How I decide what I want to do after graduation

Upon graduation, I took a step back to ask myself what I really wanted. This is what I have decided:

Freedom of time and financial freedom are most important to me. And I want that as soon as possible.

Freedom of time is defined as being able to do what I want whenever I want. In a way, being in a full-time job is a little like conscription. You “book in” at 8.30am in the morning at “book out” everyday at 7pm or later. My romantic notion is that I want to be in the position where if I want to take a walk at the beach and work from there at 11am, I can. If I decided not to do any work today, I don’t have to ask for permission. In other words, I want to retain control of my own time.

Well, a jobless guy would have freedom of time. That’s easy, isn’t it? But the kicker is, I want to have financial freedom too. The two seldom plays well together.

I’m a gadgets person, and I spend thousands of dollars a year on gadgets. I have a wedding coming soon (less than 2 years after graduation), and a new flat coming (about 3 years after graduation). I still have a tuition loan of S$35,000 to pay off. If I were to command salary at the average market rate (based on my academic performance alone), I would make about S$50,000 a year. That’s barely enough money repay my loan, buy a reasonable amount of gadgets, pay for wedding and renovation expenses. I won’t even have money to invest. Yes, there’s always promotions and pay increment, but even at 10% increment a year (an amazing figure in today’s job market), I’ll never be able to afford these expenses without taking a loan.

I’m not even a big spender. I spend an average of S$300-S$600 a month at present! I don’t even aim to be rich as in millionaire rich. But it is obvious that financial freedom cannot be achieved via fixed salary from a full time job, as a fresh graduate.

So I decided to take matters into my own hand. Instead of looking at structured graduate programmes where everything is pre-planned for me, I decided to look at the road less taken. Why leave your future in the hands of others? Your life is yours, take charge of it with your own two hands!

It is with these reasons that I have decided to start my own company. Not because of sexy notions like trying to change the world (although if that’s possible it will be great!), not because of the lure of big investments that venture capitalists are seemingly dishing out at startups (the whole community got too carried away with seeking investments, and that actually plays very well into investors’ hands), and not because my results were so bad that I am unemployable.

Starting my own company is fucking tough, and I was lucky that the journey actually began early in my life. I’ve been building products since I learnt programming when I was just 13. I’ve made a game that hit “cult-like” status and licensed it to SPH and M1. I’ve failed before, even with decent startup grant funding from a government agency. And I know the kind of shit I’ll be putting myself, my future wife, my family through when I gave up lucrative job offers (highest so far was about S$7000) to be self-employed. There’s too much uncertainty, too much risks. Am I even going to be able to earn as much as my peers in corporate jobs, month on month?

I still decided to do it in the end, and things got off quite decently. I got most of what I wanted. When my dad was hospitalized briefly and had an extended MC after that, I was able to accompany him without taking any leave or needing any permissions. When I feel like it, I pack up my stuff and work out of whichever cafe or fast food restaurant I wanted. I have enough cash for my upcoming wedding, and will soon have enough cash to do some decent renovation work for my upcoming house. With luck, I might even be able to afford a car when I move out, so that I can still visit my parents frequently (we will be 2hrs apart by public transport after I moved).

Though, the nature of my work is that the future is very uncertain. But I’ve made my choice and I’m fucking loving it, at least for now.

I think it is really important for fresh graduates to discover what they want and get their choices right really early, whatever it may be. Find a happy path that you would want to walk, for the next 5-10 years.

10 Signs that a student startup will not work out

Students startups are all the rage now, given the easy access to government-based fundings. However, why do we not hear any meaningful success story out of that?
From my own experience and by observing other student startups… I present to you…

10 Signs that a student startup will not work out:
1) More than half of the founding members have a full time job outside, or intend to have 1 upon graduation.
2) There’s no in-house developers, and the founders are not experienced in sales or marketing (by experienced, I mean actual experience in selling or marketing products or services).
3) The office starts looking like a living room than a place where work gets done – before the startup is even market validated or invested in (grants from gov bodies not counted).
4) Assignments and GPAs are more important than launches and sales
5) The founders didn’t have any contacts or networks within the industries they are targeting.
6) Founders didn’t have any prior working experience in SMEs or other startups.
7) Founders are not keen to put their own money in something they believe so strongly in.
8) They confuse media coverage with market validation (press writing about it is nothing to cheer about, it will still fail.)
9) There’s no product road map beyond the next 3 to 6 months.
10) There are more than 3 co-founders.