I think well funded startups are after perceived barrier to entry now.
If you lose more money per year, it means there is a higher barrier to entry to your business, as others need to have deeper pockets in order to compete.
In the eyes of investors, that’s actually good.
If you are making 5 to 10mil a year without any funding, it means you have found a really lucrative gold mine that invites competition, so you are a bad vehicle for investment.
If you open a bar, and 1,000 people bought your drinks and you earn $10,000, you are not investable.
However, if you open a bar, and 100,000 people walk into your bar and walk out without buying anything, you lost $50,000, you are investable because there’s barrier to entry against competitors (others would need to be able to throw away $50,000 with no promise of profitability to fight with you) and you are have “scale”.
I’ve wrote an article on why you shouldn’t leave your phones to charge overnight on Alvinology.
My earliest recollection of something resembling Entrepreneurship was when I was 15. I’ve picked up programming for about 2 years by then, and I have created a couple of random apps and tried to sell it online. One of the app was called Wicked’s Developers’ Suite and contains a html text editor, a search engine scraping tool and a tic tac toe game. I tried to sell it for $5.
It didn’t go well.
I had no distribution channel, my app looked like shit, and I had no go-to-market strategy. My app didn’t have a clearly defined addressable market, and there was nothing special. The fact that it was named “Wicked” didn’t help.
At just 15 years old, I’ve basically made every single startup mistakes known to man.
I then continue to make more startup mistakes when I launched SGShoppin, the second or third blog shop directory to launch here. I ran into scaleability problems as the key value proposition of my site was that our expert team (my girlfriend), would manually review every single blog shop submitted to my directory. We counted 2,000 blog shops at our peak. We could not review submissions as fast as they came in.
I also launched SgZap, a URL shortening service (as if there weren’t enough of these already!). The inclusion of “Sg” in the name didn’t make sense and no one wanted another URL shortening service that had less features and reason for existence than any other such services in the market.
I also launched The Wicked, an online puzzle game inspired by the famous Notpron. Despite the lack of features, the horrendous design, it took off. Apparently I did something right in assuming that my alma mater, The Chinese High School (Now Hwa Chong Institution) was the best place to seed my game. Intellectuals like to play ‘intellectual’ games.
This time, naming it “Wicked” served to improve the game’s value proposition, not take away from it. I also
spammed seeded on various discussion forums where techies gathered, including SPUG (Singapore Palm User Group), Vr-Zone and Hardwarezone. I also seeded on the most popular content directory at that time, Ping.SG, as well as added my game to a Wikipedia list of prominent online puzzle games. In a nutshell, I’ve done growth hacking before the term became a buzzword. I even got featured on The Straits Times’ Digital Life for my creation.
Opportunities came knocking afterwards and I realized I sucked at business. I licensed my game to STOMP and M1 for a 3 digit sum. Real profitable. I ran Google Ads on The Wicked but my account was banned due to fraudulent clicks. For a game site that enjoyed as much traffic as XiaXue’s blog at that time, I earn a grand total of only slightly more than a grand.
I realized I can build, I can bring stuff to market, but I still can’t continue to do what I love – creating things – if I don’t know how to make money.
So I went to Singapore Management University, the “business” university to learn how to make money.
Week 1, I realized students were buying and selling pre-owned textbooks because the cost of new ones were way too high. There was an existing textbook market place, called “SgTextBook” by the founder of Vodien. I felt that the marketplace sucked because the search box was way too small, so I created a new one overnight. My textbook marketplace, BookINBookOUT, had a giant textbook on the front page that allowed you to buy or sell books quickly just by typing the name in. BookINBookOUT was acquired by the time I was in my second year in SMU for an undisclosed (a.k.a super low) sum.
So I decided that I’ve learnt and done a few things, but I have not created any actual startups or companies. At the same time, I was looking to rekindle BookINBookOUT’s peer-to-peer marketplace mechanisms into something more. I was also fascinated by online social interactions – I even heard of a couple who got together after trading textbooks with each other over BookINBookOUT.
