Founder Origins: Tan Huynh Co-Founder of Detexian

Tan Huynh is Co-Founder and CEO of Detexian which is a fast-growing Melbourne cybersecurity startup. Tan’s journey to becoming a startup founder was via a childhood in Vietnam, a career in investment banking in Australia and London and a soul-searching gap year combined with a Master’s degree at Stanford University. We caught up with Tan late last year (pre-COVID) to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey and his deep-tech startup, Detexian.

Tan, when you look back on your life now, what were some of the things that led you to the startup world and to starting your own business? 

Tan: Looking back at the last four decades, yes I do think there is a theme to it. Its “re-invention”, not in a big way, but being able to experience things that originated from my childhood dream which was to leave Vietnam and to go out and see the world and to really experience the world. When I was a child, in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Vietnam was a very closed country.

And I was very fortunate to be able to do that, to leave Vietnam. I formed my next decade on being able to assimilate with the West, and then afterwards it was about having a career that allowed me to be global, and hence I chose Investment Banking.  For that decision, I think the money was a high driver, but I think having an internationally recognized career was, for me, an important attribute to be able to venture into the wider world. And then fast forward to fifteen years later and my move into the startup world. That decision was about going back to basics and exploring my creativity. While I felt the world of banking was great, it was very transactionally driven, and you don’t have the time to really tap into your creativity and that was always something I wanted to do – to build something from scratch and here I am in the startup world!

You mentioned “creativity” a few times there. What other traits or personality characteristics do you feel have driven you to where you are today? 

Tan: I think there is a common observation from people who know me, my loved ones and also my colleagues, in that they all see me as resilient and tenacious. Even from when I was young, I didn’t want to take “no”for an answer, especially from my parents, and when all the signs were about “no you can’t get out of Vietnam” and see the outside world, I thought to myself “yes, I can”. My only tool at the time was English. There was no other way to tap into the outside world, except if you were very fluent in English and you were able to get a scholarship to go overseas. So, yes, being tenacious has been an important aspect of my life.

The other thing is that I always yearned for new experiences that are emotionally rewarding, and I think the most rewarding thing is to be able to start and create something from scratch, not by myself, but with a collective of people who are like-minded with different skillsets to bring things together and to create something that attracts other people. That is the source and origin of my creativity. To create something from scratch that is helpful to other people and from there to be able to invite other people to come on board. 

I don’t see this experience stopping. After I have achieved something I want to move onto the next best thing. This startup for me is a new decade, a new chapter, I don’t know what is going to happen in the next chapter but for now, every day I feel like I am living my life to the full, and that’s important.

Is there a story or anecdote from your early life that might have suggested you were going to be an entrepreneur?

Tan: Not really to be honest, because from a very young age, we were boxed into thinking that you have to study really well, obey your parents and then you graduate from university and you become a civil servant. That’s how life was and that thought to me was dreadful – that predictability and inevitability from day one until the day you die. I just didn’t want that.

Entrepreneurship really only occurred to me after thirteen years in banking. I realised that being the middleman, moving money around wasn’t really adding value. I am not saying that to discredit people who work in banking I am just saying for me, emotionally, I wasn’t there. I wanted to be the person who created opportunities for others – opportunity in the form of employment or a source to channel energy and excitement into. 

So that was the person I wanted to be, and the minute I managed to recalibrate to that way of thinking, I decided to take a gap year and to go to Stanford. Part of that was soulsearching before I turned 40. What was I going to do with my life? The two years that followed, when I was living in Stanford in California, really helped me collect the courage, to gather the bravery to step outside of my comfort zone and to make that leap.

I assume you must have been rubbing shoulders with some really interesting people over there as well?

Tan: There were a lot of interesting people, but to be honest when you are in a space where everyone is supposed to be interesting, well no one is interesting anymore. Everybody is the same. There was a surreal normality to it. Everyone was a celebrity in a way.

