Commentary: Why starting a business straight out of school is the best thing I did
Rae Fung, who started her coaching and emcee business right out of university, says this is the best time to become an entrepreneur.
SINGAPORE: Growing up in a "typical" Singaporean family, both my parents have been corporate professionals all their life and I saw getting a job as the default move.
In a country that values education, I’ve always been told (or hinted) by parents and teachers that if I don’t do well in school, I won’t be able to get a good job. No good job, no good lifestyle.
When my school organised career discovery talks, "entrepreneur" was rarely on the list. Applying for a job was practical because it is safe and secure and mostly, there was a consistent salary.
It was only when I was introduced to a seasoned businessman when I was 20, did I see a completely new world. Today, like me, most of my immediate circle of friends are entrepreneurs, most of whom set up their businesses even before they graduated from university.
ENTER THE PASSION-DRIVEN MILLENNIAL
Times are different. Those in Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) or millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) look for work that they enjoy. While my parents’ highest priority in their 20s was choosing a career that is economically viable and offered financial stability, today’s young prioritise passion and personal development over stability.
Forbes magazine, quoting a Nielson study done on Gen Z showed that 54 per cent of the over 3,000 Americans interviewed said they would like to start their own company. Having more control, being debt-free and living a purposeful life were all drivers of this desire.
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In my own interactions, I find that this is true here in Singapore too. Several of my university friends start what we call a “side hustle” – and this can be anything – busking, giving tuition, a baking business, freelance photography or video work are some examples.
Slowly, this side hustle is the window that opens into the opportunity to become a business owner. One of my friends, Dylan, taught math tuition for a few years before starting his own agency, Paradigm, which now combines academics with helping students find their passion. His telegram channel got over 600 students in five months.
Throughout my university days, I was doing regular emceeing gigs which strengthened my passion for hosting while equipping me with the key skill sets and mindset of an entrepreneur. Skills such as networking, pitching to clients and content marketing became important.
Over time, the transition to becoming a full-time entrepreneur became second nature. Like my friends who turned the side hustle into a business, I realised there was financial viability too.
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LOW BARRIERS OF ENTRY
A decade ago, the word "entrepreneur" would give you the impression of a corporate professional in their 40s, starting a business with a wealth of corporate experience.
Now, many entrepreneurs are young folks who start creative services without the decades of experience.
Coupled with good marketing and strong tech skills, they are ready to start things. The old days of having formal credentials or certifications may not be necessary in becoming an entrepreneur.
In fact, not a single client has asked me about my grades or where I went to school. I didn’t even have to plonk in thousands of dollars to start my business – I paid for a website hosting service and did everything else myself.
With the low set-up cost and high adoption of social media usage by users, underpinned by an internet-driven era, entrepreneurs are shifting their businesses online to remain competitive and stay relevant.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has also reinforced this trend, with fitness instructors shifting their classes online via teleconference platforms such as Zoom completely eliminating the need of renting spaces, which saves hundreds of dollars.
Mindbody, a business management software company has data showing a stark jump in consumers assessing virtual content with 73 per cent and 85 per cent of consumers using pre-recorded video and livestream classes respectively, compared to 17 per cent and 7 per cent in 2019.
The jump in numbers is nothing short of extraordinary.
That said, the barriers of entry to entrepreneurship really depends on the type of business one builds. I spoke to CEO and Co-Founder of Reactor School, Rusydi Khairul, who helps student entrepreneurs turn their ideas into projects, and their projects into companies.
He says starting a small-scale lifestyle business or a boutique company allows people to use their skills and ideas, but the DNA of such companies seldom allow them to scale up.
Like me, many of these are run by the owners themselves. This is easier to manage in a sense - we don't have to deal with the complications that come with rent, staffing and dealing with supply chain issues.
But it is a whole other game if the business is bigger, or if it is a venture-backed tech company. To raise external investment funds requires business acumen, a team of people and greater investment.
“There are eventual trade-offs wherein you might be asked to do something that your investors want which may be at odds with the founders' preferences or passions,” said Rusydi.
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AVAILABILITY OF SUPPORT
For a year in 2016, I worked in a nightclub. I had no direction in life and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Only after being exposed to the world of personal development and meeting entrepreneurs from 2017 onwards did I slowly grow to who I am today.
The reason why young people are starting to see entrepreneurship as an option is the availability of support in the form of meeting mentors on LinkedIn, personal development podcasts and content all over YouTube and Spotify, as well as the accessibility of entrepreneurship school clubs and networking events.
Social media has made it so easy for me to reach out to people I am interested in talking to.
Throughout the years, I've learnt so much from mentors I've met over coffee simply by dropping them a message on LinkedIn. These are financially-free entrepreneurs willing to meet me periodically every week or month to mentor and guide me along my career.
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Yes, for free. You will be surprised that they have much to learn from Gen Z and millennials too - especially in areas like social media.
2020 has been a very tough year – the disruption it has unleashed on industries and the sheer number of job losses makes this a tough year to venture into business. Yet, this presents the prime time for us to leverage on the uptick in virtual adoption for businesses.
For me, I can’t imagine a better time to have started my coaching business. Now more than ever, I have come to believe that choosing to develop my passion into a career is a choice I will make time and again.
Rae was also one of three working adults who revealed how their PSLE results shaped their life journeys in a no-holds-barred conversation on CNA's Heart of the Matter podcast:
Rae Fung is a millennial speaking and emcee coach who graduated from NTU's Communication and Media studies this year.