Learning is a life long process. While sharing about my past 25 years of my life yesterday, I come to realize that I have worked more than 10 jobs to date. Let’s define work first before i jump into my first few jobs and what i learnt, to me, something I did with a monetary reward = work. That’s the definition. So here goes:
2003 – Waiter at Nemo Bistro
Back in 2003, I waited at one of my best buddy’s uncle’s bar/bistro. This is in Kuching and it was my first ever job. My mum has always raised me up with the mentality to always learn and explore new things. She would rather have me go try out a new job, hang out with friends and talk about stuff, or explore a new country rather than sitting at home watching TV. When my buddy asked if I am interested to help out at Nemo’s, without hesitation I said yes. It was more to fill in someone else’s slot.
So every night I would wait with my buddy at the uncle’s place and every night after work, I would get RM30 for a 4 hours work. My buddy’s parents would chauffeur me to and from work. I was 15. I lasted 2 weeks.
Lessons learnt: Not sure if there are any specific lessons learnt, but i remembered wanting to start my own business when I grow older. Another lesson I learnt was to always ask if I am unsure about anything, especially if the food orders from customers were not clear.
2006 – Sold roses during Valentines day
In February 2005 during Valentines Day, me and another two buddies of mine decided that we should try selling roses. Yes you’ve got it right: the one where you see people carrying basket of roses going around asking people to buy roses for their girlfriend on the street. I was one of them. We worked out the cost: to break even, each of us had to sell X stalks of roses, and once all of us hit the breakeven point, it would all be net profits. We even worked out the amount we would make if we sold off every single roses, and we were super excited about it. We even thought of rewarding ourselves with a good meal.
Of course, it did not turn out the way we wanted it to be.
Not only did we not breakeven, we made some losses because there were simply too many people selling roses. We went around asking people to buy our roses but we were simply ignored. We competed with prices, but we soon realized that price competition did not work, and it was responded with a price war from other sellers. I was 17.
Lessons learnt: We realized that for this kind of seasonal business to work, you have to rely a lot on pre-orders. Price war only causes more damage than good. Another thing which I only come to realize a lot later was that, in everything you do, ask yourself, how do you stand out? Everyone can sell roses, but how do you stand out? It applies to everything we do: everyone can start a website, everyone can do mathematics, everyone can start a business, but how do you stand out?
2006 – 2007 – eTiQa
In between 2006 and 2007, Maybank has just introduced one of their new insurance scheme called the eTiQa. For simplicity stake, let’s just treat it as just another insurance scheme. I joined eTiQa as one of its pioneer agents in Kuching. I figured that it would be easier since the scheme was in my hometown, and had very appealing benefits to its clients. I also figured that since it is a well known brand in Malaysia, it wouldnt be that hard to sell it.
So me along with a few friends, we would go to a shopping mall where there are pop up booths for eTiQa agents and we would spend the whole day trying to convert on walking shoppers into our customers. For each successful converts, depending on the quantum of the policy we would get a passive monthly income of RM100. I remembered getting 4 customers in 2 weeks. I was 18.
Lessons learnt: It was through eTiQa that I understand more about passive income, something which I only read about in Rich Dad Poor Dad. It was also through eTiQa that I learnt how to approach strangers and pitch to them a product, and my it was painful. I also learnt how to try different opening pitches and adjust my subsequent pitches based on their facial reactions. I probably pitched to more than 1000 shoppers. It also helped a lot if your product has a strong brand.
2006 – 2007 Tuition teacher and a private tutor
It didnt take me long to realize that selling insurance was something I dont like doing. At the same period, one of my secondary tuition teacher who operates a tuition center asked if I am interested to teach her students whom are in the upper secondary levels. I had no reasons to say no and figured it would be fun, so I went ahead and taught secondary 1 2 3 students science and mathematics. I took a 40% split for each student I taught. While sometimes I told myself that I probably deserve at least a 50-50 split or 60-40 split, I still gave in my best and the students then loved me.
Shortly after I stopped helping out, the students would request to continue being my tutee and I would then set up my own mini tuition center at my house. My sleeping room would be transformed into a mini tuition room. I had 5 students whom I taught them chemistry and mathematics (sec 3) at my room in Kuching twice a week. I ended up bagging 100% of the tuition fee for myself, and that would be my monthly pocket money then. I was 18 as well.
Lessons learnt: Give in your best, and you’ll most probably reap the returns later. A lot of times in life, while working, you work to learn.
2008 – Government (SMK Batu Lintang) secondary school Relieve teacher
In 2008 before I came to Singapore, my Secondary 6 (Pre-U) biology teacher asked if I could help fill in another one of our school biology teacher’s schedule as she would be on maternal leave. It was a huge responsibility for me because I had no prior experience in proper teaching, and it would be my first “official” job. My mum was happy for me and said that teaching might be a viable career opportunity: You work from 6am to 1pm, and you have the second half of the day off to pursue whatever you want. The pay is ok and government job is stable. While I had some hesitation, I said yes to my biology teacher and took the 2 month long job.