A lot of the people who were in my cohort, or in the younger cohorts there, they were sort of known as some sort of celebrity from where they came from and then you have Sergey Brin or Elon Musk coming to campus to give a speech as well.  My first two months were like “wow, oh my god, we are in the centre of the universe!” But afterwards I realised these people are just like normal people. They have family fights just like everybody else. 

So my conclusion from this was that the only differences between me and people who have got into Stanford, and others who didn’t are two things. One is luck, and the other is did you try hard enough? If you want to really do something, then you make the universe align to enable you to achieve that objective. Stanford is not all about academic success it’s all about people who want to constantly graduate in life from one chapter to another. I saw that as a common constant theme about the people I met over there.

I’d like to move to your startup now. Tell us about your business. When did you come up with the idea for your startup? Has it changed or evolved in terms of service or product offering from when you first started?

Tan: I started this startup with a different idea to where it is today. I created this business with the aspiration of helping businesses understand their cyber security better and to help them put in just the normal basic measures to help them prevent catastrophic breaches. So we started with a product that helped detect indicators of compromise and threat in company servers.

Subsequently we very quickly realized that businesses were moving towards SaaS solutions and that the on-premise world of servers was very quickly moving to the cloud. In the cloud, the average business uses software as a service (SaaS solutions) like Office365, Xero for accounting, G Suite, Salesforce, Pipedrive – so many services. So we had to focus on SaaS as that is what the world is moving towards and so I was very fortunate then to pivot.

How far were you into that previous journey?

Tan: Six months in! Actually, I had worked on the initial company foundation for almost a year after Stanford, but six months into actually building that product we had to pivot because the market wasn’t there and the market won’t be there at all in a few years. And that’s when I made a very important decision to “can” that product and re-calibrate the team. I was also very lucky to meet my now co-founders Adrian Kitto and Andy Budiman. We are very different people in terms of skillsets, Adrian is a deep security guy, Andy is a human centred design expert and I am the business guy.

That’s a great combination.

Tan: Yeah it’s pretty unusual. We are bringing together the product development aspect, the security aspect and the business aspect. We didn’t stumble on this idea by chance but through a whole customer discovery journey and through CyRise (a Melbourne based Accelerator Programme). CyRise helped us connect with the market much faster.

When did you know that you had something unique or special?

Tan: We knew it when customers started asking us to come back and do more for them. It’s a very different feeling to when you are just grinding through and trying to get your pitch in front of a customer. We also found that investors started calling and trying to get a better idea about how fast we were progressing, and we noticed we were getting closer to our target customers – the maturity level of our customers increased.

So larger businesses?

Tan: Yes, larger businesses and more mature in their requirements and capabilities for technology.

You mentioned the word “grind”, so was that what it was like? Can you talk to me about that feeling?

Tan: The grind was more about not getting a warm reception from customers or investors. In the early days it can be very hard to get feedback, to get people to deploy and to do proofs of concept with you, and you get pushback from prospective investors when you talk about the product or the market potential.

I think everyone who goes through the journey would understand it, but it’s up to the founders to really face the facts, to gather the facts and do something about it. Some people persist in the face of negative feedback to their concept because they think maybe they can turn the market around, and I think maybe some people have that vision and can cause that to happen, but I think it’s very rare. It’s important as founders to listen, to iterate and change with the market, to really hear what your customers are saying.

If it’s not too confidential can you give us an idea of the scale of your business?

Tan: We came up with this concept in March 2019 and in May, after two months of validating the concept with five development design partners, we started building the product.  In August 2019 we released the minimal viable version of it, we onboarded the five design partners and now we have tripled that number, so we have gone from zero to five and then to fifteen proofs of concept in the US, Australia, NZ, Europe and Latin America. The thing about SaaS is that it doesn’t have to be in any particular vertical or jurisdiction, it’s everywhere. We also started sending invoices to a handful of them as well, so now we can say we have paying customers. The journey is still a long way for us but the early signals and reception from the market has been phenomenal.

