When founders hire their first senior hire

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As a founder, expanding your team comes with mixed feelings. Pride and excitement that you’re on the right track but a little hesitation on whether this new hire would be a good addition to your team. Every hire is an important hire and that’s why hiring your first senior hire, whether an executive or a technical expert, can be a little daunting.

Here are seven tips that can help you make a better decision.

Do: Examine if you are ready to let go

You have been working tirelessly as Finance, Product, HR, and Sales in your startup for the past few years. Suddenly, you have the choice (and cash!) to hire specialists for each of those areas and you have never been so ready. You carefully hire experts for each of these areas. They come in, ready to take your startup to the next level. But in a short while, everyone is frustrated. What happened? Founder withdrawal, that’s what. You are not ready to let go, and you are standing in the way of getting work done.

Tip: Consider a gentler transition. Hire 1 or 2 specialists first while you continue managing other company functions. This gives you the space to adjust to other leaders, learn to take a step back and ease yourself into another level of leadership! 

Do: Embrace diversity

It can be uncomfortable to disrupt a congenial environment, especially in a startup. While homogeneity may feel more natural, running a business effectively requires different perspectives. By focusing on skill, experience, and contrasting opinions during the hiring process, you are more likely to hire for diversity. Not convinced? Think Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg! 

Tip: Steven R Covey summed it up when he said, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

Don’t: Do an Interview Overkill 

Is consensus necessary? Is it necessary to have multiple rounds of interviews with different interviewers invariably asking versions of the same question? Have you built in veto power into your decision making? Do you have a final decision-maker?
If you are able to answer the above questions satisfactorily, congratulations! You are not over-interviewing due to uncertainty.  

Tip: If you feel that you don’t have enough domain knowledge to interview effectively, don’t drag the interview process. Instead, it’s more effective to work with an advisor or consultant to assist in the interview.  

Don’t: Have FOMO
Have a clear job description. Know exactly what are the hard and soft skills, work experience, personal motivations and network necessary for this role. Separate the critical attributes from the nice-to-have. These filters help you decide who is the best fit for the role. When you try to look for someone with everything as you are worried you will miss out on the perfect candidate, it will be hard to create a realistic hiring process. 

Tip: Lay the foundation well and then, trust yourself. If you have prepared for the hiring, you will know when the candidate is right! 

Do: Hire for what you need, not for what you want. 
I’ll say it again: hire for what you need, not for what you want. Don’t bring on vanity hires. Hiring a data scientist when you don’t have enough data, just because data is trending, is obviously a bad move! Paying salary and benefits for an under-utilized hire can become costly in a blink of any eye.

Tip: Hire opportunistically. Or hire only because it is too painful for the startup to function effectively without that role. If you’re not fully confident, work with an advisor or consultant to figure out the roles you need to fill. 

Do: Guard against bias and false positives 
The first impression is important but for someone hiring, it can also be dangerous. Top universities and top-tier company backgrounds are impressive but they don’t always speak to the skills of the candidate. Balance the assessment with logic and data too; ask the questions that let them demonstrate their practical experience. Go back to the must-have attributes and strive to see beyond the smoke!

Tip: Separate the brand from the candidate so your judgment is not clouded. Ask questions that require them to demonstrate how their experience can be practically applied to your startup. 

Do: Take Control 

When you are new to this process, everyone (yes, everyone!) is going to be giving their opinion. They mean well but having the entire board, investors from various rounds, friends, community, family and your drinks auntie giving advice will be overwhelmed. It’s like having your first baby; everyone has something to say including the very many online experts! Just like parenthood, trust your judgment. You know your business best! 

Tip: Listen to your experts but do not substitute your judgment with their advice. At the same time, carefully examine your motivations if all your trusted advisors are asking you to do the opposite. 


Up Close & Personal with Sng Khai Lin – Co-founder & CFO, Fundnel

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“It is not about the decision you make but what you make of the decision.”

Sng Khai Lin, Co-founder & CFO of Fundnel

Founded in 2015, Fundnel is Singapore’s first Fintech company to provide private equity and equity-related investment opportunities to its network of investors. Fundnel’s platform has enabled investors from the buy-side to co-invest easily alongside top financial institutions, while SMEs and funds on the sell-side can raise capital in a cost- and time-efficient manner. We sat down with Sng Khai Lin, Co-founder and CFO of Fundel to find out more about her entrepreneurial experiences.

