So you wanna run a tech startup?


So you have a great idea for a start-up and want to get the action going? I spoke with two ambitious individuals who put together not just one, but two smartphone applications: BlastOut, a fire-and-forget communication tool for events and Call Levels , a financial markets alert tool.

Call Levels has such tremendous potential that the ex-Head of Commodities, Forex and Short Term Interest Rates in sovereign wealth fund GIC, Timothy Teo, sank USD$100k into the development of the technology.

Meet Daniel Chia and Cynthia Siantar who helm the two projects.


Daniel Chia, 34, had been managing money for hedge funds and sovereign wealth for well over a decade.

“I research and build systematic strategies that finds biases in the market to make money. It’s fast paced and frenetic, but after a while, you start to wonder: what are you doing with your life? Does your work add value for yourself? Does it make an impact on others? Especially when for traders, you only know profit and loss. When you profit, you are keenly aware that someone else loses”, he mused.

Cynthia Siantar, 28, is an ex-investment banker.  As she rose amongst the ranks in both male dominated financial and tech industry, she reveals a love of being in places where no one ventures.


When asked why she chose to quit her job to build a start-up from scratch, her answer boiled down to this: politics.

Working in a large corporate (bank) means you inadvertently end up with corporate politics. Bureaucratic throat cutting means more time spent on unproductive politicking rather than work that is useful for the client.

“I was feeling like I was losing the spark. The fire in the belly. I wanted this back”, she shares.

On productivity in the office

If you’re trying to find Cynthia, you won’t find her at the office. She’s always out and about, meeting people or tinkering with ideas.

“It doesn’t mean I don’t work as hard in terms of long working hours. Yes, I don’t have to stay in the office from 9 am to 6pm, or longer in my previous career. When you’re building your own empire, your time costs money: you become more productive with your time”, she says.

For the both of them, work doesn’t stop after they leave the office. The lifestyle is immersed in a 24×7 environment – you’re always thinking.

But not every employee has the business acumen and the entrepreneurial instinct. I asked them if this could be encouraged by allowing employees run a small business at the side.

Google, for example, allow employees the freedom to go and do some private projects.

“Google’s culture is one of solving problems. They hire grads fresh from school and put them to solve big problems. The model fits,”says Daniel.

“I believe in the 90/10 principal. 90% of work is generated by 10% of effort. When you work, a lot of time is downtime, there’s actually a lot you can accomplish doing something else. If an employee can spend his time on extracurricular projects, it hones their creativity and skills”.

With our current productivity rate at 0% (which is an improvement believe it or not), our society begs for questions to be asked. Are employees not bothered? Do we not care? Are businesses hiring people who do things just for the sake of doing it?

The key thing is: Does the talent care? If you have people who care, you can leave them to their own devices and they’ll do it.

Daniel feels that having a personal project at the side will mean better thinking, entrepreneurial skills and an employee that cares.

Cynthia doesn’t agree though.

“I would prefer my staff to be focused on my product, my project. In fact I would treat it as a red flag if an employee comes to me with a side project to run,”she said.
So to run a start-up, is it true that it’s only 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration?

“To a certain extent yes. Having a great idea is just one step, 99% of the time is how you’d execute it. Case in point, when Facebook and Google came about, there were already similar platforms out there. The idea wasn’t unique. How they did it was. If you comb through the billion dollar apps, they weren’t just about ideas”, said Cynthia.

“I’d say its 99% luck”, argued Daniel.

Here’s the reason he gave: you must be lucky. You need the right mix of energies to meet the right people at the right time. It doesn’t matter if luck follows work, or vice versa, you need it.

And you can try to get lucky. You need to work very very hard to get the odds slightly in your favour. Things will happen and things might snowball, but you have to keep working at it.



Ok so what about if I had a great idea, but no money? Is there such a thing as the zero dollar start-up?

“I was in Harvard when Mark Zuckerberg started. Even that wasn’t a 0 dollar startup, they had to raise money right at the start. They had to work very hard at their project. Work for free,”Daniel recalled.

It couldn’t be absolutely zero dollars. Even at the initial stage, if the founder himself/herself can do everything on their own, there is still an opportunity cost.

Even then, as you grow, one person can’t do everything. You had to pay for the right mix of people to do work for you, even if it means outsourcing to other vendors.

“You can’t be stingy on manpower and talent. To attract the right talent for the company, the compensation must be competitive or in the start-up world, offer opportunities for growth and upside through equity”, reminded Cynthia.

“It also helps if the boss is hot”, joked Daniel.


Are you thinking of quitting your job to start a business now?

If you do, both of them advised against jumping into any project if your only fuel is passion and faith.

“But I’d say, if you really believe in it, just do it”, said Daniel with conviction. “If you really believe in something, there is no risk too big. If you have tremendous conviction on something, you have to be bold and go for the jugular.”

But the caveat is – you must understand and be willing to accept the consequences of failure. Go in with both eyes open. Not just a fluffy feeling of passion and faith.

“I have a safety net, even if I fail, I still have a home to stay in. I have a good track record and I can get employment. Be aware of the consequences, don’t spend the rest of your life paying back a mistake,”warned Cynthia.

Trust these banking experts to share with us the wisdom of risk.


(Call Levels can be downloaded at the iTunes App store here)







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