We have been very resourceful with the team we have, if you gather all the warm bodies together, we have five full time employees, but also ten to thirteen people made up of additional contractors at any point in time. The idea is to keep all the R&D and the team in Australia – that’s what we have been very strict about, we don’t outsource any of our intellectual property to anybody else.

Is that due to a concern it will leak out?

Tan: It’s due to a couple of things. Firstly, I think security and where the data is located and how you secure that data are important concepts and we do want to keep that in-house in Australia. The second thing is we are capitalising on a first mover advantage opportunity, so we don’t want someone else to write our IP for us. We have to be the ones directing it and writing it.

I’d like to talk about your co-founder relationships. What makes a good co-founder in your eyes?

Tan: Complementary skillsets are crucial, but aside from that, I think it’s the growth mindset that each of us needs to have that’s very important. Our company is evolving very fast. I am not sure if next year I will still be doing what I am doing right now. We have to have the ability, each of us, to scale with our company and to scale our mindsets to grow with the company.

Andy, Adrian and I are very different in terms of personalities and also in terms of our backgrounds. We grew up in three different countries, none of us were born in Australia, although I’m an Australian by naturalisation, because I love this country and was given the opportunity. So we bring different insights from our respective parts of the world and, apart from Adrian and another security engineer in the team, the rest of the team are non-security people. I think it has to be a diverse range of people solving the cybersecurity problem because it’s no longer a black box or a bunch of firewalls, it’s a shared responsibility which requires multiple perspectives.

How do the co-founders make decisions as a cohort?

Tan: It has evolved over time. At the moment, while we have a small team, decision making is based on discussing, arguing, bringing it to a close and then moving forward. And that has been really successful because the three of us are really different in how we approach things. Adrian, as a security architect is very black and white, Andy thinks about the customer, where they live, where they come from, where they stay, what they read and so on; and I am the business person. I always want to move things forward – very often we pull each other back, but we are always able to move to the next stage because we have the one common vision. 

But looking forward, and when we get bigger, we will have to put procedures and protocols in place so if we reach an impasse there will be mechanisms to solve that. And that’s the norm, there are plenty of textbook approaches to how we could operate as founders, but this is how it works for us right now.

Please tell us about your experiences with approaching investors and trying to raise money?

Tan: As a first-time founder, it was hard. It wasn’t easy at all and for me it was extra hard as I was a non-tech CEO wanting to build a very deep tech business. 

Although you did come from an investment banking background.

Tan: Investment bankers are mostly generalists. I specialised in mining and resources but nothing to do with tech or security. It’s been a steep learning curve for me, but I do bring a very specific element and skillset to the equation, which is understanding how businesses think about prioritising. Not their tasks, but their objectives and how the world is moving towards processing risk. 

So it was hard, but for a very early stage business like ours, it was about the people. It’s the people that investors back, so myself and my co-founder at the time, and my other two co-founders who brought in different aspects of not just cybersecurity but other skills like marketing and business development – so it’s the team. And secondly it was about traction. Even with the product that we dropped six months into last year, we achieved very early traction with our target customers.

So for early stage investors it’s very much about are these people “backable” and have they done the steps and do they have a method. There are plenty of manuals about this – it’s team, its traction, it’s about how viable the business is, how big the market is. So we hit all of those things and we secured the initial funding from Right Click Capital in Sydney and 500 Startups in San Francisco. I consider that round to be almost kind of an angel round because they really just invested, and are still investing, in me and my co-founders.

How did you reach out to them?  A lot of local startup founders wouldn’t have those connections into San Francisco..