I then decided to start GetFromFriends, a peer-to-peer marketplace that has many social features, such as getting a discount when buying from friends, easily search for items put up for sale by friends first before finding items sold by strangers, and getting notified whenever your friends bought or sold something.
Everything seemed to go well. I had the backing of SMU’s Institute of Innovation & Enterprise. We applied for Ace funding and we got it, after an intensive panel round. Then, bad things happened.
We had 5 co-founders and everyone had equal equity.
There were many overlaps in roles and driving the company along a singular mission became impossible.
We spent 3 months changing the company’s name and designing a logo because we didn’t know better.
I lost control as I couldn’t tell everyone to stop wasting the time on this.
In the end we named the company “Oompr” because we were too tired of trying to think of another name.
“Oompr” had zero meaning unlike “GetFromFriends”. We later realized that “Oompr” actually meant Out Of My Price Range. The perfect name for a marketplace startup.
While I was the one who came up with the original idea, I gave up the CEO position to another co-founder because I felt that I should focus more on the tech.
The CEO then came up with 101 new feature requests every day and the tech couldn’t keep up.
We became so obsessed with features that we didn’t bothered with user acquisition and delayed our launch.
Then, Carousell launched first.
When Carousell started going down to maker’s markets and fleas to drive downloads and users, we ran iPad giveaway on Facebook to acquire users. We thought we were smart. We thought Carousell’s founders were stupid. None of our users bothered logging back in again. Carousell’s few but valuable users logged in to their marketplace frequently.
For some reason our second grant disbursement was delayed drastically by Ace, so we had zero cash for close to 6 months. Till this day, nobody knew what really happened. We didn’t receive any explanation. There was an interrogation session where it seemed as if they suspected someone was making use of me to start a business. I don’t blame anyone for this. Just bad luck.
Whatever the case, because of their suspicion, everything died. We couldn’t move at all with no money and we were just freshly harvested meat left on the grass to rot. Time is crucial for any startup. Because we had no money, we had to rely on others. And then we suffered.
In Oompr, we made a ridiculous amount of mistakes that we could never have made and learnt from otherwise.
Oompr failed in 2013. We were losing co-founders fast and it ended with only me and the CEO. Even the CEO bailed because he had some highly lucrative job offer somewhere, so I was left to pick up the pieces.
Still, founding Oompr was the BEST thing I ever did because then I decided to do things very differently when it comes to my second company, Originally US, a Singapore mobile app development and marketing company:
We are now moving to the next phase. We have got a few parties who are interested in investing in my companies. Some even offered to acquihire the whole team. It will be a new journey and a virgin experience for me.
I wonder where the future will take me. Can’t wait to find out! Hope that this sharing has been useful to you!
When I was 5, I wanted to be either an Inventor or a Magician when I grow up.
I couldn’t decide which is more interesting of the two. An Inventor create new things; a Magician does the impossible and make people smile.
Retrospectively, I now realize that I’ve been creating new things and making people smile for the last 10 years of my life.
That counts for something, right?
I’ve been featured in ST today, page 2 & 3 of Life section.
From an app to determine the time one’s bus will arrive to an immersive virtual reality app for a property firm – these are some of the products by home-grown digital marketing and mobile app development house Originally Us.
It is among several Singapore firms that develop apps, which emerged after the mass adoption of smartphones in the late 2000s.
Co-founded by Mr Calixto Tay Wei Kiat, 27, it has created more than 30 apps for hospitality groups, property firms and government agencies since starting last year.
One of its most successful apps is SG BusLeh, which informs users how long it will take for their bus to arrive and displays the approximate physical location of the bus.
Launched in May, the free app is the highest-rated bus app from Singapore on the Android store. It is also available on iOS.
Mr Tay, who is married with no children, says: “We are quite proud of this app because it is practical and relevant to the local market. Some users say it is funny because it uses some Singlish terms. We hope to create more apps like this.”
