The struggle is essential for growth and many people let the fear of failure stop them from pursuing their dreams because they want to avoid the struggle, says Brendon Koh.
Brendon Koh is the founder of Automate Labs. He believes that empowerment is a choice. It is the permission we grant ourselves to pursue what is meaningful to us
within the constraints/sacrifices, we are willing to take in our lives.
At age 19, he founded a company called Gigs Organising Company. Read more to get insights from his business journey.
Q: Tell us a little bit more about your journey.
A: My entrepreneurship journey started when I was 19. I was a musician at that time and got approached by an audiovisual company to work for them as a sound crew. I ended up proposing an idea to start a company with them called Music Junkies Productions to provide a platform for musicians to perform. I went from being a staff to their business partner. We even got a rent-free MOU signed with Scape for a few months as a venue for our events. At 24, I founded Nishi Watch, my brand of watches based on the Miyota movement. It was a pet project to replicate Daniel Wellington in which I broke even with only 30% of my total inventory. At 25, I started AGOPSG Pte. Ltd., providing live entertainment services for private and corporate events. While running AGOPSG, I was also working as a business analyst/project manager in the day managing enterprise web and mobile agile development projects. All in all, I have always been interested in starting businesses and going in without much guidance.
Q: Let’s talk about your current occupation or business. What do you do?
A: Automate Labs is a software development agency based in Singapore specialising in custom-built operations and supply chain solutions that deliver overall business process improvement to eCommerce and logistics companies through the use of low-code/no-code technologies.
Q: How did you come up with this concept and carry it out?
A: In 2017, I started AGOPSG, a band-turned-business providing live entertainment services for private and corporate events. While running the company, I was also working as a business analyst/project manager in a software development agency in the day. Having two jobs compelled me to search for the most efficient method of running my company remotely. My entire operations, sales, marketing and accounting processes were in a huge mess with information spread across multiple applications and excel spreadsheets. Internal arguments, mistakes in invoices/quotations and time wasted copying/pasting data across applications were commonplace. My company struggled with evaluating multiple off-the-shelf/subscription-based applications, migrating existing data and integrating with existing systems. Leveraging on my business analyst experience managing multiple projects for clients like Changi Airport Group, Certis Cisco, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and Singapore Institute of Management, I was able to come up with a digital strategy, build a custom solution to streamline all processes and manage his company remotely without over-hiring or over-spending. I understood the struggles of going digital from my own experience managing AGOPSG and eventually founded Automate Labs to help businesses transform the way work gets done.
Q: What about your line of work excites you the most?
A: The software development space is always changing with many new low-code, no-code development platforms and business models sprouting every day. The need for constant innovation and novel, better ways of solving problems keeps me intrigued as there are many ways of solving the operational inefficiencies that SMEs face.
Q: What has been your most challenging obstacle, and how did you overcome it?
A: The biggest challenge was financing. As a bootstrapped company, I had to plan my business and personal expenses very carefully. This meant that I had to adjust my lifestyle and adapt to a modest way of living.
Q: What motivates you to go further in your business or career?
A: Seeing businesses get transformed by the solutions I built. Throughout the various projects, many of the business owners were struggling because they could not identify the right problem to solve. Most of them treated me as a strategic partner more than a development agency and really appreciated the transparent communications I had with them.
Q: What do you consider to be the most valuable talents you’ve acquired and implemented during your journey?
A: B2B Sales and Marketing. My core strength was operations. I was passionate and good at managing projects and making any company operations a breeze. However, I realised that sales cure all problems. Without revenue coming in, a lot of objectives and initiatives cannot be realised and executed.
Q: What is the most significant mentality shift, belief shift, or “ah-ha” moment you’ve had in your business?
A: Being a perfectionist and a detail-oriented person, I tend to over-analyse all decisions to a fault. The need for the optimal choice has crippled and slowed me down many times. The biggest lesson I learnt was being open to making ‘bad decisions’ and pivoting along the way. I learnt that all bad decisions bring along insights that are crucial in making the right one.
Q: What attributes do you believe are the most necessary for a successful entrepreneur?
A: Passion and understanding of why you started the business. Most entrepreneurs face a lot of setbacks and disappointments throughout their journey. Passion is the fuel that defies logical reasoning and is especially crucial when giving up seems to be a better option. Understanding your ‘why’ as an entrepreneur will get you through the tough times.
Q: What are some of the most crucial aspects of establishing a successful company?
A: Understanding your strengths and having industry experience. Most entrepreneurs start out doing everything from sales, marketing, HR to operations etc. They need to leverage their strengths and outsource their weaknesses. This is really important as time is the biggest enemy when you are an ’employee in every department of your company.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring and first-time entrepreneurs?
A: Most entrepreneurs start companies without understanding the industry and market dynamics. In my entrepreneurial journey, my software development experience in my previous job was pivotal in equipping me with knowledge of ‘how it’s done. I believe that first-time entrepreneurs should work at least a year or two in the industry they are looking to start a business in.
Q: Life has its ups and downs; can you tell us a compelling story?
A: I was being bullied during my secondary school years. I was depressed on many occasions and even thought of ending my life. Throughout this period, I chanced upon the guitar and learnt it as a way of escaping my problems. Over the years, I became good at it and many people asked me which music school I went to. They were very surprised when I told them that I was a self-taught musician. From this experience, I learnt that you can learn anything in life if you put enough time into it. Everybody has the equal opportunity to learn any skill they want and will be good in it as long as they put the time into it.
Being young may have ups and downs, but it should not stop you from starting your own entrepreneur journey.
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