A practice of gratitude - Thanksgiving at ConnectOne 2018

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A spin on the word thanksgiving as “thanks” and “giving” by Brisa, one of our interns led to this little reflection today. Although unintended but it was a powerful reminder that as the year closes on a high for us, that we have to be:

1)#thankful for all the joys and junks of the year

2)#giving of our time helping motivated individuals find meaningful jobs and startup founders raise human capital!

Personally, this must be a year where our small and humble beginnings have started to scale somewhat. Many have heard that it was a very rough first 2 years for us. But along came a few individuals who believed that we were motivated, able and with the right opportunity, will produce results. And we did. We are very thankful for them and for a wonderful community of talent and founders who along with them, believe in us.

Successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity
— Adam Grant, author of Give and Take

Last but not least, a toast to my co-founder, Fiona who supported my crazy idea back in 2013 to work with startups and continue to support more crazy ideas as we launch our new programs in 2019!

Cheers to all and wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy 2019!!

All my best,

Elena Chow, Co-Founder of ConnectOne

As part of our party activity, we asked our key partners, clients and candidates what they are most grateful for this year and three words to sum up 2018. Below are the gathered thoughts and heartfelt reflections. May they act as a reminder for us to be thankful for the little things in life as well as inspire us to live with a greater purpose in 2019!

What are you most grateful for this year?

Grateful that investors trusted me enough to invest in my startup, which allowed me to commit 200%. No looking back now! Hired a highly qualified CTO, currently building a dedicated and eager team to kick-start things!
— Lius Widjaja, Founder and CEO of Gomodo Technologies Pte Ltd
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Grateful for health of loved ones and being able to have some family time
— Min Joo Yang, UI UX Designer
New season in life, country, job , experience as well as friendships
— Jen Lin, Head of Travel Platform
Opportunities to change, to grow, to influence and to help
— Bryan Long, Co-Founder and CEO of Stacck
For all the amazing members and partners I’ve met in the ecosystem. For those who has made an impact in my life through the positive sharing, knowledge transferred and the love and kindness
— Andee Chua, Head of Community of Found.
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Awesome company & colleagues, New home, New life partner
— Sabrinna Soh, Senior Consultant of ConnectOne

Three words to sum up your 2018

Tough, Challenging, Hope
— Terence Yow, Managing Director of Enviably Me Pte Ltd
Momentum, Validation, Empowering
— Lius Widjaja, Founder and CEO of Gomodo Technologies Pte Ltd
Transparency, Integrity,
— Jae Lee, CTO of Online Travel Platform
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Opportunities, Growth, Possibilities
— Jael Chng, Founder of My Working Title
Eventful, Clarity, Transitional
— Mindy, Head BD of Online Marketplace
AI, Evolution,
— Tomithy Too, Investment Manager of ST Telemedia
Fulfilling, Empowered, Inspired
— Michelle Quek, Community Manager of Found.
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Hectic, Hell, (But) Happy
— Kenny Lew, Senior Consultant at ConnectOne
Affirmation, Relationships, Great food and travels
— Pamela Tan, Consultant, Talent Community Lead of ConnectOne
Happiness, Laughter, Gratitude
— Yvonne Sia, Finance & Admin Lead of ConnectOne
 ConnectOne Team

ConnectOne Team


Thank you for celebrating 2018 with us!

These are the things only founders over 40 can tell you

There’s a great romance about youthful founders. Startups must be full of adolescent dropouts who’re writing code, changing the world, and worrying about zits. You can hardly blame anyone for lionizing the young; Mark Zuckerberg, the preeminent founder of our time, launched Facebook when he was only 20 years old.

But the adoration doesn’t match reality. According to the Kauffman Foundation, a think tank focused on entrepreneurship, the average age for a successful startup founder is about 40 years old.

And a recent study (PDF link) from MIT, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and the U.S. Census Bureau also found that the most successful entrepreneurs are middle-aged. They discovered that startups with growth in the top 1% of their industry had founders with an average age of 45.

The study found that correlation between success and age had a simple explanation: experience matters and older people have more of it.

Why experience is golden

 Anna Gong, CEO of Perx Technologies

Anna Gong, CEO of Perx Technologies

It’s a perspective that Anna Gong, in her early 40s, CEO of Perx Technologies and a veteran of working with four previous startups in Silicon Valley, agrees with. “The mature executives have experience that’s immensely valuable. Back in my Silicon Valley days, many startups hired senior executives to help young founders scale and exit profitably.”

