Quick Rant About Entrepreneurship

1: There’s a rather unhealthy narrative around entrepreneurship that doesn’t correspond to reality.

As something either reserved for the rare few bestowed with divine purpose, or a hideously risky proposition, for people with a taste for crawling through fire and brimstone. That’s the yin-yang of it.

I think both sides are exaggerated.

  • Successful entrepreneurs exaggerate it because it makes them look good. Myth-building. See: Steve Jobs at Harvard.
  • The media encourages it because it makes for more compelling reading. People want to read about larger-than-life figures. Demigods, not mere mortals.
  • “Non-entrepreneurs” encourage it because it allows them to say “nah, not for me, I don’t have the stomach for that sort of risk”.

2: Risk is misunderstood, and attitudes towards risk are misrepresented.

Entrepreneurs don’t seek out risk, they seek to minimize it. (I think it’s very risky to assume that investing in paper qualifications automatically makes you valuable to other human beings enough that they’ll pay you for it, but that’s another story.)

It’s very possible to take small, calculated risks while minimizing your potential downside.

Sounds complex?

My idea of taking a small calculated risk was to post pictures of t-shirt ideas drawn on MS paint on Facebook. Potential downside = my friends laugh at me, life goes on. Nothing lost. Nowhere does it involve me quitting school to start a pushcart at Bugis Street or something.

3: The bold dramatic gesture is overrated.

We all like to romanticize the bold dramatic gesture, but how often does that ACTUALLY happen? Zuck, Gates and Musk all built their ideas while still in school, and they all left with the option of returning if things went sour. (So calling them dropouts can be a bit of a misnomer.) Jobs and Wozniak were working at HP when they built Apple, and only quit when they got a nice fat order. Richard Branson started Student when he was a… student.

4: Just make lots of little things in your spare time.

I think entrepreneurship is simply taking little steps towards solving real problems that bother you, and that’s something people can TOTALLY do in their spare time. Start a blog and write about things that matter. (You can reach HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of people. Why would you even need a resume anymore?)

Create stuff. Publish them and share them with the world. It might not work out, but it doesn’t have to cost you anything. You’ll learn a lot of cool, interesting stuff. Statement was completely built (and is still entirely run) on spare time. Both of us hold full-time jobs. If we wanted to focus on building and expanding the business, we totally could. (But I guess we kinda enjoy being bochup founders.)

I think the main issue is that people are used to thinking that we CAN’T do very much about problems, or that we have to do something dramatic like blow your savings renting a storefront. We ran Statement for a long time from this Facebook page, taking orders via PM.

Okay I got to get back to work now, just had to get that off my chest.

TL;DR:

Don’t take stupid risks like an idiot.

  1. Work on fun little side projects that take baby steps towards solving the problems that actually bother you. I wanted t-shirts that I actually wanted to wear, and a blog that I actually wanted to read. What do YOU wish existed?
  2. And how can you do a tiny fraction of it without taking a senseless risk? (Fantasizing about being a pastry chef? Don’t make wedding cakes before you try your hand at selling cupcakes.)

Do it. I promise it’ll be fun.

Yours lah,
Visa

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Most of my thoughts about education, school, university, learning.

When you’re still in the early stages of your formal education, you have a pretty good idea about what the next year will bring. Once you’re through with it, things become different. The illusion of certainty fades. You realise with progressive clarity that you’re in the driver’s seat now, and in unfamiliar territory. Your degree of control over yourself increases, while the environment around you gets increasingly volatile as well.

2010

Work hard? Me? But I’m Gifted!  I used to be a minimum-effort student who was proud of how little effort I needed to get by. Now wish I had learnt the value of hard work instead.

The Singapore Education System. Learning should be fun. It isn’t. We still stick to an outdated ‘bad medicine’ doctrine. This was designed for 60s Singapore. We probably ought to re-imagine our system from scratch. We probably won’t.

