October 25, 2021

Every entrepreneur has had their fair share of challenges and learning from past playbooks can make the road less bumpy. To save you time, money, energy and heartache, we asked eight successful self-made entrepreneurs to share the most important advice they wish they knew prior to starting their business. The goal is to help you make fewer mistakes and better decisions from those who have been through the wringer before. After all, experience is the best teacher.

Prioritise Your Needs  

“A ton of lessons have been shared by many smarter than me, perhaps I can humbly contribute three unintuitive things I’ve learnt over the last decade or so: 1. Take as little money as you can, but not a dollar less 2. Most people know to hire for brains and hands, do not neglect or compromise hiring for heart 3. Date, run, cook, play music, procreate—do whatever that fills your cup so you know how to fill your team’s.” – Darius Cheung, 99.co

Passion and Resilience Go Hand-in-Hand

“Now that I’ve been running CXA for eight years, I would say that to survive the entrepreneur’s rollercoaster journey, you must be super passionate about the problem you’re trying to solve and have the emotional resilience to last through hitting rock bottom. There’s always an excuse for every failure, but the founder has to be able to overcome those excuses.” – Rosaline Chow Koo, CXA Group

Be Extremely Self-Aware

“When starting a business, two things are very important. The first is to have awareness; being conscious of one’s own weaknesses. Once you are conscious of your own weakness, you can play up your strengths. When we lose consciousness of our weakness, we tend to lose focus. Second, there is a word that’s widely used called FOPO—fear of people’s opinion. It makes us do things that will lead to failure. On the other hand, ROPO, which means respect for people’s opinions, is a huge strength. It helps us to focus and makes us conscious of our weaknesses, keeping us on track. These two pieces of advice are universal and can be applied to any business.” – Deepak Ohri, Lebua Hotels and Resorts

Be Cash Flow Positive First

“I started Motherswork 23 years ago to satisfy a need in the market—to make available good quality baby products to suit every lifestyle. And the hobby became a regional business. Knowing nothing about the retail industry, it would have been helpful if someone had shared some tips on best practices in retail, what to expect for a start-up retail business and definitely what to expect when building a team. While there are a lot of moving parts, I prioritised profitability first and scalability second. Once you understand your cash flow cycle and maintain your margins, you can then look at growing the business.” – Sharon Wong, Motherswork

The Value of Failing 

“Understand that traction in any endeavour will take time. Rather than following sensationalised media headlines that tell the story of success happening really quickly, be willing to fail a few times initially, and then some more. Along the way, you’ll acquire the skills, experience and network to help you eventually get to point B, and you learn a ton while trying. Not that it’s impossible, but know that only a small minority of people make it happen very quickly—most take years to get there.” – Theodoric Chew, Intellect

Trust Yourself

“It is easy to assume others are more experienced in years and skill set; however, I have learnt over the years to listen to advice (from multiple sources) but never assume they know better. Only you know what is best for you and your business.” – Renee Welsh, Embed

Build Good Relationships 

“A piece of advice I wish I was given when I first started my business was the importance of good bookkeeping and cultivating relationships with team members, suppliers and customers, which cannot be overlooked. Thankfully, they are both lessons I learnt early on in my entrepreneurial journey.” – Ee-ling Fock, The Missing Piece 

Be Adaptable 

“One should start small but be ready to fail fast and pivot even faster. Be on the ground to look out for new and current trends. Always aim to be the first to launch in the market. It is important to always listen and learn, so that you can come up with solutions quickly and adapt accordingly.” – Brian Chua, Gourmet Food Holdings