Entrepreneur and alumnus Melvin Poh (MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management 2015) not only has a thriving startup under his belt, but a prestigious business title too. Recently recognised in the Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ list for Asia in Media, Marketing and Advertising, Melvin spoke to us about the vision for his startup and why access to business knowledge is so empowering.
What gave you the idea for your business?
The idea for The Asian Entrepreneur arose from the uniquely challenging nature of economic and entrepreneurial development in Asia, where business processes are fundamentally different. Asia presents immense economic potential and widespread opportunities for market impact. However there is a knowledge gap surrounding the unique challenge of entrepreneurship and business in the region.
The Asian Entrepreneur was conceived to provide access to business knowledge. The accessible media platform allows entrepreneurs to share practical insights and valuable experiences.
How did it feel when your business launched?
Taking the first step to launch the venture was an incredibly difficult decision. The ambitious task seemed very daunting – we were targeting an entire region rather than a single country! I therefore sat on the idea for a long time before actually taking the first step to initiate it. Much time was spent on planning the business model and potential development. I shall never forget the initial mixed feelings of fear, excitement as well as the great sense of purpose and commitment when the business was finally launched.
What was the greatest challenge you faced in starting out?
The greatest challenge has been scaling our organisation and making it sustainable to realise our unique mission. It is quite challenging because the underlying ethos is to create greater accessibility to knowledge. Therefore we made access to our content entirely free. We also tweaked our business model to ensure the integrity of our content. This means that we cannot rely on traditional methods of generating revenue. For example, our platform does not possess a paywall, users can access everything with absolutely no barriers. We have also largely forgone traditional advertising to create the cleanest user experience possible. These decisions are spurred by the social nature of our organisation. We’ve had to be incredibly creative and tenacious about how to scale in spite of the extra challenges with the business structure.
What have been the key lessons learned from the whole process?
There are three major lessons that I’ve learnt:
- Entrepreneurship is an inherently organic and uncertain process. We should accept and embrace this. It is not possible to plan for every scenario with certainty and control every aspect of a business and its development. No amount of planning or risk management can prevent unpredictable external influences. As entrepreneurs, we must be ready to adapt and improvise. Being a successful entrepreneur is an iterative process.
- Entrepreneurship is inevitably a group effort. Ambitious ventures cannot be realised alone and is often dependent on the team you create, the way you interact with and work with them as well as other people in the business community. It is very much about building and managing alliances.
- Entrepreneurship is perhaps one of the most tiring career paths. There is this idea that being an entrepreneur is a great escape from the 9 to 5 grind. Ironically that is true, but in the most unexpected and perhaps undesired way. This is because you end up adopting a 24/7 schedule instead, where work is the only constant on the back of your mind. Being an entrepreneur and business owner means that you must oversee every aspect of the business. It took me a long time to get accustomed to this. It is also important to consider the psychological side of running your own business – you don’t want to burn out before you have achieved your goals.
What has been the highlight so far?
One of the greatest highlights has been an email I received from someone in Mongolia. He explained that he was aspiring entrepreneur who always had dreams of pursuing business in Asia. However, he had no idea where or how to start. He never studied business and the resources in his country were extremely limited. But through the discovery of The Asian Entrepreneur, he was finally able to get personal insights on entrepreneurship in Asia. Today, the individual has migrated to Singapore where he has co-founded a financial technology startup. He emailed me to express his gratitude for our work which has aided him in his career. To know we have positively impacted the lives of others is always a highlight for me. It’s a reminder that knowledge has the ability to empower people. That is why our mission is so important and why I am so passionate about my work.
Any advice to budding entrepreneurs?
In our work, we have spoken to thousands of budding entrepreneurs. Many of them often ask how they can avoid failure. The most important advice I’ve discovered is: do not be afraid to fail because failure is inevitable. The truth is failure is an inevitable part of life and a fundamental component of business. Unexpected results will often arise. There are many examples of how genius entrepreneurs have failed, but gone on to achieve great success. The importance lies in discovering the reasons for failure, rectifying it and adapting one’s approach. Thus, the biggest takeaway is to be prepared of failure and changing your mindset on failure; learn to embrace it.
Entrepreneurship is an inherently organic and uncertain process. We should accept and embrace this. It is not possible to plan for every scenario with certainty and control every aspect of a business and its development. No amount of planning or risk management can prevent unpredictable external influences. As entrepreneurs, we must be ready to adapt and improvise.
How did your time at the Business School help you?
My time at Imperial has contributed substantially and positively to my entrepreneurial journey. I was previously a barrister specialising in corporate finance, and so Imperial has equipped me with valuable business knowledge and the foundation to tackle starting my own business. It has certainly assisted me in shaping my business ideas and made me much more analytical.
The cross-pollination of multiple disciplines and faculties is also a defining characteristic of Imperial. It was inspiring to study with such diverse people of different nationalities and backgrounds. Interacting with them has endowed me with a global perspective and an alumni network spanning globe. Many of the professors have also been great mentors, teaching important lessons that have shaped many parts of my business today. The Business School has been a great stepping stone towards even greater moments in my life and studying at Imperial stands one of the best decisions I have taken.
I believe business education is a weapon for progress that can be used to progressively change the world of tomorrow and empower. This is why I believe that accessibility to business knowledge should be a right and not a privilege.