Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Looking Back 4: Setting Sail (Year 2005 – The Orientation Year)

So on April 2005, I finally ventured out full-time. K and I had registered a partnership business, and we rented a small office at the east side. I felt fresh and enthusiastic, just like how I felt when I first graduated. I enjoyed the freedom of an entrepreneur’s life. In fact, I could work 7 days a week without feeling tired.

During the first few months, I focused on the development of the product while K did some marketing and packaging materials. I managed to release the first version of the product by early June and proceed to do some enhancements. K launched a minor marketing campaign on July and we got our first deal on August. Till then, everything seemed to be going well although we did not take any salaries.

The next few months, I continued with the enhancements of the product and did some occasional proposals for some ad-hoc projects. We had closed a few deals but because we sold our products mostly at discounted prices, we did not really earn much revenue. In fact, our revenue couldn’t cover our expenses and as a result, our company’s bank account kept decreasing. By November, our company bank account dropped from an initial S$10,000 to slightly over S$1000. We did not have a single deal in November and December, and our account dropped to a danger level at around S$500+.

At that point of time, we started to feel a bit demoralized. We knew it wasn’t easy but we did not expect to be that hard. K started to blame our product, and wanted me to look into developing other products. But I felt that we had spent so much time and effort on our product that it made no sense to just switch to other product. Developing a new product would take more time and would not guarantee success also. Moreover, I still believed in the potential and value of our pioneer product.

During December, K told me he had some personal problems and requested to take a break. He did not come to office for most part of the month. I had a premonition that K might wanna quit. I started to take over some of K’s roles in anticipation of what might eventually happened. I started to ask myself questions, when I looked out of the window of my lonely little office.

Should I continue if K decided to quit?
How much longer can I sustain the company?
What should I do to sustain and eventually grow the company?
Should I get a full-time job too, and carry on the business part-time?

I had no answers then. The year ended with the future looking bleak.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Looking Back 3: My Resignation

It was January 2005. According to the plan, I should have finished with the development of the product and be ready to release the first version. But unfortunately things don’t always go as expected. Doing part-time product development was more tedious than I expected, and I only managed to finish about 20% of the product. My partner K’s idea was to release the product before we resigned, so that we can have a “smooth” transition. But at the rate of my part-time development, this was quite impossible.

So I decided to tender my resignation on 31st Jan 2005 so that I can go into full-time development of my product as soon as possible. I wasn’t in the mood to do anything useful that day. The only thing in my mind was how and when to tender. Time seemed to passby very slowly. I waited till after office hours, as I knew my manager T often worked quite late and hopefully other colleagues would have left by then. I had been thinking about how would T react at my resignation. Although I was very firm about my decision, the execution wasn’t without any hesitation. Afterall, leaving the familiar environment that I had been working in for several years wasn’t easy.

I went over to T’s office at around 7pm. There was still some other colleagues around, so I asked T to come over to the laboratory that I worked in. At the lab, I handed my resignation letter to T. He was rather surprised and asked for my reasons. I told T that I planned to setup my own company. And I told him about certain push factors that contributed to my decision. I told him that as a technically-inclined person, my future was rather bleak in this company. I foresee myself to be in his position several years down the road, doing management & administrative stuffs that I had absolutely no interest in, if I remained in this company. And lastly, I asked T : “Do you really enjoyed your job?” T sighed and said, “What do you think? If only I had your courage ten years ago…”

T was able to fully understand what I wanted, and wished me good luck in my future endeavour. T is an interesting person to work with. He is what I called an “accidental manager”, as he was an engineer for years before being promoted to a manager, pretty much against his wishes. It is quite obvious that an engineer and a manager requires very different skillsets, and a good engineer not necessarily can become a good manager, and vice versa. T can be considered as a competent engineer, but he is never a successful manager. And I meant that as a compliment, not a criticism.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Stroll at Vivocity

Went to the much-hyped vivocity yesterday morning. There are more shops and restaurant now compared to my last visit some time last month. My main purpose is to take a look at MV Doulos, the oldest active ocean-going passenger ship. They have a bookshop onboard the ship which sells books at a low price, which is in line with their aim of “bringing knowlegde, help and hope to the people of the world”.

