Start, Move Up.
by Vincent Lai
My name is Vincent and I am from SMU. I converted from a student to an entrepreneur, because something amazing happened in my life just few months back. Everything came to me at the same time - the work that I have done during my internship in a bank, the people I met, the technology shift, the market shift; as if the plan was devised by divinity, I believe it is not a happenstance. So, here I am to share with you a little story of mine.
Before my entrepreneur journey began, I was influenced by my uncle who is running an ISP firm in Malaysia. He told me that I should run my own businesses if I wanted a lot of money. Of course everyone knows that to get really rich, one should be his own boss; you have the full control of what you want to do, you drive the company, you innovate, and you lead. Consequently, you take all the risk.
It wasn’t all romantic for my uncle, I have seen him go through the ups and downs in life, it can be quite scary if you lose everything you worked for when you are 40s or 50s. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. Because of my uncle, I always wanted to start a business, but I was clueless, absolutely clueless.
When I was 18, I thought I want to be a programmer (I thought it was cool). When I was 20, I aspired to be a CIO. When I was 23, my journey as an entrepreneur began, like my uncle - I became a boss of my own. It all started from the internship I had with the bank. I am lucky because I started the journey at this age.
During the internship, I had a chance to work on something really cool, cutting-edge technology, which I believe it will be the next Kondratiev wave in the next few years. It was an open source technology, we showcased it to one of the ministers of Singapore, the CIO of the bank, the founder of 77th street, Elim Chew, the Dean of my school, and some others, they were all impressed with my innovation. It shows that there is ‘something’ in this technology.
After the internship, I co-founded a company based on the similar technology. Desai, the director of SMU Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) gave me tremendous support.
Desai also introduced a business mentor to me, Mr Ng Kai Wa, who co-founded Creative Technologies. He is now my business mentor. I started to raise fund, it was an amazing experience for me as I never thought I will start a business at this age!
I raised 50k through the iJam Microfunding, we went to NYP and presented the prototype to the iJAM panel, they loved it. Through IIE, I also had several opportunities to meet with several VCs and tried to raise fund - Walden International, iGlobe, IDGV SEA, Innosight, Upsteam and Imprimatur Capital. I also met with some great soul during the Speed Dating session with Enterprise Organization (EO) Singapore at SMU.
The experience is just awesome to me! Every morning, when I wake up, I get so excited as life suddenly seems so much more meaningful to me, life is never about going to school and getting As. I think of ideas everyday and discuss with people I meet, I learnt this from Chade Meng (first Singaporean Googler), that the more you articulate the idea with others, the more you will get out of it. So, this is just the beginning of my journey as a young entrepreneur. Now I have a chance to do something I really want to do in life!
But, something not-so-good happened to me. Remember the bank I worked at previously? Now they came and say I cannot use the same technology in my company. I was in deep trouble, the bank claimed that I cannot start my company because I learnt it from them and I signed an NDA with them.
I tried to negotiate with the bank, but here is what they demanded - I need to pay royalties back to them (you won’t believe if I tell you the actual figure, which I am fine with it if the figure is ok), I need to give them back all the derivative technologies my company develop in the future, and some other ridiculous conditions which everything needs to be put down in black and white. And remember what I said earlier? It was an open source technology, which makes my case really a thorny one.
After meeting with few lawyers, strictly speaking, the bank can’t do anything to me.
For the past few months, I had been dealing with this issue, meeting with lawyers to vindicate my rights. It created a little hoo-hah in SMU as the President and Deputy President are aware of this now; the Dean of SIS and the Director of Legal Affairs of SMU are also involved in this. Put yourself into my shoe, how would you feel?
I am cognizant that entrepreneurship is tough, but I didn’t expect the hardship or some others call the challenges came so fast. But well, this is life and I have learnt so much in just these few months. Despite of the legal issue, I became even more excited and mature and learnt how to deal with people in the business. Thanks to Professor Pamela Lim, she helped me a lot and I always consult her whenever I am in doubt, she is one of the great souls I have met in this journey.
I am uncertain about what will happen in the future. Like Leonard, the founder of Tyler Project who is a friend of mine, he started Tyler and regretted initially as he wanted to be an investment banker. But now his company is doing very well and he told me he didn’t regret that he chose to walk on the entrepreneur path.
All I want to do now is to bring my company to the higher level. I am building up a prototype together with my partners to showcase to several companies. As I am in my penultimate year now, all my friends are getting internship in CS, ML, Barcap, UOB etc etc. I am the “odd” one who chose to be in the entrepreneur world. Like what Professor Pamela said, it is not about the right or wrong in decision we make in business, it is about RIGHTING the decision.
As compared to what happened in Steve Jobs’ life, what happened to me is just a very little obstacle. It is a pivotal moment for me and I will keep going in life. Like what Professor Randy Pausch said, the wall is there for a reason. With my positive attitude towards life, I will continue to strive for the best in life, the dots are connecting to where I want to be. I quote what Dr.Ting Choon Meng said when I met him, “Start, Move Up”. So now, I just started, I need to move up! Keep going, don’t settle.