A Very Fruitful CS3216

April 17, 2010 3 comments
I really think CS3216 is about teaching us life’s lessons. Via the projects, and through the lectures before, during and after them, Prof Ben has shown us which principles to adopt in order to succeed; on a smaller scale, succeeding in the projects, and, in the larger scheme of things, in life. I will not touch on the explicit points that Prof Ben has taught us through out CS3216, but will instead talk about what I’ve learnt and taken away from CS3216.

Learn quickly, and be willing to change your approach

Over the course of pitching our idea to numerous merchants, I had come to realise that certain kinds of people were more receptive to our idea than others. Typically, they were the younger marketing executives who would give us a chance, as compared to the more traditional and older types of business owners. As such, we started to look for businesses which seemed to have a more ‘modern’ kind of image, in hope that it would increase our chances of signing them up.

We also quickly learnt that the commission we were hoping to take was a huge turn-off for vendors who would otherwise beΒ  willing to give us a shot. I learnt first-hand from a few of these kind business owners that as a new service, it would make more sense to perhaps charge a lower fee, or even give businesses a trial period and then deliver results, which would allow us to command the kinds of commission that we were looking at. As such, we revised our commission rates downwards and true enough, results were improving.

I had no prior knowledge in the best practices of signing a contract. I didn’t know how and where to begin, e.g. do I send the vendor a copy for them to read first? if i needed to amend a clause in the contract, how should I go about doing it? I then called up the lawyer which Prof Ben kindly referred us to and he very generously gave me a primer in contract signing 101. πŸ˜€ I must say I had learnt A TON from the kind lawyer. Things like initialing against every page, sending the vendor a pdf format in advance etc.

For different kinds of businesses, we realised that we had to change our approach when pitching to them. Through this process, we had to learn quickly about how their businesses worked and make good guesses about the kinds of problems they were facing, and then work towards providing them with a solution. The same pitch works differently to the different people we were pitching to. For example, for the beauty services like spas and nail salons, it was a pretty simple and straightforward pitch, as compared to the restaurants. We quickly realised that the restaurants’ margins were a major impediment towards them wanting to try us out.

When in need, ask for help. More often than not people will pleasantly surprise you

Very often we were rejected by businesses. But one thing I understood was that it was nothing personal; it was purely business. They had not rejected us because they did not like me. They had rejected us because they did not believe in our idea, and, at that moment, couldn’t see the value in our service. I then made it a point to follow up and ask these business owners why they were unwilling to work with us, and learnt a lot from there. I had come to understand and put myself in these business owners’ shoes. This turned out to be a major advantage, as these business owners started referring us to people they know, and people whom they thought would like to hear us out. For example, I spoke to an expat who was running her own home yoga studio, and was pleasantly surprised when she and her husband referred and linked us up with many influential people in the F&B industry. I also found out that her husband was a successful serial entrepreneur.

We were also pleasantly surprised when we got to work with a designer. Since she was a friend of ours, she had agreed to not charge us until we began turning a profit. We truly appreciated her kindness. To be honest, I was pretty taken aback at how nice some people could be. Same thing went for the lawyer whom Prof Ben introduced us to. He was willing to defer payment until we started making a profit. Mind you, an agency contract like the one he drafted for us would easily cost up to $3000.

Open and direct communication is very important

Disagreements and disputes must be solved there and then. They cannot be brought forward to the next day. It is much easier said than done, but I’ve come to realize that it really takes effort in upholding this. If we were to let these layers of unhappiness with each other build up day by day, some day we would simply implode under its weight, which would definitely kill the relationship. Our team definitely had many heated disagreements, but I would say that we dealt with them fairly well. However, one small gripe that I would have is that perhaps more time could have been taken to know each other first on a personal level.

There are many mundane, boring things that you don’t like to do, but will have to get done, well, anyway

I think it speaks for itself. Throughout this course, there were numerous reports, paperwork, proposals, overviews and guidelines that we had to create from scratch. Truthfully, prior to this I absolutely hated doing such stuff. But, I’ve come to realise that I there was a problem with my mindset. I used to think that these paperwork were a hindrance to me towards getting things done. Since then, I’ve understood that these mundane processes are essential and important parts of any project and business that perhaps, the founder should be the one drafting them. Firstly, this is to help him/her gain a better understanding of the whole project. Secondly, it really helped me in building up my discipline in getting these matters done. I’m proud to say that now, I’ve changed my mindset towards such processes.

