Money Choice: Kicked out of home for becoming an entrepreneur

·5 min read
(PHOTO: Dylan Zeng)
(PHOTO: Dylan Zeng)

SINGAPORE — Starting a business is never easy, and 20-year-old Dylan Zeng knows this only all too well. Leaving his job in the family business to start, a freelance talent management platform, the Singapore Polytechnic graduate struggled to pursue his dream.

Investing his life savings in the business without his family’s support, he was left with no personal savings and a measly S$20 in the company account. Zeng was kicked out by his parent for a week, abandoned by his co-founders, and was failing classes. However, he continued believing in what he was doing, and bounced back from his setbacks to rebuild the team in 2021.

How did you get started?

I’ve worked in my family business since I was 12 years old. When I was 17, I headed the marketing and communications team at my dad’s second company, dealing with manufacturing and interior design. The money was good, and I was paid as much as S$6000, but I still didn’t feel accomplished. At the end of the day, it was still my dad’s company. I wanted to be more independent outside of his connections and business.

Armed with my passion in photography and videography, I wanted to become a freelancer. But I found it hard to find opportunities in the industry and was unsure of how to start. I couldn’t find any platform in Singapore that catered purely for freelancers.

With this knowledge, I drew up plans for However, when I pitched my idea to 30 friends, all of them told me it wouldn’t work out or that I couldn’t do it. So, I ended up dropping the idea.

Then, Covid hit. With working styles affected by Covid, I realised could be useful during this period. Hence, I decided to give a shot.

What happened after that?

I quit my job in the family business and went all in on with five other co-founders in March last year.

To say my parents were angry is an understatement. They cut off my cash flow and kicked me out of my house for a week. I slept at my school’s entrepreneurship centre where my office was, and bunked in with a friend for a while before they let me return home.

Three months into, I was threatened with a lawsuit by a competitor. My co-founders were shaken up by this and all of them decided to leave.

At the end of 2020, I was left all alone with no money to my name. During my school holidays, I would spend my mornings working at a bubble tea shop, my afternoons working on and a few freelance projects, and my nights distributing flyers. I wondered if I should quit, but eventually decided to continue for another three months. As long as there was a slight increase in users during this period, I was determined to continue.

In January this year, I rebuilt my team of co-founders and things are going well now. Users have grown 15 times within a year, and we also have a partnership with Singapore Polytechnic and Pollinate for students to gain industry experience and earn money while still in school.

So far, I’ve invested about S$20,000 in, with the bulk of it spent on the website and different marketing campaigns to find our target audience, which we soon figured out were SMEs and start-ups.

Right now, as our platform is commission-free and we’re surviving on loans from friends and family, which come up to about S$15,000. Enterprise Singapore has also recently awarded us the Startup SG Founder grant of S$50,000. We also have an upcoming contract with a big brand name which I’m excited about.

What's ahead?

Starting next year, we’re going to charge freelancers a commission fee, and hope to be able to expand overseas to Southeast Asia by the end of 2022.

Since graduating from polytechnic this year, I've been working on full time. I was already spending more time on the business than my studies when I was in school, so it was a no-brainer for me to continue working on it full time. I’m grateful to have a solid team who has stuck with me and built from almost nothing to where it is today.

I’ve been so determined to press on with because it’s a vision I truly believe in. Perhaps another reason is my dad was my inspiration when I started. I wanted to be a businessman just like him and was inspired when I saw him overcome the struggles he faced starting his own company.

What I learnt

Looking back, my parents are entrepreneurs too, so their anger probably came from wanting to protect me. And they were right – it has been a roller coaster ride. Honestly, if I have kids, I wouldn’t want them to start a business either because I wouldn’t want them to suffer like I did.

Despite all the challenges, however, was definitely worth the while. It’s given me so many experiences, skills, and connections that will be useful in the future. I’ve also gone through a lot of personal growth during this time.

To other entrepreneurs out there, start a business because you want to help make the world a better place. Don’t start one simply because you want to put a “CEO” title on your resume. Keep an open mind, persevere, and you never know what’ll happen until you try.”

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