How this Millennial Founder Bounced Back from Failure and Found Success
90% of start-ups fail. After seven years of one failed business after another, 29-year-old Melvin Soh finally learned how to be part of the 10% to succeed
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Singaporean Melvin Soh, 29, learned the hard way that there was more to becoming the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg than just dropping out of college and starting his own business. It took him years of one failed business venture after another before he finally realized that he needed more substance—a stable foundation of business principles that would help him to stay on the path to success.
“There seemed to be a formula,” he says. “Look at Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. If you come from an ordinary family but you want to be successful in business, you go to college, drop out after one year, and automatically things will happen for you.”
Soh knows now that his logic was laughably simple (see: 90% of startups fail within their first years), but it was only after seven years of false starts and mounting disappointment that he finally told himself that he needed to do better. His failed businesses would usually have promising starts—he’d earn a bit of money from his supportive friends and family, but once he had gone through his entire network, he wouldn’t know what to do next.
“I didn’t know how to build a team,” he says. “I didn’t know how to sell or close. I didn’t know how to set a vision. I was totally clueless.” His wake-up call came when his father—the sole breadwinner of the family—fell ill. Seeing his father in a hospital bed made Soh realize that he needed to learn to be patient and equip himself with the knowledge he needed to build a real business.
There is no shortage of self-proclaimed experts who make money teaching people how to start businesses, but Soh knew that he could only learn from someone who actually had a good track record. That’s what brought him to Marshall Thurber, founder of the Money and You program and mentor to prominent business minds like Anthony Robbins, Robert Kiyosaki, and Ben Coen. After meeting Thurber, Soh decided to put his marketing business on the backburner, and in 2016, he launched Enlightened Profits, which holds workshops taught by Thurber himself for hundreds of SME owners and entrepreneurs.
Here are just some of the basic principles that Melvin learned along the way:
1. A real business isn’t built on hustle alone
“Millennials like me attribute having a business to making money, and to make money, you have to hustle,” Soh says. “But just because you hustle doesn’t mean that you actually have a business, because you’re doing all the work.”
A real business, Soh says, is made of a vision, a product, a team, and a strategy.
2. Observe what’s going on around you
“A lot of people focus too much on their own business and don’t look up to observe the changes happening in the business climate,” Soh continues. “You can write emails and make calls all you want but if people no longer want what you have to offer, or if they no longer use your platform, then you become completely irrelevant.”
He uses the retail scene in Singapore as an illustration. You could clean your store, redesign, fix up your lights, and change your sales staff, but that would not make much of a difference when most people are shopping online. “You need to create an offer that people actually want,” he adds. “So you need to pay attention to what people want and notice the trends and advancements, and adapt accordingly.”
3. Build a good team
“Plenty of people say that your people are your leverage, but that isn’t entirely true,” says Soh. “Good people are leverage, bad people are trouble.”
The tricky part of building a team, he says, is hiring the right people, training them, and putting them in exactly the right place to make the most of their talents. To encourage your people to give their best every single day, Soh says that communicating a vision effectively is a good way to keep staff inspired—even on humdrum days that just drag on and on. Finally, bosses should know how to set the ground rules and communicate expectations. “Otherwise you have people operating on their own rules, which leads to a lot of quarrels and office politics,” he says.
4. Systems and processes are your best friend
Soh would be the first to admit that he doesn’t naturally operate systematically. “I don’t build systems and I don’t follow them either,” he says. “And I realized that this was very bad for business because I would hire a new person and have a hard time training them or communicating with them.”