Enabling, Engaging and Empowering Entrepreneurs
Guest Spring 2012 - Yee Jenn Jong
Always On The Move!
This was what Mr Yee Jenn Jong replied when asked to describe himself. And so it comes with no surprise that Mr Yee is an entrepreneur with notable start-ups such as ASKnLearn Pte Ltd, one of the leading e-learning service provider for Singapore schools, under his belt and is a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament. With some saying that he is crazy for venturing into the unknown, he recalls how as a bank scholar with a computer science degree, he could have easily taken the more conventional path by securing a stable job and succeeding in it. However, wanting to embrace new challenges, he constantly moves out of his comfort zone and has gone from being a teaching assistant at the National University of Singapore to the person he is today.
Entrepreneurial Journey of ASKnLearn
Prior to setting up ASKnLearn, Mr Yee had twice failed to implement such an idea of using technology to provide education services; once in 1992 when he was faced with the problem of distributing the software and another in 1996 when slow internet speeds and high costs of development made it unfeasible.
It was not until June 1999, when Mr Yee was recovering from a bout of chicken pox and was reflecting on the dotcom revolution in America and Singapore was he inspired to try his idea again. With a modest start-up capital, ASKnLearn Pte Ltd was born in 2000 as a 4-man team.
Challenges he faced
The period after the initial start up was a struggle. Schools were reluctant to award projects to small companies for fear of them being bankrupt in the long run. Moreover, such an e-learning idea was not well-received with the teachers as they saw their students on a daily basis. The company had to manage its cash flow tightly and also had difficulty in finding talent for their start-up. In addition, they faced fierce competition from better-funded and established competitors.
Mr Yee believed that the best people to tell you how to run your business are the customers. After all, it is the customers who will be buying your products and services rather than your investors. As such, he adopted a customer-focused approach and came up with innovative solutions tailored specifically for his customers. By being flexible, he managed to grow his customer base and survive against the odds.
The outbreak of SARS in 2003 was a watershed moment for ASKnLearn where the temporary closure of schools in Singapore caused them to be more open to the subscription of e-learning services. E-learning thus became necessary for schools and his company grew at an average of over 50% annually for the next 4 years, bagging the Deloitte's Fastest growing 500 Asia Pacific technology firms award twice in the process.
Flexibility & Tenacity is the key
In the case of Mr Yee, though he had conducted prior market research, when implementing his idea, the market was initially unreceptive to the solutions he had provided. Determined to succeed, he changed to a more flexible business model. Hence we can see that more often than not, the plans that we come up with are not strictly adhered to. More importantly, we should not give up if things do not go as planned but be flexible and learn to adapt and deal with changing circumstances.
Last Words & Conclusion
Mr Yee's advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Entrepreneurship is to create something out of nothing. Do not overly fall in love with your idea, as execution of the idea is the tougher bit. Many of us may have grown up thinking that there is a right formula for success, but in the real world, there is a lot of ambiguity. It is essential to be practical and more importantly, have the passion for what you are doing. You will face a lot of difficulties and without the passion and belief to drive you on, it is very easy to throw in the towel.
A die-hard entrepreneur is like the moles; refusing to surrender to the hard knocks of life!
Mr Yee's success is testament to these inspiring words!
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