• Jodi Tan

Takeaways from The Start In Start-Up S2E1: What makes a startup successful

Updated: Feb 20

Everyone knows the story of how Microsoft Founder Bill Gates struck rich in his early years after his company successfully went public in 1986, but only a few truly know about the backstory of sacrifice, hard work, and tenacity that got the technologist where he is today. The narrative of young, bold, and inexperienced college students earning millions before they even graduated greatly appeals to aspiring young entrepreneurs who want to emulate their successes, but truth to be told, a staggering 9 out of 10 start-ups will fail according to Forbes.

Despite the incredibly low chances of you becoming the next Bill Gates, it’s not impossible to rule out the possibilities if you embody the right values and mindset before taking the leap of faith. To investigate further on what makes a start-up successful, NES had the pleasure to invite Ryan Adnin Goh, Andeed Ma, and Elena Chow as our panelists, to share some great insights on concrete steps that you can take to increase your chances of turning your dreams into a reality. Having undergone their fair share of hardships when they first started out, the three speakers persevered and prevailed, establishing a robust presence within their industry while continuing to seek opportunities for growth. Read on to find out what is their take on building a successful start-up.

Question 1: What are some ideal traits of an entrepreneur?

Discipline and curiosity were the first two things that came into Andeed’s mind when this question was posed to him. Unlike corporate settings, start-ups run at their own pace, where their schedule, planning, and decision-making are all within the hands of the Founder. Discipline is the cornerstone of success if founders want to get things done.

Secondly, as the old adage “knowledge is power” is highly relevant in any setting, start-ups have to leverage this more than anybody else. Being hungry for knowledge and constantly learning enhances your ability to lead and execute plans, something that makes or breaks your brainchild.

Ryan then shifts the focus to being adaptive and agile. Start-ups will undeniably face numerous occasions where they’re tight on their budget, and entrepreneurs must be creative in working around this problem.

Elena finishes with the cherry on top by bringing in the importance of having a vision. To be far-sighted, firm and on the ball is necessary to disrupt and capture new markets.

Question 2: What distinguishes a successful founder from the rest?

When it comes to building a company, we all got to follow Nike’s motto: Just Do It! A successful founder is one that is “gung ho” enough to execute his plans and test his minimum viable product (MVP) even if it kind of sucks. Ryan fervently believes in this, quoting that to “release products in bite-sized chunks, let yourself fail, do market testing and gain feedback” is the only way where you will learn most about your product and the market.

Is your product delighting your customers? Are there certain shortcomings that need to be addressed? These are answers to find out only if you give potential customers a chance to try it out for themselves.

The next big misconception is that good founders invest gargantuan amounts of time on fixing their weaknesses, much to the dismay of Andeed. A good founder should instead amplify on his strength, and work with a co-founder who is perhaps better in that aspect. After all, a good team is one that complements one another’s weaknesses.

Question 3: How do we motivate team members?

All work and no play indeed make jack a dull boy. It doesn’t have to be purely all about work. To establish better cohesion and stronger chemistry with your team, much of it comes outside of work. Ryan suggests an alternate perspective, where time and effort are invested in establishing a social bubble outside of work. Be it going for a drink or just doing something fun in general, founders must find opportunities to build a strong rapport with their team members.

Elena offers a psychological perspective, aptly bringing in the “Maslows Hierarchy of Needs” that addressed the needs of this question adequately. What is it that spurred your teammate to join you on this unpredictable venture? It may not solely be the desire of breaking free from the rat race. Sometimes it may be self-actualization, the pinnacle of the pyramid where one just wants to achieve his or her aspirations. Knowing their “whys” is instrumental to formulating the right policies for motivating team members.

Last but not least, lend a listening ear to them. Value good ideas, collaborative spirits of a fellow team member, and give credits when they are due. These are people that share the same dreams and ambition as you, and to succeed very much depends on a team effort. According to numerous sources, a team with poor chemistry accounts for the top reasons why start-ups often fail.

Question 4: The “Fear” factor and how to deal with it before embarking on any endeavor.

It’s normal to be afraid. Starting a company with mammoth risks and uncertainties are indispensable conundrums that founders will face. In response to this, all panelists echo the same view: to accept and overcome. Come up with the worst-case scenario and plan accordingly to it, and take small steps to curb the fear of trying again and again.

Concluding thoughts:

As much as I would like to call this the recipe to start-up success, there are no guarantees in succeeding as a start-up from the rather depressing statistics that I brought up at the beginning.

Despite this, this shouldn’t deter ambitious founders (like yourselves) from pursuing your passion. As our panelist has rightfully concluded, entrepreneurship is a difficult journey that requires many sacrifices and hard work, but your burning drive to solve problems around you and make changes to the lives of others should provide the small glint of hope that you will one day prevail.

I’ll like to conclude with a quote: “Find a job that you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The three speakers have defined entrepreneurship to be a highly regarded profession like every other, and if you are passionate about what you are doing, then a brilliant concept will win over the hearts and minds of your customers eventually.

We hope that everyone who attended the session thoroughly enjoyed it! See you in the next episode of the Start In Startup-Up Series !


Article by Melvin Leo, Copywriter under Marketing & Communication Division in NES.

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