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Money Choice: I manage a business in Singapore while studying overseas

·4-min read
Science technology concept. Scientific examination. Scientist.
(PHOTO: Getty Creative)

SINGAPORE — Managing a business in Singapore while studying overseas is not the easiest thing to do. Yi Lin, 21, a student, decided to take her chances while back in Singapore for her summer break. She started a venture with her friend-turned-business partner.

Here’s her story.

“Our idea of a self-guided puzzle trail was inspired by a self-guided tour we did in Bath, Somerset. I wanted to do something similar for fun because I like to explore new places. When my partner and I were serving our Stay Home Notice period, we were so bored we decided to try making one ourselves. We designed a chatbot that would send out riddles which people would have to answer by hunting for clues in a particular area.

At that time, the National Heritage Board was looking for creative innovators to enhance the museum experience using new digital technology. We were fortunate enough to be selected by the National Museum of Singapore. The experience was fun, but we didn’t like how we had no creative control because we had to follow the requirements of the museum. So, while we were working on this project, we decided to work on another bot for fun.

It was at this point that we decided to use our earnings from the project to turn it into a business and change the riddles from being catered towards the museum to different areas of Singapore. We started off splitting the coding of the bot between both of us, but now I handle the product development, while my partner manages the marketing. This is also easier because she is in Singapore now for online classes due to COVID-19 while I’m back in the UK.

The first few months were tough. There were so few orders coming in and we were losing money. We were not making enough to cover the cost of the website and advertisements, which added up to about S$300-S$400 a month.

One reason was because we offered a free trail we created when we first started. However when we realised the users weren't converting to customers, we stopped after a few months. Facebook advertisements were our last-ditch attempt at gaining traction. Fortunately, orders eventually picked up.

About a year in, we just started making a small profit. Now we’re focusing on reaching out to influencers and organisations for more brand awareness and potential partnerships. One platform we’ve partnered with is dateideas Singapore, a popular Telegram group.

As of right now, we’re uncertain about the future of our business. We might both be in the UK next year for studies and graduation. I’ll be staying on in the UK for my career, and my partner is bonded to a local company, so she can’t take this on full time. It will also be hard for me to manage the business by myself from the UK. Right now, I use Google Street View to design the trails. But it’s always helpful to have someone in the local time zone to walk the ground and be in discussions with potential business partners.

One option might be for us to continue the business on a part-time basis because we already have the basic exposure and contacts. We’re in talks with various organisations and hopefully we can grow the number of partners. When I come back to Singapore, we can mass produce trails and have enough to release something new every few months.

I think the toughest part about this whole experience is making sure I don’t get caught up in the numbers game too much. I even let my partner have a bigger share of the company so I can focus on what I enjoy —product development. Right now, even though I’m balancing school and work, it’s not much of a struggle for me because I only work in my free time and keep myself updated on business details every morning. The hardest part would probably be the time difference because it makes updating each other hard.

Some advice I would give is firstly to have a good working relationship with your business partner. I was initially afraid of falling out with my partner even though we had been friends for about six years at that point in time. But it turns out that our relationship actually helped because we knew how to best communicate with each other. It’s also important to do something you are genuinely passionate about. You won’t get to see income come in for quite a while after you start a business, so you have to enjoy what you are doing.”

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