2011

Further thoughts about Singapore’s education system. Stratification and divisions are everywhere. We go to school to socialize. We don’t really trust our teachers– what happens outside of curriculum is what matters most. Apathy isn’t inborn, it’s instilled. Culture influences school more than the other way around. Schools are insular, artificial, and slow to adapt to changes.

The University Dilemma I didn’t do well enough in Junior College to get into the local universities, and I was repulsed by the idea of going to a private university and buying a degree. Most of this was probably sour grapes + preemptive bridge burning.

what to do after ord: A lengthy conversation with a close friend where I discuss my plans for world domination. I’d go to University if I got a full scholarship, but otherwise it doesn’t seem worth the $$ to me. I list out a bunch of random goals that I probably ought to revisit.

2012 –

Disparity in tertiary education facilities A JC student wrote to the press asking why ITE facilities seemed more luxurious than JC and Poly ones. He immediately got flamed for being elitist, insensitive (as opposed to naive and ignorant, which is what he probably was). I sympathized with the kid, who was subject to a degree of public scrutiny that few people can actually withstand.

Defining Education Schools and education are non-static; they have changed over time. How should life be lived? How do you make a living? How would you design a curriculum if you were to design it from scratch? What got us here won’t get us there.

Gamifying Educatiom + Can we make people care? Games evolve quicker than schools. So they’re more engaging. We ought to learn from games. Can we make people care more about more socially optimal things, at scale?

Schools should learn from video games – It’s selfish, myopic and unfair to blame kids if they don’t automatically work well in a factory-called-school. (This post is a bit of a ‘fragment’, I should probably integrate it into something else.)

Singaporean students lack drive, why ah? Our kids lack drive because our culture sucks it out of them. Not all Singaporeans are afraid of leaving their comfort zones– some have already packed up and left.

Taking your GCE A Levels as a Private Candidate. Register, choose your subjects, put together a study plan. I linked a few resources I found helpful. I suppose I should update this post with more useful advice- this gets me a flurry of emails every year when kids flunk or prepare to flunk their exams. (Look at the comments.)

Hair for hope Back in 2012, it was considered somehow controversial for students to shave their heads in support of cancer. This bothered me enough to write about it, because it seemed symptomatic of the broader BS that schools perpetuate.

My goals as a tutor At some point I decided that I wanted to be a tutor. This never materialized, but I still feel strongly about what I expressed in it. Spend as little time studying as possible. Enjoy learning.

A teacher’s passion A story about my then-girlfriend (now-wife), her 10-year-old students and Google Maps. Kids can smell your bullshit.

Meeting Dr. Bruce Hood A thrilling conversation I had with a man who studies the human brain.

Real space. We don’t need to ‘create real space’ for our students. Real space is all around us. We just need to acknowledge it, and actually talk about the actual problems that everybody’s going through every day.

Tong Yee A little bit about a really cool teacher who’s doing very important work.

2013

Achievement Unlocked: Gainful Employment! I post I wrote when I first got employed at ReferralCandy. Still love it here.

2014

Will add more when I find time, hopefully. #PermanentBeta

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Tweets from 2010

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My Answers To Mark Manson’s Life Purpose Questions

http://markmanson.net/life-purpose

1: What is your favorite flavor of shit sandwich and does it come with an olive? (What pain do you want in your life?)

I love writing. I love words. I love ideas. I love expression. I can imagine spending the rest of my life being obsessed about words. I can imagine having written thousands of essays, of which maybe 10 might be any good. I like the idea of that.

2: What is true about you today that would make 8-year-old you cry?

8 years old? I was in Primary 2. What was I doing then? I was playing video games. I was getting into Red Alert, Galaga, Starcraft. I was very into computers then. I was about to start learning HTML. I was about to build my own website. I’m still kinda doing all of that.

Oh. Oh. I used to read books. I used to read them intensely. 8-year-old me would cry to see that I didn’t make time for books anymore.

3: What makes you forget to eat and poop?

  • Video games
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Social Media
  • Arguing on the Internet
  • Giving useful, constructive feedback to people
  • Great conversations

4: How can you better embarrass yourself?