Tan: I was in the US at the time and I was literally surrounded by VCs. Not just in Silicon Valley, but they came to Stanford every day. So you can get a meeting quite easily. There were so many people in my network there who could introduce me to VCs and so getting an intro wasn’t a problem, but being non-technical, building a cybersecurity business and being a first-time founder, that made it harder. And cybersecurity wasn’t in fashion at the time, so we were lucky. The lesson learned was that we had to, very early on, identify investors with a strong cybersecurity thesis and Right Click, our lead investor, had a very strong cybersecurity thesis and we are still working very closely with them. We have a very strong relationship with them.

How did you prepare for those meetings? What was the pitch to them, and did it evolve over time?

Tan: Yeah the pitch definitely evolved and it is still evolving, because you have to constantly do that when you go out to the market. Listen to your customers and incorporate what makes sense. There are templates for pitches..

Do you think the VCs grow tired of seeing the “Sequoia standard deck”?

Tan: We made some very bad…our first few slide decks were terrible! Oh my god we had a big pie chart with a billion dollars in it, it’s laughable now when I think of it. We still make mistakes these days. We go “oh no what did I just do then?” I think the most important element of any pitch is to be able to tell the story in the most simple way and to get to the problem very quickly and then to the solution.

Get to the “why” very fast. “Why do we exist?” That sets the background and then you go into the solution and why you are different and backable. I mean that’s it.  If you can nail that in 90 seconds you’ve done it. It requires a lot of practice, and I still practise every day. Pitching doesn’t stop after you have VC money.

And getting to that simplified message is hard right?

Tan: It is hard and I think it shows the command of your knowledge of the subject matter and it also is indicative of how much you understand the insights that you get from talking to your customers, investors and advisors. It doesn’t come on day one.

When the business received that initial injection of funds, what was the first thing you did? 

Tan: The first thing I did was to tell my partner, “I think we can extend our financial runway”. He has been with me from day one and I had sort of switched half way through at Stanford and decided I wanted to do a startup rather than continue my job at the time and work in a bigger company, but this was a decision we made together because it impacted both of us. 

So for me it was about how I had met the milestone that we said we would have to meet to move to the next stage.  It meant we had another twelve months. The next step was to break it to my family and let them know that I was actually doing something that other people, investors, recognized. That was validating.

So getting my house in order was first and then it was all about was getting back to business objectives.

On the business side what did you do with the initial funds?

Tan: That was about hiring a team. I started putting our foundation team together, but from day one I made it very clear that we always will be lean. We have been so thrifty and frugal with the company and we have managed to stretch it so far. Our investors have told us that we have done really well on the financial metrics in that sense, so it’s not being fixated on how much you have to spend, but really being cognizant that your spending is hitting results and not going crazy on hiring full timers.

Did it change the way you managed the business when investors were on board?

Tan: Of course. You need to be a lot more accountable, there are more metrics to track and a lot more reporting. I feel there’s a lot more pressure than when we were trying to do everything ourselves, but having the investors watch you and really hold you accountable to what you said you would deliver is very important. It’s discipline. 

Our investors are great, they are not amateur investors, they have been around for a long time. They understand that where we are as a company, pivots are important, pivots within pivots are important, listening to the market is always important. Time and time again I have received that feedback on tenacity and being resilient so I think I have done well on that front, but the most important thing is being able to deliver and reinvent what we need to do because this is where the traction in the market is right now.

Turning to the ecosystem now, how have you found the startup ecosystem in Melbourne? Has it been supportive?

Tan: Yes, we graduated from CyRise as part of CyRise cohort 2, and through CyRise we got to know the whole cyber security ecosystem in Australia. That was extremely helpful and also through CyRise we tapped into a whole bunch of startups in Melbourne and Sydney, probably more Melbourne though than Sydney. The ecosystem here is small but cosy and I think there is a lot more we could do to reach out to corporates. Corporates are still very much at arms-length to startups but startups need corporates to grow.

