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Part 2: Why the "Enactus Experience" was so crucial to my entrepreneurship journey

Keith Tan
August 27, 2017

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In Part 1, I focused on the Enactus experience itself. And it was through the experience that

           1) I realised the power when you bring business into the social arena, and

           2) How business is actually not about profit, but about people.

In 2011, I co-founded Start Now as a social enterprise technology company. The idea was to create a platform that would connect people to good causes, and galvanise Singaporeans into doing good. This was directly inspired by my work with Enactus in 2008, and I hoped to merge business and social with this startup.

It was not an easy journey. Singapore is a highly developed country and opportunities where a business could have the same social leverage power that we did at Sevapur were few and far between.

The idea behind Start Now, a platform to connect people to good causes, was inspired by a problem my co-founder Ivan Chang faced in finding a volunteering opportunity. In looking for an opportunity to volunteer, he had to call each organization, and then it would take weeks for them to get back, if they did get back at all. We thought - there has a to be a better way!  Our aha moment was the "OpenTable for Volunteering".

But like 99% of startups, our platform floundered - in part because there were already other platforms doing the same thing, and ours wasn't particularly a lot better, and also due to the fact that there just weren't enough volunteering opportunities in Singapore. (We're actually a very giving nation). That's the actual reason why organizations were not calling him back, because they had no need for volunteering services. We found out too late. 

So we pivoted to providing our platform as a white label solution to nonprofits, corporates and government agencies. We expanded into providing event and campaign management services for volunteering and social sector events and campaigns. Somewhere along the line, it became less of a social enterprise, and just a business. It was about getting contracts and fulfilling contracts. It became about software specifications and customisations. The "social" element merely became the market segment in which we were competing in. And while we were an expert in designing and building volunteer management solutions, it felt like we were limiting ourselves in a two ways:

1. The "social sector" market segment clearly has its limitations. So business growth had started to slow down by Year 4.

2. We weren't really changing lives, or creating a positive impact on the world. Yes, sure, our software was responsible (according to one impact measurement consultant) for SGD 5 million of social value. But were we creating any tangible social value that any other software development company couldn't do?

By 2015, we had decided to begin to search for a buyer. In October 2015, we found one, and we sold our core intellectual property. By January 2016, we were jobless and looking for our next adventure.

We spent almost a year searching for the answer - but it finally came in December 2016. And because we had spent so long "wondering" what we should do next, Ivan called our new company "Wonderlabs".

 

 

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