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5 tips on surviving the competitive start-up industry in ASEAN

How to survive the start-up industry in ASEAN!

How to survive the start-up industry in ASEAN!

27 September 2019 / By SGN


As the APAC head of Wahed Inc., the world’s first robo-advisor Halal-focused investment firm, Syakir Hashim (above) is responsible for building up its business capabilities in Southeast Asia.

Even when he was serving the army during National Service, social entrepreneur Syakir Hashim — who is now in his late twenties — was always passionate about running his own business.

“Right when I was serving my National Service, I co-founded a Social Enterprise which engages at-risk youths after school through befriending and enrichment programmes in Toa Payoh.”

Coming from a modest middle-income family, Syakir almost didn’t make it to university due to financial constraints. However, he managed to get sponsored by an organisation, making him the only person in his family to go to university.

This powerful twist of fate got him thinking about other students who may be in the same predicament as he was and the helplessness they felt.

Syakir knew his next social enterprise, a Financial Technology (Fintech) startup — Skola Group — will be built to offer a helping hand to these students in need. The start-up is a crowd sourcing platform which helps undergraduates from underprivileged backgrounds get scholarships to pursue their studies.

But, why the Fintech space? He quips, “Finance, whether we like it or not, affects our daily lives and I’ve seen how money leaves people feeling troubled or made them feel really happy.”

Syakir’s start-up continued to grow from strength-to-strength, expanding into the Malaysian market and was eventually sold to a large regional crowdfunding company. We spoke to him to get his take on what fellow budding entrepreneurs can do to find success in a competitive start-up scene…

  1. Work with a mentor. Entrepreneurs should find opportunities to network and meet with people who have managed to achieve similar goals that they have set for themselves, shares Syakir. “From hearing their experiences, you can sort of figure out which parts of your plan can remain and what needs to be changed.”For Syakir, he met his mentor, Mr Shafie Shamsuddin, when he won the competition organised by Yayasan Mendaki in 2013. And the pair’s strong ties have only continued to grow since then. Syakir points out, “We have continued to keep in touch ever since and he has continued to guide my life and business journey.”
  2. Find your calling as an entrepreneur…For the unacquainted, a social entrepreneur is a person who identifies a potential social issue and builds a business model that solves this issue while making profits to further the business’s impact.Syakir says he went into social entrepreneurship because it allowed him to see the positive impact resulting from his work. And besides solving a social issue, running the business can also be a financially rewarding experience, too.“[It’ll make you feel like] you can’t wait to get out of bed to do work [because] you’re on a mission.”
  3. … Or find a niche industry that’s ripe for disruptionSyakir didn’t venture into the Fintech sector by happenstance. He studied the industry long before deciding to establish his own startup in the field.“I feel like the finance industry is ripe for disruption and there are too many opportunities in the Fintech space which can be worked on to give people better, cheaper, and faster access to financial services.”By entering an underserved niche, the start-up will be in a good position to make the most of the demand and grow.
  4. Don’t wait to take the plunge

Time is of the essence when it comes to going into a start-up business so Syakir urges all budding entrepreneurs to make the leap to self-employment as soon as they have studied the market conditions and made the appropriate business plans.

And when they do, Syakir advises that settling the business’s financing matters should be their first order of business. “Make sure you find your way towards financial sustainability in your business as quickly as possible so you don’t have to rely too much on external funding because they may or may not come.”


While pursuing his studies in NUS, Syakir served as the president on the NUS Entrpreneurship Society, where he actively promoted the idea of becoming a technopreneur to his peers.

Never lose sight of your dreams

Running your own start up can be an arduous journey that will likely be filled with disappointments and setbacks. But through it all, start-up owners will find success if they remain focused and motivated to achieve their goals.

While Syakir was reading Global Studies with a focus on Business and Transnational Cultures in Southeast Asia at the National University of Singapore, he would often pass by ‘the Silicon Valley of Singapore’. These offices — blocks 71 to 79 — at Fusionopolis, have been earmarked as an incubation ground for start-ups.

“When I first entered NUS and started making trips to the Kent Ridge campus either via MRT or cab, I will pass by the Silicon Valley of Singapore during my trips. During those instances, I often wonder when I can get involved in the scene and begin living my start-up life.”

It was this steadfast focus in achieving this vision which motivated Syakir to continue chasing his start-up dreams despite the challenges.

Grooming tomorrow’s entrepreneurs — today

On a broader scale, Syakir is also passionate about what can be done to instil a stronger sense of entrepreneurship among Singaporean students from a young age. “The best way is to build a stronger entrepreneurial spirit in our young through the educational system which can help to encourage them to take risks and get involved in business.”

That said, Syakir, who is currently based in Malaysia, still reckons that Singapore is a great place for budding entrepreneurs to establish their start-up. He points out that Singapore has one of the most matured start-up ecosystems in the ASEAN region. And scaling one’s business isn’t too big of a challenge given Singapore’s proximity to neighbouring markets like Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Syakir enthuses, “Ideation workshops, accelerators to late-stage investors are easy to come by here in Singapore. It is a great place to be!”

Widening your social circles is vital to becoming a successful entrepreneur, so join the OS in Tech LinkedIn group to connect with other like-minded individuals in Tech.

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