The investor base is pretty small too, but the thinking has evolved really fast and I am very happy to see that there is a whole, growing ecosystem that I didn’t know existed when I was in Private Equity. PE was all about moving hundreds of millions of dollars around, and for me that was in the world of Resources. So this whole local ecosystem is cosy but also very nurturing – there is a willingness to help, but I wish and I hope the mentality in corporates will change, and that there will be more crossover between people working in corporates and startups. That would really help change that culture. At the moment it’s not there.

Do you have relationships with other founders?

Tan: A lot of our mentors, whether they are formal or informal, are former founders of other startups.

Isn’t that competitive?

It’s not competitive at all! There’s a real sense of helping each other out, not only do I talk to advisors and corporate mentors in the cybersecurity landscape here, I talk to founders and co-founders of cybersecurity companies as well, there is a general willingness to help. And AusCyber, I don’t know if you have heard of it, it is a government initiative to put Australian cybersecurity companies on the map – on the Australian map and the global map, and really helping to be a catalyst to bring corporates and startups together. They have a long way to go but at least we’ve got someone who has started that.

What advice would you give to others with respect to accessing the local ecosystem?

Tan: It’s very hard to build a startup alone, you need a community, a village, the whole ecosystem to help you move to the next stage – move forward or realise that you need to fail fast. So my advice is don’t think you are alone, there are always networks to tap into. If you are unsure about where to go, start by talking to founders like myself and to accelerators like CyRise or StartMate, talk to AusCyber. Reach out!

Do you have a mentor or an advisory board that you turn to for support or advice?

Tan: Yes we do. We have just formalised a technical advisory board, so I am very excited to have two foundational members. One is Damian Fasciani, who is the Head of Technology at CultureAmp which is one of the Australian unicorns right now. Damian has been fantastic in giving us design feedback from day one, and we’ve had that relationship and we have built upon that and we are ecstatic that he has come on board as a technical advisor. So his product strategy feedback has been tremendous for us.

The other technical advisor that we have bought on board is the Chief Evangelist of Nintex, Ryan Duguid. Nintex used to be a small Melbourne startup and they now have a $100m plus annual revenue, based in Seattle, and Ryan Duguid was the first product guy there and he helped build it to where it is today.

How do you reach people of that calibre?

Tan: With Culture Amp, it was via the CTO and Co-founder of Culture Amp, Douglas English. He is one of the mentors at CyRise, we built a very good relationship with Doug and through him we were introduced to Damian, so that’s how it started. And with Ryan, my co-founder Andy was the first UX/UI Design Lead at Nintex and Ryan was his colleague and mentor, so fast forward ten years later when Nintex was bought out by Thoma Bravo (A large US PE firm), he joined Detexian as our third co-founder and he rang Ryan just to give him an update as to what he had been up to, and Ryan said “you are working on a golden opportunity, I want to come on board and help you guys right now.”

So it looks like the power of long-term networks combined with being in the right place at the right time?

Tan: Yes.

What are some of the hardest decisions you’ve had to make to get your business to where it is today? I know that we’ve already touched on the pivot as being key, but are there any others?

Tan: Maybe not the hardest decision, but I would say the most important thing for me and any other founder, is your family, your “house.” So get your existing relationships sorted and manage their expectations. I am very fortunate to have a very understanding partner, who has been there for me since day one and we’ve been on this journey together. He doesn’t work in the business, but he is definitely important to the business. So get your house in order, manage your internal stakeholders’ expectations so you can be at the front, fighting for your business and not worrying about your house. I really admire co-founders who have young families, I don’t know how they do that, it must be very hard.

Back to recruitment, you talked earlier about hiring people after you raised some money, how did you make your selection decisions for those first hires? What was the process, if there was one?

Tan: At the moment it’s just referrals. Sometimes it’s as quick as ringing someone that you have worked with for ten to fifteen years – he’s a gun, she’s a gun, bring them on board. Although it’s not actually as easy as that because high quality people are in high demand, so it’s about enrolling them in the vision of the company and that process doesn’t take a few minutes. That process is more like a movie you have to play. Then they see the journey and the people who are already on board, and they see the vision, the size of the market and then they come on board. When you are a bigger company you have to resort to experts and recruitment specialists like you, but at the moment, it’s just the power of networks and relationships.

