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The Birth of 5 Apps You Use (Especially in Singapore)

Sitting in an office with your legs on the table as you watch the numbers count up, must seem like quite the pipe dream. No one to answer to – instead, you are your own boss, and you’re able to exercise your own vision. In a 2016 GoDaddy survey spanning 11 regions, 36% of the respondents planned to become entrepreneurs over the next decade. This included 50% of millennials – classified as those between 18 to 30 years old by the survey.

Yet you would definitely know by now that entrepreneurship is not a bed of roses. Let’s look at the roadblocks some well-known entrepreneurs faced in their ventures.



Image Source: Chng Shao Kai/TODAY

Grab is arguably one of the largest and most successful startups in Southeast Asia today. This is a far cry from its beginnings as nothing but an idea – make taking taxis safer in Kuala Lumpur. At that time, bad eggs in the taxi industry were staining the reputation of the entire industry. Hooi Ling experienced this herself at her previous job – a consultant at McKinsey. In light of the negative reputation, she would pretend to be on the line with a family member throughout the ride.


At garages in Kuala Lumpur, Tan would knock on taxi windows to convince drivers to download Grab’s early app, then known as MyTeksi. In Singapore, the team would spend long hours persuading taxi drivers to partner Grab at places such as a popular food hawker centre in Bukit Merah, a residential area.

It has now grown to be the company known for sending Uber packing in the Southeast Asian markets, after outmaneuvering it in a series of well-timed decisions. The company has progressively broadened its business in its push to build an everyday services app.


Jack Ma

Image Source: Getty Images

“You have to get used to failure,” Jack Ma once said at a speech in the University of Nairobi. (Full speech here.)

He is no stranger to failure himself, having tasted it even before setting out on his path to entrepreneurship. After a teaching stint at a university, he began to look for further employment. However, he was rejected from every job he applied for, including a position as a secretary to a general manager at KFC, and with the police force.

After discovering the Internet in 1995, he soon noticed that there was no representation of China online. Ma borrowed $2,000 to set up a company, registering it as “China Pages”. It was meant to be a directory of various Chinese companies looking for customers abroad. It was short-lived. In an Inc.com interview, Ma described having competed with China Telecom for a year, before China Telecom’s general manager offered the prospect of a joint venture. Disagreements soon arose, and Ma resigned.

His big break would come in the form of Alibaba. It was able to ride on the Internet boom in the late 90s, raising several millions from Goldman Sachs and Softbank. Yet even Alibaba has not been a smooth ride in its early days, much like any other new venture. In the early 2000s Ma had to lay off Alibaba’s entire international staff to stem immense cash flow problems as the dot-com bubble burst.

Despite filing for one of the most successful IPOs of all time, Ma remains grounded in his values and that of Alibaba. He credits his values with having seen the company through tough times and encourages a forward-looking approach in across the entire organization he helped create.


Carousell Founders

Image Source: Carousell

Carousell – or Carouhell, depending on your experience while dealing with the other party, is a homegrown marketplace for used goods. It was started in 2012 by Mr Quek and his partners, Mr Lucas Ngoo and Mr Marcus Tan.

The trio got to know each other while studying at the National University of Singapore, bonding over their hobby of buying and selling gadgets online. As part of a university programme, they spent a year in Silicon Valley and attended talks by entrepreneurs, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Carousell was named after the Kodak Carousel projector featured on the TV drama “Mad Men.” Its success was due to its ability to make the shopping experience simple to use on a mobile phone.

Some years ago, Quek and the rest of the board got together to decide whether to sell Carousell for a $100 million USD offer. Eventually they decided to continue building the business. It is now valued at around US$500 million as of June 2018. Carousell continues to innovate to shorten processes and improve the user experience using machine learning and AI.


mark zuckerberg

Source: Mark Zuckerberg | Facebook

Facebook had its beginnings in 2004 as a social interaction network exclusively for Harvard University. It was initially known as “Thefacebook”. Within a month, half of Harvard’s students had signed up, and by March 2004 it had expanded to Yale, Columbia, and Stanford. Around this point Zuckerberg brought in fellow Harvard students Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, and Chris Hughes, to build the site into a business.

Facebook grew leaps and bounds over the years to come, and had its historic $5 billion initial public offering on May 18, 2012. It only continues to grow, but the social media network is now at the centre of a debacle concerning data privacy and “fake news”. Executives including Zuckerberg himself were called to hearings in the US Congress, and in British Parliament.

The developments are something we watch with interest, as they can affect how businesses manage data and even conduct business. We are already seeing some of the gears in motion as a result of this.

Still, this experience is probably not new to Zuckerberg. He had already found himself in hot water even before the inception of Thefacebook. A year prior in 2003, Zuckerberg had created an online programme called “Facemash”. The programme allowed users to rate which student they thought was more attractive – using photos obtained by hacking the school’s servers. Zuckerberg faced disciplinary action and escaped expulsion by a hair.

Source: BusinessInsider


The Airbnb founders

Source: Forbes

Airbnb is yet another classical rags to riches story. This time around, the idea had its roots in a side idea by two roommates to make extra bucks by renting out air mattresses. The pair had learnt in 2007 that a big design conference was coming to San Francisco. The influx of guests meant that vacancies at hotels were filling up fast. Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on the shortage of vacancies and earn a quick buck, the pair decided to convert the loft they lived in into a bed-and-breakfast. They created a simple site, airbedandbreakfast.com and bought three air mattresses. Their first guests were two men and one woman, who paid $80 each.

After sensing the potential for further development, the pair got an old roommate onboard, building it into a business. While they had simplified the booking experience, investors were still not keen on the idea.

Driven into a corner, the trio turned cereal boxes into Obama O’s and Cap’n McCains and sold them on the streets for $40 each. The boxes came with information about Air Bed and Breakfast and generated $30,000. The trio also resorted to an unconventional method of funding, which they (and we) wouldn’t recommend – credit cards. They applied for card after card and “definitely” maxed them out.

A venture capitalist soon noticed the up-and-coming project and invited the trio to join a prestigious startup accelerator. The company scrapped their original name “Air Bed & Breakfast”, simplifying it to the “Airbnb” that you know today. The rest is history.

Source: BusinessInsider

Your Own Idea?

Despite the mental (and sometimes physical) toll that entrepreneurship presents, 87% of the respondents in the GoDaddy survey said they would want to do it all again. Over half of the respondents said they would try again, even if their current business failed.

As the old adage goes: no pain, no gain. If you never jump into things, you will never know if your idea will truly be successful. Success stories, stories of failure and how entrepreneurs, everyday people like you and I overcame them – we hope they have been able to motivate you to create a product or service that enters the mainstream consciousness.

Do you have a groundbreaking idea that could change the world? Share it with us, or even tap on our exclusive network of investors that can help you get off the ground!

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