What do you need to build a business in Singapore? This is the question to which we are going to answer today.

Building a business it’s never easy, there are many challenges that you have starting from the lack of experience, insufficient funds, no reputation, no staff, and so many others. Also, the difficulties that you will face depend a lot on the niche you choose and the country in which you are living. Even if you have previous experience in growing a business in another country, if you just moved to Singapore and you want to start something new here, you will have to adapt to the requirements of the local market.

To better understand what are the issues that a start-up may face and also how you should overcome them, we asked Minuca Elena to reach out to 10 Singaporean entrepreneurs and ask them the following questions:

1. “What were the biggest challenges that you faced when you started your business?”

2. “What is your best advice for someone that wants to build a business in Singapore?”

We received an impressive variety of answers. The experts that we selected are business people from different fields, some have traditional businesses while others have online businesses. They all shared awesome advice that you can read in the post below.

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#1. Lilia Pritchard — Enjin

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“What were the biggest challenges that you faced when you started your business?”

When starting up Enjin, we bootstrapped our way to profitability and as one of the first members of the team, we managed all aspects of the business and had to each wear many hats, including taking on roles we never thought we would be in, or have prior experience in.

For me, it was having to dive into spreadsheets to manage financial and reporting. It’s the small things that you naturally don’t want to do but have to do that can be the biggest challenge but also it’s those things that push you to learn and grow the most.

“What is your best advice for someone that wants to build a business in Singapore?”

Singapore is very business friendly, and I find that not being afraid to ask for help, whether it be from your colleagues, staff at IRAS or ACRA, or your company vendors, a lot of information comes freely and accurately if you ask directly, and saves a lot of trouble guessing or ‘googling’.

As someone starting out, you don’t need to know all the answers, don’t be afraid to ask questions, there’s a lot of free quality resources and friendly professionals in Singapore.

#2 Serguei Beloussov — Acronis

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“What were the biggest challenges that you faced when you started your business?”

I faced many challenges, it’s good to have them and it is hard to single out one of them. People, movies, media — all tend to romanticise challenges for one reason or another, but there will always be challenges, as they represent opportunities. That’s just how this world operates.

But primarily, when you want to start your own business, you first need to discipline yourself. And for me, that was always the main struggle.

I always had difficulties with maintaining my health, doing sports, speaking better, being patient, reading the right books, controlling my bad habits, managing emotions, making unpleasant decisions and so much more.

Your mind may want something but to get there, you need to do certain things in a disciplined fashion, and this is the main challenge — the main treasure of the world is inside yourself and it is never possible to manage yourself perfectly.

“What is your best advice for someone that wants to build a business in Singapore?”

There are over seven billion people in the world and many are entrepreneurs – so, it’s difficult to give universal advice to all of them. But if I had to choose a few things, I’d encourage everyone to never give up, never stop learning and never expect that anything would be easy.

Yes, Singapore provides a significant support to local startups, it invites perspective companies to be based here, plus it’s a fairly small country, so it’s easier to navigate in the local business circles, but you can never fully rely on governmental support.

You need to outperform the other 99 ventures similar to yours – and there are many ways of doing that. You need to also keep on learning.

No matter what level you are, you have to learn. And so, if you never stop trying and constantly learn, you would avoid making the same mistakes and eventually prevail, no matter how hard it would be.

#3 Emmanuel Allix — Art Of Click

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“What were the biggest challenges that you faced when you started your business?”

1. Adapting to the High Energy, Fast-paced Environment

One of the most difficult things after defining the vision we had for Art of Click (AOC) was to come up with the appropriate marketing, product and sales strategies to ensure the company’s success. In business, and even more so for a startup, adaptability is a key factor to survival and growth. Thus, it was and still is, vital for us to constantly improve and develop strategies according to the market evolution.

I remembered having to tailor the strategies almost every quarter of the first two years just to keep up with the ever-changing market, especially when it was growing with new competitors every day.

For example, back in 2016, when ad fraud alone incurred 7 billion dollars’ worth of loss in the industry, we realised the need for transparency and clear return on ad spending.

As a result, we had to similarly tackle this issue by using that external threat and turning it into an opportunity to maintain our competitive edge by developing our own technology: The Art of Shield, a powerful fraud detection tool that has proven its efficiency.

2. Dealing with Uncertainty

When I first launched AOC, I had to accept that there would be days when I would need to make personal sacrifices, even without the certainty that my efforts will one day be rewarded. Working throughout the day and night became a daily routine.

Sometimes we had to remind ourselves to not be too quick to consider it a success when a client was willing to give us a huge budget to work with. We had to continuously keep in mind that budgets come and go every day.

When a company grows, those ups and downs turn from daily occurrences, to weekly and even monthly, but at the end of the day, experiencing and working through such highs and lows is essential in bringing sustainability to a company.

