By the SMU Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship
Before starting university, Marcus Cheu, final year SMU Bachelor of Business Management student, was already interested in entrepreneurship. In SMU, he first got his feet wet by joining entrepreneurial programmes / clubs, Protege Ventures, and Asia Private Equity Club @ SMU (APECS) to learn more about startups from an investor’s perspective. After having the opportunity to speak to venture capital partners and entrepreneurs alike, he realised his passion lay in the operational scaling of startups. Somehow, that discovery led him to eventually start his own coaching business, which helps millennial employees and aspiring entrepreneurs start their online service-based side hustle.
What got you first excited about entrepreneurship?
My dad, who runs his own business, is a pivotal figure in my entrepreneurship journey. He showed me that an entrepreneur could run one’s own projects and chart one’s direction, which sparked my desire to start my own business since I was young.
I have always enjoyed leading a team and making decisions, which drove me to start my career as an entrepreneur. I thought that if I had plans to work hard regardless of what I am to work on, why not spend that effort building my own business?
However, I never really pursued entrepreneurship until university, where my first attempt was to start my blog. While that did not take off, towards the end of Year 1, I decided to join Protégé Ventures. A student-run venture fund that helps student entrepreneurs build scalable ventures, Protégé Ventures allowed me to explore the start-up scene from an investor’s perspective as I wasn’t ready to start something of my own yet. I wanted to learn how I could create a successful start-up that investors would be interested in.
Why did you decide to start your journey from an investor’s perspective?
I followed that interest in Venture Capital to join APECS in Year 2 to further my understanding of the start-up scene. While Protégé Ventures’ primary focus was on the early-stage start-ups, APECS focuses specifically on venture capital and private equity, giving me a broader exposure to the entire start-up ecosystem. The combination of APECS and Protégé Ventures allowed me to network with entrepreneurs and venture capital professionals alike. It gave me many insights into what makes a start-up successful – from the importance of a good management team to the start-up’s ability to achieve product-market fit, and its willingness to learn and pivot from each mistake and failure constantly.
Marcus (centre) participating in the finals of the Venture Capital Case Competition (VCCC) 2019 organised by APECS
It is encouraging to see the possibilities present in today’s start-up scene, especially when it comes to technology and how various innovations are coming along to change the world in so many different aspects.
How did you finally decide to pull your focus towards entrepreneurship?
As I began to explore more through networking and speaking with various people from different backgrounds, I realised I enjoyed the operational scaling of companies more than simply analysing the investments’ progress and financial viability.
With that realisation, I shifted my focus from understanding and analysing companies from an investor’s perspective to finding more opportunities to work in a start-up or grow my venture.
Thankfully, I got an opportunity to work in a start-up my friend founded – Sekoni Original, which SMU IIE’s Business Innovations Generator incubated in 2020. My experience in the start-up exposed me to a whole variety of opportunities and learning experiences. The steep learning curve pushed me to focus on my personal development; it made me question what I was good at and wanted to pursue in the long run and validated my interest in the operational scaling process.
How did this stint lead you to embark on your current coaching business?
In my time with Sekoni Original, I learned a lot about myself, including my strengths and passion. However, the inevitable struggles that came along with the process prompted many deep reflection exercises on my end. I wasn’t sure if I should pursue my interest in entrepreneurship or gain more corporate experience to build up my portfolio and skill sets first.
Coincidentally, during this time, I was tasked to start a podcast on “Learning with Young Leaders”, where I interviewed accomplished young leaders from a variety of backgrounds. Through my interaction with these guests, I started to learn more about their journey, how they decided their path, what got them to where they were, how they managed the uncertainties that came with entrepreneurship.
It was also through this podcasting journey that I first chanced upon the coaching scene. As I started speaking with more coaches and learning more about the role a coach plays in the development of others, the prospect of coaching someone through the problems I once faced myself attracted me. Long story short, I eventually decided to give it a shot. I hired a business coach to help me redefine my direction and, with a concrete action plan, was able to secure my first paid client in less than 90 days.
Marcus getting ready for a podcast episode interview
The first time I signed a client, it truly opened my eyes to the possibilities of this venture and pushed me to continue working on growing the business. In the earlier stages, I focused on High-Performance Coaching, where I help entrepreneurs improve their performance by working on their mindset and productivity systems. Along the way, I realised I enjoyed the Business Strategy aspect of things and decided to assimilate that into what I was already doing.
Today, I help millennial employees and aspiring entrepreneurs turn their passion into a side hustle and sign their first paid client. As a Side Hustle Coach, I’m super passionate about being able to help others create possibilities for themselves and for them to realise that it is entirely possible to combine passion and practicality, the same way it happened for me.
Starting a side hustle or a business is by no means easy. I hope that the people who work with me can negotiate their journey a bit more smoothly, and in turn, gain the confidence to continue working on the side hustle they’re passionate about.
Any last words on your experience to share with us?
Entrepreneurship has taught me so much – not just about business-building, but also about myself and my life. It has provided me with countless opportunities to improve my mindset and shifted my perspectives on how I look at things.
If you’re someone who loves the freedom and limitless potential afforded to you in an entrepreneurial environment, I will encourage you to give it a shot – put in your best effort and learn from the process. The best time to start something is when you are still schooling because we do not have that many obligations in our lives yet. You will learn something you can bring into the next phase of your life through the entrepreneurship journey, even if the start-up doesn’t take off. It could even strengthen your value proposition to employers if you decide later on to pursue a corporate role.
After all, failure is but part of the process, and you can always learn from it. Don’t let your fear of failure today lead to regrets and “what if’s” in the future.
As they always say, “the best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is NOW.”
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