Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Jobs Nearby: From Interest to Passion

On the afternoon of 16 September 2014, the NYP Entrepreneur Club invited Mr Joseph Tan to share his entrepreneurship journey with us. Joseph was an economist. He graduated from University of Western Australia with a Bachelor of Economics.  He started his career with Standard Chartered Bank followed by Fortis Bank and his last role was chief economist of Credit Suisse. He spent most of his career as a banker and earned about $1K per day. However, he chose to give up his banking career to start a social enterprise.

Joseph is the founder of Jobs Nearby, a newly established geo-location job search portal that seeks to provide employment solutions for the labor demographics of the 21st century. At the portal, job seekers can search for a job using their postal code, landmarks, MRT stations and even road names in Singapore. This helps job seekers to find jobs near their homes. The new portal was set up in collaboration with the South West Community Development Council (CDC). It was launched at the first anniversary celebrations of SME Centre@SouthWest on 5 June this year. Joseph invested only $351 into Jobs Nearby.

He is currently working on a new social enterprise, Hearts Nearby. It seeks to recruit volunteers from schools and companies to help people in need.

Joseph was recently appointed as the District Councilor in the South West CDC. During the talk, hespoke of the challenges he faced in starting up social enterprises in Singapore and also gave some sound advice to students who wish to pursue social entrepreneurship.

He taught us that Singapore is the perfect test bed for start-ups because ideas from Singapore will be very quickly noticed by the whole world. He believes Singapore has a great reputation, is highly integrated and also extremely cosmopolitan.

He believes if an idea comes out of Singapore, it is more easily accepted by the whole world as people are likely to trust things that are made in Singapore.  The availability of government grants is also very helpful. It is also easy to get information across to consumers as they are more well connected. Instagram, Facebook, and social media platforms can help startups to get noticed.  It is also easier to find experts and bloggers, and people who can help you to promote your brand, product and company.

However, he believes intellectual property protection is at risk in Singapore. So learn to protect your ideas!

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to interview him to find out more!

What made you decide to start you own job portal business? 

My moment of epiphany came when someone sent me a YouTube video of PSY - Gentlemen. My second thought was “Wow, the world has gone mad!” Subsequently, that video became my inspiration for success and I decided to start my own entrepreneurship business.

How does Jobs Nearby generate profits? 
Companies who advertise their jobs openings on their platform will have to pay.

Do you have any future goals or plans for your business other than Jobs and Hearts Nearby?

Yes, what you see from Jobs Nearby is only my first revenue generating social enterprise. I am also working on 6 other start-ups at the moment.

What are the challenges you faced when you were planning your social enterprise?

It is so difficult to get good people. I judge a person who is good through the synergy of the team, I don’t care how bright you may be, you still may not have the x-factor. The X-factor I’m looking for is someone who is dynamic and has the initiative and drive to be a team player. My greatest challenge is to find like-minded people, and people with same x-factor to join the team. I am always looking for good people, it doesn’t matter if you have a degree or not.

There are students who are interested in doing business for a good cause. But they often get influenced by pessimistic adults who feel that a social enterprise is hard to sustain in Singapore. What are your views on this and what are the ways to encourage students to try social entrepreneurship without worrying about what the society thinks of them? 

Speaking in Army terms. a General loves wealth but how does he go about cornering the wealth is important because it has to be tactical. My view on social entrepreneurship is that if you have a business, you can make money by all means. If you can make money while helping people, that is even better.

Social entrepreneurship is such a new buzz word that nobody knows exactly how to define it. It could be a business that has an impact on society like mine, which is closer to being an enterprise. Or you could just start a business just so you can help people and get zero profits. It is a very broad spectrum.

Managing a social enterprise is very tough but so is doing other businesses. If your social enterprise model is not making it, then perhaps you should rethink your model, just as you should rethink any business model that is a failure. So there is no difference between social enterprises versus the regular businesses in my opinion.

Social enterprises take much longer to break compared to a normal business. Is that true? 

Yes, it can be true. If you are a social entrepreneur and have started a business, and you have half of your workers with disabilities, the productivity you get from someone who is handicapped is going to be so much less than a person who is normal. You are doing this because you want to improve somebody’s life so you have to bear with the productivity of your workers.