3. Picking the Right Team

Once my company was created, I needed to surround myself with qualified and motivated people. I think it’s one of the biggest challenges that I faced by far. I was confronted with two concurrent problems:

Attracting people being a startup. It’s only natural that potential employees would be more interested in working in a bigger and more established company. And our only solution then was to come up with strong arguments to convince them to take up a new challenge where I in turn, would trust that they would deliver to the best of their abilities.

Finding profiles which perfectly matches the company’s needs. At the start, I had to closely determine my strengths and weaknesses to select those whom I believed would be able to not just complement but to also compensate for the areas I was lacking in.

For example, I graduated with a master’s in engineering and had a digital/ advertising background. So back then, I was looking for someone who had the capabilities and skills to handle the technical aspects to develop our platform. And I was fortunate enough to find the perfect co-founder, who similarly shares the same vision I had for AOC.

It is also important for us to find that perfect balance between the number of employees and the current success of the company to ensure that no resources are wasted in the process.

“What is your best advice for someone that wants to build a business in Singapore?”

My best advice for someone that wants to start a business are:

1. Ensure Clients’ Satisfaction:

As Series A fundings are scarce, it’s a better option to focus on funds coming from clients’ revenue instead of Series A’s Venture Capital firms. Back when the company was newly established, I saw the importance of making clients my number one priority.

Treat each and every one of them as equally important; one should not disregard the possibility that a client who started out investing with a small budget, may well end up be one of the company’s biggest revenue providers down the road.

Bottomline is, it’s a lot more worthwhile to pursue client’s budgets than VC cash.

2. Utilise Government Support:

Do not be afraid to seek help and to fully utilize on what is provided or is made available around you. In Singapore, we are lucky to have a government who supports birth startups and are willing to assist such companies during their key moments – be it by providing grants or mentorship. So if you are launching a tech startup especially, do consider enquiring on that.

#4 Dr. Keng Siau

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“What were the biggest challenges that you faced when you started your business?”

Some of the biggest challenges you can face are:

Finances – as mentioned above, as a developed country and the most expensive city in the world, Singapore office space is not economical.

Hiring talented employees can be challenging too, but the issue can be alleviated as long as the company is willing to pay market price for talent.

Competition with established brands and companies – as discussed above, a market study and analysis for the business is necessary before investing.

#5 Andrew Stanley — TransPerfect

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“What were the biggest challenges that you faced when you started your business?”

Singapore is one of the easiest places to set up and be in business – not only in Asia, but globally. There are numerous government incentives that make Singapore an attractive base from which to build an Asia operation.

With the availability of quality technical, digital, project management, sales, and managerial talent across a variety of industries, combined with its business-friendly environment, high standard of living, and track record of innovation, it’s no wonder that Singapore has grown into a major international business hub.

It is important to work with government agencies like the Economic Development Board, or EDB to ensure a smooth landing. One key factor to consider is a company’s 5-10 year plan, and which markets it plans to penetrate. If Southeast Asia and India are of primary interest, Singapore is the obvious choice. However, if Greater China is a greater priority, Hong Kong may be a better option. Start with a strong leader – preferably someone with ties to the region, and someone who knows the peculiarities of doing business in specific Southeast Asian markets.

If this is a company’s first foray into Asia, it is also important to ensure the Asian operations are not isolated from the operations of the rest of the business. Frequent visits from executives from HQ, global strategy meetings, and regional training all go a long way to ensure the Asian operations aren’t left to their own devices. This is particularly important in the early months and years.

Finally, it is important to “localise” your strategy. Just because something works in Europe or the US, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in Asia. Audit all SOPs and ensure they’re appropriate for specific markets in Asia.

“What is your best advice for someone that wants to build a business in Singapore?”

In the beginning, it is important to start with a strong nucleus of managerial and operational talent. Invest in good people and ensure they see the long-term vision and upside of building a regional hub in Asia. In the beginning, we followed a one-size-fits-all approach – particularly when it came to sales; and at some point, it became clear that we needed to fine-tune our approach to be more Asia-centric. Striking a balance between global operational frameworks and local strategy is key.

Also, it takes some semblance of critical mass to build momentum and build a definable corporate culture that is specific to a particular market or region. Looking back, I would have pushed for more headcount from the beginning to start off strong and to ensure stability and long-term growth.

#6 Gabriel Matthias Sim — Undrcut Digital Marketing

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“What were the biggest challenges that you faced when you started your business?”

One of the biggest challenges I faced was staying motivated and surrounding myself with like-minded people. When I first started my business here, most of my friends were still in university completing their degree so it was difficult to have common topics to talk about.

As a business owner, you have to be able to get used to and adapt to the solitude as most people would not understand the path that you have chosen especially in a conservative nation like Singapore. Eventually, I overcome that with time and also, by luck as I eventually got to know more people in the online community.

“What is your best advice for someone that wants to build a business in Singapore?”

The best advice I would give, (especially to my past self, if I could) would be to stay focused and not allow myself to be distracted. In a city-state-nation such as Singapore, distractions are everywhere and unless you have the discipline to say no to people. You will find yourself being unproductive and also unable to accomplish the objectives you had set out to do.