I have read a lot about your experience, about building teams and your entrepreneurship journey. What’s the one defining moment for you in your journey? How has that changed your perspectives?

Issuing the first pay cheque to the founding team of Fundnel four years ago was an epiphanic moment for me. In a melodramatic fashion, I realised I had mouths to feed. I came to terms with the fact that every decision I make must be economically sound to ensure that the company can continue handing out salaries month after month.

Consequentially, I became prudent with expenses. I try my best to lead by example so I can instil the same trait in everyone at Fundnel because it is a widely known fact that majority of start-ups fail due to cashflow issues.

How do you keep yourself abreast of innovation to ensure that Fundnel is constantly innovating?

The core duty of a private investment platform like ours is to assess the funding viability of businesses that apply to raise capital; on average, we screen 40 companies per week. This unique position — going through the pitch deck of these companies — keeps us abreast of the market’s movers and shakers be it technological, product or process innovation.

As important as reading is, it is the act of questioning that determine the depth of the learning journey. I frequently ask myself if what I’ve read about the fundraiser is applicable to Fundnel and how I might implement it effectively.

 Earlier this year, we launched an idea board open to all employees to contribute ideas for business improvement. Facilitating ideation across multiple functions at all levels, breaks down barriers that inhibits creativity, rendering a conducive environment for innovative ideas to thrive.

What’s keeping you awake at night these days?

It’s mid-September as we speak which means we are left with less than two months to close as many deals as we can, before market activity slowly dwindles and come to a halt in December.

How do you recharge?

When I have a rough day — one with seemingly insurmountable vexing problems — I knock off on the dot, take a 30-minute stroll home, and have a good meal with my loved ones. This little ritual allows me to decompress before I calmly tackle the issues one by one.

Who is your role model and why?

My parents started a small business when I was young, though they had almost nothing to their names. In fact, both of them have primary school as their highest educational attainment and neither speaks English. With sheer tenacity, they toiled round the clock to bring up all five children and put us through the best schools. They were, and remains today, my greatest role models.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? Professionally & Personally?

Professionally, I hope to double the company size but quadruple our output. I’m confident that our proprietary technology will be sufficiently robust to support our operation at scale.

Personally, I want to dedicate more of my time on weekends to myself and my loved ones. Since I founded Fundnel, I have not spent a 48-hour period free of work. I do recognise how unhealthy it is for my physical and mental wellbeing, as much as joy and satisfaction I derive from work. However, it is not possible at this growth stage of the business for me to come to a halt at ease.

What are the 3 pieces of advice you would give to budding entrepreneurs?

  1. It is not about the decision you make but what you make of the decision

  2. Cast your ego or fear aside and ask for help when you need it

  3. Pass it on. The next generation of entrepreneurs is just as deserving of the goodwill you received


guest contributor: Adeline Tiah

Insights Driven Marketer & Executive Coach

Coaching: One of the best investments you can make

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Asking for help is not a novel practice. Neither is wanting to be better than we are. But personal development is now part of the workplace since the explosion of startups, globalization and remote working Millennials and the Gen Zs, who actively seek meaning and development through their work, are increasing in the workforce. And you guessed it, It’s the workplace that employees first look at to help them develop their potential. It’s also the workplace that business leaders look to apply their leadership skills.

But as we all know, chipping away at yourself is not easy. Self-improvement goes hand-in-hand with feedback; that’s when working with a coach can be helpful. Coaches help to move you towards action and create a structure tailored to you. They are meant to provide honest feedback and should act as a sounding board.

Coaching in the startup environment.

It goes without saying that startups have less structure. It is common to find employees who consistently have to do more as the startup environment is designed to encourage employees to go beyond. But as the startup grows and more people join, the hierarchical structure of the startup starts to emerge. Building trust into the culture becomes crucial for the startup’s survival. One of the key aspects of building trust is creating psychological safety in teams. Another element is coaching.

