#Asia Behind the Startup: A government official, a law grad and a coder walk into a startup

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Three Carousell employees discuss how they begin their startup careers – and how to get ahead in the game

Left to right: Shawn Lim, Ridza Salim, and Michelle Tan of Carousell

Left to right: Shawn Lim, Ridza Salim, and Michelle Tan of Carousell

In today’s Behind the Startup, three’s a crowd.

e27 talks to Ridza Salim (Operations Lead), Shawn Lim (Web Engineer) and Michelle Tan (Lead Community Manager) from Singapore-based Carousell, a mobile marketplace app that aims to simplify the process of selling stuff.

Even in a single startup, various skill sets and experience levels are needed to run the business smoothly.

See how their unique backgrounds helped them get to where they are now in the edited excerpt of the interview.

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How did you begin your career in tech? What inspired you to begin the move?

Salim (S): I was in the Start-Up@Singapore Nationwide Business Plan Competition (S@S), flagship project of the National University of Singapore (NUS) Entrepreneurship Society (NES). I [also] participated in the NUS Overseas Colleges at Silicon Valley programme, where I interned at Zong, a mobile payments company.

I joined the Singapore Government not because I wanted a stable career. I was deciding between joining the Ministry of Trade and Industry or a Silicon Valley tech giant as a junior product guy.

I chose the former because it was more exciting and riskier. Many people told me I was stupid. But … it would make more sense to use my knowledge and experience from NOC … and apply them to a different environment.

Lim (L): I studied Business Management in Singapore Management University and was inspired to start my own Internet company during my junior year. I started out by hiring freelancers to help, but I decided to learn how to build on my own ideas with coding.

After just over a year, I actually found the process more interesting than the outcome itself. So, I joined Carousell to establish the entire web platform.

Tan (T): I had just completed my legal training and was about to be called to the Bar when I was faced with the opportunity to explore career options beyond the legal field.

I had dabbled with tech and “entrepreneurial” stuff since [I was] 13 or 14 – first teaching myself to make jewellery off the Internet, then starting an online business [by] selling it on Livejournal and Etsy.

I co-founded What The FLEA!, a regular weekend flea market, and ran it pretty successfully … It’s not really much of a surprise that I ended up at Carousell!

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How does working in startups differ from working in a corporate or in government?

S: It might seem very different, but essentially, you are working with people, and in teams. You have to be clear about your stakeholders and responsibilities.

There’s always new things to learn (and we sometimes learn the most from our younger colleagues), and one would always need to identify gaps and proactively find ways to contribute.

L: I had done corporate internships or part-time jobs and never felt that I belonged there because of politics and lack of autonomy. Startups give me flexibility and freedom to think creatively and solve problems.

T: The multi-disciplinary learning experiences you get … Each of us had to factor in all aspects of the business while honing our skills in specific job scopes, so you don’t get that “silo-ed in” experience that happens a lot in bigger companies.

It’s hard to pick which I like better, to be honest!

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What are the best and worst parts [of working for a startup]?

S: I don’t see much of a difference … To me, having a good team is important. [You] must share the vision and goals. Work hard together and help each other out.

L: The best parts? You can go to work in whatever attire you like and spend day working on things you like to do.

Worst parts? You are expected to wear many hats. Still, a great experience nonetheless, doing things outside your job scope.

T: A collaborative work environment that allows [you] to interact heavily with different teams and learn how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Coming from a corporate background, I’m used to most foundational things being “figured out” already.

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Any memorable experiences?

S: I’ve only been with Carousell for about 3.5 months. But I’ve seen the co-founders grow [it] from a three-man team to nearly 30 full-time employees over 3.5 years.

I remember treating them to sushi and pastries on New Year’s Eve 2012 when they were slogging at Plug-In@Blk 71 [a co-working space]. And now, I’m on their payroll, hmm …

L: A web application called Storyline, which I built over a year ago, has allowed people to write stories together online, in real time. I designed, built and grew the community to 3,000 writers within the first six months before moving on to Carousell. It’s still a project I want to revisit one day.

T: The most memorable experience that I’ve had at Carousell is the time we launched in Taiwan. It was the first time I had ever experienced a market launch and, for Carousell, it was the furthest from home we had ever gone.

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What’s your advice for anyone who wants to give working in startups a try?

S: Make the switch with an open mind. Don’t think too much about the decision.

Do your due diligence by researching and talking to existing staff … If everything sounds awesome, then you may want to reconsider or expand your research further, because it may be too good to be true.

L: Learn how to code so you can build on your ideas and make them come to life. There are free (and really good) resources on the Internet. I used Codeschool to learn [the] basics of web programming.

T: Prepare to be scrappy. Very scrappy! Working in tech, and especially in tech startups, requires endless creativity, resourcefulness and experimentation.

Image Credit: Carousell

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