As a child, Tjin Lee was a daydreamer and never really fitted well in Singapore’s study culture. She graduated with a degree in English Literature, a subject which has little relevance to what she would do later. Fast forward years later, Tjin Lee is the owner of not one, but nine businesses, which vary from creative agency to violin studio as well as fashion accessories.
Tjin Lee started off learning her trade at Club 21, a luxury retail company with her boss as a mentor. She started her PR firm Mercury with 2 other partners, but found herself alone after both partners quit due to the usual startup woes such as little pay with grueling work hours. She managed to clinch prestigious deals such as the 2004 Singapore Fashion Festival and many others, but yet struggled to breakeven. While top line growth was fantastic, she did not manage to generate healthy profits until she met her partner Jeremy Tan. With him in charge of finances and operations, she could focus on business development a win-win situation.
What’s most inspiring is that even as a busy business woman and mother, she managed to find time to contribute to the community by co-founding CRIB, a business incubator for women. CRIB aims to matchmake women with different skills so that they can start their own businesses.
So what lessons can we pick up from Tjin Lee’s experience?
1. Your Degree Does Not Matter
Tjin Lee had a degree in English Literature, which is of little relevance to her business. Your occupation is not dictated by your field of study. Many engineering students ended doing banking or business and economics students that became engineers. While a degree is good base to start with, ultimately it is generally accumulated work experience which will help you the most in your career.
2. Having a Mentor Shortcuts Your Learning Curve
Tjin Lee had a great mentor to learn from in her first job. She picked up skills from marketing to public relations and managing events. You learn a lot faster when you have a mentor to guide you where you can benefit a lot from their experiences. In fact, one of the pre requisites one of finding your first job should be ensuring that somebody will be there to teach you the ropes.
3. Find Partners With Complementary Skill-sets
Tjin Lee started her first firm with two other creative partners and ended up running the firm alone. She was not able to turn a profit despite boosting solid revenues. She did not want to deal with numbers and not having financial expertise within her firm made matters worse. Running a business requires multiple skill-sets with critical ones like finance and sales preferably being owned by the founding team. Missing a core skill could mean the difference between success or failure.
4. Entrepreneurship Is Tough
Entrepreneurship is tough and Tjin Lee experienced it first hand when she was left all alone to deal with the massive Singapore Fashion Festival project. Are you willing to put in the sweat and tears for little or no pay like she did for years? Be prepared to go through what many entrepreneurs like Tjin Lee have gone through, but the rewards are definitely worth the struggles.