I think there are a bunch of things that I ought to write about that I haven’t written because I’m nervous or scared. I guess I ought to just throw things together and ship them without thinking so much.

5. How are you going to save the world?

I used to have grand plans for this. On hindsight I think the grand planning was a sort of escapism. But here’s what I want to do now– I want to find kids out there who are suffering from what I suffered from, and I want to help them do better than I did. I’m going to write to them, write for them, talk to them, think with them, and then ultimately help them help each other. All the good stuff will spillover from that.

6: Gun to your head, if you had to leave the house all day every day, what would you do?

I was going to say “go to a coffeeshop” but he ruled that out. That bastard. No useless websites, so no Tumblr, no Twitter, all of that stuff.

  • Well, I’d do word vomits. I’d wake up in the morning and write a thousand words.
  • Then I’d go for a run.
  • I’d learn to cook and I’d keep track of whatever it was that I was cooking. I have this irrational fear of cooking and a generally unhealthy relationship with food, I would try to fix that.
  • I would feed myself better, I would start lifting weights again.
  • I would spend a couple of hours a day just reading books, and that itself will go a long way in informing what else I’d do.
  • I’d write book reviews. I’d watch movies and do movie reviews.
  • I’d write, write, write, write,write.

7: If you knew you were going to die one year from today, what would you do and how would you want to be remembered?

  1. The first thing I would do is sit down and externalize all my thoughts about what I do at work so that my colleagues can go on to create great work without me.
  2. I would reach out to all the smart, thoughtful people I know and try to help them get unstuck on whatever they might be stuck on, try to provoke and motivate and inspire them to do the great work that I know that they’re capable of.
  3. I would travel. I would go to New York and San Francisco to experience modern life. I would check out Soviet architecture in Russia. I would try to make it to every continent, or at least one or two others, to get a real feel for what life is like elsewhere in the world.
  4. I would try to tie up all the loose ends in my writing and leave behind some sort of legacy that allows others to climb up and above me, like a ladder. I want to be a ladder for others.
  5. I would try to connect people with other people who might be interesting and useful to them.

I should be doing all of those things right now.

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Progress on #Blk73 at one-north, Ayer Rajah Crescent

Not sure why I’ve been doing this. But I’ve been taking a bunch of videos of the construction of #Blk73.

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0159 – morning run with the wife

Today I did something for the first time. I woke up at 630am (alarm assisted). I laid in bed for for a while. Then I got up and got a glass of water, and brought my macbook to bed. I played some gentle acoustic music to wake my wife up. And then we made our bed and went for a run. We had breakfast at the coffeeshop. Then we came home. I showered, and now I’m on the way to work. I feel pretty good.

There are two things about this. First, I was hoping to do it ever since I got married. And second, I didn’t think I was actually going to do it.

Why? How? I was never able to do this on my own before. I definitely made ambitious plans in the past, maybe even when I was still a student. But there was a recurring pattern: big plans, minimal action, regression to the path of least resistance.

There are two other things I’ve made progress on in similar respects.

1: It’s been 9 weeks since I quit smoking.
2: Today was my 7th run in the past 2 weeks or so. (I started running after 7 weeks of nonsmoking.)

Here’s my central challenge in my life right now: How do I recreate this across more habits?

The non-smoking I did together with my wife.

My first 5 runs I did myself, and my wife joined me for the last two. We are committing ourselves to doing morning runs for the next 6 days.

A cool thing that we do in my company- and I’m not sure how common this is elsewhere- is regular 1-1 meetings. The idea is to use this time to share observations and surface things as early as possible before they become problems- any misunderstandings, discomfort, etc. It’s not exactly a performance review, though it could be used for that. It’s essentially a block of time that’s carved out to talk about what might otherwise not got talked about.

