Photos: J.Judisun Photography
Every great success starts with a motivation of goals no matter how lofty, modest or even “lame” - in Chin Su Yuen’s case.
For the co-founder and CEO of tech start-up MomoCentral, it’s about avoiding the grind of a 9-to-6 office job, and most importantly, not having to squash in the MRT to get to work on time.
“This sounds like the lamest reason ever to start a start-up but I’m still way happier (than doing the office job) because if I have to work overtime, it’s all to pursue my own dreams, you know what I mean?” (Laughs)
“My naïve thinking back then was that I could sleep and wake whenever I want to but after launching my start-up, I realised that I didn’t have time to sleep!” Su Yuen chuckled.
Growing up, the 30-year-old Singapore PR wanted to be a few things such as a doctor, an astrologist, a video game creator and later, a designer.
So before going to university, Su Yuen interned at a print design company where she learned about graphic design and animation. It was that internship stint that ignited her interest in tech and put her on the path to becoming a web developer, and eventually found her own tech start-up.
“The creative team would always propose interesting concepts that involve interactivity and clients loved them,” she recalled, “but the tech team would always shut down these cool ideas, giving reasons like a lack of resources and whatnots.”
Frustrated and saddened by the fact that the creative concepts could not be made into real designs, Su Yuen decided to take matters into her own hands.
Driven by her innate problem-solving skills and determination “to build things through coding”, she decided to take up coding and applied to study for a Computer Science degree.
“So I did it, and proved to myself that whatever the tech people said were all untrue.”
After graduating from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2010, the computer science graduate joined a social gaming start-up. Six months into her job, Su Yuen got bitten by the start-up bug and decided that she, too, wanted her own business after being inspired by her boss’ entrepreneurial spirit.
That same year, she took her final-year NUS project – an augmented reality (AR) game that was awarded the SiTF Award (Singapore infocomm Technology Federation) - and turned it into a start-up.
Using AR technology, Su Yuen built a Farmville-like SimCity game for children to play and learn English at the same time. The game became a success as schools and kids loved it but the lack of “enterprise sales experience to understand the long sales cycle of a business” eventually led to the closure of the business.
Refusing to give up, Su Yuen made an iPad version of the farming game and named it Momo Farm when the iPad 2 was launched. The fun game got very popular and pulled in “a lot of money”. However, that too didn’t prove to be her ticket into the world of start-up success due to the lack of business and marketing experience.
“The problem was, I was a marketing noob back then and didn’t know I was supposed to take the profits and reinvest into marketing dollars,” said Su Yuen, “So very quickly, we fell off the App store ranking and no one was buying our game.”
“And in between then and now, we also did a few other failed projects not worth mentioning!” (Laughs)
As the old saying goes, “you might fall down nine times, but to be successful you must stand up 10 times.”
Su Yuen is living proof that, one: it’s okay to make mistakes; two: success requires a spirit of bravery; and three: it is possible to build a successful start-up without funding.
Cultivating an attitude of accepting failures, according to Su Yuen, is critical in an often-intense start-up journey.
“As students, we’re always pushed to [perform] well so the moment we make a mistake, it’s like the end of the world for some of us. But the truth is, you can make mistakes and you will be fine,” she said
She should know – the self-confessed techie has launched and failed at five start-ups before co-founding a striving one, MomoCentral.com, a real-time freelancing platform providing “human-verified, interviewed and tested” developers and designers for hire.
Today, MomoCentral.com is a bootstrapping success story, growing from a small agency working on mobile applications and web developments in 2011 to a prominent platform of 40 full-time staff, a talent pool of 350 highly qualified developers and designers globally – all of whom work remotely, and 230 companies hiring on their platform.
What’s more, as a bootstrapped start-up that attained success without external funding in today’s venture-capital financed world, it meant that both Su Yuen and her co-founder, Jason Lim, have greater control and freedom over their business, something that they are proud and happy about.
“We’re happy to just focus on the present and grow at our own pace. It’s not that we didn’t want to raise funds but we were just so bad at it and didn’t know how to!” (Laughs)
What about plans to take MomoCentral to the next level?
“After five failed start-ups, you just want to be able to survive and make this work! I don’t even have an exit strategy!” (Laughs)
“Every time we ask ourselves if we want to raise funding, we’re like, let’s just keep going with what we have now. Maybe five or ten years down the road, we might think about it.”
If she could go back to when she launched her first start-up, what advice would Su Yuen give to herself?
“I would tell myself to overcome the fear of being wrong, stop spending too much thinking about which path to take and just move faster. Now I don’t think so hard anymore, I’ll go with the flow and see what happens.”