Week 8 —Are You Stuck Solving a Task or Creating a Business?

Adriel Fong
5 min readNov 6, 2020
by cottonbro

Are you solving a task or creating a business?

This week has felt like the process of unravelling of an onion, trying to get to the core of a business. If anyone knows anything about dealing with onions, you’ll know that it’s sure to make you cry one way or another.

Tuesday was our first time meeting SJ, the prescribed Mr. Miyagi to the VB18 projects. It’s always interesting meeting someone of his generation that still has such a passion for mentoring young people and dissecting business ideas to it’s core.

You learn not to mess around with an individual like that when he’s on his third cup of coffee of the day and prancing around his office with a rattan stick.

Human LinkedIn Analyser

The conversations with SJ spoke to me on a profound level, he caused me to sit up and think about my whole programme in a different angle. He reminded us that you never go into business with someone without doing your due diligence on the person itself.

With just a simple dive into a person’s LinkedIn profile, he analysed truths about people that I didn’t even pick up on just based on someone’s background and portfolio. He even zoomed into whether the individual was from a Polytechnic or a local Junior College and the difference it made to a person’s psyche and decision making in regards to entrepreneurship.

His ability to glean so much information, read between the lines and articulate in an easily digestible manner shows an immense level of maturity and connection between not only his head knowledge but his sub-conscious gut feeling too.

It’s yet another strong reminder to continue investing into the 95% of our untapped mind and to remember the reality of how business is run in the world.

Hiding under the wings of the VB18 programme, we’re so far removed from the treachery of unscrupulous businessmen and women that we hold this image of start-up utopia everywhere we go. The truth is that there are wolves out there ready to pounce on you for the sake of money and progress for themselves.

We must identify and tread carefully with people like that.

Dr Alex Lin always cautions: “We cannot control other people, we can only control ourselves and what we do.”

Whether you’ve graduated from the school of hard knocks or groomed by fantastic mentors, one can agree that business categorically remains one of the best ways to demonstrate integrity or lack thereof.

Executing a Task or Creating a Business

After SJ had finished weaving his poetic analysis about people, we got down to business, analysing our ideas. As I presented, I barely got by the first slide before SJ came slicing and dicing my every portion of my sentence.

His questions weren’t complex, they weren’t insulting. It was put across in a matter-of-factly manner. He asked simple things like, are your target customers even facing an issue like that?

What’s the impact of your problem? How many people go through that problem?

SJ cuts through all the startup ecosystem bullshit by asking simple and easily understood questions. Make no mistake that his questions, albeit simple, are sometimes hard to answer and hence aspiring entrepreneurs struggle to tackle those fundamental questions.

It’s much cooler to tell everyone that you’re creating a prototype that will change the world as we know it… Just like bitconnect 😂

We all know what happens when you build your house on sand, yet we do it all the time with our ideas and businesses.

The results are disastrous when you spend all your lunch money building a prototype that no one wants.

Let’s just assume that you’ve done your due diligence and you’ve gotten back some valuable feedback from prospective clients to verify the existence of the issue that you’re solving.

What follows is then to understand whether you are solving a task or building a business.

Let’s just take a look a Grab as a company. Grab started out as a taxi booking system which sounds stupid in 2020 because if you were to start another taxi booking system, you’d probably be slaughtered in the industry in Singapore alone.

What Grab did was solve simple-ish “tasks”.

Now, here’s the issue with merely solving individual tasks. There’s a limit to growth you can achieve when you’re comparing the amount of resources needed to attain an additional 3% of growth hypothetically. So, what Grab targeted next was to implement their food delivery services, which is still a pretty mundane task.

I mean, any restaurant can hire delivery people to conduct their deliveries for them. You don’t exactly need to use Grab to conduct your deliveries, although it proves to be the more hassle-free alternative.

On the surface it seems like Grab is merely using their platform to make slight improvements to mundane services. Upon looking deeper, you begin to see the real business behind what they are trying to do.

In December 2019, Grab and Singtel formed a consortium to apply for a full digital banking license in Singapore. What is a transportation, payment, food delivery app applying for a banking license for?

What is the one thing that strings all these mundane tasks together? It’s human data isn’t it? Grab talks about providing banking services in the SEA region. As the 3rd most fastest growing region in the world, the opportunity is ripe for the taking and Grab intends to be the custodian of all that information, leading an exodus of unbanked individuals away from the rigidity of traditional banks, transportation and food deliveries.

But first, it all starts from the first step of verifying the impact and the size of the problem.

Let’s take a look at one more example. Recently, there was a data breach on e-commerce giant Lazada RedMart’s platform, with over 1.1 million customers’ information being stolen and put up on the dark for sale at $1,500 per buyer.

It’s cheap to pilfer and steal information as a hacker. It definitely does not cost $1,000 to steal the information, but even so, just imagine selling that same list to a hundred buyers, a thousand buyers. The profit adds up.

It really makes me wonder how much a person’s private information is worth.