The phrase ‘follow your dreams’ has been getting a bad rep for the longest time.
What was initially meant to be something motivational has become a line associated with ditching responsibilities – something frowned upon, especially in the generally pragmatic Singaporean society.
For many in the generation before ours, not taking the ‘stable job’ path well-trodden is more often than not seen as a highway to failure, with success stories being credited to a war chest of inherited wealth or pure luck.
But the dawn of entrepreneurship in the recent years has been bringing about a shift in tides.
Spurred on by an increasing number of Singaporeans making it big with their startups, millennials are attracted to the jobs less structured and predictable, seeking to find the highly-coveted ‘meaning’ in their careers.
At Vulcan Post, we’ve covered the stories of these brave individuals – many carving out their own careers in areas many wouldn’t even dare to venture into.
Here are 5 of them.
Kendra Liew, Katfood
Since we started schooling, becoming a lawyer was always seen as something prestigious to aspire towards.
From a fat paycheck to the ability to actually threaten to sue someone, many would think it silly to trade a law degree and career for anything else.
But for Kendra Liew of Katfood, she found her passion in something else – skincare.
Growing up, the 29-year-old had always dreamt of becoming a lawyer to help people, and since then had set out to achieve that dream – eventually graduating with a law degree from the National University of Singapore in 2011.
However, after taking her education and using it to practice as a divorce and civil litigator for close to 3 years, she felt like something was missing.
“I was not getting the sense of satisfaction I needed to keep me waking up every morning happy to go to work,” she told us in an interview.
Skincare was always something close to her heart, with her making homemade beauty remedies since her teenage days.
After realising that Singapore lacked price-friendly organic products, she wanted to do something more for skincare enthusiasts like herself.
Thus, with $10,000 of capital, and a huge leap of faith, she launched ilovekatfood.com in November 2014 – and has not looked back since.
From designing her own labels to learning about compliance requirements and logistics, she took on all the duties by herself as a sole founder, often learning as she went along.
The products have been a huge hit, and can be bought from popular retail websites and site like Zalora, Isetan and Naiise.
In spite of her success, Kendra still admits that she was wrought with the fear of failure – especially during the early parts of her journey.
“But with the satisfaction and fulfilment I get from my job everyday, I really don’t feel that fear anymore! It’s like, with all the positivity I derive from Katfood, there is no way it is a failure.”
Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
“The only thing to fear is not having the courage to try.”
Lim Chian Song, Rotten Mage
The 29-year-old trio from local game developer Rotten Mage are truly the definition of ‘following your passion’.
All avid gamers themselves, they were bonded by the common goal to create games after taking a game development course while pursuing their diploma in at Nanyang Polytechnic.
After National Service, 2 of them went on to pursue a degree in Computer Science in Real-time Interactive Simulation from Digipen Singapore and the other took a double-degree at the National University in Singapore – but the dream of creating games still never left them.
Thus, after graduation, they decided to make their longtime wish a reality – launching Rotten Mage in September 2013 with $15,000.
However, money was an issue, and they had to take on part-time jobs and client work to sustain their dream. But even with the additional income, none of it goes to their pockets.
“We do not pay ourselves salaries,” revealed Chian Song to us, prompting their parents to inquire if they were going to search for a ‘proper’ job from time to time.
For the trio, simply being able to support the needs of the business outweighs profitability.
Chian Song admits though, that one of his greatest fears is losing interest and regretting his decision.
“However, I feel that it doesn’t affect me as much now as I realised I learned more than I ever expected in these few years, and setting new goals yearly for the company helps keep us motivated.”
While their first launched game, Spacejacked, didn’t bring in the big bucks for them, it was featured on a Forbes list of games to look out for, and also won the Best Linux Game in the Intel Level Up Game Demo Contest in 2015 – an honour they found very encouraging.
They are currently working on their next game, Fates and Constellations.
And Chian Song’s advice to aspiring developers like themselves?
