PHOTOGRAPH: katiemartynova, 123rf.com
Starting your own business is no easy feat, but it can be incredibly fulfilling. Michelle Sun, founder of First Code Academy, a coding school for children, shares her top advice for women who want to become entrepreneurs.
The first question to ask
To help you decide whether you should leave your job and start a business, ask yourself: “If I die tomorrow, would I have made an impact?”
This was what crossed Michelle’s mind when she was struck with swine flu while working at Goldman Sachs Hong Kong, a multinational banking firm. Not only was she overworked, her health had also been compromised.
Inspired by software engineers from Chinese tech companies like Alibaba, an e-commerce company and Tencent, one of China’s biggest internet companies , she’d met in her line of work as a research analyst, she left her stable job to be a “change agent” alongside other movers and shakers in the tech industry.
Identify the problem to solve
You have to identify an issue you want to solve. Make this your focus, rather than the business model itself, which will follow naturally as long as you are resolved enough, says Michelle.
“You need to be thinking about it 24/7 – even when you are on vacation,” she says of your big idea. Your start-up will require 100 per cent commitment, so be sure that it addresses a problem you care deeply enough about to want to devote so much of your time to.
In Michelle’s case, it was to teach children how to code.
Keep gender out of it
Michelle learned coding at a 12-week women-only camp conducted by Hackbright Academy, a leading software engineering school for women in the United States, where she became part of a network of women who could learn from one another. It provided an inclusive environment in which they could nurture their skills and ideas.
But while a support network in any industry is beneficial, Michelle adds that women should see themselves as entrepreneurs, not female entrepreneurs. “We’re people solving problems, passionate about creating change. Being female does not change anything,” she adds.
Women are just as likely to excel at business and specifically, in tech. Michelle cites the numbers from her own company to prove it: half of the employees in her Hong Kong office are women, and though the office in Singapore is smaller, her entire staff here is female.
Embrace the challenge
“Coding was the most challenging things I’ve ever had to learn. And that was what attracted me,” recalls Michelle.
Treat whatever problem you are trying to solve as an opportunity to master a new domain. It will not be something you can achieve easily. Use this as a motivational force to propel you to try even harder.
Keeping an open mind can allow you to develop a sense of wonder rather than fear. Challenge yourself and the satisfaction and delight you get from looking upon the result of days, months or even years of hard work will be worth it, she says.