Founders first
Coaching in a startup is a multi-layered, cascading process that starts with the top. Founders typically seek coaching to be better leaders. Coaching is almost necessary for the survival of the startup. “Founders have a huge task of shouldering the vision of the company, every single day, regardless of the ups and downs, and more so when times are down. They often find themselves lonely in this journey but still need to muster the energy and resilience to be persistently creative and effective.” points out Goh Yiping, startup coach and partner, Quest Ventures.

“What coaching does is to provide a sounding board with no agenda in mind except for the founder’s agenda. It offers an outlet of mental release, to explore different perspectives and instill clarity. Since the coach only holds the founder’s agenda, this opens up deep genuine conversations that are not commonly discussed elsewhere.”

Founders have a huge task of shouldering the vision of the company, every single day, regardless of the ups and downs, and more so when times are down.
— Goh Yi Ping (Startup coach and partner, Quest Ventures)

Instilling a coaching culture

As founders develop into stronger leaders, it is expected that employees start feeling the impact of strong leadership. Typically, the impact is first felt by the executive team, then company leaders, senior employees and will start spreading to all employees. Typically, founders, CEOs and leaders become de-facto coaches in the company due to their seniority and experience. However, in a startup, it is common to find founders and leaders younger than their employees - is coaching realistic in this scenario?

Goh Yi Ping (Startup coach and Partner, Quest Ventures). Photo Credit: www.hnworth.com

Goh Yi Ping (Startup coach and Partner, Quest Ventures). Photo Credit: www.hnworth.com

Yiping weighs in, “Coaching can be done by anyone of any age. But I recommend taking proper coaching courses before representing yourself as a coach. Engaging external coaches to coach both the founder and senior employees is a good alternative. It’s also important that both employees and founder(s) align with the company vision first work, and then work towards its execution.” 

Coaching for employees should happen with their managers. Periodically, external coaching sessions are helpful to provide perspective. A range of personal development tools, such as Emergenetics, are available to provide custom feedback. Coaching sessions need to be distinguished from other 1-on-1 sessions. Coaching sessions should focus on improving performance, problem-solving or long-term goals. They should have goals, an actionable plan and must focus on empowering the employee to do more because he is capable of doing so. Investing in coaching for employees early benefits the company as performance issues can be managed earlier. 

Asking coaching questions are about provoking reflection and thought. Vague questions related to work are a big no-no, as they are too general and instead create more questions. This should not be confused with asking simple questions. Drawing from the book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier, this article points towards 7 simple questions, asked in sequence, which are used to set context for reflection.



A quick note: Mentoring vs Coaching

Mentors and coaches are not alternatives to each other. They have different functions and often complement each others’ roles. Unlike coaches, mentors are not paid and do not operate on a fixed schedule. Mentors provide guidance on the bigger picture and strategy. Their advice is rooted in their own experience, insights, and knowledge and their focus is on overall development rather than specific skills or actions.

Coaches, on the other hand, also provide guidance but do so by asking questions. These questions are designed to force reflection. They guide you to draw your own conclusions and figure out the roadblocks that are preventing you from reaching your goals. Coaches are about the nitty-gritty; their focus is on specific actions and improving certain skills.



Tip Sheet
Many people tend to be skeptical of coaching and this is why: it’s easy for coaching to fail. Coaching is an intensely personal experience and requires genuineness and honesty from both parties to be successful. It’s important to select someone who you feel comfortable with, be willing to be vulnerable with and whose judgment you trust

In conclusion, Yiping suggests the following to incorporate coaching for startups:

  • Engage coaches that have gone through proper training

  • Coach leaders first and then review the outcome of coaching on the leaders. The impact of these coached leaders will cascade down to a better work environment, better relationships. 

  • Keep a safe environment where coaching conversations remain confidential and non-judgemental to breed trust and honesty.

  • Coaching cannot be approached as a one-off exercise. Frequency of coaching matters and it usually takes about a minimum 6 sessions to work through most situations

References 

Coaching Perspective: The struggles of startup employees

Twelve rules for effective employee coaching

How to coach teammates: A key responsibility of effective leaders

Five times a career coach is well worth the splurge

TED: Atul Gawande - Want to get great at something? Get a coach



Think like an investor: Psychological safety and its place in startup culture

Hustle. Crush it. Hypergrowth. Disruption. Do these phrases sound familiar? Commonly heard in the startup space, these words describe what we think of as the startup journey. Startups require people to constantly perform at their peak. This is “the hustle.” This is “crushing it.” These phrases glorify the startup journey, seeming to add a touch of glamour to the relentless pace of the startup life. But it is foolish to assume that this high-risk, high-reward scenario will not result in frayed nerves, high tension and the worst: a toxic work culture. 