He is working on another app that functions as a mobile point- of-sale system built for food and beverage establishments.
Instead of having waiters scribble orders on paper, the orders can be entered into the app on a mobile device and the information relayed directly to the kitchen.
Mr Tay’s interest in software design started in his school days. In Secondary 1, he wrote codes to make his computer do things such as automatically open the CD drive or specific browsers.
And while doing project work, he wrote a program similar to Google Docs, which allowed his classmates and him to edit the same document at the same time.
He says: “I just love programming. If you know the right codes, you can basically program a device to do anything.”
After graduating summa cum laude (with highest distinction) from the Singapore Management University with a degree in information systems management two years ago, he was the IT manager in a food company briefly before starting Originally Us.
The firm employs 10 staff, including three project managers and four other app developers.
Mr Tay says his job is to transform a client’s ideas into a working, useful and well-designed mobile app.
About 80 per cent of his work involves coding new functions for apps. The rest goes towards testing the functions and fixing issues.
People underestimate the time and manpower needed to build an app, he adds.
“The reality is that creating an app takes anything from a month to a year, depending on its complexity. It also often takes two or more people as we are experts in different areas of app creation.”
Finally, Mr Tay has a note of caution for wannabe app developers: “You have to really love codes and devices because those are what you will be looking at all the time.”
Thanks for the awesome writeup, Benson!
Photo Credits: ST/Chew Seng Kim
Thanks for the awesome photo, Mr Chew!
Maybe the difference between a startup and a new business is that a new business spends all its time trying to do business, while a startup spends most of its time doing everything but business.
If you had ever put thought into launching your own app or startup, you would have come across a thousand and one articles on how user experience (or UX) is the pillar of any self-respecting startup.
Unlike other articles like this, I am not going to justify this post by delving into a list of success startups with puke-inducing design.
No, I’m not going to talk about how Cragslist, eBay, Gmarket and MySpace were ugly but insanely popular.
I am also not going to talk about how startups should focus on feature set rather than UX. That is the false dichotomy of overlooking alternatives for you.
My first startup was incubated, and I have since returned to that incubator as a Mentor. From my observation, what strikes me most is that 99% of the startups being incubated there spend 99% of their time working on the UX of their apps and website.
Their apps are pixel perfect, and they spent hours debating the placement of every button, how they should color each button to ensure the highest probability of user activation, and going through the screen flow to ensure minimum ‘friction’.
6 months later, they have the most beautifully designed website or app that nobody knows about or use. They run out of time, money, or both and collapse. All that effort in polishing the app or website down the drain.
How did THAT happen?
Think about it. When you are building an app or website, you are building something that helps users with their needs or wants.
I tend to look at it this way: If users need you enough, they wouldn’t mind dealing with kinks and flaws in your UX. On the other hand, if your services are not relevant, needed or wanted, even the best UX designer cannot rescue you from that inevitable pit of failure.
A startup is so much more than the app or website it produces, don’t you think? Chief among your non-UX concerns are your go-to-market strategies and execution (user acquisition), your talent acquisition and retention, and your source of cash and cashflow.
Your UX won’t break your company. Any of those three items listed above will.
A startup still working on their app probably have not proven their market validity yet. To prove validity, we have to launch first (or early), launch fast, and iterate fast.
If you went for good UX the first time, this means that it becomes harder (emotionally, and in terms of time and money) to tear down what you have built for another go when you realize the first version didn’t quite work with the market (and this almost always happens).
Know that there will be changes, and there is no point trying to get anywhere close to perfection the first time or second time.
You want the market to tell you if you are on the right track with your business assumptions and solution. You want to know if you have the right product market fit.
All too often, users or beta users confuses good UX with a good product. They get a general sense of satisfaction when using your app, and would send you the mistaken signal that your app is on the right path.
They will tell you they like your app, like using it, and are satisfied with it. But it is next to impossible to tell if this is because of your good UX design or that you are on the right track with your app or website.
