Posted: 5 August 2016

TGEF was slightly different today. We didn’t have any talks in the morning, as we were meeting DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam for lunch. I was really excited about it. The meeting was at the level 10 conference room at the Ministry of Finance. It was the largest conference room I have ever been to. We had interesting conversations with DPM. In particular, about education for the young, customized education for every individual, systematic continuous learning, and the elderly. Perhaps solving a problem in this area would be a good idea!

After lunch, I had my next check-in with Teik Guan (a potential venture partner) and Alex. I talked about developing some Computer Vision product last week, and had some small proof-of-concepts ready. Well, Alex told me to focus on getting a customer last week. I can’t help but code. I feel that perhaps getting a solid product out and then showing a demo might be a better idea in selling something. But then again, what if my idea of a “solid product” is much worse than what’s available, or takes too long to build? I need to do more customer development. I had some, but it wasn’t enough.

In the evening, we had Ankur Modi talk to us. After many such talks, there are quite a few overlapping themes: emailing 3,000 people with a 5% hit rate; how I found a co-founder; how I iterated my ideas. Perhaps a nice take away, which may not really be that new, would be the triad of customer, champion, and decision maker. The customer gives you a good idea of what is needed. The champion totally supports your idea and helps you. The decision maker, decides whether or not to buy your product. Really important stuff.

After that, we had 2 guests who were in Singapore. Alice and Vivan (who came later). Alice told us about the entire history of EF. She started off with the dynamics of start-ups versus big companies. Start-ups are creative and create new products. Big companies are “not so” creative and focus on the processes to lower costs. It’s important to keep this in mind when running a start-up. Next, she told us about their various iterations before settling on this concept of gathering technical talent. This idea was not well-received, but they stuck by their beliefs. The first thing they needed to do was perhaps to show that they are “legit”, and thus they splurged on the brochure. It was really high quality stuff. They needed feedback as well, and that’s how the 1-to-1 coffees started. They drank as much coffee as was needed to convince someone to join EF. Really honey-badger stuff right there. It turned out well for them in the end! As somewhat of a closing remark, Alice said that to succeed you need to “have a growth mindset” and “learn stuff you hate”.

Vivian, who happened to be in Singapore, shared her experience with us next. She started Sparrho, an EF1 start-up. Her simple one line pitch was “democratize scientific knowledge”. When asked about how to balance product development and customer development, she suggested 2 week sprints each. That sounds like a good idea, maybe I should follow that.

Learning points:

  • DPM’s broad problems.
  • 3 important people. Customer. Champion. Decison Maker.
  • Growth mindset.
  • Learn stuff you hate.
  • Product development and customer development in 2 week sprints.