Is a toxic work culture inevitable for a startup? Can a startup guard against it? The answer lies in psychological safety.  Also known as high-trust environments, team members in such teams are comfortable providing feedback or having disagreements without feeling their job security threatened. In a highly volatile and demanding work environment like a startup, psychological safety is one of the key contributors to building a successful work culture.

Back to Basics: What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is a concept in group dynamics, defined as a “shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking,” and “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career.” It is one of the key aspects of effective team learning. Research shows that examples of team learning behavior “include seeking feedback, sharing information, asking for help, talking about errors, and experimenting.”

Psychological safety became more well known when Google released its findings of team effectiveness in 2015. It found that “the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles.” Google also found that team members who feel higher psychological safety are less likely to leave, be more open to diverse ideas from their peers, bring in more revenue, and be rated as more effective. 

Why is psychological safety important?

In a high-pressure place like a startup, high-trust teams are important to keep the gears turning for growth. At the early stage, founders are likely to be embracing psychological safety without realizing it. Employee numbers are small. And if they are trying to build something, they have to be open to feedback to succeed. But as the startup grows and more people join, different viewpoints become more common. Layers of management start to emerge so the rapid growth rate can be addressed. It’s at this stage that building trust into the culture becomes crucial. By creating a safe space, your team will focus on collaboration and problem-solving, instead of being distracted by job security, incompetence or insecurity.


Building a psychologically safe culture - never too early to start! Here’s how:

1) Founders, be aware of your behaviour

Startup founders are unique among business leaders. Unlike executives in established companies, startup founders have to figure out their leadership capacity. They rely on the honesty of those who surround them to figure out what they are good and bad at. They have to be hyper self-aware about how they lead and have to be extra vigilant about the culture they are building.

As the company grows, founders are directly responsible for the engagement and morale of their employees. How they respond to unpleasant news, handle disappointment and give credit form the initial foundation of the workplace culture. By embracing feedback, leading by example, and choosing to problem-solve (instead of assigning blame), founders can lay the foundation for psychological safety early, and train the company to grow with this approach. 

2) You hired the best, trust them


HBR defines a successful team as a generative team. In such teams, leaders not only hire for cognitive diversity (this refers to the different ways that people perceive and process information) but also create an environment where mistakes are treated with curiosity and responsibility is shared for any outcome. As a result,  people can express their thoughts and ideas without fear of workplace retribution. But these environments are fragile and can be compromised in an instant, even with something as innocent as an ill-timed sigh.

“As a [startup] founder, it can be tempting to exercise influence on topics that you’re familiar with, especially if it has to do with the company. But founders need to be careful not to jump in too quickly. They have to allow people to do the work and trust the process. Founders should also not consider themselves an exception to processes such as appraisals.”  
Beth Samuel, Head of People, iPrice

3) Simply be human


Trust emerges when you know that you can be vulnerable without judgment or risk. The easiest way to create trust? Acknowledging the humanity in situations.

It is common enough wisdom yet it remains one of the hardest aspects of team building. Acknowledging the humanity requires empathy; it requires acknowledgment of the parts of ourselves that we don’t like seeing in a professional setting: our need for respect, validation, and freedom. However, recognizing these needs bring them out into the open, preventing them from festering and turning into hidden agendas.

Especially useful before any contentious conversations, one reflection exercise, “Just like Me” requires you to consider how other involved persons are just like you; Just like you, they have families, beliefs, anxieties, and needs. Going through this exercise forces you to embrace empathy before embarking on any contentious or heated argument, which will create a more conducive environment.