The “book shop” is actually a tentage setup at the deck, and it is rather warm inside. From what I see, most of the books are for children or about christianity. Though I do not find any books that suits me, I would still recommend a visit to MV Doulos if you have the time.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Customer Satisfaction == My Satisfaction

Went to visit an old customer last friday. They had bought a new server and requested me to assist in porting my software from their old server to the new one. Their director showed me how they used my software to integrate with their back-end databases to provide some new services to their customers. He seemed very happy with the whole system and commented that this was a “success story”, and said that I can use their company as a reference.

Upon leaving, I was feeling very happy. Not because that I can use their company as a reference (I don’t normally do that), but because of the satisfaction of seeing my product being appreciated by the customers. It is this satisfaction that gives me the energy to carry on when things aren’t going too well.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Looking Back 2: Planning my second voyage

My initial voyage suffered a prematured failure at around Dec 2003. KY was posted overseas but I still maintained contact with him via email. I tried to bring out the topic of continuing our business venture but he seemed totally uninterested. So I started to desperately actively look for another business partner.

During the first half year of 2004, I was promoted to senior engineer and tasked to lead a new project. The new role and responsibilities somehow kept me busy enough to stop thinking about any business venture. Then came July, I had a chat with my colleague K from customer service department. Apparently, he was quite unhappy with the increments these few years and was looking for other opportunities. Quite obviously, our topic started to shift towards the possibilities of having a business venture together. We had a few talks after that, and eventually we decided to create a product and setup a company together.

This time round, I was quite confident of the product we had thought of. There wasn’t many similar products in the market and most of them had serious flaws. The possible market segments were rather untapped at that moment. So I started writing the requirements specification and software design, while K took care of the administrative stuffs like name cards, letter-heads, company stamps, brochures and packaging.

My target was to finish the development and release the first version by January 2005, and then quit my job to concentrate full-time on my own company. I would have 2 months notice period to fully hand-over my job, so the earliest I can leave would be around end of March 2005. I was very determined about this venture as I knew I wasn’t getting any younger and there wasn’t many chances I can afford to slip by.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

A lighter schedule

Having deployed two systems in this week and worked throughout Wednesday night, I decided to have a lighter schedule today. Met an ex-colleague H for lunch. Apparently H just resigned and most probably gonna set up a company. And H was quite interested in my product so we may work out something together in future. H told me about his business idea, but it seemed to me that it is rather general. I am actually expecting a more concrete business plan, but all he mentioned was just a general idea of the kind of business he wanted to do and how big the targeted market is. Well, it is too early to say whether H can succeed or not. Or eventually he may decided not to setup company at all. I had seen quite a number of failure cases due to lack of proper planning. I believed H has some business development experiences which may come useful, but being an entrepreneur needs much more than that.

After the lunch, I went to the library to do some leisure reading and surfing, before going to the gym for some work-out. There wasn’t a lot of people in the gym, because it was still within office hours. Guess that’s one benefit of being one’s own boss: more freedom in time management.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Looking Back 1: My Initial Voyage

When the decision was made on August 2003 to venture out, the first thing that struck my mind was: Find one or more business partners. I did not have the courage or know-hows to venture out alone then. I found my university coursemate KY, and after some lengthy persuasion he finally decided to join me. Then, we carried out several meetings outside our normal working hours to discuss what to do. Since we did not really have any great business ideas, I suggested that we shall take up projects part-time while still holding on to our full-time jobs. Any revenues that we earned shall be placed into a joint account. By the time this account accummulated enough capital, we most probably would also have a considerable customer base and we can venture out full-time.

At the first thought, this idea seems brilliant and risk-free. I have the technical know-hows while KY has the industrial contacts. However, after several months, we were unable to clinch any deals although we sent out proposals and tried to lower our price. I had even developed prototypes of systems that the customers required. After a while, KY seemed discouraged and lost the initial enthusiasm. Eventually, by the end of the year, KY was posted overseas by his company and our short partnership ended abruptly.

I figured that, this initial short voyage failed mainly because we did not have a clear direction and were rather half-hearted in the business. As we were both engineers, most of the time we were so tied up with our full-time jobs that we did not really have spare time to think about our business. And KY was actually rather afraid to take risk and preferred to be in his comfort zone. But I wasn’t prepared to give up just like that and went on to plan for my second voyage.

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