If you can take good UX out of the test scenario, you strip your app bare and expose your app for what it really is. Then, you can get real feedback on whether your assumptions and solution are right.
Consult with 5 different UX designers and you would come away with 5 different definitions of what good UX is about.
Throw your app or website in front of 50,000 users from all ages, races and occupations and you can’t find one thing that everyone agrees on.
Don’t bother. Make something people really want or need, and they will make do with what you designed.
To me, UX is about increasing your competitive advantage. When you have many competitors, in the same exact market, targeting the same exact demographic, good UX will give you a definite edge.
But that is a story for later. Good UX will come as you and your company mature.
Don’t worry about it. You will cross that bridge when you get there. IF you get there. That is the hard part.
Every year, without fail, just as surely as Apple would release the latest installment of their highly popular phone, Google will collaborate with a manufacturer of choice for its flagship Nexus phone. This year, it’s Huawei’s turn.
The yearly Nexus device is akin to Olympics. Like how countries would ravish on the opportunity to showcase their culture, heritage and financial prowess during their turn to host the Olympics, the Nexus 6P is Huawei’s coveted opportunity to put up a good show for the world to see. It is an opportunity for Huawei to truly shine… or sink.
Yes, yes. For the last couple of years, due to its portfolio as a budget phone manufacturer, Huawei has been making rather lacklustre phones. Heck, there is a Huawei phone sitting in my storeroom, abandoned because when I tap on an app icon, I have time to go to the kitchen, pour myself a glass of red wine and the app wouldn’t even have launched.
But is this what Huawei is all about?
You may not know it, but Huawei is one of the largest and most experienced networking equipment manufacturer in the world (even having done work for the military). Huawei has built wireless communication devices (including phones) even before a single line of code was written for Facebook.
Huawei certainly has the technology. Just recently, Huawei unveiled its latest pressure-sensitive touchscreen (think Apple’s 3D touch), which can even function as a weighing scale.
So, Huawei has the experience, the know-how, and the technology necessary to build the most promising competitor to Apple’s flagship. Could a flagship like the Nexus 6P help Huawei cast away its low quality and budget image?
To be honest, I had thought this box holds Chinese Mooncakes. There is nothing remarkable about the packaging, but so long as it does the job of protecting the phone, I have no complaints.
After unceremoniously cutting the ribbon to this phone, I am presented with an un-inspiring packaging layout.
It is only after you slide off the protective cover sleeve where the true oyster is revealed.
Look at how beautiful this aluminum finish is, complemented with the large fingerprint sensor, large camera with laser auto-focus, dual LED flash, and the gloss black area that houses all sorts of antennas, including the NFC receiver.
This is the first all-metal Nexus phone. The aluminum cover feels thick and sturdy. It certainly does not give the impression that it would bend or warp in your tight jeans pocket.
Despite packing a 3450mah battery that is larger than that of Samsung Note 5 and iPhone 6s Plus, this phone still maintains a very slim profile. There won’t be any ugly bulge when it is in your jeans pocket.
There is not much to be said about the front profile, except for that dual speaker setup. This means that you have stereo (left and right) channel audio when watching your favourite Korean dramas, a definite plus for those of you who watch videos on your phone.
I left iOS for greener pastures since iOS 4, so my apps and purchases are already in Google’s ecosystem. After booting up the Nexus 6P for the first time, I was prompt to log in to my Google Account.
Cup of coffee later, I returned to my slightly warm Nexus 6P to find my wallpaper, contacts, calendar and apps configured on my new phone exactly like my old Samsung Note 4. Awesome. Time to put the phone through its pace.
With Android M, Google launched a new “Doze” feature to help improve battery life. Doze kicks in automatically when your phone is idle (e.g. when you leave it on the table and turn in for the night) and switch the phone to an extremely low power mode.
I’ve put this phone through the paces and it is CRAZY. The battery barely dropped during the time I was asleep, and that is with the cellular radio on. I had never seen such great standby figures on any of the devices I’ve owned.
