'In startup world, being seen as crazy is normal': Grab co-founder

By Phuong Thu   November 23, 2018 | 03:18 am PT
Startup entrepreneurs need passion and should take risks and make sacrifices to succeed, says Tan Hooi Ling, co-founder of Grab.

She said passion and commitment, not money making, should drive a startup, and that it was okay to be considered crazy.

The co-founder of Grab was speaking at the closing ceremony of the 2018 Startup Vietnam contest in Ho Chi Minh City on November 15,

She traced Grab’s journey to becoming one of the major ride-sharing services in the world.

It all started seven years ago when she and co-founder Anthony Tan spoke about deploying a mobile call service. But no one could imagine what the application would be like and some even called the idea crazy.

Tan Hooi Ling, co-founder and managing director of Grab Global. Photo by VnExpress

Tan Hooi Ling, co-founder and managing director of Grab Global. Photo by VnExpress

"When we shared our idea, they raised their eyebrows and asked, 'What? What exactly do you want to do? How does this work?'"

The skepticism and protestations did not dissuade the Grab team, which continued to plow ahead on its difficult journey.

One of the big difficulties she and her colleagues faced frequently was finding partners and building a team with a vision and belief in the future of the startup.

"At first, not many people understood our model, so we had to look around the world for engineers, scientists."

Grab is now present in 235 cities in eight Southeast Asian countries. Its application has been downloaded 125 million times, meaning every fourth smartphone user is a Grab user. Its annual revenue now tops a billion dollars.

"It was the result of a grueling seven-year journey where we tried, failed, and stood up again so many times. This is an experience most startups would encounter."

A new idea could be considered crazy today, but make a tremendous impact on the world tomorrow; that is the key to innovation, Tan Hooi Ling said.

She said another lesson to be learned from Grab is to know how to stop and ask questions whenever there is trouble or a stumble, instead of continuing with the same strategy.

After each spill, the startup needs to calmly reflect on what has happened, why the failure, what is not going in the right direction, and how to change, she said.

After drawing lessons, the entrepreneurs must pull themselves up and continue with their journey, she said. But that perseverance should be accompanied by a passion and the courage to take risks and sacrifice time, effort, money, and energy to realize the dream.

"Do not start a business just because you want to make more money or you will lose a lot before seeing the light. Do it when and only when your heart races every day and when you think you have to achieve it completely and at any cost."

"If someone says you are crazy, let it go and move on. In startup world, being seen as crazy is normal."

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