Launch Your Own Business in 30 Days Series
Welcome to Human Asia’s Launch Your Business in 30 Days Series – a 30-day journey that gives first-time entrepreneurs practical advice and tips that you can apply directly to your business launch.
We suggest that you read the Series in order from Day 1 right through to Day 30. Don’t skip Days as one lesson builds up to the next one.
We hope that this Series is helpful to your startup venture!
The Accidental Entrepreneur
Elaine Wu is the founder and CEO of a leading global marketing and branding firm based in Singapore. For eighteen years, Elaine has built her company into a market leader.
Her clients include Singtel, Air Asia, The Straits Times, Colgate, venture capitalist–backed startups, and nonprofit organizations.
Her marketing advice has graced the pages of Entrepreneur and Forbes. But Elaine calls herself an accidental entrepreneur.
In her early career, she worked in marketing at global companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola in Singapore and Hong Kong.
She assumed that was the path she would follow forever. She credits a couple of incidents for giving her the opportunity to start her own business.
The first was the invention of the internet, which gave her an opportunity to hone her craft doing marketing and brand development virtually for tech startups.
The second was the economic depression after the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center tragedy. The aftermath opened a void in marketing services that no company filled. That gap inspired Elaine to start her own company.
But what kind of a company? Let’s rewind Elaine’s story a bit.
The Early Days of Startups
Back when Elaine was a student at the National University of Singapore, she dreamed of becoming the next Meg Whitman, Ursula Burns, or Carly Fiorina. She saw herself one day running a multinational company.
Then Elaine became intrigued by what was happening with technology online. So she joined her first startup as the head of marketing, raising tens of millions of dollars and riding the dot-com wave. They went public and were sold to Yahoo. Elaine felt motivated and energized working in a start-up environment. Things were a lot scrappier.
She didn’t have the safety net or big budget she had at Coca-Cola. Even though her company raised a lot of money, the budgets ran tight.
Elaine learned to be effective at “guerilla marketing” in a way established, well-funded brands never have to. Exciting times!
Then Elaine’s husband got a job in Hong Kong, and they moved there. There she joined a second startup as the head of marketing. Then a third startup.The internet continued its boom. All three of Elaine’s companies reached profitability and positive exits selling to large corporations.
While working at these startups, Elaine learned how much she loved the idea of helping create what could be the next great brand. Around the time the third startup was sold, September 11 happened.
Starting Her Own Venture
Beyond the tragedy of lives lost, the event jolted economies around the world, impacting marketing intensely. Money was difficult to raise, especially in Asia. Companies shut down marketing departments to conserve their cash.
Elaine had a lot of good contacts in the venture world, and a lot of them asked her for help post–September 11. She already knew a lot of other people who were great at marketing and looking for work.
She saw an opportunity. She knew the people, she knew the projects, she had the network—and the timing was perfect for her to connect the dots.
So, slowly, she started putting people together with projects. Before she knew it, her new business was off and running. It’s not where she thought she was headed, but eighteen years later, she’s still having a lot of fun.
Elaine never wrote a business plan before she started her company. She worked hard over the years to build her reputation, develop contacts, and grow a strong network.
Her experience, training, skill set, and network aligned with the opportunity in the market.
The first year, Elaine hustled. She networked, knocked on doors, and gave a lot of talks. Her hard work paid off—from year one to year two, her consulting company quadrupled in revenue.
Year two to year three, they tripled. By the third year she had great references and testimonials. She started getting a lot of referrals and repeat clients.
Even though she had paying customers from the get-go and was growing steadily in the first two years, the third year was the breakout year for Elaine.
Her alma mater NUS published a few case studies on her company. They became a model of success—a woman-owned entrepreneurial business in the service sector of Singapore that could scale.
That’s when they gained market validation. And it never even dawned on Elaine that she might fail. She just knew she would be successful. She worked hard with great people.
Building Brand and Reputation
There’s one key that Elaine credits her firm’s success to—she always screens her clients.
This way she rarely ends up with “bad clients.” She helps each of her clients based on their specific needs, as opposed to one size fits all. And she’s not afraid to fire clients if they’re not a good match for her firm.
Her firm helps establish and build brands, create logos and taglines, and develop marketing materials. Elaine feels that great marketing can help all kinds of businesses get their stories straight and find their audience.
Elaine also believes in the importance of customer research, market research, market validation, and adjusting one’s plans based on actual data rather than on opinions.
What Do You Bring to the Party?
According to Peter Drucker, the father of business and management consulting, a business has only one purpose: to create a customer.
A customer is anyone who pays a business for goods and services. Mr. Drucker goes on to say that creating a customer has two basic functions: marketing and innovation.
So the key question for you as an entrepreneur is “What do you bring to the party to make marketing and innovation to create a customer who pays you?”
Unfortunately, most of the conventional wisdom and advice tells entrepreneurs like you to start with “Why?”
But why does the customer care if the reason for starting your business is that you got laid off or you want a flexible schedule?
To have a paying customer for your goods and services, let’s start thinking about these fundamental questions :
- What knowledge, skills, abilities, and assets do you bring to your business to make marketing and innovation happen?
- What problems are you planning to solve for your customers?
- What products and services will you offer to your target customers?
- What benefits will your products/services offer to the customer that they’ll be willing to pay for?
Starting now, we’ll find the answers to these fundamental questions. Today’s focus is on discovering what you bring to the party.
Notice how we’re not “starting with why,” a popular entrepreneurship proverb that has you come up with a business idea based on what is meaningful to you.
In starting, growing, and selling businesses, what is most important to you doesn’t always match a problem or need that people will pay you for. So why not start with what your future customers want from you?
When Elaine started her business, she knew she was bringing her extensive experience in marketing and branding for technology startups, her vast network that she’d built over the years, and the money she had put aside.
According to research, people who start businesses based on their knowledge and skills are more likely to succeed than those who chase a trend or pursue a “passion” but have no corresponding strength.
If you’re passionate about the areas where you have extensive experience and a strong skill set, your business has a higher probability of success in the long term.
Elaine is passionate about marketing and branding, and that’s where her strengths lie. That’s why she’s been able to run her business successfully for eighteen years and counting.
We’re going to list all your knowledge, skills, abilities, and assets to get you started. The advantage of putting them on paper now is you can always come back to them as you iterate through your business plans. Most businesses evolve over time.
As you learn more about yourself and your customers, you may tweak your business. Before we start listing them, let’s get clear on what exactly knowledge, skills, abilities, and assets are.
What Is Knowledge?
Knowledge focuses on the understanding of concepts. It is theoretical and not practical. An individual may have an understanding of a topic or tool but have no experience applying it.
For example, someone might have read hundreds of articles on health and nutrition, many of them in scientific journals, but that doesn’t make that person qualified to dispense advice on nutrition.
What Are Skills?
Skills are the capabilities developed through training or hands-on experience. Skills are the practical application of knowledge. Someone can take a course on investing and gain knowledge of it. But only experience in trading gives them the skills.
What Are Abilities?
Abilities, often confused with skills, are the innate traits or talents that you bring to a task or situation. Many people can learn to negotiate competently by acquiring knowledge and practicing skills. But a few are brilliant negotiators because they have an innate ability to persuade.
What Are Assets?
Assets are funds you have saved up or that you acquire through loans, investors, or fund-raising. These are tangible things that you bring to the table.
Check out the ultimate startup business game for all ages!
Action Points from Day 1:
Write down on a piece of paper all of the things that you can bring to the party : knowledge, skills, abilities, and assets.
Write down as many points as you can and don’t leave anything out no matter how significant you think it is. Keep these notes with you because you are going to use them throughout the course of this Series.