That is going to cost the business as you cannot expect the same level of productivity as normal people. That means you will take longer to break even. That is why the government is very keen to provide funding to social enterprises such as these, to make sure they are sustainable and do well.

What advice would you give to students who want to become entrepreneurs?

Firstly, be inquisitive and curious, look around you and think about problems and issues, don’t just focus on your Instagram or what your friends are eating, shopping, buying, and where they are partying. Learn to get outside of that microscopic view of life, I call it very narrow, so do read up more, start to form your own world views because information is right at your fingertips.

Be perceptive and be hungry for knowledge. Find something that connects with your course or interests. I find that doing business is a lot easier if you feel strongly about it.

What motivates you in your business?

Right now, Jobs Nearby is mainly to help people so I was motivated by that, but I am also motivated by profits.

What are some of your personal achievements in your business? 

I achieved nothing actually because I spent a lot of money in the last couple of years on my businesses. But I found joy in the sense that my businesses actually opened up more doors for me. I only started with two startups but now I have eight startups in line. Through meetings and conversations, people who like the way I think and the way I structure, build and advertise things, have actually invited me onboard their own ventures. The fact that people believe in me as an entrepreneur is quite satisfying.

What are the things you wished you knew before starting the business? 

I wished I knew more about government grants. Government grants, being public funds, have to be rightfully administrated, so you have to make sure that you go through all the right steps to get it. I wished I knew that how tough this great journey will be because I didn’t think it was going to be tough. It is so different compared to having a corporate career. But I don’t regret it.

What made you leave your corporate life completely and become an entrepreneur? 

I was in private banking for four years and I met no fewer than twenty billionaires. I learned two things when I was in private banking. Firstly, do not assume that rich people are generous. Secondly, do not assume that by associating yourself with the rich people, it will make you rich.

I suppose what made me want to become an entrepreneur was a life crisis I was facing. I realised that if I had to work the rest of my life in banking, I will never get ten zeros or twelve zeros in my bank. I probably will make some millions if I don’t mess up my investments but that is it.

I had a good business idea and a strong network, so that gave me the confidence to go into entrepreneurship.

How do you train yourself to see things three dimensionally?

Dream big dreams, because you need something to motivate yourself. From that dream, be extremely detailed, and visualise the steps to that dream. Even if you cannot see the steps to that dream, at least you try to see the different goal posts that get you to your dream because that forces your mind to think about how to get there.

Then start with your own resources and networks and plan your business plan. Instead of planning from a template, develop your own and you will realise that it will build your confidence. When you are successful, your confidence will increase. The moment you are successful, you will want to go for something bigger, then your dream will become bigger.

What were your dreams when you were younger? 

I had many dreams when I was younger. My first dream was to be a doctor because my mother unfortunately passed away when I was three years old and my father walked out on me when I was seven years old. I was like an orphan when I was seven and was actually brought up by my aunt.

I wanted to be a doctor because my mother had brain cancer and back in the 1970s, there was no cure for that. I wanted to be a doctor because of my mother. Then my aunt suggested that I become a lawyer because I liked to argue and I kept that in mind. When I went to university, I found Introduction to Communication boring so I decided to do economics because finance interests me.

How do you survive the finance environment? 

Initially I didn’t do very well because I was stressed. Then my first mentor came into my life, she is Singaporean and she used to be the CEO of Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore. I thought I was not suitable for the job but she asked for my name card. I thought it was weird, but she explained that the card didn’t tell her how old I was and it also didn’t tell her what rank I held. Then she went on to explain, and said, “Learn to use the power of your office.”

I just went with it and applied the lesson in my life. A mentor should be mentoring young people like how she mentored and taught me. It is a very powerful concept but if you don’t have someone telling you, you are unaware of it. A mentor should be helping you by sharpening your thinking, so that you will develop independently.

Words of wisdom from Mr Joseph Tan! We have come to the end of the interview. Thank you for your time.

By Tay Jia Min, Year 2, Diploma in Electrical Engineering with Eco-Design 


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Jia Min is doing her Diploma in Electrical Engineering with Eco- Design. Other than reading novels and watching television shows, she also enjoys folding origami and listening to music during her free time.

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