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The last post ET9135A individual reflection report (long)

posted 9 Mar 2017, 05:31 by NATHANIEL KAI WEI OH   [ updated 9 Mar 2017, 05:37 ]

ET9135A individual reflection report (long)

"What are you doing? What is Pine-o-chio? What is entrepreneurship about? What is an entrepreneur?" Questions asked oftenly by my friends who were flabbergasted at what exactly am I doing. I would often give a wry smile and give the standard answer: "being my own boss". At those point in time, I really thought that "being my own boss" will be quite simple and that well, it wouldn't be that tough anyways right? Dead wrong. This ET9135 has been a real eye-opener and the roller coaster ride that I've been through was something that even though I could imagine, but wouldn't have understood until I experience it. And hence this report :)

My name is Nathaniel Oh and I am from Team Pine-o-Chio. This individual reflection is segregated by some milestone highlights that I did, the challenges, hurdles, and how I overcame them together with my team. Have fun reading :)

Milestones:

Manufacturer Problem:  

We cold-emailed and called 25-30 wooden manufacturers in Singapore, only 2 of them responded with a meet up agreement, while most either ignored or replied with “No”. I was mainly responsible for liaising and meeting up with the manufacturers, we had a few meetings in Starbucks as well as the manufacturer’s workshop in Ang mo kio and Sembawang.

Challenges: The confirmation of the first batch of wood took a very long time; I traded about 20-30 emails with Maxcomm enterprise, and there were a lot of delays, mainly from the sales department on how he has no time to meet us, and we have to readjust our schedule every week.

The second batch of wood was quite bad as well. It was during Chinese New Year and the factory was stopped. He requested us to pay overtime pay for his workers, which was $150 dollars, on top of 450 per batch. After some negotiation with him, I managed to reduce the price from 450 per batch, to 700 for 2 batches, inclusive of free delivery and no overtime pay.

Currently, the wood that was given to us on the second batch was mostly spoilt. In actuality, he told me that “some” of the wood would be spoilt and I was expecting maybe 2-3 out of 70 which was acceptable to me, however the end product was that almost all of them were spoilt. I requested a 1-1 swap and at first the manufacturer wanted to do a “half-priced” discount on the 3rd batch as he was allegedly “selling it at cost price already and do not really have a profit margin”. We finally settled on a 1-1 swap.  

How was it overcome:  For the first batch, we went straight to the point and stopped emailing; instead we called him and texted and fixed a date at his workshop itself so it would not be troublesome for him. We showed him that we are not “just another school project” and are sincere in actually purchasing wood from him. For the second batch, it was just pure negotiation through phone calls and text messages

Lesson Learnt:

It was really one of the more frustrating period, especially when it becomes more and more apparent that we were kind of taken advantage of by the manufacturer. I would have to say that during these times, I really learnt a lot and understood what they call “negotiation skills”. It is not about “begging for discounts since we are a start-up”, but more about making our stance firm, while asking for a substantial discount. In another way, I have learnt to negotiate by bluffing and stalling. At the start, I made a stand to them where I told the sales person that we wanted to be long term partners and how I was impressed by their wood and quality. During the second batch however, dragging the time for a short period of time actually made the sales person worry that we do not want to continue on the contract with him, which actually benefitted us. For the current situation, negotiation wise, I requested for a change of wood and I told him that “almost all the wood are spoilt”. Both of us did not bring up the topic that he told me that “some of the wood was spoilt” as I believe that we knew that “some” ought to be a few pieces, and hence he decided to change the wood on his own accord after some deliberation.

The next lesson learnt was that while sincerity is important, I felt that being in the business world, there is much more cunning and street smart that needs to be done. Homework on pricing ought to be done, and much more research as well. Secondly, talking to companies in a business sense is a whole new culture on its own, where there are many unspoken rules, even the way of talking is important; where what is left unsaid usually, is important as well. Even though I had some experience in talking to big companies due to my CCA, this journey has really opened my eyes in the business sense (instead of representing another organisation, I represented my own and thus was more sensitive to said behavioural patterns)

Website problem:

I was the Marketing Head for my CCA, and during that period of time, I launched a website for them ->check out www.ntumbs.com<- using WIX. It was not a really good experience and during the months of November and December, I experimented using WEEBLY and SHOPIFY as well as WORDPRESS. As matter stands, plug and play (no coding required) website making platforms are expensive and aren’t as customisable.

Challenges:

The first challenge was the choice of platform. Initially I was inclined towards Wordpress sites as it is the cheapest. However, the number of customisation and the “choice to pay online” was not available to try and thus I decided not to use it as I did not want to pay for a plan that I didn’t know what I was getting into. Wix and Weebly are out of the picture as they aren’t as e-commerce focused as Shopify. After some discussion, the team agreed to this opinion, and thus we started using Shopify.

The second challenge was the customisation. Shopify uses a coding format known as .liquid file, which has similarities with basic HTML and CSS JAVA and C++, however it is more troublesome to change root files and root programs (which might explain why they are able to achieve a Https secured transaction status). The bad news was that the drag and drop customisation available on shopify was very limited. The good news is, we can insert basic HTML/CSS/JAVA scripts on to the liquid files to customise the webpage. During this period of time, I had to google, scrawl through hundreds of forum posts, web-making blogs, and even consulted with Pratyem over the designing of some parts of the website (he’s a great guy). Thankfully I studied coding on my own a few months ago in anticipation of this.

