Part 2/3: Interview with Co-founders — Building A Company From Ground Up - Originally US
Part 2/3: Interview with Co-founders — Building A Company From Ground Up

Editor’s Note: Having grown a successful mobile app development company from only $500, our co-founders Calixto Tay and Torin Nguyen reflect on their journey, building and growing the business. Read on to sneak a peek and get up close and personal with the people behind Originally US!

Calixto Tay graduated Summa Cum Laude (Highest Distinction) with a Bachelor of Science (Information Systems Management) from Singapore Management University and has won multiple information technology-related awards, including the prestigious Singapore Computer Society Leadership Award and Information Technology Management Association’s Future IT Leader Award.

Torin Nguyen has over 18 years of programming experience and was previously the VP of Engineering of 2359Media, a Singtel-owned mobile app development company. As the earliest senior technical personnel in the company, he grew the company’s technical team from less than 5 to over 30. Torin is also a full-stack developer and regularly develops in more than 10 programming languages.

This is part two of a three-part series:

  1. The initial stages of setting up a business (values, company name, most important step)
  2. The day to day operations and what it takes to keep a business afloat
  3. Lessons learnt and reflections on their 7 year journey from a $500 startup to a thriving mobile app business

The details will be documented in our blog articles, which you can easily access here. If you would like to read them in bite-sized information instead, we will also post them on our socials Facebook and LinkedIn.

The Day In The Life Of Company Directors

Q: What does a typical day in your life look like?

Calixto: “I have two children under 5 so my day pretty much revolves around them and my business. I would wake up at around 7am in the morning to do some learning/playing with my son before preparing him for school. Once he is in school, that will be the time for me to have my breakfast, catch up on the latest technology and business news, as well as work messages and email. I would then spend the rest of the day focusing on business development, strategizing, meeting people, or joining in various discussions with my team. Normally, I only pause for about 30 minutes to grab lunch throughout the workday, so that I can end work earlier. My family time starts at 5pm and this is where I turn off my laptop to turn my attention back to my children and wife.”

“My role as a Managing Director is multi-disciplinary. In the past, when we were smaller, I had to develop, design, manage projects, do sales, business development, do random company admin, be in charge of HR matters, conduct quality assurance tests, and market all the products that we have built. Nowadays, with more team members to help me out, I focus more on sales, business development and account management. From time to time, I still help out with development when my team is overwhelmed.”

“At a higher level, I would explain to my team our company’s mission and vision, and the principles we stand for in how we interact with and communicate with our clients. At the same time, we have a weekly, all-hands meeting every Monday to ensure that the team is synchronized on what each of us is working on for the week.”

Torin: “I start my day around 4am when my family is still asleep. These few hours before dawn without distractions are usually the most productive hours; sometimes I am able to get more things done in a few hours than the entire day. Normal office hours are when I get to work and communicate directly with my team.”

“As a CTO, I make sure our projects are delivered on time and with high standards. I still do a lot of coding on a daily basis together with my team, so that I am aware of what my team is working on exactly. That’s one way we keep ourselves aligned.”

“It’s a little unusual how I run my own team. There are no meetings or even emails being exchanged. Everything is resolved quickly via chat messages, wherever my team members are. It’s quite taxing for me to stay on the edge of every issue, however, this approach has proven to be extremely efficient and effective for us over the years. It’s definitely not suitable for a medium and large team, however, we scale our team efficiency rather than adding more people without increasing productivity.

Q: What would you say are some pros and cons of being an entrepreneur?

Calixto: “I would say that the largest advantage is also the largest disadvantage: freedom of time. Being a business owner means that you can control your time — if you wish to step out for a bit or take a break during work hours, you can do that without worry that your HR manager or supervisor is going to pounce on you.”

“However, this is also the biggest disadvantage — while most of your employees can “clock out” after their official working hours, I only rely on myself to get things done if things happen after office hours that need attention. At the same time, I’m the business owner so Originally US is a big part of my mindshare — I’m always thinking about how to grow and run the business better. If you are an employee, you could probably stop thinking about work the moment you clock out.”

Q: What is your biggest takeaway from being your own boss for close to 10 years now?

Calixto: “I think being disciplined is one of the most important traits of an entrepreneur.”

“You will need to be disciplined across many areas of your life, including

Finances – you need to carefully manage your finances both at a company and individual level. I always plan for worst-case scenarios — even if I see a record high in cash flows or profits. This means no spurging or large spendings, even if I’ve just closed our next 6 figures deal. This is to ensure the sustainability of the company, and this really helped us weather the recent Covid19 storm where many of our competitors ran out of cash due to a drop in sales while we are able to continue business as usual and even purchase a new office and increased our headcount during the same period.”

“Time — you only have 24 hours a day. Time is also a non-renewable resource. My co-founder and I are both obsessed with efficiency — we portion out time throughout the day to balance our time allocation between our business and family. A problem with this is that we often ended up with little time for ourselves, although this is starting to change as our business grows and our responsibilities become less operational.”

Q: Some people say that starting a company is hard, but running a company is even harder. Do you think this is true and applicable to your case?

Calixto: “Starting a company is easy — especially in Singapore. Anyone can log in to ACRA (Singapore business registry), pay S$300, take 10 minutes to fill in a form, and become a business owner. Running a company — and making a living off doing that is the really hard part. Every step of the way, we have to think about how we would like to grow in a sustainable manner, how to increase our team productivity, and how to create more value for our customers so that we can continue to do well.”

Q: What are some pros and cons of running a multi-regional company (Singapore and Vietnam)?

Torin: “Language barrier is definitely the first thing I would consider tackling. However, I’m expecting more than just hiring a managerial role who is fluent in multi-languages to lead the team or country. Miscommunication can often arise from cultural differences too. I’d expect someone to have a deep cultural understanding of multiple countries, having stayed and worked in given countries for an extended period of time. I’m considered myself lucky to have spent half my life in Vietnam and the other half in Singapore, which gives me the perfect edge to lead teams in both countries now.”

“Many would be wary of working with a company whose development team is not based in the same country, but I think it’s in fact beneficial to diversify your resources across different countries to take advantage of the country’s strengths such as cheaper labour, lower tax, or better infrastructure. Given the current pandemic and political unrest, it’s pretty safe to say don’t put all your eggs in 1 basket.”

Q: I’m sure the journey here was not all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, it could have been rather stressful starting and running a company!

What are some lifestyle habits you adopt that help you cope with the stress of being the two main people managing the whole company?

Torin: “I like to make things and play with tech gadgets. I spend quite significant time fixing and building new electronic stuff around my house as well as watching tech videos to gain new knowledge. This hobby has now turned into a new smart home product for my company. What’s better than turning a hobby into a business, right?”

Calixto: “I love to tinker, be it with software or physical objects. Since my working hours are dominated by working on software, I spend my (limited) free time tinkering with radio control vehicles, building them from scratch, and modifying them with various off-the-shelf and DIY components to improve their performance.”

“Our passion for tech forms the DNA of our company and this is exhibited through our strong focus in technological capabilities and how we carry this into all the projects we embark on.”

Conclusion

Indeed, starting a business is difficult, but running and ensuring the company’s competitive edge is even harder. We hope this article helps shed light on some of the good practices that our co-founders adopted that has enabled the company to continue delivering value to our clients through thick and thin.

Did you find this article insightful? What are some other topics you would like to hear from our co-founders? Let us know on our socials at Facebook or LinkedIn!

At Originally US, we do not embark on building a mobile app unless we want it to be successful, because your success is also our success.

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