising schedule with their daughter’s sports activities and lastly, create social events around shared interest with their daughter’s friends and parents.

Alternatively, you could rope in your parents or extended family to help with taking care of your children so it frees you up to concentrate on your career during working hours, knowing that your children are in safe hands. As Ee-Leen says,”any help from family is precious!”

Work-Life Balance - A Matter of Expectation

At ConnectOne, we believe that work-life balance is a matter of expectation and there is no single formula to having it all. The definition of quality and quantity between work and family is so diverse that what makes one mother ticks the box that she has great work-life balance may be frowned on by another. Our consultants have gone on long sabbaticals to see to family matters - and come back renewed and motivated to work hard!  We have a culture of ownership and encourage remote work as long as it helps us stay productive!  

Find your balance and stand with it. Find your song and sing it out. Find your cadence and let it appear like a dance. Find the questions that only you know how to ask and the answers that you are content to not know
— Mary Anne Radmacher

And finally, to the moms that are reading this… Thank you! We hope you have been inspired by our #MothersinTech who continue to work for something they genuinely care about while balancing the demands of a family.