Further Reading
The two traits of the best problem solving teams

Smells Like Team Spirit

Why You Should Prioritize Psychological Safety to have an Innovative Team

The five keys to a successful Google team

What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

Teams solve problems faster when they are more cognitively diverse 

Video: Amy Edmondson - Building a psychologically safe workplace 

Think like an investor: When to invest in experienced hires

Alright, you are a startup founder. You might be working alone. Or you might have a trustworthy co-founder who understands your vision and work style. You probably have a small team of passionate people who believe in your vision and are tirelessly working to make it a reality. This moment in your startup journey is well, momentous. You could be ready to onboard your first experienced hire.

But first, definitions. Who is an experienced hire? An experienced, or senior, hire is typically someone who has deep industry knowledge and will also be directly responsible for the success of the startup. Depending on the startup’s stage of growth, this could be an executive hire or a technical expert. They should be hired to provide the technical or business insight that can move your startup to the next step.

Why hire at all?

As hard as it is to hear, being a startup founder does not automatically qualify you to run a business. While it is likely that they would be CEO by default, founders should examine their strengths and capabilities and be honest about in their business or technical acumen. Admitting there are gaps is not a sign of founder incapability; it is the opposite. It shows an understanding that business needs are growing and that guidance is needed if the business needs to push further. In the early stages of a startup, experienced hires can be trusted advisors and mentors. For a later-stage startup, they can be the trusted right-hand.

Pei Ru, founder of Singapore AI chatbot startup, KeyReply, views experienced hires as a way to plug the knowledge and execution gaps that startups typically have. She points out that experienced hires bring much-needed knowledge of processes and documentation, saving time and resources for startups, who can avoid the pain of figuring out everything from scratch. Shieny Aprila, founder of Indonesian gaming startup, Agate, echoes Pei Ru’s sentiments, “Their feedback gives us a different perspective as it is from someone outside the company. They do not hesitate to challenge our strategy or decisions. This helps us see what needs to be fixed.”

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Early-stage startup: If you are still searching for a business model or figuring out your product-market fit, hire a technical expert. A technical expert with deep domain knowledge will help you understand the market you are trying to penetrate. Having encountered the sheer number of technical problems in their career, their depth will be valuable in solving problems, streamlining inefficiencies and will be a trusted reality check on your strategy.  

Later-stage startup: If you are ready to secure more funding or bring in bigger deals, hiring an executive is the sensible next step. This expert can help scale the team from single digits to double digits, help negotiate complex deals and open up the right doors to build investor relations. They can also be invaluable as your startup grows bigger, where their experience with scaling up will guide your startup during decision making.

Treat them like an investment

Treat experienced hires like an investment, in every possible definition. While you are evaluating them, invest the time to know them better. “We meet [experts] many times, share updates, exchange ideas, and where appropriate, talk about things outside the business. We get a good understanding of their values and more accurately know if this person will be a cultural fit with the rest of the team,” Shieny shares.  For Grace Sai of Found8, she was clear that these potential hires need to show they can be their best in a team that was diverse in age, gender and culture. “We do many reference checks - up, down and lateral. We would find out if any millenials reported to them.  And most importantly, we would ask all the referees whether they would work with the hire again. If there was one ‘no’, we would seriously reconsider.”

If there is significant interest in this hire, it’s a good idea to evaluate whether they are a short-term investment or a longer-term investment. For startups that don’t have an established business model, the short-term investment is probably the more feasible route. “During the trial period with our current CMO we did everything together from important client pitches to fun conversations over long outdoor runs. Without the trial period it is difficult to understand if someone is a good culture fit until you interact with her on a day-to-day basis and deal with adversity together,” points out Kyle Wong of Pixelee in his advice to startups on hiring.

Early-stage startup: One of the most important principles of startup hiring is this: Hire for the now. Hire someone only when you are clear you need them. Experienced hires are worth every penny, but it’s for you to decide when to spend those pennies. If a product-market fit is elusive, consider working with a highly motivated director or bring your executive hire on as a consultant. At this stage, managing the burn rate is a priority and the worst thing you can do is hire in anticipation of expansion.

Later-stage startup: Watch out for an enterprise executive who thinks he is a startup executive, The executive skillset to scale a startup is different from what is needed at an enterprise. (Bigger companies typically need skills like organizational design, prioritization and process improvement.) Invest the time evaluating them and ensure there is a cultural fit. Secondly, the lure of a startup for an executive hire who is ready to roll up his sleeves is hardly going to be remuneration. But for you, having an executive on the payroll is a big expense. Don’t be intimidated; for the appropriate hire, that investment will accelerate your growth.