As part of the job, I would also be the form teacher of a class and I am also required to teach additional mathematics. While the stint lasted 2 months, I learnt quite a few things. I also earned my first pay check from the government! I think it was RM1400 per month.
Lessons learnt: You need to behave yourself professionally to command respect. Once you lose the respect, it is very hard to gain it back. I took a different approach in teaching, I wanted my students to treat me as equal and i want them to know that they can approach me anytime they want to ask any questions. Apparently that did not work out so well in the more mischievous class but it worked like a charm in the better classes. In different situation, you have to tweak your behaviour to suit your target audience. And while it was good to be “friends” with some of the students, you have to still remember to draw the line when you need to. The same goes for my work later or when I started my next ventures: Once you lose the respect or when you lose the motivation, it is very hard to get it back.
2010 – 2011 – Ortus Group & Ascendas
As part of my NUS Overseas Shanghai stint, i spent 6 months working for Ortus Group, a PR and events company based in Shanghai and the next 6 months working for Ascendas Shanghai. At Ortus, I was the assistant marketing manager and I handled a couple of events and accounts servicing for clients like Skechers, Shanghai World Expo, and Keppel Land. One of the major things I learnt here was to know how to deal with last minute changes especially in the events industry, something which I am still not comfortable with even today. Another thing I learnt the hard way is, if you cant help yourself, nobody can.
I shortly departed Ortus and joined Ascendas as a market analyst. I was in charge of feasibility studies for second and third tier countries. I would evaluate the various proposals for real estate development and see if they fit into Ascendas’ strategy in China. While exciting, I didnt like the whole corporate environment.
2012 – Jerseypal
When I came back to Singapore from Shanghai, one of my batchmate and I came together to sell bicycle jerseys. He needed someone to handle the website and online marketing, and also a partner to make sure that things are reasonable. We would ship in bicycle jerseys in bulks and sell them off through our simple blog and through word of mouth. While we made some money (high margins), I told him that it wasnt meant for me and I wasnt enjoying what I do. I was not familiar with the industry and I was not passionate about the whole cycling thing. I wasnt comfortable doing all the logistics too.
Lesson learnt: I learnt quite a lot, the primary one being, you have to understand an industry before you jump into it. For Jerseypal, it was quite an eye opening short venture to me: I took care of the finances (the need to keep track of every penny since the beginning), inventory & logistics (the need to commit an upfront cash payment for inventory & put back the first trench of revenue into reordering), and order fulfillment. I also learnt a bit about sunk costs and hidden costs. Did i also mention logistics is a bitch?
2012 – Lunchsparks
Another thing which I did with 2 of my other friends was Lunchsparks, an offline version of linkedin. Basically its a targeted version of Meetup.com: tell us who you want to meet professional, we hook you up with that person with the background you require, and we arrange the lunch at one of our partner restaurants. Things were looking good in the beginning, we had 4 partner restaurants, we arranged more than 100+ meetups between professionals, we had a grant, and we had some seed funding offers (which we never take up). While there were quite some promises, due to the team’s other commitment, we decided to call it. While we had an MVP out, we never publicly released it, simply because we thought that it wasnt good enough.
Lessons learnt (i’ll probably do another blog post on this): Team > Ideas. Period. A good team will make a bad idea work, and a good idea will be bad with a bad team. Another lesson for me was: ship fast and iterate often. We should have just shipped our platform out and it was pretty decent work now when I think back. We wanted to wait until it was perfect with all the matching algorithms and the most presentable UI, something I only found out later to be non existent: there will never be a perfect product. Another thing which I learnt is that, 70% of a $150k company is worth more than 100% of a $0 company.
2012: N – House
In the same year since I came back from Shanghai, I was also the pioneer resident assistant of N-House, I was tasked to lead 100 residents during their stay in Singapore’s first entrepreneurial themed dorm. I pioneered the weekly Wicked Wednesday session where we invited speakers to come and speak to the residents of N-House. N-House was featured on Bloomberg too.
Lessons learnt: Community building is harder than it sounds, and there will always be those that dont care about what you do/plan for them, you just have to move on (if they dont help themselves, nobody can, so it’s ok). Another thing I learnt is also to know when to assign tasks to your teammate and sometimes you have to trust that they will do the job.
2011 – now: e27
Of course, I have also been working for e27 for almost 2 years now. (Read more: my role at e27)
I started off reviewing apps, and moved on to cover startup news around Southeast Asia. My role evolved from a writer to events and product manager. I recently emceed for Echelon too, one of our company’s flagship event! Will probably be writing a lot more about my learnings from managing products at e27 in the upcoming few months, integrating all the lessons i have learnt from my past 10 jobs into my current role at e27.
So yeaps, there you go, my life so far, 11 jobs and counting.