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Why Singapore Is the Worst Place to Start a Startup - People Disagree

Keith Tan
October 21, 2017

And I got SO much hate mail about it, because people disagreed, people said my article was shit. Here are some of the comments I got:
Some agreed with me (one pointed out the joy of doing business in Hong Kong), but many more disagreed. Am I discouraged? Of course not — it’s nice to know that people care enough about our local ecosystem to stand up for it. But that doesn’t make our Little Red Dot any more start-up friendly.Some of you have given valuable food for thought and I’d like to share a few choice comments, so that you too can approach this issue with a new perspective.

 1. The one where I’m a “clueless, arrogant A#%&*E”
Tom Kosnik, a Lecturer at Stanford Technology Ventures Program, very kindly writes, “I found your blog post to be misguided, misinformed, and really annoying … Singapore is my #2 after Silicon Valley.” He goes on to say that many of the problems I listed were not unique to Singapore — Silicon Valley shared them too.
He adds that in Singapore, there’s no stigma in leaving a company for the right reasons — but my question to Tom, is what are these right reasons? Right reasons for who? The fickle employee or the firm that has invested in hiring and grooming him/her?

2. The one where the effort matters
Hian Goh, co-founder NSI Ventures, had an interesting anecdote. “If you (are) washed out in Silicon Valley and think you can come to Singapore and hire great talent, think about who you are competing with.” That made me rethink my idea that the problem was with the employees — it might be with the employers and their attitudes towards their staff.

 3. The one with grants and funding
Dr Gary Rubin from NUS Enterprise pointed out the ease of starting up here and the wide access to incubators and grants. “But it’s tougher to scale due to small market, lack of good tech people and VC funding,” he wrote, agreeing with one of my gripes with the local eco-system (lack of tech talent).
And as Ronnie Tan, MD of Central Chambers Law Cooperation pointed out, efforts to stimulate the start-up scene may not be targeted enough. “There are areas and aspects where more help can be given. I think it may be quite possible that administrators of schemes may not be adequately equipped to help even if they really want to help. There may be 'gaps' in their knowledge and understanding of real world issues that challenge start-ups,” he says, suggesting that there is more work to be done to make Singapore the world’s start-up hub.

I couldn’t agree more. Thank ou for these interesting comments! Keep them coming!

PS: This is an opinion piece by Keith Tan, Group CEO of Wonderlabs. Wonderlabs is the leading service provider helping companies build and manage software development teams in Indonesia and Vietnam. Across our various shared and dedicated centers, we have over 350+ active software developers. Since our founding in 2015, we have grown rapidly through innovation and our relentless mission focus - Connecting you to success and productivity. Alumni of Wonderlabs have gone on to work at some of the biggest companies in Southeast Asia.

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"I started Wonderlabs because I experienced the problems of building and managing a distributed software development team in Indonesia from 2011 to 2015. I wanted to make it seamless and frictionless for companies to build and manage teams. On the other hand, I found that there are so many amazing software engineers in Indonesia and Vietnam and wanted to connect them to employers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Jakarta" - Ivan Chang, Executive Chairman, Wonderlabs Group

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