“Prepare to fail, but learn to enjoy the journey so you can pick yourself up to ‘charge’ again.”
Nicolas Travis, Allies of Skin
In a female-dominated industry, Nicolas Travis stands out – but that’s far from a bad thing.
Inspired by his own experience with skin problems as a teen, the seeds for starting his own skincare line were planted in his wish to empower people (both males and females) with fuss-free products.
After graduating with a Master’s degree in 2012, the 30-year-old worked at Oglivy & Mather, but quit after 8 months upon realising he wasn’t cut out for agency life.
This was when he decided that the time was ripe for him to pursue his dream, and he founded Allies of Skin in 2013, spending 2.5 years doing research and development and “creating every formula from scratch”.
“The early days were filled with formulation uncertainty and multiple revisions,” admitted Nicolas.
After 12 revisions and extensive testing, his debut product, the 1A All-Day Mask, was born. 2 other products, the Molecular Saviour Toner Mist and the 1A Overnight Mask, soon completed his line.
And succeed, he did.
With close to half a million worth of sales in Singapore alone, he revealed that they are closing their first financial year at around $700,000 – not a bad return at all, after an initial investment of a mid 6-figure sum.
He also received a $450,000 investment recently to expand his business internationally.
As the first local skincare label listed on international high-end e-commerce sites like Mr Porter, Net-A-Porter, and Farfetch, Nicolas has also recently appeared on this year’s Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 list – a high honour for a relatively new entrepreneur.
He reveals to us that while his greatest fear is failure, he realised in time that no one actually fails in life.
“Life is an ongoing curriculum and a series of experiences. Some experiences are harder to swallow than others. So my approach in life is always to fail small and get up quickly. That’s what I tell my team – be a problem solver. Focus on the solution; not the problem. We learn from every mistake. Never let your mistakes define you.”
And his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is also along the same thread:
“Do it. Don’t be afraid of hearing ‘No’. Follow your gut and never give up. Keep looking for that one ‘Yes’ because that’s all you need – for just one person to believe in you, say ‘Yes’ and open the first door for you.”
Syarafina Halim, The Buku Bookstore
For millennials taking over their family business, an issue always arises when strategising about its future – how does one make it relevant to the consumers of today?
For Syarafina Halim, her task came in the form of her family’s 95-year-old bookstore, which has long been a place where members of the Singapore Malay-Muslim community get their books and cultural and religious items.
A Sociology graduate from Nanyang Technological University, the 26-year-old helped her father out at the bookstore in between job applications and interviews, and realised a pressing issue about the business – its massive inventory of titles was proving difficult to navigate for both customers and themselves.
From then, she harboured the wish to “bring (the bookstore) to the next level” by incorporating e-commerce elements into the business, spurring her to leave full-time job in 2014.
While her family eventually decided not to bring the bookstore down the path more digital, Syarafina admitted that the fire to start an e-commerce site had already been ignited in her.
Besides, she was already in the midst of researching about website hosts and creating the Buku Bookstore site from scratch.
Without any first-hand business and e-commerce experience, the process was one that required her to keep learning along the way – many times asking around for advice from others so that she could improve the user experience.
One of the newest entrepreneurs on our list, Syarafina has big plans for the site.
Expanding the range and depth of books on offer is one, but in the long-term, she wants to have the bookstore cater to students and teachers of schools and madrasahs (Islamic schools) – something that makes sense, given the overall tech-savviness of Singaporeans these days.
Syarafina reveals, however, that she is still afraid that she might be “the thing holding [her] back” from what she truly wants to achieve, because she still tends to get cautious given the ‘unstable’ nature of entrepreneurship.
She advices those looking to start up, though, to “to be prepared to fail, but don’t be afraid of it”.
“It’s advice that still applies to me too!”
Stephenie Pang, TalentTribe
Instead of being engaged in their own pursuit of a ‘perfect’ job, the 23-year-old duo from TalentTribe are helping millennials to find theirs instead.