Know when to move on

While working on Voucherous, we had to change designers very late into the project (both were 3rd party designers). Our first designer was superb, but we understood her work commitments and more often than not, we found ourselves behind schedule. Finally, i think 2 weeks before the deadline, we decided to change designers and move on, to surprisingly good results. Looking back, I think we could have made the decision in switching designers earlier. At the end of the day, it was our fault that we failed to make this decision earlier. However, I’m glad this happened, as it would allow us to better judge similar situations should they occur in future, and increase our chances of making the right decision.

From here on

Last, but definitely not least, I wanna thank Prof Ben for everything that he has taught us, and for being an exemplary role model. It’s heartening to see someone practicing what he preaches, and it adds weight to the stuff he teaches. Sad to say, this is the last module that I can take under Prof Ben 😦

Big thanks to the TAs too: Kok Wee, Yuen Hoe, Yanjie, Su Yuen and Jason. As Prof Ben mentioned in one of his earlier emails, “these are not your average joes”. Fully agreed.

With that, I wish everyone great health and happiness!

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Plenary Session with Local Entrepreneurs

March 23, 2010 2 comments

Monday’s lecture was great, with several successful local entrepreneurs coming down to share with us their thoughts and journeys as entrepreneurs. I shall not regurgitate what they’ve said, but would instead share the key things that i’ve taken away/ been reinforced in from the plenary session:

– there is no one way to succeed
– there are many different reasons why people start businesses, and there is no such thing as which reason is the right or wrong one.
– perseverance is underrated
– company culture

There is no one way to succeed

Entrepreneurs will advice us based on their personal experiences. For Hoong Ann and Leslie, they were working for others for quite awhile before they decided that they wanted to do something on their own. On the other hand, entrepreneurs like Ash Singh seem to not subscribe to the notion that one should work for others first before branching out on their own. Ash Singh probably belongs to the true blue entrepreneurial type, having dropped out of school to found numerous successful businesses.

I think there are pros and cons to both sides of the camp. If you’ve been working for others, you’re actually being paid to learn. Along the way, if you’re astute enough, you are likely to build up a network of useful contacts who would benefit your future endeavours. On the other hand, it could also be argued that working for others would ‘trap’ you into the normal and conventional way of doing things. I know this is a sweeping statement, and there definitely has been more than enough cases that prove these otherwise. But, for argument’s sake, let’s leave it at that. On the other hand, if you’ve never worked for others your entire life and started a business straightaway, you’d probably have a very fresh and different approach to how things are and can be done. However, it might also mean that you might make stupid and obvious mistakes that a more seasoned worker would have been able to avoid. Again, sweeping statement, but let’s leave it at that πŸ˜›

Hence, i think it doesn’t matter what others say about whether you should or should not be starting a business. That’s probably what being an entrepreneur is about: going against the grain. Don’t try to fit the mould; make your own story, then let others dissect and tell stories about how you did it in future πŸ˜›

There are many different reasons why people start businesses, and there is no ‘correct’ reason

Chin Leng started SingaporeBrides.com because he understood, first hand, the trouble and hassle of preparing for his own wedding. In his case, he experienced a personal ‘pain’ and decided to do something about it, and hence came about the number one website in Singapore in its category.

For Ash, he probably saw opportunities in different sectors that he felt he could do a better job than others in, and hence dived head first into it. For example, i doubt he was hoping to solve any personal ‘pain’ by launching ShirtPal.com. I believe that it’s more of seeing that there’s potential for such a product, and then doing his best in offering customers enough value for them to buy from him.

For social entrepreneur Tong Yee, he saw a specific problem in a specific part of the education system in Singapore. He then went about changing it, and has been wildly successful in doing so.

Perseverance is underrated/ not given enough attention

There been a lot of hype about entrepreneurship in the media these days. They paint it like it’s all rosy and romantic. But can’t blame them too, i doubt these journalists/ media workers have ever started and ran something on their own. I think Hoong An did a great job in ‘dissuading’ the audience from starting their own businesses. I don’t think that dissuading the audience was his objective. Perhaps it was more giving the audience a behind the scenes look at entrepreneurship. Obviously, he knows how much shit one has to take when starting something on his own.

