It was hard to imagine that about a year ago, Looi Qin En found himself staring at a crossroad.
If the name sounds familiar, he was one of the co-founders of Glints, a platform that job-matches companies with young adults, and known for its whirlwind growth within a short span of time.
Fresh out of the military, Qin En started Glints with two of his friends from junior college. It started in 2013, and by 2015, Glints turned cash flow positive, moved from a shared facility to a new office in 2016, and even expanded overseas.
With its rockstar growth, a multitude of opportunities laid ahead for Glints. But in 2015, what loomed in front of Qin En was Glints, which was at its height, and going back to college as an undergraduate in Stanford.
And it wasn’t just Stanford, but Stanford with a scholarship.
Qin En had been awarded a full government scholarship covering his tuition fees and living allowance, one that would give him opportunities to work on policies for Singapore’s economic development when he graduated. But yet, Glints had been his blood, sweat, and tears for the past few months.
He said: “It took me three months to make the difficult decision to give up my scholarship. I had to earn the buy-in from my parents, both of whom are academics and placed high priorities on my education. They thought that the opportunity to study at Stanford was invaluable.”
But then Qin En found himself moving towards Glints, a road less taken.
“It was a point of no return,” he added. What pushed him towards Glints was him knowing that he would regret not taking this path if he did not try it.
“Eventually, I asked myself which is the path I will regret not taking, and the answer was clear. I had to give building my startup a shot, especially after we have gained a bit of traction and raised our seed round of S$475,000 in late 2014.”
For their Series A in 2016, they raised a whopping S$2.7 million, what they earned for themselves after investors were moved by the team’s journey and convinced by the problem they were trying to tackle. Apart from his family, Qin En also had to battle with detractors. He said: “There were plenty of mixed reactions, and looking back, it is certainly interesting to see how each person's perspectives are significantly influenced in the environment he or she is in. Everyone who was in the startup ecosystem (either as an investor, founder or follower of startup news) was highly supportive, and everyone who was out of the startup ecosystem was not supportive.”
He stayed on for the next four years, a journey which he describes as “gruelling but rewarding”. He took charge of account management, market expansion, and people operations, and his responsibilities took him to places such as Jakarta, where he searched for companies to host interns.
But in 2017, Qin En found himself staring at another crossroad. News broke that Qin En would be leaving Glints.
The main reason for his departure was co-founder misalignment, and he arrived at the decision to step down after an honest conversation with the other two founders.
He said: “As a startup progresses, a different set of leadership and team dynamics are required. After a hard and honest conversation with my co-founders, I decided to step down.”
“Like all departures, it is always bittersweet. I certainly miss working together with my team and clients, but at the same time, I relished the opportunity to reset, recharge and restart,” Qin En added.
This time, school came back to haunt him. After he left Glints, Qin En received numerous offers, some of them were very attractive, such as the chance to launch new businesses and the draw of a six-figure annual salary.
Qin En said: “Turning down those offers were extremely painful, but it felt like the right thing to do. My decision to return to Stanford was one driven by the heart, instead of the head. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life.”
Acknowledging that most budding entrepreneurs may face such situations, the advice he gives to them is to spend some time thinking about what they want.
He said: “It’s okay to ask for advice but it’s good to create space and time to sit quietly and reflect. It's easy to suffer from advice whiplash—too many people pulling you in different directions—so make sure you have the opportunity to ask yourself ‘What do I really want?’ instead of ‘What do people around me want?’”
He is currently in his first year at Stanford and is also part of The Dorm Room Fund, the leading student-run venture capital fund in the United States.
But it’s not all work and business for Qin En. He also teaches BodyPump classes, a barbell workout choreographed to music.
“It all started when my girlfriend (now fiancee) laughed at my addiction to BodyPump classes late last year, so I decided to take up instructor training in the US and regularly teach classes at the YMCA along Silicon Valley. It's a whole load of fun!"
Although Qin En himself is unsure about where he will finally end up after he graduates from Stanford, he is quite certain that he enjoys solving challenging business problems.
To young people on their career ambitions, he said: “Explore, don't wander. There's a fine line between the two, but exploration involves intentional searching for what you might do well in, taking a moment or two to ponder over your move before making it. Wandering is hopping back and forth what catches your attention immediately. Those who explore know the general direction they are heading in, but those who wander go in all directions, until they realise later on they are pretty much in the same place where they started.”
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