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How to Build a Sustainable & Successful Startup

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

by FutureLab | 7 May 2020

In the second installment of FutureLab Live, we had the opportunity to talk with our mentor Stanley Chong, a partner at Ingenious. Stanley has been very active for the past five years in coaching and investing in businesses and startups, but his experience has played a huge role in what he is doing today. With close to thirty years of experience in the tech industry, he had the opportunity to be involved in various roles be it in technical, sales and also management in companies such as IBM and Siemens.

Get to know more on his insights and advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and startups founders out there through the article below, and at the end we have included the full video of the online session as well as some links to engage with him as a mentor.

Founders Malaysia: Can you start off with a little bit of history about yourself?

Stanley Chong: I have been in the tech industry for close to thirty years now. I am a computer graduate myself, and have been involved in the technical side for the first ten years of my career, and for about five years, I have been in various other divisions such as sales, marketing and management roles in the companies I have worked with. I had the privilege to be in a startup myself, on top of being in multinational companies such as Siemens and IBM.

Personally for the past 5-years, I have been very active in coaching businesses as well as investing in some of them, just to gain more experience in helping companies to grow and scale.

Founders Malaysia: How would you define a startup?

Stanley Chong: There are a lot of definitions of what a startup is out there, but I define a startup with an entity or a company that is in search and are currently experimenting with a repeatable and scalable business model. Once the company is able to work their way through and scale their business, they are no longer considered as one.

Founders Malaysia: How do we build a sustainable and successful startup?

Stanley Chong: That is the million dollar question, but unfortunately there is no silver bullet or playbook for that, as every company has their own sets of unique challenges and business models that require attention. At the end of the day, it is the founders team that matters the most. Eighty percent of the time, experience and adaptability plays a huge role in creating a sustainable and successful startup.

Always start from the fundamental, because creating and growing a startup is not that difficult, but sustaining it would be challenging especially after the growth. I believe that the founders’ mindset matters throughout their journey. They have to be observant, always curious and are able to apply what they learned to the company itself.

Also, planning and execution is also an important factor. Having one without the other would definitely jeopardize the successfulness of a startup in a longer term. Make sure to have the right business model that is sustainable, while at the same time making sure that the unit economics makes sense. Study and forecast business scenarios as that will definitely help to gauge the growth of your startup.

On a side note, take care of your team and the culture that you are implementing, as it enables you to move and adapt much faster as opposed to doing things alone. Cash flow management should not be left out, as a ton of startups out there struggle to pay their overhead as they burn more cash than they do earning it.

The advantage of a startup to a corporate company is how disruptive and innovative they are. Startups are faster and more flexible, but of course do keep in mind that corporate has better resources when it comes to marketing and branding. You can definitely see this happening in the financial tech industry with the amount of electronic wallets out there.

As a summary, to be successful, a startup has to be able to plan and execute, while in order to be sustainable, the business model and the team has to be scale-ready.

Founders Malaysia: From your experience, as I know that you have been involved in mentoring new startups, what are the common mistakes by these eager entrepreneurs, and what could they do to fix it?

Stanley Chong: I would say that it still falls back to the founders’ mindset. My suggestion is to get the right mentor to bring in experience into the team, because lack of experience has been a huge bottleneck to new startups.

The next common mistake is the fact that they do not plan out properly. Most startups only plan up to six-months to a year, and failure to plan would be disastrous especially when they are looking to grow their team. Whenever they reach a milestone, they would rather celebrate than to look into what they could do to grow the business even further. My advice – have a long term strategy even before you reach your first milestone.

All-in-all, as a startup, you can’t afford to make too many mistakes. As a wise man once said, learn from another person’s mistake, with the help of mentors. Furthermore, foresee the growth of your startup and your team by planning ahead to avoid crisis.

Founders Malaysia: I’m interested to know your perspective of the current pandemic. What do you think of it, and is it possible for startups to emerge successful and sustainable?

Stanley Chong: 8 out of 10 discussions today are focusing on that. In business, it is undeniably difficult to pivot in a short period of time. It always comes back to planning, if a bad situation were to happen, what would you do? At the end of the day, these things that are happening are beyond our control.

It is also dependent on which industry you are in, as some industries are badly affected while the others, not so much. My advice to startups out there, preserve as much cash as you can. You may opt to pivot, but make sure it is not done for the sake of following the trend because you will be spending more money to do that.

Founders Malaysia: Who’s the right mentee for you, and maybe what are the three things you look for in a mentee?

Stanley Chong: The first thing I look at is the mindset of the mentee, whether they are coachable or not. They also need to be passionate in whatever that they are pursuing, and if they are in a startup, they need to have a proper business model to grow.

We hope that the session provided you with the necessary takeaways and key insight into the current issue. Click here to watch the video.

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