Stephenie Pang and Sharon Yeo have been good friends since secondary school, but never realised how similar they were in terms of their ambitions – until a fateful bus ride to a career talk.
They chatted about their entrepreneurial dreams, and soon realised how they both wanted the same thing – to start a business.
To realise their dreams, they signed up for the Singapore Management University’s Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship Incubation Programme, and their creation Protégé, a business-to-business (B2B) mentorship software, was shortlisted as one of the five winning business ideas.
But more than just a school project, the girls decided to take their brainchild even further, launching it in 2014 and in the process ditching job offers to pursue entrepreneurship full-time.
Not satisfied with just one product, they launched TalentTribe, a platform with a focus on connecting millennials with meaningful careers, the next year.
Given how timely its launch was in a time when most millennials value purpose over pay in their jobs, they scaled up very quickly, even managing to organise their inaugural Summit last year – a five-week conference consisting of masterclasses and mentorships by corporate giants like VISA, Citibank, and SGX.
While everything seems smooth-sailing on the surface, Stephenie admitted that the learning curve of managing a startup was steep for her, a Marketing and Finance graduate.
And just like the other entrepreneurs, the fear of failure is real.
“There’s plenty at stake, and the fear of failing only increases the longer you run your business. First, the reality that you’re no longer a student. Your peers are earning steady incomes, unlike yourself – and it’s also time to start worrying about the big expenses. Passion does not pay for itself.”
“Second, the number of stakeholders who have believed in you and supported you. There are more and more supporters of TalentTribe as days past, and of course, the increasing reluctance to let them down. And third, even bigger decisions to be made as the business progresses. As always, you can never fully tell upfront if each business decision you make is the right one.”
And just like the challenges millennials face in finding the right job, she and Sharon also faced problems when it came to finding the right people to join their team.
But for them, the challenges are mere blips on their very impressive journey so far, and Stephenie advices millennials like herself to just “take the plunge”.
“If something excites you, go do it – but be mentally prepared that it’s not going to be an easy journey. The worst thing that can happen is failure, but nothing beats the regret of looking back a few years down the road, and realising that you’re still as far from your dreams as you were before.”
A Festival Where You Can #OwnYourDreams
There’s no shortage of inspiration to be found in these stories, but actually finding the courage to take the plunge is another story altogether.
Many times, the lack of experience and contacts are the largest obstacles to overcome, but the annual SHINE Festival wants to give entrepreneur hopefuls a head-start.
Organised by the National Youth Council, SHINE Festival is where youth can congregate, connect, and celebrate their aspirations and talents.
Held along the whole stretch of Orchard Road from ION Orchard to *SCAPE, the Festival will take place from 30th June to 2nd July, and will officially kickstart Youth Month in July.
And just like how these youths we featured went against the conventional route to own their dreams, the theme this year is #OwnYourDreams.
Alongside the usual pillars of Music and Dance, Art and Media, Sports and Gaming, this year includes Makers and Creators – dedicated to the rise of young entrepreneurs in Singapore, and how they’re stepping out of their comfort zones to pursue their dreams.
The Festival will also see SHINE x *SCAPE’s Talent Development Programme making a comeback, with mentors like Jon Chua (The Sam Willows), AMOK, Hyper Island, and gaming workshops for Dota 2, League of Legends and Vainglory happening at the space.
For those who just want to soak in the festivities, SHINE will be headlined by like Jessica Jung, The Sam Willows, ShiGGa Shay, Charlie Lim and Gentle Bones (and many more).
Attendees can also buy merchandise from art mentees, take GIF-ies at a GIF booth, witness the LIVE Singapore Campus League organised by Garena, as well as gaming competitions by SCOGA and the Super24 dance competition.
Whatever your reason for attending is, one thing’s for sure – you’ll definitely leave inspired to pursue your dreams, however big or small they may be.
This article was written in collaboration with SHINE Festival and the National Youth Council.