 

Does experienced hire equal C-suite?

Most experienced hires that join startups tend to be C-suite. But this is not always the case. (Meet Patrick Mckenzie who is a “Senior Individual Contributor” at Stripe but has run 4 companies before joining the company.) Whether or not a startup needs someone from the C-suite is a question of function.

Teo Pei Ru, CEO of KeyReply

Teo Pei Ru, CEO of KeyReply

Rather than investigating or being awed by a potential hire’s C-suite qualifications, startup founders should be single-mindedly looking for fit. Pei Ru shares her experience of working with a senior hire who had never worked in a startup environment. “Even if they claim to be adaptable, it is still not easy. We worked with someone who used to work for MNCs. But what works for MNCs doesn’t necessarily work for us. We had to do a lot of alignment and there definitely were disagreements along the way.”

 

Words of caution when exploring fit: Don't confuse the job title for what you need. As we briefly saw earlier, a “VP of anything” in a big company would have a very different job scope than a “VP of anything” in a startup. Seasoned venture capitalist Steven Blank points out that, “...titles in an existing company reflect the way tasks are organized to execute a known business model while in a startup, it might imply searching for a business model.”

It is valuable to distinguish whether the expertise you are looking for is intended to:

  • search for a model,

  • execute on a model; or 

  • scale the existing model. 

Use job titles that define what you are looking for, not about how good they make your startup look.

Parting Words: Let them do what you hired them for

Founders, we get it. This startup is your life. But the reason for bringing in an experienced executive is so you can focus on what you do best. Delegate; let them prove why you hired them. By integrating them ruthlessly into your startup, you can also quickly assess their capabilities and decide if they are still the best option for you. And if they are not, parting ways painlessly remains a realistic option.

Startup Supermoms

Being a mother is hard. Being a startup founder is also hard.

What happens if you are a startup founder who is also a mother? Is that doubly hard? Does it change depending on where your company is? Does it get easier? Okay, we know the answer to that one: No, it doesn’t.

In honour of Mother’s Day this month, we spoke to two startup founders, also mothers, who are at different stages of their startup journey. Based in Malaysia, Goh Ai Ching is the mother of a lovely girl and the founder and CEO of Piktochart, a web-based design tool that helps non-designers create visual graphics for the web. At the other end of the world nestled in Los Angeles, California is Amy Wan, mother of a baby boy and founder of Sagewise, a startup that leverages blockchain to create safer financial technology.

Startups and Motherhood: Are they similar?

After all, they are both long-term investments. Many have described that launching a startup is like giving birth. But both Amy and Ai Ching never thought to associate one with the other.

“They are similar because they are always growing, always evolving, always changing,” muses Amy. Ai Ching weighs in, “You pour everything you have to make it grow and you want it to go out into the world and spread a little bit more of goodness. There's a lot of tears, sweat and nobody will ever see or understand the hard work or sacrifice that go into growing both.”

Prior to having kids, I always thought raising capital was SO hard. But it’s not hard. You know what’s hard, having a newborn! You think it’s bad when a hundred venture capitalists reject you. No, it’s bad when your newborn rejects you!
— Amy Wan

Amy was pregnant when she was raising capital for her seed round. She closed two months after giving birth. She recalls, “Being pregnant gave me courage because I had nothing to lose. I was a solo, non-technical, pregnant, minority female; I didn’t know how much more ‘un-investable’ I could get. In my previous startup, I had a very reasonable business model and I was very grounded as to what I thought I could achieve. When I had this idea [for what is now Sagewise], I tried to convince other people to do it! But it is such a moonshot concept that others were reluctant to do it--so I thought I might as well go for it.”

Startups and Motherhood: Lessons from each space

Ai Ching points out the importance of boundaries in parenting and professional relationships, “As a mother, I've learned that discipline is necessary. We draw the boundaries and tell her what is right and wrong. But if there is too much "positive talk" and rewarding, the child may think there are no boundaries, even in life. If there is only berating, the child will grow to resent the parents. It's important there is a balance of both. It's no different when dealing with adult and work relationships.”