It’s all about execution, Gong says. “The startups we built that had traction were mostly run by seasoned executives who’d left companies like Intel, IBM, and Sun Microsystems. It’s not about if you dropped out of school, it’s about the management and the leadership. Experience is immensely helpful when guiding a growth stage company.”

How founders don’t have to take big risks

I have a risk-averse approach to entrepreneurship. I did it in my free time, which is a lot of work, but it’s something I recommend.
— Erwan Mace, Founder and CTO of Bitsmedia

But you don’t have to be a serial entrepreneur and eat ramen from age 20 to 40 to become an experienced founder. Erwan Mace was the VP of Technologies at Vivendi Mobile Entertainment, a large multinational corporation, before he moved back to Singapore. “I didn’t want to rush into a new job,” Mace says. “So in the meantime, I started a company.”

That was the birth of Bitsmedia, a startup that built apps for mobile. But two years into running Bitsmedia Google approached Mace with a job offer.

 Erwan Mace, Founder and CTO of Bitsmedia (left) and  Nik Emir Din

Erwan Mace, Founder and CTO of Bitsmedia (left) and Nik Emir Din

“We were still small,” Mace recalls, “and none of our apps had really taken off. The Muslim Pro app had been launched the year before, and although it was showing some traction, it was still slow. So I joined Google, and in the evening and weekends, I continued working on Muslim Pro by myself.”

After a year at Google, Muslim Pro gained momentum, and at the age of 39 (editor’s note: close to 40!), Mace left Google to focus on Bitsmedia and Muslim Pro. “The decision was easy enough to make,” Mace says. “The revenue from Muslim Pro became equal to my salary at Google, so there was little risk. I have a risk-averse approach to entrepreneurship. I did it in my free time, which is a lot of work, but it’s something I recommend.”

But Mace was clear he didn’t start his own company just for the money. “I’m a hands-on guy,” he explained. “I had high-profile jobs, which meant less of that. I missed getting my hands dirty, creating something of my own. So no matter what, whether it was a viable business or not, I felt the need to work on my own stuff in my free time.”

What mindset can tell you about success

I distinguish between people with internal and external motivation.
— Hon Meng Moh, Co-Founder and Director of The RightU

This internal drive is something Hon Meng Moh feels is essential for older founders. At 50, Moh has been a serial entrepreneur. He co-founded iFast Corporation at 31, which listed on the SGX in 2014. At 43, 45 and 47, he co-founded three more companies and has invested in several others.

“I distinguish between people with internal and external motivation,” Moh explains. A person who’s attracted by the image of being an entrepreneur, for example, or someone who wants to make a lot of money, is externally motivated.

“When the going gets tough,” Moh says, “and the going will really get tough, these guys are going to think of easier ways to make money. As opposed to people with internal motivation — entrepreneurs who are so passionate about an idea they can’t imagine doing anything else — who tend to persevere longer.”

This inner drive fuels the decisions an older entrepreneur will make. “For someone with internal motivation, age becomes less of a thing, and I find they’re able to take quite a bit of suffering.”

Hard-won wisdom from founders over 40

So what can founders and entrepreneurs of all ages learn from founders over 40?

Don’t do it for the money.

“A lot of people think it’s easy money because you keep reading about successful apps,” Mace says. “They couldn’t be more wrong. Only people with passion, a lot of work, and also a bit of luck, might turn a startup into a successful business. In most cases, it won’t be successful. But if you’re doing something you’re passionate about, you won’t be wasting your time.”

Build your network.

“The number of contacts is more important than your idea,” Moh says. “You can access capital and people from your contacts, so your network must be wide. If you sit there thinking your idea is great but you have no network and no money, I don’t think it’s going to do well. You’ll find that ideas aren’t worth that much, it’s whether you have the network and the capital to pull it off.”

Find the fire.

“I came from China to the US and struggled through all sorts of trials and tribulations,” Gong says. “You have to stand out from the rest, but how do you stand out when you’re a minority, female, and in tech; where there aren’t that many females? My upbringing taught me grit. For me, it’s about where you come from, what struggles you’ve experienced, and what’s that fire in your belly that makes you strive for excellence?”

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.