You know what this means? This means that leaving your phone on the charger overnight (which is very unsafe, mind you), or waking up to a phone with a flat battery is a thing of the past with Nexus 6P.
However, the Nexus 6P has a large screen, with one of the highest pixel density in the market (at 518ppi, this is more “Retina” than Apple’s Retina). This means that its graphic processor has to work hard to push those pixels. Added to this fact is that the Nexus 6P comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, what I call a dual quad-core affair. There are a total of 8 processor cores in Nexus 6P, with one set of quad-core processor running your lower power tasks and the other set taking over when you start doing intensive things like gaming. This leads to the battery going quickly if you use your phone heavily. Then again, this isn’t too uncommon. Most flagship phones are unable to last a full day.
Many of my colleagues and peers who are still on iOS stayed there because they are easily annoyed by the little lags and stutters that Android is known for. I’m happy to report that they have given my Nexus 6P a spin, and all of them come away satisfied. App launches and switches quickly and there are no visible stuttering when scrolling. This is one phone that works buttery-smooth and is a pure pleasure to use.
One concern most people have is that many apps they rely on daily could break with the latest OS. While Google has made under the hood changes with its latest OS, I am happy to report that all the apps I rely on daily works perfectly. This includes SG BusLeh, my favourite bus arrival timing app, and CPF Starter, an app that helps me project my CPF savings over time.
We unlock our phones as much as 50 to 200 times in a day. Unlocking our phones has become a major time waster, and the addition on a fingerprint scanner in our phones has a big part to play in making our life better.
Apple was the first to place fingerprint scanners in smartphones, but other manufacturers very quickly followed with their own implementation. Until now, there has never been any implementation better than Apple’s. On the iPhone, all you ever had to do is to push down on the home button, which also doubles as the fingerprint scanner and the phone unlocks. There is no need to swipe your finger, unlike Samsung’s terrible implementation.
However, up till iPhone 6s, Apple’s implementation has been unreliable, requiring multiple attempts in order to unlock your phone. If your finger is wet or damp, fingerprint unlock might not work as well.
Enter Nexus 6P and Android M.
Android M is the first version with fingerprint scanner support baked right into the operating system. On the software front, Android’s fingerprint support employs some form of smart learning algorithm that promises to get more accurate the more you use it.
Nexus 6P’s fingerprint scanner has a much larger scanning surface area than the iPhone’s, and just requires a casual touch for the phone to unlock. The fingerprint scanner is positioned on the back of the phone, at the spot where your index or middle finger would naturally rest when you are pulling the phone out of your pocket or bag.
On a usability perspective, while iPhone or Samsung users are required to wake the phone before they could unlock the phone using the fingerprint scanner, Google/Huawei’s implementation requires a single touch to both wake and unlock the phone. I found myself placing my index finger over the scanner as I pull the phone out of my pocket, only to have the phone unlocked and ready to use by the time I lift the phone up to my eye level. I spent a grand total of zero seconds fumbling or waiting for my phone to unlock. This is good user experience that you cannot find elsewhere.
Oh, and did I mention that Nexus 6P unlocks even when my finger is wet?
Off contract, the Huawei Nexus 6P has a pre-order price of S$899 for the 64GB version, and S$999 for the 128GB option, which makes choosing the 128GB option a no-brainer. In comparison, the 64GB Samsung Galaxy Note 5 goes for S$ 1,188, while the infamous iPhone 6s Plus goes for S$ 1,388 for 64GB, and S$ 1,588 for 128GB.
WHAT? You can almost buy 2 Nexus 6P 64GB for one iPhone 6s Plus 128GB.
Getting a little into the specs…
The Nexus 6P comes with a 5.7inch AMOLED display that has a whooping 518ppi pixel density. This is the exact same size and density as that of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, while miles ahead of the “best” iPhone 6s Plus with 5.5inch LCD display and just 401ppi display. It seems like other manufacturers have upped the ante over Apple’s original “Retina display” at 336ppi.