Did you apply an interview process, or because you knew them, did they just simply come on board?

Tan: Interview, CV and all that, definitely. As co-founders we think very hard about who we need right now for the company. Do we need them full time or part time, for what purpose and also the dynamics between the team members. So you have to be very clear that you hire for the right culture and not just hire for the sake of filling a specific skillset. We could do that by hiring contractors. As a company we are still learning, but we are very clear about having people who are inspired by the vision of the company, who are excited about the products and they must have the skillset and mentality to not just give up when something doesn’t work right, but to change it and propose a different way – a better way to do things.

So do you have a favourite interview question that cuts to some of those points?

Tan: To be honest, I haven’t thought about it. I must ask a whole bunch of questions! What I usually do in interviews is to just let people talk. I sometimes play the observer role and let other people pose the questions. I think there are a lot of insights you can gather from just listening to and watching how people say things. Do they listen and let other people talk? Do they take on feedback and paraphrase it back to show they understand, or do they just ramble on? 

For a tech company, the skillset has to be there and secondly the personality. Unfortunately you can’t test personality with just one or two interviews, but thanks to the referral and the power of networking, if someone has worked with someone for five years then they understand their personality, and they can share that with us.

There is lots of research and interest in the area of founder wellbeing especially with the competing priorities and hands-on nature of startups, the self-imposed deadlines as well as external pressures. Do you do anything in particular to manage these stressors?

Tan: Yes a couple of things. Firstly with respect to physical wellbeing, I’m very conscious of my physical wellbeing and I exercise every day. I know that if I don’t have physical stamina, I don’t have emotional stamina, so I do dancing – hip hop dancing. Fitness First has this program called “Body Jam” and I do it one hour a day every day. It’s a lot of fun. I forget everything and I am in a different place and I have a big smile on my face for an hour, and I feel absolutely amazing, it’s intense cardio. 

I also go on long walks with my partner. When we go overseas we go on long walks. We walk for 40 km. On weekends, in summer, we walk from Bayside to the city, to Fitzroy, so that’s 20km, we like to do that. It takes around three to four hours depending on whether we stop or argue. You can brisk walk it in two and a half hours or you can take your time. 

So physical wellbeing is one thing, and the other is communication. To have outlets to vent is so important. If you don’t have those outlets it would be very suffocating. I don’t internalize stuff. You have to be careful about to whom you vent what to of course. I vent everything to my poor partner, everything, which can be a bit of a dump. With my co-founders though, I keep it professional. I know Andy and Adrian very well, but we are very professional with each other because you don’t want your judgement to be clouded by all that. And then you have your advisors whom you can vent to and your cohort members at CyRise. There are outlets for different things. Internalising everything and keeping everything to yourself could be very explosive.

Is the exercise and physicality you’ve mentioned new to you, as in you’ve picked it up while building your startup, or is it something you have always done?

Tan: I have always exercised in some shape or form, but it was not a conscious decision to do that, but now I know I need to have physical stamina to put in these hours to make sure I am safe, sound and sane for what I am doing not just this year but next year and the year after. I have to be around as there is a business that waits for me, so that mindfulness is very different.

Every job, and every startup has a range of highs and lows – can you tell us about some of the best things that happened or some of the best days ever? 

Tan: It’s not just one day, there are quite a few. Like when I found my current co-founders, Andy and Adrian, and we knew we had a solid team that increased our value 10x just with our mindsets and complementary skillsets. And then also when we nailed our first paying customer – that was a high-five moment, and when we started getting inbound calls from prospective investors and when we got referred from one customer to another – those were all highlights. 

What were some of the toughest times? How did you keep at it during these tougher times? What got you through?

