Launching a startup at 23 years old
When Winna and her business partner met through an online entrepreneur site in 2021, they never imagined setting up a business together. But after months of brainstorming, Strolley – an e-commerce platform where people could sell their wares without having to shell out big bucks for a brick-and-mortar storefront – was born.
Fast forward to 2022, this 23-year-old SMU student has secured an investor, over 70 users on the website and a team of 4 employees. But the path to this small success wasn’t all smooth sailing. From struggling to pay her bills to facing multiple rejections from investors, we speak to Winna about the lessons she learned from the challenges and hardships that are a part of launching a tech startup.
Lessons learned from starting her own business
1. Filter rejections & criticisms from people around you
Here’s a thing: everyone – from your parents to besties and colleagues – will have an opinion on your business. So it’s important to listen, filter the rejections and criticisms you receive, and only take what’s necessary on board.
In order to secure her first 5-figure funding, Winna had to pitch for it – which meant putting together a concrete plan of her brand, the market she wanted to penetrate and her target demographic. She was fully prepared to get hit with a few nos before landing on a yes. However, the first 10 rejections were soul-crushing.
Some investors thought she was too young and inexperienced. Others didn’t think it was the right time to invest or couldn’t see her vision for the brand. Even her mentor told her bluntly that Strolley would fail for being undifferentiated and lacking a target audience.
Instead of giving up, Winna framed those rejections and criticisms as a learning curve. Every time someone said no to the pitch deck or told her the business would fail, she delved into the reasons behind their responses and used them to improve her business model.
She also realised the importance of identifying the correct niche market for her business. Not only did it show investors how much she understood her customers and their needs, it also helped her create products that were relevant and had the potential to succeed.
2. Set a strict monthly budget
It goes without saying that a monthly budget is necessary, regardless of whether you’re starting a business or just living life. That said, the former is guaranteed to leave you dirt broke every month unless you come from money or have a strict spending limit.
When Winna flew the coop, she also flew straight into a tiny apartment the size of a shoebox, with an empty fridge and a mailbox full of bills. Rent wasn’t the only big item to pay for and things like groceries were wildly expensive – something she only realised while scrimping to make her salary last every month.
Oftentimes, she found herself scraping the bottom of the drawers for coins so she could buy food. The thought of taking up a part-time job has crossed her mind, but her daily schedule was already packed with deadlines and duties from her school, internship and business. Of course, her parents also offered to help but she didn’t want to be a financial burden to them.
As she dove into money-saving mode, she ditched her Starbucks latte, cancelled her Netflix subscription, and stocked up on ramen. She also adhered to the 60-30-10 rule, in which 60% of her paycheck went towards the essentials AKA rent and bills. 30% was dedicated to groceries and transportation. And the last 10% went into her savings and investments.
Eating out was a foreign term and if she wanted to treat herself to a night out with friends – which was a rarity – she’d let groceries take the fall in the following month or live off cup noodles for a few weeks. It wasn’t easy but it prevented her from touching her savings – which she’d been setting aside to grow her business.
3. Have multiple streams of income to tie through the first stages
Not every business opportunity you manifest will make you millions straight away. Most of the time, a startup leaves you poor af and your bank account in a dire state for several months before things start to look up. That’s why it helps to have multiple streams of income.
Image credit: Winna Leow
In addition to her internship, Winna took up a teaching assistant position at uni, participated in case competitions and even sold her piano in order to earn some extra cash. She also did an assortment of freelance gigs in web designing and was planning to take on a more permanent role after graduation to help pay the bills.
To make extra dough, Winna dabbled in investing. But she didn’t have a lot of capital to work with, so she decided to download Syfe – an investing app that allowed her to grow money for her business.
4. Network with people who share the same passion
Having a passion for your product is important, but it’ll only take your business so far. Without a solid support system on whom you can rely, you might not be able to succeed.
To get Strolley off the ground, Winna spent several months rummaging through multiple online startup communities – like Cuttles and Startup Nation – to look for people who could understand and support her vision. She wanted to build a team of tech experts that could see her idea and whom she could trust.
She also emphasised the importance of attending networking sessions to make connections, spread the word about her venture and learn about other businesses. Outside of these official meetings, Winna made an effort to show up at pop-up events, like those at SCAPE and The Glass Hut.
Finding success as a young entrepreneur
Getting your business off the ground is one thing. But to run it successfully is a whole different ball game. There’s no doubt that hard work and long hours are more bearable when you do what you love, but it’s still going to be a lot of work. Not to mention, you’ll be doing most of the work yourself.
For the last 6 months, Winna has been making sacrifices and forgoing small pleasures like sleep and social life. She’d stay up until 3am most days, huddling over her laptop after chugging litres of coffee to get some work done. Daytime is dedicated to school and internship, and any entrepreneurial business can only have her attention afterhour.
Unlike her internship where she spends most of her days doing the same thing, managing Strolley requires Winna to be in charge of many different aspects of the business. From developing the website to fixing backend issues, she does it all.
At present, Strolley has attracted over 70 businesses in all sorts of industries – from bakers and florists to even tattoo artists. On the platform, not only can sellers increase sales revenue, they can also gain feedback from buyers and fellow entrepreneurs. This helps businesses find out any flaws in their products and understand their audience better.
Earning extra income with Syfe
Whether you’re hoping to raise funds for a future business venture or a package holiday in Japan, having side hustles can help you achieve that. But like Winna, you might not have any spare time to cash in. And that’s when investing platforms like Syfe come into play.
For those who are familiar with this popular digital wealth platform, you’ll know the perks of investing on it, such as no minimum requirements, no lock-ins and no hidden fees. Recently, Syfe just launched a new brokerage service – Syfe Trade – so trading newbies and financial experts can test the waters in the US stock market.
For the first 3 months after signing up with Syfe, you’ll be rewarded with 5 free trades and charged a flat fee of US$0.99 per trade (~S$1.35) – the lowest rate in the market. Once you’ve used up all those freebies, you continue to get 2 free trades per month and any trade after will only cost you US$1.49 (~S$2.03) each, which is a steal.
Another feature that’s unique to Syfe Trade is fractional trading. In a nutshell, this option lets you purchase a fraction of a share from a listed company so you don’t have to blow your entire paycheck. If you only want $100 of a Tesla stock that costs US$1,091.26 (~S$1,483.01), by all means. This helps you invest down to the last dollar in your account and leave nothing unused.
Once you’ve narrowed down your fave stocks, simply save them under your Trade Watchlist and monitor their price fluctuation daily. With Syfe Trade, you can build a diversified portfolio with ease and buy as much or as little of a share as you’d like
Whether you’re looking to earn extra income to fund your business or simply grow your spare change, you’ll be able to do that with just a few taps on your Syfe Trade app.
This post was brought to you by Syfe Pte. Ltd.
Photography by Alvin Wong.
All forms of investments carry risks, including the risk of losing all of the invested amounts. Such activities may not be suitable for everyone. Materials are not and should not be construed as financial advice nor an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase or subscribe for any products or services.
Reference to specific securities is meant to illustrate the concept of fractionalisation and is neither intended nor to be construed as a recommendation or advice to buy any specific security.