In our Faces of Co-operators series, we speak to young co-operators who share their passion for promoting the well-being of the communities where we live and work.
Being a student entrepreneur is tough as one needs to balance studies, business and life. A persistent spirit is one of the top attributes for an entrepreneur.
Wei Yu Xin (Ethan), 18, secretary of Raffles Entrepreneur’s Network (REN) of Raffles Institution displays such a persistent spirit as he shares his student entrepreneurial journey with the SCOOP Team. Ethan is also one of the key personnel of Ren.Co, a coop club of REN that allows students to acquire firsthand experience in running a business with an emphasis on co-operative values.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
Look at Elon Musk, he is out there changing the world, shaping humanity, and transforming humans into a multi-planetary species. And I find that is very inspiring, being able to lead and impact the globe. There’s nothing more exciting than looking up and exploring the vastness of space above!
Although it’s difficult for people like us to bring such a massive change, I think having an opportunity to be an entrepreneur is a pedestal for further ventures in the future and sets one at a good angle to achieve what he/she wants to achieve. It can start small. Seed-funding and support from SNCF allows one to start to potentially change the lives of those around us in school, which I would say is a small stepping stone to change the lives of those around the globe.
What are the skills do you need to set up a business? Where did you learn from?
Soft skills like management skills in particular, and taking care of the feelings of your members and their wellbeing are important, because being an entrepreneur, if one does not know how to communicate well, I think they have already failed in being a leader. I’ve made many mistakes, which I learnt in the hard way, and that taught me to never neglect the feelings of those working with you.
Risk taking appetite too! I think the greatest risk in life is not taking any risks. Without risks, the chance of success or expedited progress is zero. This is what Jack Ma shared: “If you take the risk, even if it fails, at least you have the hope.”
I learnt it from reading a book called “Elon Musk” and many self-improvement books too.
How do you manage your time between a student, an entrepreneur, and a son? (student vs entrepreneur)
I would say, it is extremely challenging to always burn midnight oil in order to balance school work and business. It is about investing effort and time to this start-up. Once I dozed off while working on business needs at 4am in a 24hour McDonalds outlet because I didn’t want to disturb my family. I have to constantly innovate and be onthejob. I spend time reading and thinking of new strategies to be incorporated into the existing one.
My mentor and tutor, Mr Edwin Wong who founded The Rationale Thinking Learning Centre was very supportive when things weren’t going well with me and constantly encourages me to join networking events to widen network and gain more business opportunities.
What is your start-up about?
My group of friends and I saw the need in our alma mater (Temasek Secondary School) that many books in the library are unbeknown to the students. It could be books are hard to find specifically or students ar eunable to find books that pique their interest. AppRExp is a 17-men strong enterprise, and we staunchly believe that reading is pivotal to succeed in life and will not want our juniors not to enjoy reading.
With that in mind, we used our post ‘O’ Level period (5-6 months) to come together to form AppRExp to inspire our juniors in Temasek Secondary school enjoy reading and to turn Temasek Secondary to be a reading school. It also showcases the self-initiative side of the students.
AppRExp’s logo designed by Minhwan
AppRExp is a tech organisation which develops web applications, mobile applications and web portals to make the lives of youths in Singapore better.
Under AppRExp, we created tmsREAD! which is Temasek Secondary School’s library app for students to browse and check books that are available as well as on-loan books from the school library at their convenience through their mobile or desktop devices.
An example of a user account and the interface done by Harsh
Check out the summary of the tmsREAD! in this video: http://bit.ly/apprexpsummary
What challenges have you faced at the start-up?
Low motivation of members
AppRExp is not a revenue making app. We were clear in our direction and we divided ourselves into different departments for example iOS, Android, computer (HTML), sever, cyber security, etc. Each department has a lead. However, the leads were unmotivated and aimless which make it difficult for them to put in efforts. Being the leader of the start-up, I motivate them by encouraging and sharing with them ontheir contribution to AppRExp which will not only impact the school but on their own personal development as well. I shared specifically about their job scope and what is required of them to ensure that their work is organised and productive.
Lack of expertise
None of us is trained in coding nor have the financial capability to invest in infrastructure. Hence, we self-taught ourselves the coding languages to create the prototype. We also joined competitions and get to know professional coders and like-minded people who become part of our start-up. Leveraging their skills, we managed to create the layout of our app and server for tmsREAD!
