Startup Advice from Addy Chu

Addy Chu, one of our valued Entrepreneurs in Residence (EiR), is known for her stories. “The 40-year-old Intern” is her own story about the beginning of her startup experience. She is currently an EiR for Remarkable and BlueChilli, as well as a mentor for Muru-D, Founder Institute, Cicada Innovations and CSIRO. After founding team roles in award winning startups ranging from nanotechnology, fintech, to RF medical devices she reflects on advice she wished someone had shared with her earlier in her startup journey.

Addy with the PlayMoolah team (Singapore)

1. Your team is structured for conducting experiments

Your startup team doesn’t resemble a mini version of what you find in a large company. We all have mental models of what our A-Teams look like and if a university degree features in your education one mental image is of a chart with CEO at the top and division/functional groups underneath. Google “corporate structure”, now google “startup corporate structure”. See what I mean? Hierarchy. While the latter doesn’t seem to have a pattern at all. That’s because startups are mostly different in nature and part of figuring out what you are is also answering how you fit into the business ecosystem – your structure reflects this.

What I’ve learnt (this little insight is credited to D) is that the core team should be the 2-3 people that have the capacity to reach the goal. The goal is to prove your hypothesis, that exciting vision that shows how your product changes the status quo, improves lives and makes a margin. The core and extended team are focused on building and testing until a formula of sorts appears. By definition, the core team has to be able to build an MVP. As you grow please consider hiring a rockstar of an office assistant as s(he) will make other problems disappear but everyone else is hands-on, everyday.

2.Spend to build and spend to sell

Thank you, E, you said it best, “As an investor I look for spend in two areas. Are they spending on product, and are they spending on selling what they built.” We laughed about our secret tests (mine is flying budget airlines and room sharing at the Y), but in all seriousness too many startups confuse good ideas with spending on what is necessary for their current experiment. Don’t forget to review if it was money well spent – reflection, learning and making better decisions the next time you’re in a similar situation. Decades ago I spoke with the manager of a foundation who shared that any one-off project that spent more than 15% of monies received on administration is unlikely to be funded by them. Similarly, be aware your investors might have a number in their heads.

3.Now vs later

“Should I do X or Y?”

“<Insert reasonable suggestion> seems like a good idea, what do you think?”

I get versions of this question a lot (and since I’ve mentored hundreds of startups in Australia and Singapore, I stopped counting after the first few hundred). My usual response is, “I have no idea”. But I have a handy little matrix I highly recommend for all founders. Two columns across and down, column headers are “Now” and “Later”, and row headers are “Generates Money” and “Generates No Money”.  Put all the good suggestions in their respective quadrant, and see how they stack up with all the other activities. This is a good way of prioritising and generally a sense check of how much time and resources are going into activities that generate value and are on-strategy.

“Bravery.. 

is at the heart of entrepreneurship: the willingness to believe in your own convictions when no one else does.” I read this in Techcrunch and thought it expressed my next thought perfectly. To all the Remarkable startup founders in the current cohort: The EiR team is immensely proud of our startups and what they’ve achieved. We are all looking forward to the next few weeks of hard work and to celebrating wins with you.

Remember, it is Tiger Mum not Dragon Lady.