To me the best and most inspiring speaker would definitely have to be Mr Wong Toon King, also known as T.K Wong. He has a wonderful ability of engaging his audience and captured my attention from the start all the way to the end, so much so that I wished he had continued on even more because I truly enjoyed his talk.
We could relate very well to him because he talked about things that resonates close to our hearts and addresses almost all of my concerns in taking that leap to be an entrepreneur. Here are some of the take away learning points that have truly inspired me and changed the way I think about entrepreneurship.
Firstly, he mentioned that any Tom, Dick and Harry can be successful entrepreneurs. It does not matter if you have a PhD or if you are a school dropout, or if you come from a rich or poor family background, the most important thing about being a successful entrepreneur is to have the ability and integrity to see your ideas through. He constantly mentions that business ideas are cheap, and that there is no point just being a visionary and not executing the business idea or plan. He calls this group of people ?dreamers?. Only if you are visionary and can execute the business plan are you then called an entrepreneur.
The next thing he talked about that really struck a chord among all of us is the willingness to give up the good and stable jobs upon graduation. He mentioned that his friends were earning three to four thousand a month on their first jobs but he was getting only five hundred a month doing his own business initially. He stuck to it as he believed in what he was doing. This leads to rule number one: You must have the integrity to see your business through. He mentioned that this applies to everyone in being successful in whatever you do. When the going gets tough, you do not quit, you persevere and you make sure you see it through. Only with this kind of attitude will you be successful.
Rule number two: be willing to sacrifice for what you believe in even if it is a harder route and there is already an easier route laid out for you. I believe that most students are victims of rule number two, including myself. TK Wong mentioned that education is a liability and that the more one studies, the bigger the liability and the less risk one is willing to take to become an entrepreneur. It will be even harder to start once we have started our own careers. The best time to start would be when we are students. It is very important to at least give it a shot and it is perfectly fine if you try but the business initially fails. As TK mentions, ?better to have a few cuts rather than living your whole life in regret and saying you wished?.? At least if you have tried a few times and you have failed greatly you would at least know that maybe this is really not cut out for you, then you would not regret not embarking on the brilliant business ideas that you had.
Rule number 3: Work hard when it matters, work smart. This is my favourite take away lesson from TK! He is truly a smart man. Even as a scholar, he said the best application of effort is to get a B and that you would need to study SO MUCH MORE to get an ?A?, which is not even guaranteed as you would need to compete with the geniuses. He feels that it is really not worth the effort, as there is so much more to life than studying all the time. He gathered a lot more valuable information by being involved in other co-curricular activities and meeting and interacting with people. This leads to another quote of his, which is ?Do not let school get in the way of your real education.? However he did win a reputable competition in his last year to justify his scholarship, and got away with not getting excellent results throughout his college years but gaining valuable life lessons. The most important aspect here is time, knowing when it is crucial for you to work hard and to seize the opportunity when it comes.
Rule number four: Love what you do and contribute back to society. TK does not come across as a man who is very money-driven. He is passionate about what he does and supports companies who contribute to society. One example is that he has chosen to set up Ben and Jerrys here in Singapore as the company buys milk from a group of collective individual dairy farmers instead of obtaining it more cheaply from factories so that these farmers would be able to sustain a living. TK mentions, ?the pursuit of happiness is attained when what you say, think and do are in perfect harmony?.
Looking forward, I have been truly inspired by TK and hope to embark on one of my business ideas soon. This goes to show how much of an impact he has made on me. I feel that it is now the perfect time for me to do so as I am still currently looking for a job and have no commitments. Business ideas are cheap and I am ready to take on the challenge of executing them as I am tired of always saying to my friends, ?I have a brilliant business idea!? But at the end of the day, it?s all talk and no action. I am prepared now to take that leap of faith to become an entrepreneur.
If I remember correctly, Prof Lim said that journal entries should be whimsical, blog-like and should really reflect our true feelings on the subjects discussed. And as such, I shall be brutally honest even if it means that I might suffer a little – grades-wise that is.