Lesson learnt:

 I have really learnt a lot from this website-making journey. The first and foremost is initiative. Taking the initiative to work and learn is very important. For example, coding; I had to pick it up from the basics from CodeAcademy and learnt it step by step. However, I have realised that while learning step by step is all good and fine, on job training while scrawling through Google and forums are the things that actually made me learn the most. What I have also realised and learnt is that all these, can be found online and are free and there is absolutely no point in paying money for a workshop class that condenses everything into a short 2 days course that I will probably forget about it after sometime due to lack of practice.

Another lesson learnt here is that, sometimes the easiest way is to just ask for help. We hit a snag point in the website making due to some widget problem, and thus we asked Praytem for help. He was generous in his help and helped us shorten the troubleshooting time (which would have been quite a bit longer if we went without him). As entrepreneurs, sometimes, the most important lesson is that we do not need to be “know-it-all, do-it-alls”.

Lastly, I have learnt hard skills, and cost-cutting measures on coding, and how to circumvent all those “pay-to-use” emails and applications by finding appropriate discounts, codes, coupons and freebies.

UFLEA + MAAD (face-to-face sales):

  There wasn’t much of a problem during these 2 events, just that they overlap and I had to lug the wood (they are really heavy) from NTU to the Red Dot Design Museum. On the same day itself, was also the day where I went to collect the name cards that were printed, hence there was a delay in the shuttling of the wood to town, and it was exacerbated by the fact that it is extremely hard to get a taxi, or UBER, or GRAB. In the end, I had to go to pioneer MRT to get a taxi.

Challenges:

I have never really liked doing face to face sales so it is a bit of a step out of my comfort zone, to talk to strangers and coax them into buying our product. Apart from that, the only much challenges is the last minute printing of brochures and flyers, and the lugging of wood to and fro.

Lesson Learnt:

Just do it. For the success of the business, it is important to step out of your comfort zone and just do it.

 

Name card and marketing collaterals making:

I have quite the experience making name cards and flyers, brochures, posters, banners, advertisements mostly for my club purposes (do check out our website @ www.ntumbs.com and Instagram/Facebook @NTUmaritimebusinesssociety). Almost all of the collaterals there were made by me and it was by using the experience gained there that I designed all the name cards and flyers in this business.

Challenges:

There wasn’t much challenges except for that the name card printing shop delayed our prints for 3 hours as there was some miscommunication where they thought I was going to collect on another day for another project. It eventually led to a slower transfer of wood from UFLEA to MAAD.

Lesson Learnt:

Always call ahead and confirm again before making a trip down to ensure operations flow smoothly

Financials:

I did the financials for the team as well. At the start, it was extremely messy and chaotic as our bookkeeping was in a mess (even though it was still logical and understandable, it wasn’t in the standard format). We had cash flows, credit flows, receivables, and our inventory stock checking was in a mess.

Challenges:

This is the time when I really felt that being a 4-man team has its own challenges: manpower. Manpower was really lacking for us as there were too many on-going things that some segments will indefinitely be neglected. Financials was one of them. It was only recently that we sat down together and I remade the accounts and adjusted everything accordingly

Lesson Learnt:

 I am SO thankful that one of my core modules was Introduction to Accounting. It was really helpful. One of the rare moments that I felt thankful for the array of modules that I needed to take in my course. And thus, lesson learnt is that it is always important to have knowledge of every particular matter, even if it is just rudimentary knowledge, when doing entrepreneurship. It helps.

Normal Operations

The normal operations of printing pictures, sticking onto the wood, scrubbing, putting on the finishing, wrapping and then posting it for delivery.

Challenges:

There were a number of times when we had to redo the products, due to the nature of the process, where everything is handcrafted. It ate into our costs as well as our time frame, which made everything much harder.

Lesson Learnt:

We tried a few techniques here and there to help us along the way. Some technique worked well, while others were just plain not nice. After some tries here and there we finalised on one technique and continued doing it.

The lesson that we learnt here is that researching of the proper technique is extremely important, and that proper Research and Development BEFORE the actual launch of the product should be done.

Overall Experience

It has been an experience like no other, sleepless nights, ups and downs, triumphs and setbacks. Personally, I felt that it has been very fruitful, learning hands-on about things that can never be taught in classes and actually working for yourself and getting the money. There are many valuable lessons that I’ve learnt throughout this journey as stated above.

Looking Ahead

I’ve ventured into Minor-In-Entrepreneurship for one purpose; I wanted to own my own business in the future and make an impact in society. Even though there were really bad moments and setbacks during ET9135, I would have to say that it did not dampen my spirit nor my passion towards entrepreneurship. Perhaps, I would not venture into hand-crafted goods in the future. Handcrafted goods from what I’ve learnt, is that either you charge a sky-high price and aim at a premium and upper-income market, or outsource to low-production cost countries so as to maintain a healthy profit margin to labour effort ratio.

I would like to continue doing entrepreneurship and get ready for my next business, whatever it will be. I am considering going into the Overseas Entrepreneurship Programme but it looks scary. But as with everything in entrepreneurship, if it scares and excites you the same time, it probably is good.

Acknowledgements

I am really thankful for all the help that everybody has contributed. My Pine-o-chio family, who has been there with me throughout and suffered together, Adrian, Rodericks, whom without their guidance and help we would have stumbled more, and all my friends who have been there supporting us throughout this journey

I hope that I would be successful and be able to help the entrepreneurship community in Singapore in the future.

“The difference between who you are and who you want to be, is what you do” –Bill Phillips

Godspeed and God bless

Nathaniel 

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