She explains how running a startup has tempered expectations, “Startup life has taught me to put my best foot forward every single time but not to be disappointed if the outcome is not what I want it to be. Likewise, I have learnt that I cannot expect my daughter to fall in line with who I think she should be.”

Startups and Motherhood: Is this the best time?

There is no doubt that globalization and the internet have made it easier to be a startup founder and a parent. Ai Ching noted how remote work and distributed teams have become more socially accepted.

Mothers can now choose how much time they want to dedicate to the business and family and actually make it happen.
— Goh Ai Ching

Amy is careful to state that this doesn’t mean that every woman should go running to launch a startup. She agreed with Ai Ching that for those who are inclined, it is one of the best times.

The women’s movement is strong. We have the internet, social media, co-working spaces and communities. It is easier to work remotely and lots of startups that help start startups. If you want to start a venture, it has never been easier.
— Amy Wan

At the same time, Amy highlights her own recent experience as an example of the struggle of being both founder and mother, “As an early stage startup founder, I didn’t have the luxury of maternity leave. I had my baby on a Sunday morning and I was back on conference calls on Thursday. There were certain things I had to do for the survival of the company. It probably took several years off my life and I don’t feel like I was able to enjoy my time with my newborn as much as I’d have liked. I did what I had to do, but I would not recommend it. My situation was particularly crazy because not only did I have a baby, I was raising a seed round, we were moving houses, and we had to remodel the new house. A more ideal situation would be to get the company to have good product-market fit, strong revenue, and good leadership  so that I would be able to step back for maternity leave--but we were so early stage that that was would have been detrimental to the company.”

She adds, “There are all these preconceptions about being pregnant. Men who are fathers remember how pregnancy was for their wives and they draw conclusions about your experience based on theirs. But each person knows their own potential and limitations. It’s not for anyone else to judge a woman based on a condition like pregnancy. Only she can decide what she wants to undertake and whether she is capable of it.”

Startups and Motherhood: The support network

As a founder, the company’s survival is in your hands and as a parent, you don’t want to miss out on all the important moments of your child growing up. Constantly choosing between the two is not realistic. So how can a startup founder and mother be both roles?

Amy and Ai Ching are quick to point out the immense importance of having a support network, which could also be family and friends. Ai Ching defines a support network as those who can understand and help take care of the child when needed. Typically, this role is filled by the immediate in-laws, family members, and friends. They are both also realistic and candid about needing external help. Amy had a confinement nanny (zuo yue zi) in the first month after birth and then an au pair. Ai Ching relies on a babysitter who accompanies them so she can see her daughter whenever she wants. Amy calls them “the backup to the backup.”

Both agree on the importance of having a network of mothers, whether in-person or online. “Having friends who are working mothers is good for the soul, really. When we meet up, we realize that the problems we go through are similar, just in a different flavor and we learn from one another how to overcome it,” says Ai Ching. “Creating the emotional networks is important because things happen,” says Amy, “I am in many ‘mommy ‘Facebook groups but it probably took me almost a year to find the right group for me; to find a tribe of other like-minded mothers.”

Running your own company has its perks. Ai Ching counts herself fortunate that she could have a nursery in her office for her daughter. Amy also counts her blessings as her co-founder is also a parent. “He understood that I didn’t want to immediately travel after my pregnancy and took over my speaking engagements. In fact, he is the other mum at work. We talk about parenting all the time, which is very helpful emotionally.”

What about the spouse? Amy cheekily states, “Obviously, I would love for him to do more!” but goes on more seriously, “I knew this but it really hit home recently that whom you marry can be one of the most important decisions in your life. He believes in me and is super supportive of what am I doing. That alone means a lot. I can travel for a conference because he is willing to give up a bit of his sleep to look after the baby. A lot of it comes down to communication. I see in many other couples that this is not the case.”

Startup and Motherhood: It can be done

And the way to do it?

“Deliberately make time for them. I don't think there's any other way!” smiles Ai Ching. She is emphatic about the need to carve out family time. “My husband is from Italy and we travel back twice a year. Yes, we are often still working. Each time, we could have decided not to go because there are lots of things going on. But we choose to go because there is no other way to make time for family otherwise.”

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 eage
— 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,
Humility
— 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,
Re-examination
— 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.”

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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?”

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.