Found’s Head of Innovation on the mindset needed for a mid-career pivot to startups

Most would agree that working at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) is a great way to establish a strong and steady career. However, Jeremy decided that he had a different path to take. In 2017, Jeremy took the plunge to join Found. - a co-working and innovation community startup, and has not looked back since.

 Jeremy Khoo, Head of Innovation of  Found.    (Picture credits:  Jeremy Khoo )

Jeremy Khoo, Head of Innovation of Found. 

(Picture credits: Jeremy Khoo)

Jeremy joined EDB fresh out of school. Like most other fresh graduates, he accepted his first job offer as it came. “I never really thought of joining a government agency,” he recalls, “but EDB said they would provide opportunities to be involved in decision making at a high level. So I thought that breadth of experience will be enriching and it was.” But the turning point came when he felt he had been doing essentially the same thing for a few years. “I just got really curious about what exactly goes on after I sell those big ideas and garner big investments from companies,” Jeremy explains, “so I decided it’s time for me to take a bit of risk.”

Meet Jeremy Khoo, Found.’s first Head of Innovation

Sitting with Jeremy, you would find him friendly, down to earth and self-assured. For Jeremy, this move was not about trying to get more pay or having a fancier title. It was a desire to make a visible impact and the opportunity to build something virtually from scratch. Making the jump to a young, scrappy company like Found. is not something most people would have expected him to do.

What did your friends and family say when you said you’re going to move to a startup?

I saw this as a way for me to explore my second career and I was convinced that this role at Found. would allow me the opportunity to really discover what I could do
— Jeremy Khoo

Some were very supportive but naturally there were those that were skeptical too - “They said I was crazy to drop the comfortable life I had for a startup job!” Jeremy laughs, “My family was especially concerned and needed to be assured that I had thought things through carefully and considered where would the end point of my career be.”

However, Jeremy is confident that he made the right choice. He believes that a career is no longer just about one job and going forward in one direction, it is a journey with many paths you could take. “I saw this as a way for me to explore my second career and I was convinced that this role at Found. would allow me the opportunity to really discover what I could do,” Jeremy says.

Coming from a more corporate environment to a startup, was there a big culture shock for you?

 Jeremy with his  Found.  Team   (Picture credits:  Found. )

Jeremy with his Found. Team 

(Picture credits: Found.)

“You would be surprised that the place I was in was already very unique. It was as close to a startup as a government agency could be,” says Jeremy. There weren’t clear instructions on how he should do his job, people worked in small, self managed teams and are more focused on achieving outcomes and problem solving, which is more similar than different compared to working in a startup. Hence the challenge was less about adapting to the culture and scope of his job. Instead, it was about “understanding people’s concerns and motivations when they say certain things which may not be the same as in the government context,” says Jeremy, “So it wasn’t that big a culture shock at least.”

What is the key difference between your role in EDB and Found.?

“The big shift for me was definitely a lack of resources,” Jeremy laughs, “I may have all the ideas in the world but I am only allowed to choose one because I only have a dollar to spend now.” Compared to his time in EDB, where he had access to much more influence and resources.

Nevertheless, Jeremy thinks this is where the learning happens best. “I am working on how to bootstrap stuff like others do when projects are not backed by big brand names or budget,” says Jeremy.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of making a similar transition?

“My advice is, take some time off, center yourself, understand what you are trying to achieve and then just go do it,” says Jeremy. He calls it the “detoxification” process. For three months, he applied the skills he used for industry development and went around speaking to various people to build new perspectives again. “I wanted to get a sense of what someone like me could actually do outside of my old environment,” Jeremy explains. In this way, when it’s time to make a decision, one can do so with a higher degree of confidence because you have a clearer idea of what you want to do.

How would you assess the experience you’ve had so far?

I am actually building an ecosystem that is less about the abstract and future and more about the here and now, but still with a large ambition for the future.
— Jeremy Khoo
 Jeremy hosting a panel discussion at  Found. 's monthly community event   (Picture Credits:  Found. )

Jeremy hosting a panel discussion at Found.'s monthly community event 

(Picture Credits: Found.)

Before we end our interview, we just have to know – what he loves most about his job now!  

“The main thing that I enjoy here is that I actually get to see, touch, and feel the projects that I am getting. I can observe up close the impact on individuals who are either participating in a short half-day program or a 9-month long program,” says Jeremy. Previously, Jeremy would only realize the success of his efforts through company announcements or news reports, sometimes three to five years later. While the work at EDB is often larger in scale and visibility, it was sometimes harder to fully appreciate the direct impact on companies and the lives he was affecting.

Perhaps because his reach is much more focused now at Found., he finds the engagement much more personal and immediate. “I am actually building an ecosystem that is less about the abstract and future and more about the here and now, but still with a large ambition for the future.” Yet, Jeremy also believes there is a strong connection between his past experiences and his current role. “The opportunity for us to do what we do here only trickles down because of the things people do at the top. So I am kind of just riding the wave and I am at the different part of the wave now to gain a different experience!”

Can we do a short video interview of you?

To end off this interview, we wanted to share Jeremy's warm and affable personality with our readers. "Sure, I would love to!" he laughs. In this 60 seconds video, Jeremy exudes enthusiasm and confidence while describing his experiences. We can sense his excitement and we wish him all the best in his new role!

 

References: 

EDB is a statutory board of the Government of Singapore that plans and executes strategies to sustain Singapore as a leading global hub for business and investment.

Found. brands itself as a network of innovation studios where ambitious entrepreneurs and corporates find coaching, expertise, and partners to create future-ready solutions.