What isn’t portrayed in the media is the numerous cold, flat, in-your-face rejections an entrepreneur has to take when he is just starting out. How many cold calls the entrepreneur has to make. How the entrepreneur, and no one else, is responsible for every single aspect of the business; sales, accounting, marketing, manpower etc. How things will simply stagnate and freeze and not move forward one inch if the entrepreneur isn’t doing anything. How problems will creep up at 3am in the morning and the entrepreneur realizes that if he doesn’t fix it, no one else will. How the entrepreneur has to respond to each and every email/ complain in a nice enough manner, even though it’s clear the customer is being unreasonable. How, sometimes, self-doubt starts creeping in and messing with the entrepreneur’s head when things get rough. It’s no fun at all man. It’s true that sometimes, the entrepreneur will start asking himself, “is this really worth it?” BUT, probably what separates the men from the boys, as Hoong An puts it, is how the entrepreneur can persevere and make it through it no matter what is thrown at him.

Company Culture

Ash’s pointers on company culture were interesting, but i was hoping to hear more in-depth about specific things he does as the Managing Director of his company on a day-to-day basis. Sure, they have a swimming pool, they go for company outings fortnightly, and hit the gym together. But i was looking for something beyond this. I seems to me that these are external factors. Let’s take for example, Google. Yup, they’re known for their free gourmet meals, swimming pools, beach volleyball courts and stuff, but i think these are extrinsic factors. What are the INTRINSIC factors within Google that make them stand out, and how do they achieve that kind of ‘Googley-ness’? I think it has all to do with company culture.

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Provisioning for a Million Eyeballs

March 21, 2010 1 comment
There’s real value in inviting industry people to talk about the issues they face in the real world, and it’s obvious Prof Ben understands the value in this.

I was lost for the most part of the lecture, but i think i managed to take away a few concepts in the end.

I liked how Zit Seng used the examples of massive events like the IT show, Singapore Grand Prix and his particular example regarding the hotel lunch scenario. How the heck does one plan for 10,000 people coming in simultaneously, and, for example, going for lunch? Many issues arise: how to ‘guide’ them in an orderly manner to the desired place, such as which direction the queue for food is supposed to be? Also, for the IT show, how do the organizers provision for thousands and thousands of people thronging the place at the same time, all coming in different openings?

I think one key thing to take away from the above examples is that no matter how extensively you plan on paper for how things should flow in real life, things are probably not gonna turn out exactly as planned on paper. This was nicely summed up in his point: “Many webapps work perfectly in development and QAT, but fall apart in production”

For example, when Universal Studios opened their online facilities for online booking of tickets, their system still failed miserably amidst huge public discontent. Why does such a huge organization like that, with their millions and millions of dollars in resources, still not manage to keep a seemingly innocent online ticketing system, up and running? This is perhaps put into words very aptly by Zit Seng in his slides: “Need to simulate realistic user activity”.

Another main point i brought away that lecture was that how often the following scenario occurs: when an application breaks, the software people are gonna blame the hardware people, and vice versa; the applications people are gonna blame the network people, and vice versa. Why does this happen? The “Myth of the Overload” slide addresses this. Probably, many a times people are just gonna upgrade and add better servers to fight the fire. However, they are not addressing the root of the problem, which Zit Seng explained the technical side of very well. Shall not try to regurgitate what he taught, as i do not have the know-how to do so πŸ˜›

Key takeaway here: get to and understand the root of the problem before going about solving it. This way, you’ll reduce the chances of the same problem occurring again under future heavier load. Same goes for similar situations everywhere else. Common sense stuff, but we tend to not apply common sense when we ourselves are put in these situations.

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Top Tech IPO Candidates for 2010

March 4, 2010 Leave a comment


Good to know. Gives us an idea of where things are headed.

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How I Did It: Omniture’s Josh James

March 3, 2010 Leave a comment

A short and nice read.


There were times when I lay down on the floor at night, close to crying, and said, “I’m done. I can’t make payroll.” Then my wife would come over and kick me and say, “Get up and figure it out.”

“I make mistakes faster than anybody. I think, go, do. That’s the Omniture mantra. While you’re figuring out what to do, we’ve tried two different things and have figured out the right one.”

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The Way I Work: Jason Fried of 37Signals

February 25, 2010 2 comments


Very good read.

“I recently wrote a scathing piece on the tech media. It really bothers me that the definition of success has changed from profits to followers, friends, and feed count. This crap doesn’t mean anything. Kids are coming out of school thinking, I want to start the next YouTube or Facebook. If a restaurant served more food than everybody else but lost money on every diner, would it be successful? No. But on the Internet, for some reason, if you have more users than everyone else, you’re successful. No, you’re not.”

– Jason Fried

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Singapore Budget 2010 – What’s In It For Startups and Investors?

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment
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