There were 3 invited speakers on Friday evening, and I had really wanted to hear what each of them had to say because the road to entrepreneurial success is laced with challenges, interesting anecdotes, humor and important takeaways. Sadly I was only able to listen to half of the seminar because I felt I wasn’t well enough to continue. But wait, every dark cloud has a silver lining and this wasn’t an exception. As the life force from my body was slowly ebbing away and the more I began to sink into my chair, pearls of wisdom from Mr TK Wong fought hard to inject a new lease of life into a dying a shell and for what its worth, he managed to keep me fully attentive through out his entire speech. Really hats off to him, because I really thought he was a compelling speaker with real and useful knowledge to dispense.
The first thing that actually caught my attention has nothing to do with entrepreneurship, but rather life itself. He said, ‘Don’t let school get in the way of your REAL education.’ These words I feel are true but very few people in Singapore actually embrace them because of the way that the Singaporean education system indoctrinated our minds as youth and how it will continue to brainwash the youth for generations to come. In retrospect, its easy to say that I should have done this, done that, experience my life a bit more but that’s what people say when its too late. Prof Lim also sees the value of sending her children overseas to study, it’s the best way to get a well rounded education. So what I have learnt from this is that, I will probably send my own kids overseas to study. Period.
Ok….after that snippet of life-lesson digression, its time to discuss the real issue of entrepreneurship and what I learnt from Mr Wong. His definition of an entrepreneur is actually very succinct and true. Many people believe that the essence of an entrepreneur is building something innovative and propagating it… this is true to a certain extent but I feel that that’s merely the tip of the ice berg. The true measure of an entrepreneur, according to Mr Wong, is learning how to leverage yourself and maximizing what you have. He said entrepreneurs usually start very small. How to make $1 into $100? The trick is to work smart and not work hard. I find strong correlations in the logic of Mr Wong and Prof Lim (maybe it’s because they are the same breed of RJ students?). Mr Wong would say, ‘SMU students are so pressured, study so hard everyday to become investment bankers……don’t become investment bankers lah…. Don’t chase the money, let the money chase you.’ Prof Lim would say, ‘I hate numbers and accounting, its too tedious…..the best thing is to let someone who works damn hard do it for you and pay them a ‘satisfactory’ amount for their troubles.’ Some would call this laziness that breeds creativity but actually it really is economies of scale – squeezing the most out of your available resource. Mr Wong then continued by relating his life story. What struck me next was when he was talking about his MIT classmate who gave up his PHD programme to focus on his startup. “SEIZE THE MOMENT”, he said. These words are clichéd I must say but they do hold truth if you really think about it. He said that his classmate sacrificed his PHD because it was the right time to strike. The internet was at its infancy and if he had second guessed his natural instinct and didn’t act when he did, he would have been haunted by the specter of lost opportunity.
Finally the quote Mr Wong stole from Gandhi, ‘The pursuit of happiness is attained when what you SAY, THINK and DO are in perfect harmony’, resonates in the hearts and minds of most entrepreneurs. Jerry Yang, Mark Zuckerberg and Jawed Karim started what they did because of the love for what they did, they wanted to revolutionize the industry not make money. Of course money is a nice incentive but that comes later on when people see the value in what you do.
With these refreshing points of view in mind, I can more clearly see the world in the eyes of an entrepreneur. Sounds really corny but I think that budding entrepreneurs who don’t have this particular mindset are just making life tough on themselves and might even be paving the path to failure.
With regards to the entrepreneur education here in Singapore, I've always thought that in Singapore there's a lot of theory and book learning, and ivory tower academics who've never gotten their feet wet. This seminar and the interactions that I had with the students showed me that, at least in SMU, students get to be realistically engaged in enterprise, receive guidance from current experts in the field, and are taught by a professor who has not only been an entrepreneur herself, but has experienced success as one.
Overall, I feel that this seminar gives students opportunities to be acquainted with current issues, get involved in realistic personal and team experiences, get feedback and a reality check on their ideas, and learn from current experts.
You may, if time permits, follow up with activities where students can find entreprenuers or companies that are in line with their interest to visit with or even work with in an internship arrangement.