Greg Hauw recalls the time when he and his partners raised US$17million for an IT venture during the height of the dot-com era and spent it all in just three years.
"We made a lot of mistakes," admits the Singaporean entrepreneur. "At the height of the dot-com era, money was easy to come by and we were burning US$250,000 a month with a roster of 45 employees all over the world." The lesson learned? "Never let your company run out of money."
While many would have taken this as a sign to return to the security of a salaried job, Greg, who had previously held several senior managerial positions in the corporate world, was determined to soldier on. In 2007, he founded his third start-up, cloud security company Ohanae, which has since raised more than US$2 million in funding. He shares with us his experiences – good and bad – in his decade-long journey as an entrepreneur:
Your company has had to reinvent itself over the years. What are some of the lessons you've learned from this experience?
You must be flexible. Expectations change with time so you need to be able to reinvent your product to meet current market demands. You also need to do your market research, and make sure that what you have is a multi-billion dollar market opportunity leading to a predictable shareholder exit (such as an IPO or the company floating on the stock market). This is what will help you attract Silicon Valley-based investors, partners, highly competent advisors, and Grade-A employees. For example, we recently secured funding from a reputable Silicon Valley-based investor but it actually took me two years of working with him and reinventing our product and market strategy before he finally agreed to invest in our product.
You've encountered your share of failure. What can entrepreneurs do to bounce back from a setback?
Firstly, you need to believe in yourself. Secondly, you must have a vision – no matter what you do, it should be meaningful and have the potential to change the world. If you don't have this attitude, you will never be able to attract good people because they won't have faith in what you're trying to do. In addition, you won't be able to make all the sacrifices required in your journey. For example, in the first few years, you might not even have enough money to pay yourself a salary. However, there are still bills that need to be paid and if you have a family, your children will still need to go to school.
Have you had to make any personal sacrifices along the way?
Normally, entrepreneurs will have to use their own money. For me, this has always been the case. I have always used my own money to fund the project. This is a better way to attract family and friends to co-invest in your dream. If you believe in it, you should be prepared to put money into the project as well!
How do you deal with rejection?
It's important to have a positive mindset so you can analyse the feedback you get, go back to the drawing board and make the necessary changes to your product. At the same time, not every rejection is legitimate. For example, your product might not be in line with a potential investor's portfolio, so you must be able to identify strengths and opportunities and ignore the noise around you.
Apart from passion, what else does a business owner need?
Perseverance is important. You must be able to turn things around on your own when you hit a low. A good support network is also essential and to achieve this, you must be honest in your dealings with people. If you are unable to do something, admit it. If you promise to do something, make sure you're able to deliver. That's the only way to sustain your network and build your reputation.
I also like being able to develop an idea and believing that it is going to mean something to people. It's like growing a plant from a seed.
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