It’s such a great idea. Maybe it’s obvious to some people, but it isn’t for me. One of my worst and most ingrained habits is to just “go with the flow, indefinitely.” This is sometimes a good thing, but most of the time it means that I end up getting mired and stuck. I drive off the road and I just keep going without correcting the course. And it’s exhausting and unproductive but I just keep doing it. Clearly, I’d be better off if I learned to correct the course along the way.

Course correction (of course- lol) requires

1: Having some sort of path or destination in mind. You can’t correct a course if you haven’t set it to begin with.
2: That you make a decent starting attempt (as opposed to putting it off for “later”). You can’t correct a course if you’re not ON the course.

In the elegant words of my boss- know what you want, then do what you need to do to get to what you want. It’s that simple. Periodically re-evaluate what you want, but don’t get stuck re-evaluating your wants to death- that’s like going to a thousand restaurants without having a single bite to eat. Then you die hungry. But hey, at least you had a great fucking list of places to eat, mirite?

And then you hang out with other people who sit around making lists, and get really good at making really nice lists, and start having arguments with each other about the best sort of list, and what your list says about what kind of person you are, and then you start reading and writing blogposts about those lists, and you basically become a food-lister. When what you really want to be is a food-eater. I mean this is practically self-evident. Why would anybody choose fantasizing about a hypothetical non-existent future than actually living that future in the present?

Reasons:

1: It’s difficult and painful at the start. Fantasy can be more interesting that the dull difficult bit of daily early life.
2: Fantasy is easy when you don’t know what you want. You just pick things that are outside the realm of immediate possibility. Like going to Mars. And then you just enjoy your fantasy as an escape from present day.
3: Inertia? Just getting moving can be tough.
4: Who cares
5: I’m done listing reasons for why I’m not awesome

The point is that you have to pick something within the actual realm of possibility. Something that you can actually do within the next hour- like read a chapter of a book, for instance- and actually do it. And then now you have one thing that you have done and that you can be legit proud of.

One of the most amazing things that happened to me was when I started asking people in my life if they believed that I would do something. I asked a smoker buddy if he believed that I’ll still be a non-smoker next month, and if he’d bet $50 on it. He said yes. I asked my wife if she believed that I’d go for a run when I got home from work. She said yes. These are things that mean a lot to me, because I’ve spent a lot of my life not being able to trust myself. I know that I’m full of shit, I know that I avoid tasks that I’m supposed to do, the nature of Visa’s reality is that shit doesn’t get done, shit goes missing, shit goes unfulfilled, and so I just live with that. Enough of that shit, it’s really sad.

What do I want right now? I want to write down all my habits and processes and improve them one at a time. I’m done with cigarettes. I’ve started running. I’ve started doing weekly 1-1s with the wife. I ought to do daily 1-1s with myself. So while it’s a bit silly to spend time writing about it, I committed myself to writing vomits everyday. This is my morning commute vomit. I’m at work. Now I’m going to do work. TTYL.

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To Singapore, With Love: Does the MDA appreciate the Streisand Effect?

Here’s a thinking tool I’m trying out: Assume good faith. I’m going to assume that the MDA has good, smart people in charge and that they genuinely want what’s best for Singapore. You may disagree with the premise, but I think there’s enough “Wah, MDA damn stupid!” commentary out there. Also, it makes for more interesting, challenging thinking.

Let’s first assume that the MDA understands and appreciates the Streisand effect.

The Streisand effect is the idea that banning things makes them more popular. This is especially the case in the Internet age. When the State censors something, it’s the act of censorship that makes the work notable. [1]

So let’s assume that the MDA knows this, and they’re doing it anyway. They know that banning a film is going to make people talk about it more. Why do they do it, then?

The “simplest” explanation is that the MDA is just plain stupid, or selfish, and that they’re populated by old farts who don’t understand the modern media landscape, and that CEO Koh Lin-Net can afford a S$10m condo because corruption, nepotism and Evil Gahmen Forces.

Saying “MDA is Stupid And Evil!” is easy, but unhelpful and most likely inaccurate.

