Kopi Chat Da Bao: Takeaways from a Serial Tech Entrepreneur

Starting your own business seems like a glamourous appeal for most people, but entrepreneurship really isn’t for everybody. Not only is it a time and attention demanding job, it can also be emotionally draining with the challenge of finding funding, validation and the right team for your idea. Building a start-up from scratch is formidable enough, but a serial-entrepreneur is someone who takes on this challenge repeatedly. For our May’s virtual Kopi Chat Da Bao session, we invited Varun Chatterji, a three-time entrepreneur who is constantly drawn to the fast-paced and ever-evolving tech start-up arena. Varun, a NOC alumni, is currently the co-founder and chief software architect of Seventh Sense, an edge computer vision and AI company.

Image for post
Image for post
Soh Hui Min (left) of NUS Enterprise with Varun Chatterji (right), co-founder and chief software architect of Seventh Sense

Varun’s first mobile security start-up tenCube made international waves in 2010, when it was acquired by McAfee, the world’s largest dedicated security technology company. Instead of accepting a work opportunity in the U.S that came along with the acquisition, the NUS School of Computing alumnus dived right back into the entrepreneurship scene to set up Sent.ly, followed by Seventh Sense in 2017. During our chat, Varun shared some of the valuable takeaways that he gained from his decade-long entrepreneurial journey.

1. Supposedly-Glamourous, but starting up is not as easy as it seems

There is often a misconception that an entrepreneur only has to formulate an idea, get investments and take on the leadership role in a start-up. In reality, as Varun shared, he has to walk with his team almost everything that needs to be done. Sometimes, he even contributes coding, UI and UX work. He thinks of his role in Seventh Sense as a facilitator that helps the team in whatever way he can as we encounter different challenges.

2. Financial woes is top of entrepreneurs’ mind

Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurship is often accompanied by financial instability, especially at a company’s early stages. Varun was just a fresh graduate when he started tenCube with his other two co-founders. He recalled the three of them deciding what to eat at a hawker center with just $300 left in their bank accounts. Luckily, they persevered and further funding came along before tenCube was eventually acquired by McAfee.

3. Don’t rush into setting up a company without getting validation

While having a brilliant idea forms the base of a business, it is only sustainable and profitable if it has received validation. As Varun mentioned, it is easy to be self-convinced that your idea will work, only to find out that there is no market-fit for it. Starting a company only takes 15 minutes, so don’t rush into it. If you validate the idea before setting up a company, the runway for your business will be a lot longer.

4. Prioritisation is key in managing a start-up

Resources are limited for a start-up, so it is impossible to always pursue all the opportunities offered to you. At the same time, an entrepreneur can’t be completely blind to opportunity too. Thus, to be able to priortise and focus on the company’s needs defines a successful entrepreneur.

5. Don’t forget about the corporate’s social responsibility

A pointer that Varun took away from the ongoing COVID-19 situation is that the efforts made to exercise his company’s social responsibility will not be wasted. Seventh Sense has put its other projects on hold to develop a covert temperature screening technology using machine learning and facial recognition, which has since brought about more opportunities and demand for the start-up.

Our next Kopi Chat Da Bao is on 3 June, 12.30pm with Jennifer Zhang, Co-founder & CEO of Wiz.ai. Grab your virtual seat here — https://bit.ly/KopiChatJune

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store