Is the Singapore startup scene too small for growth?
Despite being awarded the world’s top location for ease of doing business by the World Bank, Singapore is not a viable place for a nascent company to grow, according to some.
Desmond Lim, a Singapore-born Harvard graduate who now runs a thriving startup called Quikforce in Boston, is among those people who share such sentiment.
New startup called Quikforce
Quikforce — established as a product of Harvard Initiative Lab — is a digital platform that connects moving companies with potential customers, enabling them to do their transactions through the site.
The company has generated more than US$50,000 in profit and is in partnership with more than 50 moving companies. QuikForce has experienced exponential growth of 70 per cent in orders per week, with a number of user base reaching 3,000 customers.
Why not Singapore?
For Mr Lim, although Singapore has equipped him with a strong foundation in entrepreneurship, he found expanding his market base in Singapore onerous.
I think Singapore is great, I learned so much there, but I feel it’s small – there’s so much more to learn in the world.
Besides Singapore’s small market, he feels the language barrier and cultural differences in the SEA region pose as major hurdles for Singapore startups to expand. This is because they must be versatile and financially capable to find the right niches in different countries. Whereas in the US, the companies can tap into larger, but less diverse market base.
Hence, although the process for acquiring a business permit in Singapore — including for foreigners — is faster and more feasible than that of the US, the prospect of setting up a business in the US was more promising to Mr Lim.
As of now, Quikforce has branched out its service to Miami, and has seen prospects of setting up in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York.
Developer talents are difficult to obtain by Singapore startups
Another much-bemoaned problem in Singapore’s startup scene he observed is the lack of steady pipeline for developer talents. The problem is underscored by Compass Startup Ecosystem Ranking 2015 report. The report highlights while Singapore has leaped from 15th place to 10th in terms of conducive startup environment, it doesn’t fare well in talent employability.
The report asserts:
Singapore enjoys a significant inflow of talent, yet it is still difficult for startups to find experienced software engineers because of the competition of larger companies and a culture that does not value risk-taking.
In contrast, Lim posits startups in tech-concentrated cities such as Silicon Valley and Boston have access to developer talents from prestigious schools such as Harvard, MIT, and Boston University.
The road to QuikForce is a bittersweet tale of hardship
Mr Lim’s desire to revolutionise the moving industry might stem from his own personal connection with the occupation. Simon Lim, his father, was working as a mover in Singapore for over 35 years.
Witnessing his father working round the clock just to find customers has motivated him to improve the efficacy of the industry.
But prior to Harvard, the road to success was not easy. Being the first of his family to go to university, Mr Lim had to fund his own tertiary education at SMU by working as a tutor and later a waiter at a Thai restaurant.
The thought of pursuing a Master’s Degree at Harvard did not occur to him, until after his school trip to Silicon Valley with SMU. Upon his graduation and a stint at Merrill Lynch in Singapore, Mr Lim made a move to the US.
What aspiring entrepreneurs should know
The observations made by Mr Lim on the nation’s startup scene should not be taken as a deterrent for anyone wishing to create a startup, specifically in tech-entrepreneurship.
Yes, running a startup in Singapore will never be without a hitch.
But aspiring entrepreneurs should take note of these observations, so that they could anticipate any downturns in the startup market.
Additionally, the Compass report on Singapore has also highlighted positive aspects on Singapore’s startup scene. The report indicates that the country experiences rapid development in the startup ecosystem due to the strong government’s support, with initiatives such as tax incentives and government funds for newly-established companies and investors.
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