It’s simple and easy to express, but it raises a lot of other questions:

  • How and why such people get into such positions in the first place?
  • Why didn’t anybody else do anything about it?

To explain that, you’ll have to subsequently assume that the entire Government and Civil Service is in cahoots to screw over the populace. This is incredibly unlikely, in my opinion. Some of the most thoughtful criticism of Govt policy I’ve heard has come from people who work in the G themselves. [2]

Let’s analyse what the MDA has to say about the ban:

MDA has classified the film “To Singapore, With Love” as Not Allowed for All Ratings (NAR)

MDA has assessed that the contents of the film undermine national security because:

  • Legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals. Under the Film Classification Guidelines, films that are assessed to undermine national security will be given an NAR rating.

My questions:

  1. How do we determine whether or not an action is legitimate? Are we talking about what is legal, or what is right?
  2. Can we have a conversation about the legitimacy of such actions?
  3. Was it legitimate when Stamford Raffles installed Hussein Shah as the Sultan of Johore, effectively carrying out a coup? Serious question!
  4. Also, if the MDA says things like “distorted and untruthful”, what are we to measure the distortion against? What is the objective, canonical history of Singapore that these people are supposedly distorting?
  • “The individuals in the film have given distorted and untruthful accounts of how they came to leave Singapore and remain outside Singapore:
    • A number of these self-professed “exiles” were members of, or had provided support to, the proscribed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). The CPM sought to overthrow the legitimate elected governments of Singapore and Malaysia through armed struggle and subversion, and replace them with a communist regime.
    • One of the interviewees in the film claimed that he had no choice but to join the CPM after he left Singapore when in fact, he was an active CPM member even before he left Singapore. Indeed, as another interviewee who left Singapore in similar circumstances admits, a number of Barisan Sosialis activists then were already members of the Malayan National Liberation League, the CPM’s political wing, before they fled Singapore with its help and subsequently joined the communist guerrilla forces.”

Okay, cool. These are genuinely interesting points worth raising in a discussion about Singapore’s history. These are points that should be raised perhaps even before any talk of censorship or national security.

  1. Could you be a little more specific, MDA? Which specific ‘self-professed “exiles”‘ (kinda snarky wording there, lol) are you talking about? Why not call out the specific interviewees? Clearly, you guys have watched the film.
  2. If “a number of” the interviewees were members of  the CPM, were others not?  If “a number of” Barisan Socialis activists were members of the CPM’s political wing, were others not?
  3. Is it possible that some interviewees may have been members of the CPM, or provided support to the CPM, without necessarily wanting to threaten the elected Government of Singapore?
  4. Could it be possible that “the elected Government of Singapore” didn’t have nearly as much legitimacy then as it does now? Could it be that things were messy and ugly then, and people could have legitimate reasons to believe that the elected Government at the time didn’t speak for them?
  5. Is it possible for us to have a legitimate conversation about communism as a way of self-organization in Singapore? I’m not personally a fan of communism, but I do think that banning a discussion has the unfortunate side-effect of inducing apathy.
  6. And I think an apathetic citizenry is the greatest long-term national security risk to Singapore. Could we have a conversation about that?
  • “In another attempt to white-wash their security histories, two of the individuals in the film conveniently omitted mentioning the criminal offences which they remain liable for, like tampering with their Singapore passports or absconding from National Service.”

Fair enough. My questions:

  1. Has the Government of Singapore every white-washed its own history, willingly or otherwise?
  2. Have there been any “convenient omissions” in Singapore’s history?
  3. Can we consider those things to be national security risks?
  • The individuals featured in the film gave the impression that they are being unfairly denied their right to return to Singapore. They were not forced to leave Singa­pore, nor are they being prevented from returning. The Government has made it clear that it would allow former CPM members to return to Singapore if they agree to be interviewed by the authorities on their past activities to resolve their cases. Criminal offences will have to be accounted for in accordance with the law.

“If they agree to be interviewed to resolve their cases… criminal offences.”

