By Shaun Poon
They had an idea, got funding from government…but then there were other obstacles. They want to do something on their own but at the time have this sense of duty to their parents.
The recent highlighting of hate-reading and envy online has thrown the spotlight on the negative aspects of social networks like Facebook. Scott Ng, 26 and Eve Law, 23, are two app developers with an idea to improve social networking by instead encouraging people to look forward through desires which hopefully lead to physical meetings and fulfilment.
Eve and Scott left their jobs in UBS and EarlyBridge (a boutique consultancy) respectively to start their own company and develop FlashWants, a social networking service that they work on 15 hours a day, seven days a week. They have one other partner, a childhood friend of Eve’s. While each one is living off $400 of their savings a month, their decision to quit promising careers worries their parents.
“It’s not easy because the older generation always thinks you need to graduate, you need to find a job, and stuff like that. That kind of pressure is something is that we have learnt to face,” says Scott. “Especially for typical Asian parents,” adds Eve.
For Scott, there is a sense of duty to support his parents as the child who showed the most capability. His parents run a business in the shrinking textile trade at People’s Park. The couple’s tear ducts betray them as the conversation turns to how their parents support them.
“What’s more, as a son I feel that I need to give my parents a comfortable life,” Scott blurts through an audibly cracking voice. “There are two things to balance. On one hand, it’s a responsibility as a son. On the other hand, it’s about pursuing something that you really want to do. It’s difficult,” he says haltingly, struggling to keep his voice composed.
When he’s more composed, he tells me that the takeaway prawn noodles sitting conspicuously on the otherwise spartan cubicle table are bought by his parents who often buy breakfast and dinner for them. “They do buy me breakfast every day, for which I am really grateful,” he says. “It saves a lot of money,” Eve adds.
Coming from a big family of four children, Scott lived mostly with his nanny from infancy till nursery age. “My parents wanted me to be independent… but on the other hand they are a very traditional and strict family, they are always setting parameters,” he mentions. He took public transport alone from primary three, and was the only child in the family to enter a university.
“They put a lot of hopes on me, inevitably it puts a lot of stress, I feel like I have a responsibility to help out with the family, as the one supposed to be most educated and with a proper job,” Scott says.
Eve’s parents help the venture by recommending the app to their hair salon’s customers, gathering feedback from them and arranging for Eve’s sister to help out every now and then. “On and off my mom would ask me if I had enough money, and she would try to get some funding, but I would not accept,” Eve says.
In contrast to Scott, Eve says that she has “the hip parents”, with the small age gap helping her parents to relate to her. “My parents really trust me with the choices I make. Since young my mother kept telling me ‘I will give you the freedom to make choices but you have to make the right choices, or in future you won’t have the freedom’,” she recalls.
From a young age, Eve’s parents have largely allowed her run her own life, such as organising a class chalet without parental supervision when in primary six and allowing her to stay in school late into the night for preparations and rehearsals for her stage performances for Chinese Drama. “They’ve been very supportive of whatever things I want to do,” she adds.
“A big influence on me from young was my dad. When I was a child, we would sit around the kitchen table with a drawing block and he would start teaching me step-by-step,” she explains. “That helped me love art,” she adds. Her fondness for art continued into primary school where she would enter art competitions with childhood friend Lee Xiang Rui, who is also the third collaborator in their company. She was also passionate about acting and Chinese drama in secondary school and junior college.
Eve says that her father had initially wanted her to go into the finance sector, which is why she went into her Economics programme in Singapore Management University. It was during an entrepreneurship module that she met Scott.
Pulling through the initial shock from friends and family, Scott and Eve are determined to launch their app for Apple mobile devices soon. “We decided to take a leap of faith…the next moment Google might be doing something that is in your space,” Eve explains.
For the moment, they lead lives of prudence. Their most recent extravagance: $10 set meals from Japanese restaurant Itacho, bought a week ago. The company recently received $20,000, part of a $50,000 grant from the Action Community for Entrepreneurship. “It isn’t a lot, because we have to build the prototype and we have to feed ourselves,” Eve says.
Although they are not drawing the high salary that each one had at their previous jobs, Scott brushes this off as “life (now is) even better”. “Our parents are thrifty people, who didn’t spend on luxury or branded goods, so to us, we are living fine,” Eve adds.
However, Eve and Scott have not used their grant money to reimburse themselves for the development and company incorporation expenses. Eve says: “The bank has this minimum..” and Scott finishes: “balance that you have to maintain, which is annoying.”. They need a substantial amount in the account to avoid a minimum balance fee, while still holding enough to fund future marketing plans.
The couple intend to get married, but are wary of the costs and challenges in running a startup. They say that they have put the rest of their lives on hold by about three to five years, and given up the comfortable life of a stable job. “For us we wanted to start (a family) early,” Scott relates.
Their advice to other young trailblazers: think clearly about how you want to change things or improves people’s lives, and ask yourself whether you have the tenacity to forego some of the things you have, then go ahead. “Because we are at these stages of our life where we have no commitment, this is the best time for us to try out,” Eve says.
Smiles betray young entrepreneurs' trials and tears
By Shaun Poon