Christina Teo is building a brighter future for startups in Asia
Is it ever too late to start a new venture and reinvent yourself? Christina Teo gives us a resounding “no” for an answer. After a lifetime managing and consulting in international corporations, a single Startup event got the startup bug inside her head.
Fast forward two years, and now Christina is a startup maniac, and she has served as Chief Community Builder in both Startup Asia Women and Asia Corporate Women, both growing women entreŕeneur-centric communities.
But she didn’t stop there, as she’s also bringing her brainchild to the table with Want Things Done, a startup focused in matching expert freelancers with the businesses that need their skills the most, as well as educating new freelancers in much-needed people skills via her GIGshops.
Enough about startups for you? Not for Christina Teo, and in this interview, she tells us about how startups turned her life turned upside down and brought her out of retirement and into this fast-growing space.
Q. Good day, Christina! Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Good day! I’m Christina Teo, and I have been the Chief Community Builder of Startup Asia Women since January 2017, and I launched my startup, Want Things Done, in November 2017.
The fact is, I’ve been retired for a fair number of years, living in Hong Kong and dabbling in fashion retail. Before that, I had a strong corporate career spanning multinationals like IDC, Acer, IBM, DEC, 3COM, Yahoo! and O2 in either regional roles or country manager profit/loss accountability. My last corporate stint was in CSL, a mobile service provider in HK, as their Chief Marketing Officer.
I have lived in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Europe and New York, and I returned to Singapore last year after being away for a long time. Before returning, I was not immersed in the digital world and had no idea about startups, but I got curious about them and decided to attend Slush 2016, the event that started my new lease of life.
Given the community work I do, I wanted to walk the talk of going through the joy and pain of starting and sustaining a startup. Want Things Done is definitely in its early days, and we have already pivoted quite a bit.
Photo credit: Christina Teo.
Q. Can you explain very briefly Want Things Done for our readers?
Want Things Done embraces the gig economy and matches freelance experts with clients who need to get things done. The fact is, companies are not able to hire fast enough to fill their vacancies, either due to skills shortage or lack of budget to hire full-time staff.
Not all freelancers are adept at handling clients, especially when it requires end-to-end coordination where more than one expert may be required. Want Things Done places a strong emphasis on facilitating learning for both the client and freelancers.
Also, because trust is essential for our clients, all freelance experts are locally vetted to assure our customers of their quality.
Q. Can you share with us the background story of Want Things Done?
First and foremost, many full-time employees are not happy doing what they do because they end up doing many other things that are outside their passion or their comfort zone. We want to empower these people to do what they love.
In the digital era, we are stirring towards specialisation rather than generalism, so this means there is a conflict between companies wanting to tighten their costs by expecting few people to do more, yet the work required demands more vertical experts. We identify that gigs or freelance experts will come in handy to fill those gaps.
Many of the skills required are not necessarily taught in school and not always backed by paper qualifications. I have seen people who are not graduates but are most passionate at what they do and have a special eye towards details, analysis and assimilation. We want our platform to expose these people to clients, and we want the freelancer to be the hero.
Q. What can you tell us about the current situation of freelancers in Singapore?
It appears there are close to 200,000 freelancers, and some full-time salaried staff have a freelance job on the side. This could be due to the high cost of living in Singapore.
Q. How would you describe GIGshop to our readers?
GIGshops are workshops for GIGs (mainly freelancers). The objective is to learn from entrepreneurs and experts who have been there and done that, and for first-time GIGs, aspiring GIGs and GIGs who wish to pursue new directions to expand their skill base.
Through GIGshops, we also promote learning and collaboratios. GIGs can be a lonely journey, therefore, we want to build a community where GIGs can meet, share and potentially collaborate on multi-gig projects.
More and more startup entrepreneurs and solopreneurs also want to learn how these things are done because they will hire freelancers to help them. GIGshops, therefore, cater to both entrepreneurs and freelancers.
