Young and courageous

They are young and they have gumption. Aaron Corbett talks to four NTU graduates who quit stable jobs to enter the heady world of start-ups

He’s gaining currency

According to Yusho Liu, CoinHako is a Bitcoin “wallet service”. Instead of carrying around a wallet, you can go to CoinHako to create a digital wallet and store your Bitcoins securely there. Bitcoin is a digital currency that can be used to purchase goods or services from vendors that accept the currency.
Bitcoin wallet service
Founded: 2014
Co-founder and CEO: Yusho Liu (School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Class of 2013)
Business location: Singapore
No. of employees: 3
Boost from a legendary venture capitalist

“Just after I graduated in 2013, I met up with my army buddy and co-founder Gerry Eng, and we talked about Bitcoin. We thought that the digital currency had huge potential and wanted to give it a try, but found that the user experience just wasn’t good, so we decided to create our own Bitcoin exchange called Coin Supermart. The Draper family of investors in the US became interested in us and invited us to attend their Boost VC Bitcoin accelerator programme in Silicon Valley for three months.”

Next change

“We were the first Bitcoin start-up in Asia to enter the Valley through Boost VC. During the course, and after talking to our customers, we decided to develop a Bitcoin wallet instead, which is now CoinHako. Tim Draper became our angel investor – he's well known for making early investments in the likes of Hotmail and Skype.”

Try again, and again

“When we first started, we were running low on cash and my parents were pushing me to get a ‘real job’. Asian investors ignored our mails, so we tried start-up accelerators in the US. We eventually took up Boost VC’s offer and had the best time of our lives in Silicon Valley. Since then, we’ve been getting the right attention from financial and government institutions as well as the Bitcoin community.”

Put yourself out there

“There’s an abundance of networking events in Singapore for start-ups. We’re in touch with many young companies and other Bitcoin start-ups. Newbies should prepare a simple pitch deck before attending a networking session. And do keep a look out for a mentor you can bounce ideas off. I'm fortunate to have had Prof Ooi Kim Tiow, a keen inventor, as my sounding board. He was my Final Year Project supervisor at NTU and we still keep in touch. Don’t be afraid of being eaten up – just put yourself out there.”

Hire a technical person

“In my final years at NTU, I had a start-up called Portagram that delivered printouts of Instagram moments right to the customer’s doorstep. That ran for about two years and though we broke even pretty quickly, we couldn’t scale it because I was still studying and we didn’t have a technical person to troubleshoot problems.”

The hunger games

“I joined NTU from Singapore Polytechnic, where I did aeronautical engineering. I played tennis for Hall 16 and stayed there for three years. Every year, we won the inter-hall tennis competition. I love tackling problems and challenging old ways. When I was at NTU, my course mates were already telling me I’d probably start something of my own eventually and wouldn’t be working for someone.”

School of networks

“University is a good place to meet people and learn your fundamentals. Who knows, you could make friends with the next CEO of some MNC.”

There’s a rainbow at the end

“Failure is not something we’re taught in school. Failing a module in school can be devastating enough. Failing a start-up that you’ve sacrificed your personal relationships, finances and time for is worse. But I believe that every successful entrepreneur has failed before. If it happens to me, I’ll bounce back.”

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Photos: Dios Vincoy JR