My name is Gabriel Sze, and I am currently a Year 4 student in NTU enrolled in the Renaissance Engineering Programme. I am also the founder of Dive Deals, a modern web-based deal discovery platform that strives to bridge the online-to-offline consumer journey.
Being a student entrepreneur is tough. The challenges of navigating the entrepreneurship space are already difficult. With limited experience in developing software products, industry experience, and networks, it can be a daunting task to start a company and build a software solution for tens of thousands of users.
However, being an entrepreneur has been the hallmark of my student life. It has been the most challenging but exciting, meaningful, and fulfilling journey as a student.
In this article, I want to share some insights about why I chose to run a startup as a student and how I exactly did it in the past two years of my time.
Why did I choose to run a startup as a student?
Well, I am convinced that being a student is one of the best times to start anything. Apart from the limitations aforementioned above, being a student is absolutely great. We have more time, flexibility, and energy to invest in an exciting idea. We have more opportunities to create solutions, innovate existing ones, and explore the needs around us. We have maximum room to try, iterate and fail.
There’s so much more to being a student thinker. Still, I realised that I enjoyed spending some leisure time reclining on my chair, thinking about crazy ideas that solve various needs in the world and society.
However, running a startup wasn’t my first intention. Solving a problem was.
Although I silently wished I could, I didn’t start out wanting to build a successful startup. That’s too far ahead for me. Several years back, I identified a personal problem statement and wanted to build a better product to serve my needs and people around me, mainly family and friends who shared the same pain points.
And so the exciting journey began, a rapidly fast process but a game of patience.
How did I build a startup?
I hope to share some structure to how I approached it and developed what I have today, although I humbly acknowledge that every path is different. Well, here’s how I went about it with the startup I built today while being a full-time university student.
Identifying a pain point
First, do not start with building the product.
One of the best starting points is usually to identify a pain point that you currently face today. There should be many, but it often takes some awareness and reflection before stumbling across the more important ones.
One of the pain points I had in my daily life as a Singaporean was saving money through finding deals and promotions.
I didn’t particularly appreciate installing many applications on my phone, and there were too many aggregator websites and social media channels to follow to hunt down the most relevant deals.
As I enjoyed googling for promotions, most of the websites I found had a poor user interface and experience, with long wordy posts that often occlude essential information.
This problem was further amplified to me because I was a student trying to find cost savings via student deals and promotions.
As I am enrolled in a computer science major, it seems reasonable for me to develop a better website. As students, I feel we should find a reasonable problem statement to tackle or possibly get some friends involved that can help us build towards it.
Validating a pain point
It’s usually not sufficient to build a product that only helps yourself or several people. Ideally, you want to be able to build something that benefits a sizeable amount of people.
I approached family, relatives, and friends with this problem statement and wanted to hear their thoughts regarding this. Ask honest and objective questions.
After asking about their experiences with hunting down deals in Singapore, I heard similar frustrations in scrolling through many sites, poor user experience, and disinterest in downloading more applications. Data representation and lack of reliable data were also key points raised.
Hidden criteria, terms and conditions, and finding applicable outlets were some issues raised.
Be humble to accept and acknowledge that your pain point may not be shared across others, and be comfortable with iterating back to the problem statement once again.
Building and iterating the product
Taking into consideration the feedback, I started designing, then developing the product.
Be prepared to spend many hours learning and iterating. I had almost no prior knowledge of web development, so I had to start from ground zero.
I spent about three to six months learning the fundamentals of building a scalable and custom website, investing almost 10-12 hours a day learning new languages, frameworks and finding resources online.
I did this during my summer break in my second year, so sacrifices have to be made. I took a break from internships after having done two in the past year.
The building then became easier along the way. Many months later, I developed a mobile-optimised deal discovery website that solved the pain points of my own and those validated around me.
I focused on user experience, created simple data pages to surface essential data, and highlighted important locations in a customized map view on the web.
Be prepared for many iterations.
As I launched the product and iterated along the way, our user base slowly but surely grew, and we received great feedback about the product.
It is also important to have passion and meaning in what you build. In this pandemic, we had the opportunity to link up with many businesses to help them increase their awareness and reach. We frequently liaised with local and neighbourhood brands to offer attractive promotions on our site.
I still hope to grow this platform, but it’s fun and exciting to develop a product that people use to help people during these challenging times.
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