Tan: Low lights were in the earlier days when I wasn’t great at regulating my emotions. So things would come hitting me all at one time, in one day. It often felt really overwhelming and when you don’t know how to express your emotions, the rollercoaster can be crazy. However, being able to acknowledge those emotions is key. And then having simple strategies to deal with each of them – knowing you can’t deal with everything at once, and just having that mindfulness to respond to them.

What have you learned in your startup that you didn’t know before, and that you’ve picked up through doing and experience?

Tan: I used to think startups were a bunch of crazy people running around doing whatever, but I think startups now are the future. Millennials want to do cool things and they want to contribute. Not just millennials, you’ve got another generation ahead as well. The notion of “startup” is not about venturing into the wild world, people should have the ability to create, to be individuals, to be creators. In the past we were boxed into certain stereotypes, but now it’s mainstream.

Do you have a book that you love or that you would recommend?

Tan: I am not a reader to be honest. Every time someone says, “have you read this, I say, uh no”. And they say, “oh it’s the Bible on xyz, you have to read it”. But for me I tend to get inspiration and aspirations not so much from reading books, but from interviews and from listening to people and seeing things with my own eyes. When I do read, it tends to be biographies. Lee Kuan Yew’s is the latest one I’ve read. I also love talking to other founders.

What advice would you give to a school leaver if they were weighing up starting a business against going to University?

Tan: A school leaver? Do whatever you want to do! Go to uni, start a business, take a gap year if you can afford it. One thing, if I could go back to my sixteen or eighteen year old self, would be to tell him that you don’t need to be a certain way to succeed and you don’t always have to succeed in life in the conventional sense. As long as you are able to live in a way that is true to yourself and your beliefs, that is great success. I see a lot of young people who are under a lot of pressure to do well at school, or to have the nicest gadgets to compare with their peers, or feeling fearful or antisocial because they are on their phones all the time. Maybe I am being anti-evolution, but I think maybe we should go back to the basics of talking and communicating with people face to face, as opposed to kids just getting together in person and then just being on their phones.

What are your thoughts on an MBA and how useful is it in a startup context?

Tan: Can I be honest?

Of course.

Not useful, not in the startup context. The reason why I chose Stanford was not because of the MBA or the education, but because I wanted to experience what it was like to be in the cradle of startups in Silicon Valley and I wanted to know what my peer group would look like. So for me that was an experience and one that I am still unpacking.

I think I am already over-educated, I don’t need another degree. People don’t need this, some people are born entrepreneurs, they don’t need an MBA and I am really impressed by those people. But people like me were brought up quite traditionally and I was told “do well at school and you will do well in other aspects of your life” and maybe there are elements of that statement which are true, but the whole Stanford thing was to give me the courage and the bravery to pursue what I am doing today. 

And it did give you that?

Yes it did give me that. It also gave me an advantage when I talk to investors or customers, because it is seen as an achievement to get into Stanford. Its recognizable. But it doesn’t make me any more impressive than other people. You don’t need an MBA badge to do business, you can still build a business. Its more important to just have the mindset for it.

From your experience, is there any other final advice you would pass on to someone thinking about founding a startup?

Tan: I’ve touched on some of these already, but they are all important. Firstly get your house in order. Secondly know that a startup is not about having a cool idea and going to the moon with it, because you might have to change your idea mid-way and it’s not going to be your last good idea. Lastly, the third thing is that there is no way you are going to succeed in your startup alone, so build your community around you and bring people along to help you succeed.

This article was written by Luke Henningsen and he is Co-Founder of the growing startup community at Ucities which is being developed to help provide a dedicated space for founders and startup people to network and support each other. He also leads a business called Scale & Swing, which delivers executive search to startups looking for senior talent at a startup-friendly price-point. Feel free to reach out to Luke on LinkedIn or at Scale & Swing or join the growing community at Ucities.


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