#7 Robert Vis — MessageBird

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“What were the biggest challenges that you faced when you started your business?”

Singapore is the gateway to Southeast Asia. But, once that gate is opened, you still need boots on the ground in each APAC country your business serves.

Understanding local cultures and nuances across the different countries in Southeast Asia goes a long way in enabling businesses to forge meaningful and long-term partnerships. It’s also the best way to improve and customise your go-to-market strategy for each region.

“What is your best advice for someone that wants to build a business in Singapore?”

Singapore is an ideal point of entry for any business hoping to break through to Southeast Asia, not just because of its strategic location, but because of its excellent connectivity, highly-developed infrastructure, and business-friendly policies.

When we opened our APAC hub in Singapore, we were excited to engage with the local talent. I’d encourage any entrepreneur starting a business in the region to do the same. There’s a phenomenal pool of ambitious workers in Singapore who can serve as the perfect bridge between the business cultures of the West and the East.

Having a diverse workforce has helped us strengthen our strategic planning and better helps us address the needs of our global customer base.

#8 Chris Hallwell — H.O.T Solutions

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“What were the biggest challenges that you faced when you started your business?”

The biggest challenge is to get over the feeling of isolation when you are starting out. When it feels like it is just you versus the world it can become a very lonely place and it is easy to fall back into your shell when you don’t get success straight away.

It sounds obvious but many business owners want to just send out an advertisement and then wait for the business to roll in.

It won’t work like that in Singapore, you need to hustle and get yourself out there meeting people and getting your message and your personal brand out in front of people as often as possible.

The easy part actually is setting up the company. The real challenge is turning it into a business.

“What is your best advice for someone that wants to build a business in Singapore?”

The best advice I would have for someone interested to start a business in Singapore is to network like crazy. Singapore is a very small place and the usual 6 degrees of separation is more like 3 in SG.

By networking well, you can gain valuable introductions with senior executives at large multinational businesses that in other countries just isn’t viable.

Join sports teams as well as very often the key client avatars are playing sports there or perhaps they are a parent of a player from a team. We have enjoyed many referrals to multinational CEO’s from their young adult children recommending our products and services.

#9 Mike De’Shazar — Proof Suite

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“What were the biggest challenges that you faced when you started your business?”

1. Most venture capitalists in Singapore expect your product to expand outside of Singapore because of the market’s narrowness. However, culturally, Singapore shares few aspects with its South East Asian neighbours, such as Vietnam and Thailand. Thus, localising products for these other regions as you expand in Southeast Asia is a major challenge, especially for expats.

2. For expats, the visa process can take quite a bit of time, especially if you are a founder of a company. With a few hundred thousand dollars in funding or more, it’s quite an expedited process. However, in order to deposit funds or open accounts, often times a visa is required. So, that can be a challenge but UOB offers solutions to this.

“What is your best advice for someone that wants to build a business in Singapore?”

Regarding starting a business in Singapore: UOB is the best bank for startups in Singapore, as they go above and beyond to cater to startup needs from a customer service perspective. They also offer many perks to venture-funded startups, such as lower fees and access to interesting opportunities.

Venture capital in Singapore is much like the rest of Asia in a sense that it is much harder to raise funding here than places like Silicon Valley. One of the best methods for identifying funding is by finding angel groups and contacting the organisers of these events to:

1. Check out your product

2. If they are interested, invite you to pitch to their angel investor group.

Regarding operating in Singapore, it is fairly easy to get in touch via phone with regulators from all areas of concern: From labor regulators to securities regulators. It is highly advised to reach out to them as you build your business and get candid answers on how to overcome regulatory hurdles. This is one of the biggest benefits to Singapore that should not be overlooked.

#10 Raelyn Tan — Digital Marketing

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“What were the biggest challenges that you faced when you started your business?”

I started my business at a young age, so the biggest challenge I faced when I was starting out was being insecure about my age. Most of my customers are middle-aged men and women from the United States, so I had several insecurities given that I was almost half their age.

However, I have come to realize that people care most about the results, and I now focus more on delivering results because that is what counts more. I feel that the same applies to people who are too old as well. Everyone has a chance to succeed if they put in the work, although not everyone can start something successful.

“What is your best advice for someone that wants to build a business in Singapore?”

My advice to any aspiring entrepreneur is to do sufficient research, and then just get started now! As Singaporeans, we tend to be very ‘kiasu’ and wait until the perfect moment to do something. Do not waste any more time waiting because you never know what you can or cannot do until you actually jump in.

It also helps that the Singapore government is extremely supportive towards new businesses. Plus, taxes in Singapore is much lower compared to other countries. In other words, Singapore is a conducive space for you to get started on your new business. So do it!


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This article first appeared as “28 Singaporean Entrepreneurs Reveal How To Build A Business In Singapore” on Money Kinetics: Singapore’s definitive guide to financial literacy. Money Kinetics helps Singaporeans compare and evaluate loans, deals, cards and guide them to make their money work for them.

The article has been edited for concision and style with the permission of Money Kinetics.