Nexus 6P has a whooping 3GB of RAM and comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, with one set of quad-core processor running your lower power tasks and the other set taking over when you start doing intensive things like gaming. The Note 5 has a similar processor and RAM configuration, while the iPhone 6s Plus comes with a boring, low cost, dual-core processor and just 2/3 the RAM.
This is the first phone I have used with zero hardware and software issues, and that speaks alot in comparison with the flagship from the other camp, where even a simple Home button could overheat. I wish the battery life could be a little better, but I couldn’t give up how speedy this phone is. Well, something has to give, right?
If you are an Android user, I am not kidding when I say this is the ONLY phone you should consider getting. The price is right, the build quality is awesome and the software is virgin and untouched by manufacturers’ bloatware.
If you are an iPhone user and curious about Android, this phone would give you the truest representation of what Android is all about. Don’t bother with the other Android phones. Give this a spin and see if you like it.
Working on a startup gives people a kind of high. A high that you would experience, only if you are a startup virgin.
It starts with an idea. An idea you came up with that will allow you to change the world. No one else seems to have done it yet. The world is for your taking. Your spine tingles with excitement. You feel that you are sitting on something that is potentially huge. You start to get aroused.
You share your idea with your friends, and seek their opinions. Inevitably, they will tell you that your idea is probably the greatest invention since sliced cheese. You probably won’t hear the word ‘probably’. You will simply be too aroused to notice, because, by now, you can already feel that rush coming. You feel like you are getting ready to do something big.
You will think you can easily take on the likes of Facebook, since every amazing startup always has a humble beginning story to tell. This feeling further boosts your ego and excitement. You share your amazing idea with yet more friends and all of them ask you to go for it.
You feel like a protagonist in a superhero movie. You start to read books like ‘David and Goliath’ by Malcolm Gladwell, or ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries. These books give your confidence a further boost to simply go for it.
Finally, you went for it. You start sketching up how you want your app to look like and you feel even more excited. “It is finally taking shape!” your brain screams. It always makes someone feel useful, meaningful, and important when creating. It brings you over the moon. You get an adrenaline rush every time you look at your paper prototypes.
You found some bloke who could build your app for USD 500. As the early builds come in, you excitedly share them with your friends, who inevitably will come back with nothing but raving reviews for an app that isn’t in any way close to completion.
Someone might point out some issues on the assumptions you had, but you don’t care. You tell yourself, “I’m finally doing it! It is happening! The app is taking shape!” You feed yourself such a high with this thought that would make all illegal drug peddlers go out of business.
You start looking for connections to the press to talk about your world changing app. You probably give (or beg for) interviews to talk about your uncompleted app. No, it’s not quite like a person who have just been selected for his college’s basketball team babbling about his potential to be the next NBA player, but close.
Some media sites picked up on your story. You went CRAZY. “This is ME! People are talking about ME! And my App! And my Startup! I’m officially an Entrepreneur now! All hail me!” your brain shrieks. It starts to feel like Mark Zuckerberg is only a rung or two away.
The app goes onto the App Store and 3 blokes downloaded it. You go WILD with excitement. “OMG!” you thought, “ Strangers are looking at my app! OMG! OMG! OMG!” Your heart thumps so fast that your doctor would have rushed you to Emergency Services.
You grow addicted to the App Store reports and constantly refresh it to see the latest download figures. Every time a new user downloads your app, your heart skips a beat.
More people download your app. You are on a roll. You start thinking about the future. About how investors would be lining up to invest in you. You think you’ll have a million dollars in investment within the next 6 months and would IPO in 5 years. You are so high on thought of being a multi-millionaire that you aren’t really interested in anything else.
Then, the crash. No new users. No point for your App. No money. No startup. No job.
Congratulations, you are now no longer a startup virgin.
This article was written through my personal experience in founding my first failed startup years ago.
I’ve since taken an entirely different approach and found a different kind of high.
Currently, I run a boutique digital marketing & mobile app development company, Originally US.