  1. Could we have a clearly ennumerated list of these criminal offences?
  2. Can the MDA say “gave the impression”, and then make statements about those impressions?
  3. What if we said that the MDA’s bans “give the impression” that Singapore is a stodgy, boring place to live, and that it’ll sabotage our sustainability as a knowledge economy in the long run?
  • These facts had been published at the time of these events, and are on public records, even though some Singaporeans today may be unfamiliar with these cases.”

This is all really a bland, politically correct way of saying that (some significant subset of) Singaporeans are misinformed and irresponsible, isn’t it?

That’s why they ban it, despite the Streisand Effect. To keep it out of the hands of the uninformed Singaporeans.

The Streisand Effect popularizes the film among the activists, slacktivists and ‘intelligentsia’, but it keeps it out of the hands of people who wouldn’t go through the trouble of obtaining the film. (The activists were going to watch the film anyway.) So there’s probably a certain realpolitik calculus that goes into these decisions.

One of the first reactions to such a statement would be “Wow, that is so bad. So horrible, MDA. So elitist-uncaring-face. Mocking us heartlanders from their $10m condos.”

But the more important question is- “Is it true?” If I search my heart, I have to say that yes, it probably is. Especially outside of the echo chambers of the activists, bloggers and ‘civil society’.

A large, significant subset of Singaporeans don’t know their own history. We don’t know what’s going on. And so we are subject to misinformation. This is a valid concern. And it needs addressing.

To achieve a superior outcome for Singapore, we need to spend less time bitching about the MDA for being draconian and more time making it impossible for them to say “Singaporeans are uninformed”.

1: We must recognize that a ban on films is a short-term, stop-gap solution that ignores the long-term problem. Merely objecting to such bans also ignores the long-term problem: uninformed Singaporeans.

I can sort-of accept the ban, much as I don’t like it when I contemplate it from my armchair. But I understand the rationale. Some Singaporeans are stupid and dangerous and must be kept away from subversive films, lest they steal their SAR-21s from their Army camps and try to overthrow the Government.

2: The long-term solution is to put these films in the spotlight and scrutinize them long and hard. We need to get better informed about our own history, if not now then at least in the long run.

It’s all in the public records, says MDA. Well, we ought to dig all of this stuff up and talk about it. This is what the National Conversation or Our Singapore Conversation should be about. About who we are. About where we come from.

Unless we do that, until we do that, our identities will remain fragmented and disparate, and Singaporean-ness will be reduced to some farcical, oversimplistic thing like HDB flats and Chicken Rice. And that’s not how we guarantee Singapore’s survival for the next 50 years. We need people with conviction. And you can’t have conviction if you don’t have a clear sense of identity and purpose.

Of course, the MDA won’t spearhead the “Search Your Soul, Singapore” movement. It’s not their problem. Is it anybody’s job description to give a damn about the state of public discourse in Singapore? The Government is responsible to prevent things from screwing up. Whose responsibility is it to make sure we don’t miss opportunities, that we don’t stagnate, and becoming boring and lobotomized?

Yours and mine.

So here’s my little proposal to thoughtful Singaporeans everywhere who don’t like the ban: Take the effort to read up about Singaporean history, and have conversations about it with others.

That’s the best act of rebellion against censorship. We have to become such a smart country that the MDA can no longer say “Singaporeans today may be unfamiliar with these cases.”

I think that’s in the long-term interests of the survival of our little sampan city-state. If we want to live into a future that is exciting and interesting, rather one that’s constantly defined by existential woes (which are completely legitimate, by the way!), we have to have passion and conviction about who we want to be. And that means knowing where we came from.

Notes: 

[1] For an interesting example of how advertisers and marketers can hijack the Streisand effect to their own advantage, consider how Sodastream purposefully got its Scarlett Johansson Superbowl ad banned.

[2] It’s just tragic that they’re usually afraid to air their views in case it affects their livelihoods. These are the most important voices in civil discourse, and they’re under-heard. Those of us who write are forced to attempt to represent them without actually walking in their shoes.

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