As a start-up, not many are willing to invest in us. I learnt to be bold and courageous to accept the rejection graciously. Fortuitously, our then Principal loved the team and idea and she even helped us to contact MOE’s School Library Management for their database of books.
Working late into the nights as well as juggle between studies and personal commitments, I find myself often torn between choices and suffered from not resting enough. It was hard to schedule a common timing for all the members to be available for a meeting.
One of the many meetings held throughout the months of the tmsREAD Project.
How did you overcome the challenges?
Relationship management skills is really important as I learnt from this experience i.e. to be friend and a leader at the same time with my fellow group of start-up partners.
Adopting a soft approach, I made my members feel as comfortable as possible during the meeting. I am aware that being a leader, my members might not feel that they have the autonomy to do what they truly feel for the start up. Hence, I assure the members that their contribution will be reflected on the About Page of the app. While during discussions, I gave them the freedom to do what they needed to do to motivate them instead of them feeling being watched over or supervised.
As a start-up, we do not have capital. Hence, we went to different conferences to gain experience which can be useful to our business. We also observed what kind of business etiquettes we need to equip ourselves and the possible networking opportunities for us to widen our knowledge and networks. With that, we joined the Prudential Young Trailblazers Competition in 2018, an innovation and entrepreneurship competition hosted by Prudential Singapore in collaboration with Acorn Training and Schmeet Pte Ltd to empower the participants to solve real business problems in creative and innovative ways. Though we did not win the prizes, we won the Best Liked Idea as a consolation for our first competition.
Julius, Ethan, Rifa Achrinza, Hong Ngai representing AppRExp at the Young Trailblazer Competition 2018.
Although AppRExp has been put on hold due to commitment to studies, I have plan to resume it after JC. Every business experience allows me to fail, and to gain more knowledge about myself. Hence I learnt that I prefer to have a smaller team to streamline communication and networking with like-minded people can regain motivation. Now, I have another start-up, Conrad, which I set up with one of my JC friends. It is a platform for activities so that everyone will not miss any inter and intra school events!
Share your experience in REN and REN.Co.
If I say it was entirely a joyride I would be lying. In the entrepreneur’s realm, there are definitely more downs than ups, and we faced numerous challenges. One of the most prominent problems is not having anyone manning the shop. As students, we have our own school curriculum, so the customer flow is quite periodic. Working as one of the in charges of REN.Co has allowed me and other students alike to formulate business plans and bounce off possible ideas with each other and debate about why each idea will or will not work. Therefore, it is undeniably a great learning opportunity. I would highly recommend it to students who possess a thirst for new experiences.
Raffles Entrepreneur’s Network (REN), a CCA in RI that was set up with the mission to promote entrepreneurship skills amongst its members by engaging them in business case competitions as well as the design and marketing of merchandise for sales to the student population through its social entrepreneurship wing – the REN Coop Club, also known as REN.Co.
Ethan showing Raffles T-shirt to Ms Cindy Wong (SNCF, Senior Manager (Non-credit))
Part of the proceeds from the sales of these merchandise (20%) is eventually donated to our selected beneficiaries each year. In our first 2 years of operations, our selected beneficiary was our school’s 1823 Fund, and our seniors had chosen to donate to the Fund with the aim of giving back to the school community by funding student initiatives and providing financial support to students in need, which is the purpose of the 1823 Fund.
How does your start-up experience help you in managing REN.CO?
Having founded AppRExp, there were quite a handful of things that I’ve learnt from it. For example, one of them is striking the balance between taking care of your fellow members’ welfare and crunching work. It is very important for the entrepreneur to understand that humans are emotional beings and if one is not happy, it can incapacitate one to work well or efficiently. And that’s where the entrepreneur comes in. He needs to be able to take the pressure and suppress emotional desires for instance, wanting to relax, and at the same time still taking care of his colleagues. It won’t be a simple task.
But because of this experience, I would say I am more conscious about how I feel and how I make others feel, and to ensure that work gets done, and that’s very important in managing the company.
Team SparkleCube won first prize at Raffles Business Symposium 2018.
What is an advice that you will give to aspiring co-operators/youth?
Be prepared for multiple accounts of failure, but take it as: either you win, or you learn. There are countless industries out there and if you fail in one, you could always move on and try another industry, but never stop striving and trying. One in ten businesses succeeds in the corporate world, so it will not be an easy task. Be ready to take the blame and pressure. Also, meet as many people as possible and make new friends too. Through networking, you will learn how to communicate with people of different roots and backgrounds.