Q. Can you tell us your vision for the future of gigs?
As much as there will be increased flexibility and demand for GIGs, GIGs will also need to accelerate their learning as technology and platforms evolve at a much faster pace than before.
Q. Can you tell us about your experience as Community Builder in Startup Asia Women?
Many women entrepreneurs are solopreneurs that may or may not be tech-savvy. Therefore, the ratio of true startups to general business is still scarce. When women get together, there is so much to exchange and learn from each other, and that is when people realise what they don’t know.
Photo credit: Christina Teo.
Women wear many hats as wives and mothers; some have a day job besides trying to start something on their own, some as solopreneurs, some freelancers and some as startups.
Regardless, it is challenging for women entrepreneurs to keep up with learning, networking, pitching, operations as well as family concerns.
At Startup Asia Women, we have extended many of our activities to men startups and startup professionals as well. They have contributed and benefited from our suite of activities and engagement.
We also want to extend our community to all the region. More and more startups are not going to be content with only the Singaporean market, and we’ll continue to open our activities to male and female startups.
Having said that, we would be more focused to address more day-to-day entrepreneur issues.
Q. Can you tell us about your experience as Community Builder in Asia Corporate Women?
The Asia Corporate Women community is pretty new. Due to my corporate background, I want to ensure that corporate women experience the learning and startup knowledge and mindset that I have acquired.
In some of the external talks I have been approached to speak at, I see more and more corporate women audience attending and reaching out because they too want to step out of their current mould and want to be part of something more stimulating and inspiring.
Q. How did this experience contribute to Want Things Done?
When I created the community, I did not imagine it would be where it is today because I started with almost zero network and digital habits. But I can see that my community profile helps gain trust in startups who want things done, and they value my advice and help to find the right experts to handle their business and growth challenges.
Photo credit: Christina Teo.
Q. Can we know who or what inspires you?
I think you are your best motivator. When you want something pretty bad, you will do what it takes. When you are passionate about something, you can handle any negative noise or doubt and just push on.
I don’t make big plans or long-term plans, not on my previous corporate career and not now.
But I do know what I want to be done and I know I enjoy learning so much about startups because startups represent possibility. The possibility to think of ways to start something and to get help from the ecosystem, and knowing how being creative in how you go to the market brings exponential growth when you compare it to how much planning, resources, approval is required in the corporate world to get similar results.
Q. There are many aspiring entrepreneurs out there. Any advice you’d like to give them?
If you are a fresh grad, I would still advise starting at the corporate level, because their grounding and knowing how big companies work and think is still very useful and will come in handy when you help a startup scale up, or you work for a larger startup.
If you only want to be an entrepreneur, make sure you know how to find financial resources to back you up. You can start with zero, but you must have a plan how to access financial help as well as other useful advice. Better still, ensure your business model can self-finance your business in the first phase.
Q. Complete this sentence, “A successful entrepreneur is…”
One who knows what she wants and will always find a way, whatever the cost, to get what she wants.
Q. Do you think that innovation is important for a business to succeed?
What is innovation? Every sector becomes more and more crowded as time passes. In the digital economy, any good idea is most likely a copy of some other good idea.
Therefore you must innovate to differentiate, to stay ahead. Without innovation, growth may not be quite sustainable. With increasing cost of resources, innovation is necessary to be smart in business and operations.
Q. Do you think there’s a difference between men and women when it comes to business? Elaborate a little.
I would rather look at talent differences, for example, tech-savvy entrepreneurs vs non-tech savvy entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs who are strong in finance but may not be strong in marketing. That is why I am all for co-founders but looking for the best fit is like looking for a marriage partner.
Q. What do you plan next for yourself and Want Things Done?
I have just committed to another startup as co-founder, and I will be looking to plan another one around a neighbourhood concept. I have also been working on a global woman project which I will announce later this year, hopefully by International Women’s Day.
Q. Where can we keep up with you?
LinkedIn is still the best platform for me. I post my thoughts, my experience there. It is amazing to have a free forum to share my decades of not just work experience but life.