Success Tips

Success tips from S'pore startups

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The Singaporean startup has progress far on the world stage. This year, Singapore was ranked number one in the world for startup talent by Startup Genome, a US-based small business research and development firm.

Developments  driving innovation

Over the past year, local startups have been the beneficiaries of data collected by public agencies and shared through online platforms as part of the Smart Nation initiative. Access to substantial, reliable data sets has enabled business owners to implement data-driven insights to improve the way they run their business. In addition, government initiatives such as the Start-Up Enterprise Development Scheme (SEEDS) and Singapore’s pro-business environment have undoubtedly helped set the stage for a dynamic startup community.

Almost half of young startups are currently focused on developing completely new technology, according to a study by NUS Enterprise. This is an encouraging trend as the study also showed that innovation equals growth. More innovative businesses reported sales growth of an average of 70.4 percent per annum as compared with less innovative firms.

Strategies for success

Hoping to gain deeper insight, I spoke with some entrepreneurs who use Xero in Singapore to get their take on the key reasons behind the success of Singaporean startups, and to hear some of the specific strategies they rely on to run their own businesses.

Each entrepreneur emphasized the value of being receptive to new solutions and innovations in the tech space. “Be open to exploring new technologies and ideas,” said Michelle Koh of programming company Robust Tech House. “Keeping an open mind leads to more business opportunities.”

Ben Lee, the proprietor of bustling CBD sandwich shop, Sarnies, explicity said, “Get the right technology tools to manage your finances.”

Ben was equally emphatic on the issue of money: “Only invest what you can afford to lose”, he said. This point is worth highlighting – despite a general sense of optimism within the startup community, the same NUS Enterprise study cited above reported that half of Singaporean startups operate at a loss.

Of the 530 Singapore startups surveyed in 2016, a quarter recorded no revenue at all while 29 percent generated revenues but were spending more money than they earned. The unfortunate consequence of this is that only half of the startups formed in Singapore five years ago are still in business today. This is a trend that urgently needs to be addressed by businesses making their finances a priority.

The importance of challenging your assumptions

Keeping on top of conversations and trends in the small business community is crucial. Reading the news helps me create a mental model of the market in which we operate. Personally, I like to use RSS feeds to keep up-to-date – having headlines delivered to me daily – sometimes hourly – ensures that fresh information is constantly reinforcing or challenging my existing mental model of the market. It also helps me stay attuned to my customers and the trends influencing them.  

Cafebond.com, an online coffee retailer and subscription service advises putting customers at the middle of the business. Keyis Ng, CEO and co-founder said, “Watch how they interact with your product – even the smallest changes should make you innovate and adapt.”

Lelian Chew of Floral Atelier, a boutique floral studio and online delivery service echoed this sentiment. She encourages businesses to clearly identify their market from the start, “The market won’t find you – have a target market and be consistent in your approach.”

The value of a support system

“Don’t do it alone!” was the advice of Amira Priest, CEO of Zahara, an online retailer of halal makeup. The website also acts as a supportive online community for Muslim women. While Amira does not have a team per se, her husband Cam acts as trusted confidante and business advisor.

Fitness enthusiast Luciano Tesoriero concurs. The New Zealander brought the first F45 gyms to Singapore, for which a good team was absolutely crucial. He advises entrepreneurs to identify their business values and build a diverse and interesting group that identifies with them. Surrounding yourself with people who believe in the product or service you’re selling means you not only have a team to rely on – you also have more fun along the way!

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