When I first began my entrepreneurial journey at Plano 3 years ago, I realized one thing pretty quickly. It isn’t enough to have a good idea. True success lies in being able to execute your idea and turn it into a living, breathing and thriving company.
The business world is a competitive and cutthroat one, and navigating it can be challenging for any entrepreneur, myself included. I always say entrepreneurship is a daily grind – you have to keep working at developing your key pillars and making sure you adhere to them without fail.
What are these pillars? They are the foundation of your business, they all complement each other and they work together to hold your company up. As the Managing Director of a startup company, things have not always been easy or gone smoothly.
At Plano there are always challenges and unforeseen issues that test our limits and require us to act quickly and with flexibility and resilience. I knew when we first started this company that this was not going to be a walk in the park, and so right from the start I built the company on the foundation of these three strong and inter-dependent pillars:
1. A clear vision
In the last few years, one of the biggest questions I get asked about Plano is, “As an eye health tech company, what exactly is your measure of success?”
To me, defining success starts at the beginning – The Vision. A clear vision serves as the driving force of any entrepreneur; it is the energy source that you draw from, especially during trying times, and is the reason you wake up every day. However, it does not just stop there; beyond creating and believing in your vision yourself, you have to communicate it effectively to several groups of people.
The first of which are your investors. A clear vision which is delivered with conviction has the ability to get your investors excited about your business idea, and back it up, even if you are a founder of a small startup who is new to the scene. This is especially important in the early stages of setting up your company, where funding is a key part of the process.
The second group is your team. Communicating your vision to your team facilitates the creation of your company culture. It guides your team’s values and principles and inspires their purpose. A shared vision serves as a spark that fuels the team to work towards a common goal.
For us at Plano, each and every component of our ecosystem – be it our products or people – sets out to achieve our vision, which is, “Saving sight and empowering lives.” And every time we achieve this, be it through increasing the utilization of eye care or reducing the progression of myopia and the incidence of high myopia, we see success.
2. The tenacity to survive seasons of turbulence
It is no secret that entrepreneurship has its ups and downs. It is an emotional rollercoaster; One minute you are celebrating, the next minute you have to deal with something that could be potentially devastating to your business.
Riding out the storms during this unpredictable journey entails having the drive to pick yourself up after setbacks and thereafter, without missing a beat, channeling your energy into devising new strategies to pivot in times of crises. I think it is safe to say that for many entrepreneurs, the pandemic has forced us to switch gears in response to the myriad challenges it has brought with it.
For instance, the implementation of the circuit breaker measures in Singapore had caused all of us at Plano to halt a large proportion of our physical efforts, including our outreach programs in schools and workplaces, and to regroup.
The dawn of the pandemic had also caused a shift in the mindsets of most of our target market, that is, our parent audience. Essentially, protecting their children from Covid-19 understandably took precedence over everything else, eye health included.
Taking the first steps to pivot during this new circumstance was undoubtedly no easy feat. However, the pandemic pushed me and the team to really have a think about our consumers, and how best to serve them during these trying times.
The turning point came during our brainstorming sessions when we identified that beyond the immediate health risks of the virus, curbing the potential of collateral eye damage and other negative consequences of the inevitable increase in screen time during the stay-home period was a significant issue for many families. We then adapted our marketing strategies to address this pain point and channeled our efforts into developing resources to help parents.
3. A great team
Your team has the power to make or break your company. What is the secret to building a good team? For me, there are 2 very important ingredients that go into the process.
The first is identifying individuals with empathy. I really work well with people who care; they care about the vision, the goals and doing it all together. These individuals are intrinsically motivated to do their best, work through challenges and to push each other to achieve greater heights. The second ingredient is identifying individuals with courage. You need team members who have the courage to take risks and to believe in the vision.
While these ‘ingredients’ sound rather abstract, I believe that being a real leader is about having the ability to build real connections with people and discerning their soft skills and values early on, be it during the interview process or otherwise.
I was lucky enough to have assembled a team made up of individuals who not only have the above two ingredients, but who were able to swiftly adapt to the new circumstances and retain an unbreakable sense of joint vision. These are the qualities that cannot be reverse engineered, and at the end of the day, are what gives your company an edge over your competitors!
The era of Covid-19 has truly exemplified how these three pillars have to be tended to right from the outset. It is only when your pillars are strong that you will be able to adapt to whatever challenges come your way in your entrepreneurial journey. We all have it in us, we just have to remember to not lose sight of the end goal and enjoy the ride along the way!