Last weekend Girls in Tech Singapore hosted more than 60 participants at this year’s GIT X FB Startup Success Factors Bootcamp. Walking into Facebook Singapore was made even more special that Friday evening as we all had to earn our spot. It was great to see aspiring and current entrepreneurs make time for two and a half days of empowerment and enabling each other to succeed.
Girls in Tech’s Startup Success Factors Boot Camp is the organisation’s most popular program. Co-hosted in Singapore with Facebook, it teaches new entrepreneurs the foundations of creating a successful business – ideation, revenue strategies, product development and marketing.
Day 1 began a little uncertainly – most did not know anyone else and had to start from scratch, introducing themselves and forming teams. Hilary Weber of Opportu Startup Innovation, our bootcamp facilitator, appropriately kicked things off with a session on Confidence.
We identified what causes fear in our daily lives and why our mind tries to defend us against this with an inner voice. We then learnt how to turn the negative messages into positive ones, and reinvent personal demons into sidekicks who cheer us on.
Saloni, a volunteer turned participant, said, “The sidekick segment taught me how to control the voice in our heads and really gave me the push to pitch on Day 3. I came out of my shell just like many other women there.”
Our first day ended with an introduction by partner manager Kaiying Chin to the Facebook stable of brands and their features . She shared how small and medium businesses (SMB) can leverage Facebook Pages, Instagram Business and apps like Boomerang and Hyperlapse to engage audiences, create dynamic content and optimise advertising budgets.
Saloni found this beneficial: “The Facebook features overview on Day 1 was really enlightening – in our day to day lives we are usually too busy to explore the numerous ways available via Facebook to spread awareness of our brands and businesses, especially so for budding entrepreneurs. Being at Facebook for the bootcamp was very conducive as there was a very motivational and positive vibe around us.”
Day 2 saw us getting down to brass tacks – learning that innovation means using creativity to form unique solutions, and entrepreneurship is about taking innovation to fruition and inspiring others’ imagination. We also studied how to build a positive team culture through ways of thinking, behaving, and working.
It was then time to confront the realities of the startup world by taking a deep dive into opportunity recognition, customer discovery and a good business model.
These concepts were even harder to grasp than they sounded – the participants had to brainstorm new business ideas, debate strengths and weaknesses, then make decisions on what to do next as a team – sometimes in a matter of minutes. Hannah, a participant, said that despite learning about the technical aspects of businesses, her team were not on the same page at the beginning because of their diverse backgrounds.
One group, Shoulders of Giants, shared that their challenge was with finding ways of working together given everyone’s differing opinions. Another group, HotSpace, found that while everyone was passionate, they were all new to the subject matter and did not have enough practice.
It wasn’t all hard work and no fun though – the teams got a much needed break when they left the Facebook office, on Hilary’s orders, to do a hands-on exercise. This was an opportunity to find possible customers, interview those interested in their product or service, and compare against customer personas created earlier.
Teams returned with new perspectives – one or more groups changed their approach or, in one case, the whole product entirely. Another team even got an investment offer from an enthusiastic prospective customer! This challenging but fun experiment was merely a warm up; next was a session on putting together and perfecting pitches for our judges the next day. Teams got just two hours to create a compelling story around the business they thought up only that morning.
Space Next Room found starting their pitch difficult, especially with getting it right and recognising which points were important to focus on. This was a shared sentiment – HotSpace would have liked to absorb more content for their pitch, but found themselves short on time that evening. The teams ended their day exhausted; some connecting via Whatsapp and other means to split up work and research that Saturday night.
Day 3 dawned bright, the cherry on top of our startup cake – time to pitch. We started with purpose – straight into a panel session, where Hilary asked our judges for their opinions and experiences on entrepreneurship in general, as well as specifics on fundraising.
The judges were a diverse bunch, consisting of techie turned founder Zwee Wee of Eunoia, VC CEO Shirley Crystal Chua of Golden Equator, seasoned entrepreneur Janice Chia of Ageing Asia, fintech pioneer Ketki Sen of Spinta Global Accelerator and Facebook SMB partner manager Kaiying Chin.
Ketki remarked, “It was great to see the whole ecosystem of Facebook, Girls in Tech, mentors, judges and entrepreneurs coming together to drive the energy.”
Everyone took part in Q&A afterwards, benefiting from the judges’ and mentors’ expert advice on how to refine and polish up overnight pitches.
There was no time to waste though – with less than 2 hours left, teams worked through lunch to put the final touches on their content and rehearse five-minute presentations showcasing their efforts. No slides were allowed – forcing teams to get creative, drawing up prototypes and visuals to get their point across. Mentor Tegan Watson observed, “Everyone stepped up given the challenge of having only a few hours to prepare”.
Finally it was time to shine – each team stepped up to pitch, then answer questions posed by the judges. While the countdown clock and large audience caused some nervousness, most teams found that they performed better than expected. Space Next Room were happy with the outcome of their pitch overall, commenting that the judges’ hard questions would be very useful for future pitches. Shoulders of Giants shared that as a group they now better understand what an investor is looking for in a pitch; in their case realising budgeting is very important.
But the suspense wasn’t over yet. The judges left to deliberate and make their choices for the top three pitches. While waiting we all took time to reflect on how we had persevered and supported each other over the last few days.
Mentor Katarina Uherova Hasbani said “I’m amazed by the enthusiasm for entrepreneurship in Singapore, and the very supportive startup environment here. It is really good that people are willing to try an alternative approach to forming a career.”
The results were a celebration for all – the top three teams were not ranked first to third, to bring home the point of programs such as these – when women succeed, we all win. This phrase was also printed on personalised certificates delivered by each team’s mentor – a testament to the gruelling weekend we had undertaken together, driven by our desire to succeed.
Benjamin Ang had this to say about it: “The bootcamp provided a great overview and taste of what startups and entrepreneurs have to go through to bring their ideas to fruition and pitch for funds.
The impressive mentors and judges brought the bootcamp to life by generously sharing their experience and advice, giving a dose of reality and helping budding startup founders on their journey. It was a fruitful 2.5 days spent with awesome energy and enthusiasm in the room. And yes, guys are welcome too!”
We closed the day with a focus on getting back to the real world and practising what we learnt. Facebook employees Anni Tankhiwale, Shi Ying Lim, and Kaiying Chin graciously held a panel session to answer our questions about marketing and advertising our businesses through the platform. We parted ways armed with a new network, ideas to continue supporting each other in our individual efforts, and renewed determination.
Saloni probably put it best for us all: “My team was very supportive of me. Being a part of the top three winning teams really gave me a confidence boost, and I believe that I can actually achieve my dreams now!”
Written by Tasha Abdul Mutalib
Tasha is a people ops and project management professional who specializes in tech and startups. When she’s not working on making tech a better place to build, learn and grow, she’s finding new ways to enrich the local community by volunteering and supporting worthy causes for women, youth and tech for good. Follow her LinkedIn feed for the latest on workplace trends and insights.